Spring Break 2015

Trish and Aaron Pogue at AT&T Stadium I’ve done a couple of posts now about living the high life thanks to the slow, certain success of my most recent business venture. I have one more to share, but this one is only tangentially related to Draft2Digital. In fact, I think it was the first time this year I took time off from work.

Earlier this month, I took a road trip with the family. We went down to Dallas (about a three-hour drive) for three days in order to accomplish three things:

  • Dinner at Texas de Brazil
  • A tour of the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium
  • Shopping at Ikea

(Just guess which one of those items Trish picked.)

(You are correct.)

Nicki and Kris Austin at AT&T StadiumActually, she was pretty excited about all three. And, come to think of it, there was a pretty important forth item on the list:

  • Socializing

That’s because we took this family road trip with another family in tow: The Austins joined us for the whole weekend.

For those who don’t know, Kris Austin is the CEO of Draft2Digital who accompanied me on both of those last two outings I wrote about. But I knew Kris for more than a decade before Draft2Digital existed. Our families have been close for as long as they’ve been discrete families. We all have dinner together a couple of times a week, and our kids are close as cousins.

Annabelle, Jason, and Alexander in DallasSo everyone was on board when I suggested this trip. We drove down Saturday afternoon, checked into the hotel (and it was a nice one), then headed straight to Texas de Brazil, where we had a reservation waiting.

If you don’t know Texas de Brazil, you should. It’s a Brazilian churrascaria that represents the perfect union between a fine steakhouse and an all-you-can-eat buffet. Even their salad bar is almost worth the price of admission.

I’ve been three times now,and it just doesn’t disappoint. It’s a feast and an experience and a luxury.

And this time we got to share the experience with our friends. It was the first time we’d brought our kids, too, and they had a chance to try some foods they’d never encountered before. Annabelle liked the lamb chops. Xander was all about the bacon-wrapped filet mignon.

After that we went back to the hotel and talked and watched a couple of shows before calling it an early night.

AT&T Stadium in DallasThen Sunday morning we had breakfast at the hotel. The kids all went swimming in the hotel pool (which might have been the highlight of the trip for them), then we got cleaned up and headed to the stadium.

We had tickets for the VIP guided tour which took almost two hours (and rightly so; that facility is amazing) before they released us onto the field for some free play. And it occurs to me now that that was the highlight of the trip for the kids.

Xander, Maggie, Jason, and Kris in the end-zone at AT&T StadiumThey ran and jumped and tackled each other. Kris bought a football for them to fight over. They rolled around in the astro-dirt. It was great.

After that we had a late lunch at my favorite Mexican place (it’s a chain, but one we don’t have in Oklahoma), and then we went back to the hotel to hang out and play games together. It was quiet and easy and so much fun.

Annabelle posing in her dream room at IkeaMonday went much the same way: sleeping in and a late breakfast before check-out, then we loaded up the cars and headed to Ikea. It was…I want to say “overwhelming.” We don’t have one closer than Dallas, and for most of us, this was our first experience with one. It was certainly impressive.

Then we found a pizza joint with a kids’ play place for lunch. (I grabbed In-N-Out from across the street.) We played there for about an hour, then we finally said our goodbyes and headed home.

The whole trip was cool and exciting and relaxing and…just everything a vacation ought to be. Then I woke up the next morning and went back to work at my dream job.

GNU Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett died two weeks ago. I looked it up just to be safe, and was shocked to learn it wasn’t last week. Feels like it was just yesterday.

It nearly broke my heart to hear the news. I had to remove myself from social media for several days, because every new profession of respect came as a painful reminder that the world had changed.

It wasn’t unexpected. How could it be? A man’s death is one of the most predictable things in the world, and Sir Pratchett in particular had been battling a devastating diagnosis for years now.

But still it stung. Pratchett has been not only a source of entertainment and education for me as a reader, but very much a role model and inspiration for me as a writer. His Discworld series is easily one of the funniest and most enjoyable reads in all fantasy, but I would also call it one of the most insightful and eloquent and uniquely voices and truly meaningful texts in all of today’s canon.

He wrestles with questions of existence, questions of effective government and social change, questions of right and wrong, and (in almost every book) questions of a man’s relationships with the people he loves and with his own mortality.

It’s easy to miss just how good these books are because they’re so easy to read. Strange, that.

But I was reminded how broad his topics ran when, last week, a friend shared a link to the GNU Terry Pratchett project.

It’s fascinating. Years ago, Pratchett wrote a Discworld story that featured (as a minor subplot) the idea of immortality in a simple form: “A man is not dead while his name is still spoken.”

This project takes that idea from the book and invites website owners to apply it in memory of Terry Pratchett. The actual implementation is somewhat technical and a little silly (and also a spoiler for portions of the book it comes from), so I won’t go into detail. It’s also so easy that it feels somehow shallow, but I can’t help thinking Terry Pratchett would be delighted by it.

So I’m participating. AaronPogue.com is part of the GNU Terry Pratchett project. But the very act of turning on that plugin convinced me that I needed to say something more.

So here I am, and here it is: I’m devastated that there will be no more books from that brilliant mind. I’m disappointed that I never got to meet him. But most of all I am grateful to have experienced all the wonderful works he shared with the world. His words changed my life for the better.

If you’ve never read anything of his, give it a try. His style isn’t for everyone, but there is real beauty to be had. Start the series anywhere (Guards! Guards! and Reaper Man are popular starting points), but I truly recommend them all.


Kris Austin and Aaron Pogue courtside at the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ersI wrote recently about the burst of exciting events in the early days of Draft2Digital before it became mostly nose-to-the-grindstone right up until my visit to Apple in February. Well, as it happened, that sort of became its own burst of exciting events.

A couple weeks after the San Francisco trip, Kris (our CEO) was talking with our company lawyers about something boring, and they invited Kris and me to join them in their courtside seats for an NBA game. Am I a VIP, or what?

The game was March 4th’s outing against the Philadelphia 76ers, when Russell Westbrook got his second triple-double of the season (he’s up to six now). We showed up a little bit before the game and Kris took some photos of the arena from his seat:

Kris Austin and Aaron Pogue courtside at the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ers

We were on the second row, right behind one of the goals (and about twenty feet from the Thunder bench). We had an incredible view of the action, and it was an action-packed game.

Kris’s wife was watching the game at home, and she caught some great pictures of us on the TV. This one’s probably the best:

Kris Austin and Aaron Pogue courtside at the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ers

That’s Westbrook making a break for an incredible slam dunk. You can see Kris and me on the second row. (The dude behind Kris gaping in awe is our superstar lawyer.)

This one shows me a little more clearly:

Kris Austin and Aaron Pogue courtside at the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ers

But we weren’t really there to become TV stars. We were there for the game and, as I said, the game was amazing. I’ll leave you with a shot of the view from my seat:

Kris Austin and Aaron Pogue courtside at the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Livin’ large. I’ll let you know what happens next.

San Francisco, CA

Aaron at AppleBack in 2013, when my newest company was just getting off the ground, we scrounged up the money to send a volunteer marketing rep and me to represent Draft2Digital at a writer’s conference in Manhattan. It was a thrill.

Two months later, at another writer’s conference (this one in our own back yard), I got to meet Patrick Rothfuss and (thanks to Draft2Digital’s imprimatur) spend two or three hours talking shop with him.

In the time since, I can’t think of a lot of other opportunities like those two. They came in a burst at the beginning, and then we had two years of hard, focused work just keeping the fledgling company from dying.

Don’t get me wrong! The company has been growing at an unbelievable rate. We more than doubled in size during 2014, and we plan to do at least as much again this year. It’s just that all the big, dramatic developments mostly happened on a spreadsheet.

But last week, I went to San Francisco at the invitation of one of our best business partners. Apple asked us to visit the campus to discuss how we could grow the business together.

I can’t get into the details of the meeting, naturally. Naturally. But my biggest takeaway from the meeting was this:

Draft2Digital is one impressive startup.

Several of the Apple representatives took pains to point out the parallels between our companies, our positions with our respective markets, and most of all, our business strategies. One of the execs went out of her way to say that we’ve basically built our business around the same principles that define Apple: easy usability, customer-friendliness, and first-rate execution on meticulous design.

We grinned like idiots and thanked her for saying so. But, in all honesty, none of this was news to us. We did it all very much on purpose. The startling thing–the astonishingly fun thing–was getting to hear from people who definitely know what they’re doing that, yes, we’ve accomplished our goals. We’ve accomplished them so thoroughly that we’ve been noticed. And that feels good.

Apple treated us like kings, and I like to think we conducted ourselves well. Everyone I met was friendly, well-informed concerning a deeply volatile market, and sincerely concerned about the ways we can work together to benefit readers and writers alike. It’s everything I would have hoped for from a meeting like this.

And that wasn’t our only meeting in San Francisco (even if it was the clear headliner). We arranged meetings with a couple other business partners (or potential partners) while we were in town, and that trip left us thoroughly committed to setting up face-to-face visits with all of our retailers in the near future.

It’s amazing how much we can accomplish once we really start talking.

New Release! The Dawn of a Desperate War (The Godlanders War, Book Three)

The Dawn of a Desperate WarLast week saw the release of The Dawn of a Desperate War, the final volume in the first trilogy of The Godlanders War.

It’s the best thing I’ve ever written.

I understand it’s normal for all creators to feel that way about whatever happens to be their newest work. Maybe that’s the only thing at play here, but I’m incredibly proud of the universe this story is set in.

The Godlanders’ world of Hurope was an ambitious idea. I wanted to write comic book-style high adventure in a (somewhat) traditional fantasy setting. I co-created the universe with my good friend Dan, and before I’d written a single word of narrative, we’d invented dozens of heroes and villains, along with the personalities of nations and vast, shady organizations.

It’s the first time since middle school that I engaged in serious, extensive worldbuilding, and it was thrilling. Then I started writing the stories, and that process was both invigorating (getting to play around in this very cool sandbox) and, at the same time…hard. I hadn’t tried to develop a new fantasy setting since high school.

There’s a big difference between imagining cool characters or strange cultural artifacts and then actually weaving them into a dynamic narrative. Worldbuilding can be a fun hobby, but it’s surprisingly hard to integrate that hobby into the almost unrelated practice of storytelling.

The Dreams of a Dying GodI didn’t notice that back in high school, because I had nothing to compare it to. I was learning both disciplines from scratch, mostly self-taught, so everything felt hard. But over the last two decades, I’ve been hard at work honing the craft of storytelling. I’ve practiced the process over and over again, sometimes discovering new settings within a narrative, but never really trying to force a narrative onto a massive, pre-built framework like that.

So the first time I really encountered that challenge with the perspective to recognize it came when I started working on the first book in this new series, The Dreams of a Dying God. That book was hard to write. As much as I loved the setting and the characters, every page was a challenge. I’d made plans to jot down that novel in the second half of 2012 and then churn out another FirstKing novel and another novella or two. You can look back in the archives here and see where I made that promise.

The Wrath of a Shipless PirateIt didn’t happen. I toiled for six months to write that novel. And in the process I missed four different delivery deadlines, so by the time I finished it I had to shove myself straight into the sequel. The Wrath of a Shipless Pirate felt a little easier, but instead of enjoying that, I pushed the envelope. Finally comfortable writing the enigmatic Corin Hugh we met in Book One, I sent him on a world tour in Book Two and introduced him to the characters that are meant to drive the next seven or ten books.

I love re-reading that book, but I barely remember writing it. I wasn’t getting much sleep in those days.

And that’s why I love Book Three so much. It was easy. For the first time I wasn’t fighting to reconcile our worldbuilding with the demands of my plot. The world was built, all its rough edges smoothed down by 150,000 words of published canon, and now all I had to do was tell another story in this incredible universe.

Now it’s done. It wraps up the story that began in Book One, but as the title suggests, it also lays the foundation for a whole new trilogy.

I’m looking forward to that. Corin Hugh was a wild protagonist, but the next trilogy will follow Auric Truefaith, a natural hero. It will be grand and epic and hilarious in a very Patrick Warburton kind of way.

But before I get to that, I have some other work to do. The FirstKing’s world has been too long neglected, and turning back to it now is like a breath of fresh air.

I’m diving in. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Spring Break

Swingin'Last week I took a short vacation from all of my many day jobs and went to visit some long-neglected family down in Texas. I should probably include my wife and kids in that “long-neglected” category, but I spent five days doing my best to make up for that.

Before we left, I wasn’t terribly excited about the trip. There’s a reason I’m always working: I really have that much important work to do.

But it also wasn’t negotiable. I missed Christmas with a cold, and this trip was meant to make up for that. Also, as I mentioned, my wife and kids needed some attention. So I scrambled as hard as I could for the last few days at work, then on Tuesday I logged off, crossed my fingers, and headed for the Red River.

At Granddad’s

Our first stop was in Longview to visit my dad’s dad. We hadn’t seen him in several years, so we really introduced Annabelle and Alexander to him as though it were the first time.

For me, it was more like a homecoming. Granddad has lived in the same house for as long as I’ve been alive, and when I was younger, I visited there at least twice a year: once for a major holiday, and once for a week-long stay (by myself) over the summer.

I have so many memories in that house and its sprawling back yard. Alexander raced me past the garden sprouting with Granddad’s onions. Annabelle scraped up her leg climbing (and getting stuck in) the same trees I always climbed and got stuck in.

Granddad played an excellent host. He’d planned for our trip, so he took us out to all his favorite dinner spots (which included some excellent Tex Mex), and he made gifts of some classic movies that he’d picked up for the kids. Alexander got Home Alone, and Annabelle got Annie.

Amazingly, the kids had never seen either movie, so we watched Home Alone on Wednesday night and Annie on Thursday. The kids loved the movies. Annabelle has been singing songs from Annie ever since.

While we were reminiscing over dinner, I asked Granddad if he remembered taking me up to the office back when I was very young and sitting me down in front of the typewriter just to keep me busy.

He’s the one who taught me about the quick brown fox and when it is that all good men should come to the aid of their country. He loaned me an old high school textbook on touch typing. That’s where I learned to use a keyboard (which is now my primary profession).

It’s also one of the earliest memories I have of storytelling. After all, I needed something to do on the typewriter.

Of course he remembered. He said that even as a small child I was typing 60 words a minute while composing stories. Something about knights and dragons, to be sure. I can probably thank Granddad for being one of the first people to push me toward being a writer.

At Gigi’s

Friday morning we woke up early, had a hearty breakfast, then packed the car and headed back to Dallas. We met my Grandma Darlene (or, as the kids call her, Gigi) for lunch at El Fenix (more excellent Tex Mex), and then drove over to the thrift shop/food bank where my aunt Darla works. We bought some clothes for the kids and took a tour of the charitable operations. It was exciting to see the work she’s doing and to hear how much it’s grown in just a couple years.

Then we went back to Grandma’s and talked for a couple hours while the kids played. I told her all about the exciting developments (good and bad) at Draft2Digital over the last year, and she filled me in on the successes and struggles of her tech startup down in Dallas. And we both expressed how nice it was to finally take a day off, while very much recognizing that we’re the only reason we don’t do it more often. It might have been the closest I ever felt to my grandma.

Friday night, she watched the kids while Trish and I had a belated anniversary dinner at my favorite restaurant in the world. Texas de Brazil. There are no words to describe how exquisite an experience that place provides.

Afterward, we did a little recreational shopping at Target before returning home to watch Annie with Annabelle again. That made two nights in a row, and I doubt we’ve seen the last of it.

Saturday afternoon we went down to the harbor on the lake and walked around a bit, took some pictures of the kids, then Gigi took us to the movies to see Muppets: Most Wanted. As soon as that was over, we had dinner with my aunt Darla and uncle Jason. Eric and Shelley joined us, along with my cousin Lauren, and for about an hour there it very nearly qualified as a family reunion.

Then we said a bunch of heartfelt goodbyes, piled into the car around 8:00 pm, and headed home.

It was wonderful to reconnect with the family I have in Texas, but I think my favorite part of the trip was swinging on the swings with Alexander or hearing Annabelle guffaw in a crowded theater or talking to Trish with nothing to distract us but the long road ahead.

I am surrounded by a rich constellation of some of the most amazing people in the world. I forget it far too often, but whenever I slow down and notice, I am both awestruck and humbled.

To all my family, to all my friends, to everyone who helps me be the man I am: Thank you. You’re precious. I love you.