Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: January 2020

Here are the covers for the four books I review in this post.

Stranger-than-usual territory

Recently I’ve wandered into stranger-than-usual territory in three urban fantasy books

Actually the third one may fall more into the speculative fiction category, but it mostly takes place in a city, and some elements come across to me much more as fantasy than as fiction that’s based in any science I’m aware of.

It’s been a while (June 2018) since I posted any book reviews on this blog, but today I’d like to share glimpses of the stranger-than-usual territory explored in Extreme Medical ServicesThe SparkleTits Chronicles, and Hollow Kingdom.

Extreme Medical Services

This photo shows the cover of the book "Extreme Medical Services."

By Jamie Davis

A paramedic’s life is never dull, but that goes exponential for rookie paramedic Dean Flynn when he’s assigned to Elk City’s Station U. That place is definitely is located in stranger-than-usual territory

Station U isn’t your standard paramedic station. And the population it serves doesn’t exactly fit into any standard class of human patients. That’s because Station U serves the “Unusuals” in town. 

The local vampires, were-folk, sirens, faeries, dryads, and many other people who quietly (and carefully) live among the rest of the humans, but are medically “different.” As Brynne, Dean’s supervising partner, puts it, “They’re mostly humans, but not.”

Both together and individually, they create a challenging medical specialty. And they offer some moments of delightful humor.

This is a take on myths and legends unlike anything I’ve previously encountered. Davis poses a series of logical problems most of us have probably never imagined. What complications arise when the diabetic CPA also happens to be a werewolf? Or when a vampire has an allergic reaction? Or when a naiad (water sprite) gets severely dehydrated?

"Extreme Medical Services" is the first of a series. This image shows the first book's full cover, overlapping covers of the second and third novels in the series, "The Paramedic's Angel" and "The Paramedic's Choice."

Notes on the Series

These problems and more confront Dean and his colleagues from Station U. Better yet, each patient also is a well-rounded character with a distinctive personality. Davis is a natural-born storyteller with a strong sense of the ironic.

Unfortunately, he’s not a trained storyteller. That means the dialogue is often clunky, the pace is ragged, and the plot is more instinctive than possessing a well-thought-out structure. 

The frequent use of medical jargon may be off-putting to readers who were expecting more standard fantasy tropes, but the science fiction nerd in me got a kick out of the juxtaposition.

This photo shows the inside of an ambulance, with all of the emergency medical equipment laid out ready to go.
You’ll feel as if you’re riding along in the ambulance with Dean and the gang from Station U (Photo courtesy of Parkway East Hospital in Singapore)

Extreme Medical Services is the first in an 8-book (if you count the prequel) series of short novels about Dean, his patients, colleagues, and others. Of course there’s trouble brewing in Elk City, and Dean is uniquely suited to help deal with it. 

Whenever the series sticks close to its core identity it shines. Humorous and ironic medical-fantasy situations with a strong subtext of standing up for the rights of a misunderstood minority population provide some marvelous moments.

But the clunky writer-craft annoyed me throughout the series. And when the stories ventures too far into epic fantasy and cosmic cataclysm, they fall flat for me. In my opinion, the first 2-3 books were the most entertaining.

The SparkleTits Chronicles

By Veronica R. Calisto

This photo shows Veronica R. Calisto, one of the authors I've reviewed today.
Veronica R. Calisto 
at Westercon 71.

Yes, I know this is technically two books, but in a number of ways it’s not. I normally would never have seen or heard of these books if I hadn’t gone to Westercon 71, in July 2018 in Denver. That’s where I met Veronica and became intrigued with her unique personality and sense of humor.

That wry sense of humor and askance view of the world comes across forcefully in her writing, too. This woman has a voice and a style all her own, and it’s a pleasure to read her work. 

When I want to give a full-throated endorsement, however, I’ve normally directed people to her Diary of a Mad Black Witch. That one’s a stand-alone novel that I could have sworn I’d already reviewed in this space–but I can’t find it, soI’ll have to remedy the oversight soon.

Meanwhile, what’s up with “SparkleTits”? 

For a while the title itself held me back. I half-feared it would turn out to be some kind of exploitation ploy. But I couldn’t imagine that the author of Diary of a Mad Black Witch would really go there. So I gave them a try. 

And I’ve got to tell you, they definitely take you into stranger-than-usual territory!

This image includes the book cover art for the two "SparkleTits" Chronicles novels, "Starfish and Coffee," and "Sins  and Barbecue."

Greer Ianto is struggling to deal with the death of her beloved mentor Gabe when we meet her on what turns out to be the Nearly-Worst Possible Day Ever.

Then she gets semi-literally star struck (as in struck by something that looks to others like a star), and lives to ask what the heck just happened. At this point we have well and truly ventured into far-stranger-than-usual territory.

From there we plunge through nearly-nonstop (mis)adventures in a reality where superheroes are real (but, officially, they’re all men). 

As a six-foot-tall black woman with an attitude, suddenly possessed of her own superpowers (that even work on the superhero men), Greer is guaranteed to rock their foundations. And I for one had a blast watching her do it.

Sins and Barbecue

Greer has a new and troublesome relationship going on in the second novel. She encounters a number of new bad guys. And she finds more clues about her mysterious origins and her late mentor Gabe, who wasn’t exactly what he seemed to be. 

This particular cycle-within-a-larger-story finishes, but it’s clear the larger story continues. I very much doubt that the SparkleTits Chronicles are meant to end here.

This photo of Denver, including the city park, part of the downtown skyline, and the Front Range with Mt. Evans, is By Hogs555.
The “SparkleTits” Chronicles are set in Denver, CO–but they definitely also take you into stranger-than-normal territory! (Photo By Hogs555 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

You knew there’d be a “however”

These books are a lot of fun. Except for the moments when they fall apart. 

Calisto’s writing is much better-crafted than Davis’s, but there still are places where she needed a line editor and/or a proofreader (different functions!). They could have saved her from confusing constructions, infelicitous turns of phrase, typos, editing artifacts, and more.

They also would probably have reminded her that not everyone who reads Book Two, Sins and Barbecuewill read it immediately after Starfish and Coffee, so the reader needs a reorientation about who everybody is and what happened in Book One

The other big problem with these books is the interior artwork. The covers are workmanlike enough to convey the idea (no artist is credited for any of the artwork). But the interior artwork is just plain embarrassing. Incomprehensible and horrendously-timed, it appears that it’s supposed to convey some of the climactic action. It doesn’t. Instead it stops the story dead in its tracks at arguably the worst possible moment.

So, no. I can’t offer anything like a full-throated endorsement. But I can tell you it’s an interesting-enough experiment that I bought and read the second book. Make of that what you will.

Hollow Kingdom

By Kira Jane Buxton

If we suddenly had a Zombie Apocalypse, what would happen to all the companion animals? That’s the question underlying this much-talked-about top-seller.

Hollow Kingdom is the only traditionally-published entry in this blog post’s collection. The others are Indies that probably would not have received a good reception from the gatekeepers

Is it a better book? Well, the craft is clearly better. Kira Jane Buxton writes well, and she’s been well-served by her editors at Grand Central Publishing. There are no amateurish issues to battle here. The publisher supported this book’s roll-out with strong advertising and review coverage.

You definitely should give it a look. The animal viewpoints deliver spot-on caricatures we all recognize. In addition to the protagonist, S.T. the genius-crow, we hear occasionally from other characters such as Genghis Cat and Winnie the Poodle. Their brief cameos illuminate and provide humor–even as they also are poignant. 

The animal-welfare angle

Readers not used to reading speculative fiction or thinking in animal viewpoints may find it mind-expanding. And anytime we can get people to think more fully about animals and their welfare, that’s a good thing. But personally, I found it more depressing than many reviewers.

I’ve been associated with animal rescue organizations for long enough to cherish no illusions about what happens to domesticated animals when their caregivers cease to care for them. 

In this photo, four feral cats sit or crouch beside a broken fence on a dirt path, with two pigeons in the background.
All fantasy aside, domesticated animals without human care, like these feral cats, lead short, cruel lives. (Photo courtesy of Pretty Litter)

Even cats, which many people think probably would thrive without people around, would inevitably suffer problems (note the dangerous lives of contemporary feral cats). Far more horrifying, animals trapped inside buildings, aquaria, zoo cages, barns and pastures without food and water would die agonized, lingering deaths.

Hollow Kingdom is a fantasy, firmly planted in stranger-than-usual territory. It provides poignant moments, funny moments, and a great many improbable situations. Maybe it’s better not to talk about the rest of the grimness, but I read this more as a slow-rolling horror story than as “hopeful.”


Many thanks to Goodreads, for the Extreme Medical Services cover art, and to Amazon for the series-covers image. The photo of the inside of an ambulance is from Parkway East Hospital in Singapore. 

The photo of Veronica R. Calisto at Westercon 71 was taken with her knowledge and permission, and is © 2018 by Jan S. Gephardt, but you may re-post it or re-blog it with an attribution and a link back to this post. The photo of the two books in the SparkleTits Series is courtesy of Amazon. The photo of Denver, including the city park, part of the downtown skyline, and the Front Range with Mt. Evans, is By Hogs555 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikiepedia.

The photo of the Hollow Kingdom coveris courtesy of Goodreads. Many thanks to Pretty Litter for the photo of the feral cats.

This quote image from Thomas Kinkade says, "Balance, peace and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them."

Struggling to balance

The Artdog Quote(s) of the Week

If you’ve been following my blog this month, you know I’ve been struggling to balance a range of unusually urgent demands on my time. As January draws to an end, I can close the book on several of those tasks, but the underlying challenge persists. always have a lot to do.

This quote image by an anonymous writer says, "The key to keeping your balance is knowing when you've lost it."
(Image courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

Don’t get me wrong. like it that way. But it makes me vulnerable to overload, if I need to take on extra stuff. Whenever I can, I try to anticipate when I’ll be most busy. Then I’ll either work ahead so I’m prepared, or cut back some obligations so I don’t drop any balls.

This quote image from Gary Keller says, "Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls--family, health, friends, integrity--are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered."
(Image and quote from Gary Keller courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

Working ahead is great in theory, but in practice it doesn’t always go as I hoped. Rescheduling till later isn’t always an option, either. Then I end up struggling to balance all the stuff I need to do.

(Image and quote from Betsy Jacobson courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

There are lots of demands to balance

Balancing the demands of family, friends, and health needs with work is especially difficult when you’re doing work you’re passionate about. Or even work that’s necessary to support the work that you’re passionate about. Support work includes things like running Amazon ads to sell my book, or supporting my platform by blogging.

When you’re struggling to balance everything, even doing the research that will enable you to outsource some of it may take time you don’t feel you have!

This quote image from Jessye Norman says, "Problems arise in that one has to find a balance between what people need from you and what you need for yourself."
(Image and quote from Jessye Norman courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

Thing is, nobody can “do it all.” Many of my friends have begun to retire. They don’t always understand why I can’t just spontaneously drop everything to do something fun, even though I’m “home all the time.” 

Do you get enough sleep? Eat nutritious, healthy food? Exercise enough? All of those things take time. All are essential to health. How does a person on deadline after deadline prioritize?

When I was younger, in the season of my life when I was rearing small children, I couldn’t write or make artwork as much as I do now. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to keep up the creative work when you’re also the primary on-site caregiver for a small child either has never actually done that, was guilty of child endangerment through neglect, or didn’t get as much creative work done as they claim.

A seasonal balancing act 

No matter what season you’ve come to, in my experience you’ll still find yourself struggling to balance the load from time to time. But the struggle is worth it. For a person who does creative work, the creative work can be the thing that keeps you going in tough times.

This quote image from Thomas Kinkade says, "Balance, peace and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them."
(Image and quote from Thomas Kinkade courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

The creative work keeps our juices flowing. But the ultimate creative challenge is how we meet the challenge when we’re struggling to balance the demands.

How do you meet that challenge? How do you manage the balance? Please share thoughts, tips, or questions in the comments, if you’re so inclined.

IMAGE CREDITS: All of these quote-images came from the same source, for once! I am deeply indebted to EnkiQuotes’ page of quotes about work-life balance. I literally couldn’t have created this post without them! Many thanks!

This photo shows crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, with responders at Ground Zero.

Service dogs for first responders

In light of Wednesday’s post, here’s a video about service dogs for first responders. 

Thank goodness, leadership in some areas has begun to cut through the “tough-guy” culture in many agencies. It’s high time we recognize the huge impact of stress on first responders. When more than twice as many police officers die by suicide than in the line of duty, something is seriously wrong!

Anyone who’s followed this blog for a while knows I’ve posted about service dogs many times before. I’ve featured dogs who help calm child witnesses in courtrooms, and others who aid deaf people, or help with mobility.

Some comfort hospice patients, or support recovery from PTSD. Especially as they’ve become more widely used to treat PTSD in military veterans, it’s logical to expand the idea to include service dogs for first responders.

Dogs’ roles have evolved

This kind of caregiving role for our canine friends isn’t a universal centuries-old tradition. Over the millennia they’ve been our co-hunters, herding dogs, and guard dogs. But in isolated instances people have used animals as helps in therapy or guides throughout history

L-R in a wonderful composite photo created by Tori Holmes for Bark-Post: A mural from Herculaneum shows an ancient Roman dog used to guide a bind person.  Morris Frank and his guide dog Buddy walk down a city street (she is popularly considered to be the first guide dog in the US). The third photo portrays a contemporary guide dog with her person.
L-R in a wonderful composite photo created by Tori Holmes for Bark-Post: A mural from Herculaneum shows an ancient Roman dog used to guide a bind person.  Morris Frank and his guide dog Buddy walk down a city street (she is popularly considered to be the first guide dog in the US). The third photo portrays a contemporary guide dog with her person.

Our contemporary understanding of what a service dog can do began in Germany after World War I. Former ambulance dogs found new roles as guide dogs for blinded veterans. The idea spread to the United States, where trainers established several schools.

Developing the concept

From there, a whole new chapter in the relationship between dogs and humans has unfolded. Service dogs now help people deal with all kinds of medical and mental health issues

But the first time I became aware of therapy dogs helping first responders cope was through stories about therapy dogs at the site of the 9/11 wreckage

This photo shows crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, with responders at Ground Zero.
Crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, helped responders cope at Ground Zero. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Individual agencies have begun bringing in therapy dogs occasionally. In the 911 Call Center for Sheboygan County, WI, a team of therapy dogs visits on a regular schedule. 

Back in Fairfax County, home of the police in our opening video, they also have a Goldendoodle therapy dog named Wally in Fire Station 32. Therapy dogs have been brought in to help firefighters battling wildfires in Californina (I hope in Australia, too!).

I think this trend of providing service dogs for first responders is positive. What do you think? Should more agencies should explore it as a way to offer our first responders some relief?

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to VOA for the video about therapy dogs in the Fairfax VA Police Department. I deeply appreciate the three-photo composite of guide dogs through the centuries from Tori Holmes and Bark-Post. Finally, I want to thank the New York Daily News for the photo of Tikva the Keeshond, and the accompanying article about therapy dogs at Ground Zero.

A police officer defends a medic who is trying to help his wounded partner.

Daniel Sundahl’s artwork about first responder stress

When I first stumbled across Daniel Sundahl’s artwork about first responder stress, it left a resounding impression. A major theme in my upcoming novel A Bone to Pick is first responder stress and the marks it can leave on a person. (A Bone to Pick is the second book in the XK9 Trilogy. Its projected pub date is in August 2020). 

Post-traumatic stress is a huge problem for first responders

The toll that traumatic events can take on professionals who are regularly exposed to blood, gore, violence and death is huge. The first responder community is beginning to understand it’s impossible for people to “tough it out” indefinitely and continue to thrive. Not without help and support. But cultural change is slow. It’s hard for “tough guys” of both/all genders to admit they need help.

In his public appearances, Daniel Sundahl uses his artwork to get people talking about hard-to-discuss issues. (This December 2019 photo is currently Daniel's Facebook profile picture.)
In his public appearances, Daniel Sundahl uses his artwork to get people talking about hard-to-discuss issues. (This December 2019 photo is currently Daniel’s Facebook profile picture.)

Unfortunately, it also can be hard for them to find help once they realize they need it. That culture of denial can go all the way to the top. And the US has never been a great haven of enlightenment when it comes to mental health.

Daniel is a firefighter and paramedic as well as an artist. He’s also an activist on the topic of first responder post-traumatic stress. He pours his passion on the subject into both his artwork and his speaking engagements.

With that introduction, I hope you’ll be moved and fascinated by Daniel Sundahl’s artwork about first responder stress. He depicts scenes featuring all types of first responders. In this post I’ve shared one example each from Communications/Dispatch, EMS, Fire, and Police

But you can see much more of his work on his website and his Facebook page. All images are © by Daniel Sundahl and DanSun Photo Art, and have been used with the artist’s permission. Please do not reproduce or re-post them without express permission from Daniel!

Communications Departments

A uniformed woman sits in an emergency dispatch call center station with an exhausted look on her face, while the faint, ghostly images of people in danger or pain float around her.
The Ghosts of Dispatch © by Daniel Sundahl. Of this image, he writes, “Speaking with someone as they kill themselves or hearing someone pleading for help as they’re being murdered is something the rest of us just don’t understand. This one is for all the dispatchers. Stay safe brothers and sisters.” 

My first encounter with Daniel’s art came when I discovered The Ghosts of Dispatch while searching for images to illustrate my blog post “Merry Christmas, and be careful out there.” It took my breath away the first time I saw it, for a multitude of reasons. 

Emergency Medical Services

Is there anything I can say that’s more eloquent than what Daniel himself has written about this next image?

An EMT holds a shrouded baby in his arms, against a black background. One tiny, bloodless arm dangles from the wrapping, but the ghostly image of a living baby reaches up to touch his face.
Children of Heaven © by Daniel Sundahl. “I often hear from fellow Paramedics of the terrible calls they’ve had involving children. . . . Calls involving children are the ones that affect us the most. . . . I still have many calls in my head that I can’t get out that involve children. . . . I call this image Children of Heaven. It brings me peace thinking where these kids are now instead of thinking of what happened to them. “

First responder stress probably can’t get much worse than a murdered baby. But then, it also seems there’s an unimaginable range of horrors it is possible to confront, and the folks who’ll confront them are first responders, God help them.


Artwork about first responder stress among firefighters is a recurring theme from Sundahl.

A group of firefighters in full gear confront a blaze and billowing smoke. At the heart of the flames an angry dragon's head spews fire at them.
Fire Fight © by Daniel Sundahl. “Fighting the Dragon…my fellow firefighters know what this means.” As a fantasy artist myself, I absolutely could not resist this one.

Firefighters stand between the rest of us and that dragon. Whether it’s a raging structural fire,  vehicle-turned-inferno, or a wildfire roaring up a steep hillside, they stand between it and us. All too often they pay a steep price, as well.


Police officers never know what’s coming, but like all first responders their lives are spent on call. Their schedules exist at the mercy of the next emergency. A day can be fairly uneventful, and then turn suddenly deadly. 

In a wintry landscape with a city at sunset behind them, one officer kneels and fires a gun. Nearby a female medic bends over to render aid to his partner, who has been shot.
Officer Down, © by Daniel Sundahl. “Would you enter a live shooting event to treat the injured and help take them to safety? What if it was someone you knew? The medic and fallen officer in this image are close friends in real life. They work on the same shift so this situation is a real possibility for them. I have no doubt she would risk her life to save him.”

hope you’ve been inspired by these images and the brave people they represent. Daniel Sundahl’s artwork about first responder stress is real and authentic because he has lived the situations he portrays. They all fight the dragon for us, one way or another. They all stand between us and that unimaginable range of horrors.

IMAGE CREDITS: All images are © by Daniel Sundahl and DanSun Photo Art, and have been used with the artist’s permission. Please do not reproduce or re-post them without express permission from Daniel!

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "The time is always right to do what is right."

How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy?

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down almost 52 years ago. Depending on where we live, we’ve been observing the holiday that honors him for 34 years, as of today. There are wide variations in the ways people observe (or don’t pay much heed to) this holiday. But really. How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy?

This quote from Dr. Martin Luther King reads, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
King’s words ring as true now as ever. Senators, are you listening? (Image courtesy of PassportCamps)

What did Dr. King stand for?

King is known as a civil rights activist and a key leader in the struggles of African Americans to break the shackles of the Jim Crow era. He certainly was those things. He found his forum as a Baptist preacher, at a time when the church was the center of nearly every black community (a place of empowerment since Reconstruction and before). 

But his influence and his message soon reached far beyond the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. A prolific speaker, writer and seemingly-tireless advocate for civil rights, voting rights, peace, and the empowerment of the poor, he also was a scholar and thinker. 

And more of a socialist and anti-war activist than many in America wanted to accept (neither then, nor, in many ways, still today). He was subject to bouts of depressionNot always “liberated” in terms of women’s equality. In other words, he was human. Complicated. Flawed. 

This quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice."
(Image courtesy of QuotesGram)

We shouldn’t be surprised. Nobody’s an icon in real life. But in light of his complicated nature, how should we honor Dr. King’s legacy? I’d say the key is looking to his core values–the ideals he returned to again and again in his life. These are racial equality, as well as his work against poverty (which fueled his socialist thought) and war (noted for his devotion to nonviolence, he also spoke out strongly against the Vietnam War).

Racial equality

We are very far from King’s vision of a diverse society untainted by racial injustice. If anything, recent years have seen a resurgence of white supremacist sentiment and a bloody wave of hate crimes along with it. If you hate hate crimes, perhaps you’d like to support the nemesis of hate crime perpetrators.

How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy? Well, first of all, we can stand up against hate in our own personal lives.

White folks, we have a big responsibility in this area. To start with, we need to about the diversity within our own communities. Refuse to listen in appalled silence or titter weakly when someone cracks a racist joke or makes a racially insensitive comment.

Educate ourselves about white privilegeinstitutional racism, and the many ways that microaggressions and cultural appropriation wound and inhibit others. That’s base-level, elementary stuff.

Beyond that, we white folks need to consciously expand our lives and our circles. Welcome and support persons of color in our workplaces, our places of worship, and our associationsRead the work of diverse writers (buy their books!)

Voting Rights go hand-in-hand with racial equality

One of the hardest-fought campaigns of the civil rights era was the effort to achieve equal voting rights for African Americans. The white supremacists who held a lock on the portals of power in those days would literally kill to prevent black people from voting (the contrast with King’s nonviolent approach was part of what made the Civil Rights Movement so moving to people all over the world).

This quote image from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind--it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact--I can only submit to the edict of others."
(Image courtesy of Medium)

We live in another era when voting rights–especially voting rights for persons of color–are under heavy attack. Between voter-roll purgesgerrymanderingID requirements, and other shenanigans designed to disadvantage the poor, there is lots of corruption to fight. It will take advocacy by everyone to fight it!

How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy?

Concrete steps we can take? Support voting rights for all. That includes felons who’ve done their timeBlack communities have been decimated by a prison-industrial complex. Their lobbyists and lawmakers who want to be seen as “tough on crime” developed a system that unfairly targets impoverished (mostly black) communities.

Voting rights were a key goal of the civil rights movement. They’re still highly relevant todayAdvocate to your legislators. Support the League of Women Voters. And for pity’s sake, vote yourself, to elect candidates and causes that support equality!


Dr. King was fighting poverty by supporting the Poor People’s Campaign when he was assassinated. But poverty is at least as institutionally entrenched now as it was then.

Even King himself (a college-educated member of the black middle class) was originally unaware of how profound poverty could be in the US, until he visited a black school in an impoverished rural community in the Mississippi Delta. There he saw the results of food insecurity for himself. He was, in the Christian sense, convicted by what he saw. From that time forward he held a special place in his heart for the poor.

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "It's all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his bootstraps."
King observed many systemic forces trapping people in poverty, even when they strove to prosper (Image courtesy of United Way of Southeast Missouri).

He developed a burning sense of the injustice of the systemConservatives then as today speak of “personal responsibility.” They see it as primary in determining someone’s prosperity or poverty. To King, this is a flawed analysis.

 He argued for changes to the system itself. In the latter part of his life, King increasingly saw the problem of poverty as an inescapable failing that is intrinsic to any capitalist economic system.

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few."
King’s work against poverty likely fueled his interest in socialism, which dates back at least to his studies at Crozer Theological Seminary and his study of the work of Walter Rauschenbusch. (Times Live, South Africa)

King’s embrace of socialism

During the 1960s, the US reached the height of the Cold War with the Soviets and plowed deeper into the Vietnam War against communism (more on that later).

Within a decade or so of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s campaign to root out what he saw as a communist infiltration of the USA, socialism was deeply unpopular. Dr. King’s embrace of it and his antipathy to the Vietnam War meant he was seriously unpopular in much of America at the time of his death.

Socialism remains “a dirty word” today in some quarters, but half a century after King died, some segments of the economy see it as an interesting proposition.

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "The solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income."

The more progressive wing of the Democratic Party has fielded several candidates who embrace socialistic economic strategies, including Bernie Sanders, who labels himself a “democratic socialist,” and another who espouses a basic minimum incomeAndrew Yang calls it the “Freedom Dividend.

How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy? Whatever your opinions on the best ways to combat poverty, it’s certainly true that advocacy, donations, and volunteerism to aid the poor are always needed.


Aside from his socialist bent, King’s opposition to the Vietnam War earned him a lot of enemies. Given his commitment to nonviolence his opposition should surprise no one. And with the hindsight of history we can see that he made some good points, although some might not accept his assertion that “we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam.”

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "The time is always right to do what is right."
No stranger to opposition, Dr. King followed his convictions on the Vietnam War, despite the cost to his reputation. (Image courtesy of PassportCamps)

But have you done a serious review of the decisions, assumptions and motivations that led our nation’s leaders into that war? Unfortunately, it bolsters his opinion that “we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam.”

Testing weapons on civilians? Unfortunately, yes.

He also was right that the US was testing weapons on the Vietnamese people. The Vietnam War became an ugly arena for the widespread use of chemical weapons. CS gas was deployed to drive combatants out of tunnels, but they often asphyxiated or were left with lesions on their lungs.

Agent Orange had been used as a defoliant before Vietnam, but never so widely as a weapon. The US contaminated almost a quarter of South Vietnam with the stuff, which decays into dioxin, a persistent carcinogen. The environmental and human destruction persist to this day.

While napalm had been used in a limited way during World War II and the Korean War, it was widely deployed against both Vietnamese civilians and Vietcong fighters. Although President Nixon later tried to convince the US public that napalm wasn’t being used on civilians, there were too many journalists in-country, and too much of it was dumped over too broad an area to support that lie.

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government."
King’s opposition to the Vietnam War won him little favor. (Image courtesy of Veterans for Peace)

The most horrifying weapons-test of the Vietnam War era never happened, however: a Defense Department consultant group discouraged testing the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam strongly enough that the idea was (thank goodness!) scrubbed.

How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy? In my opinion, we all have an obligation to advocate for diplomacy over strutting arrogance and saber-rattling. Ways to promote peace? Contact your legislators. Demonstrate, if you’re so inclined and have the opportunity. Vote for rational candidates who take a measured approach to conflict resolution.

It’s also important to remember that peace begins at home. In our families and in our communities, intelligent communication and our commitment to de-escalation of violence (including violent words) sets a peace-friendly tone.

How should we honor Dr. King’s legacy?

There are many ways to honor King’s life and work. I think one of the best is by remembering what a complex, courageous, and deep-thinking person he was. His memory endures in part from the brilliance of his writing and the complexities and deep morality that drove him.

He can’t be reduced to a symbol of just one thing, if we’re honest. And there’s no telling how differently we would remember him, if he hadn’t been killed in the middle of his work.

This quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I 've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get ther with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy tonight."
He didn’t get there with us. Indeed, we’re still a long way from getting there. But the hope in his vision and the power of his courage offer ideas about how we should honor Dr. King’s legacy. (Image by Heidi Yosinski/Penn State News, via Laura Schulenberg Cole)

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Passport Camps, for the “measure of a man”and “do what is right” quote images. I appreciate the Sunday Times of South Africa for the “necessities from the many” quote image, and QuotesGram, for the “valley of segregation” quote image. Thanks are due to Medium, for the “power of the vote” and “guaranteed income” quote images; to Veterans for Peace, for the “purveyor of violence” quote image, and to design student Heidi Yosinski, Penn State, and Laura Schulenberg Cole for the “mountaintop” quote image. I’m indebted to you all!

My brain has too many tabs open.

Too busy

According to the Wisdom of the Internet I am either too self-centered to be a good friend, or I’m powerfully purpose-driven. Either way, I’m too busy.

This quote from Mandy Hale says, "A person being 'too busy' is a myth. People make time for the things that are really important to them!"
Sorry, Mandy, I disagree. This concept that being “too busy” is a myth can be a really toxic idea. It belittles the struggles of those whose lives sometimes become overwhelming. If being too busy were a myth, then no one would ever need to set boundaries, or “‘make time’ for the things that are really important.” (Quote from LiveLifeHappy)
This image says, "My brain has too many tabs open."
This. Yes. This is how I feel too often, lately. (Quote from BrainScape)

What’s the problem?

These last few weeks have been packed, for me. Sometimes urgencies that are not under my control elbowed their way in. I was pulled away from work that took longer than expected, by planned things that “needed doing.”

I’ve missed normal schedules for blog posts (such as this one, for instance!). Stayed up too late, even for me (the graveyard shift is my most productive time). Been forced to drop some things half-done. 

And there you have the nub of it. I have a lot of unfinished business. Pulled away too often. Too many things dropped half-done.

This quote from David Allen says, "Much of the stress that people feel doesn't come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they started."
David Allen makes a really good point. It’s true I have a whole bunch of stuff to do in a short period. But the picking-it-up-then-having-to-put-it-down-and-shift-focus routine is what makes me truly frazzled. (Quote image from TooMuchOnHerPlate).

Now, it’s not as if I’m running in place. I can see that incremental progress is indeed happening on several long-term goals. All that effort does appear to be having an effect. But I still feel I’m a long way from finishing several big priorities that mean a lot to me.

Why so busy?

It’s a busy season for me, for several reasons. It’s the turn of the year. That means it’s the end of a fiscal year for my personal business, Artdog Studio, as well as for my new LLC, Weird Sisters Publishing. Reports, wrapping up bookkeeping, and strategic planning for the year to come are all part of that.

My own personal blogging has been disrupted more than I expected by the need to prepare a post every week for The Weird BlogI’d gotten to the point where I was regularly producing three posts per week for Artdog Adventures, so I figured it’d be easy enough to add just one more, especially with my sister writing approximately half of them. 

Well, guess what? Not as easy as it looked.

On the personal front, there’s my 95-year-old father needing more care and attention (thank God the whole family’s pitching in on that), and my daughter’s chronic illness has flared up twice since the end of 2019.

But don’t forget the fun stuff

Oh, yeah, and there’s also making artwriting another bookshepherding the cover design process for two different books (more on those in future posts), and figuring out how to market everything.

This quote from Kangngaudaube Irang says, "Being busy is not a curse to mankind. Being busy is all about a struggle for better lives. And being busy is how you get to enjoy the real service of life. Being idle is empty. And being idle is being so small of your world. Stay busy."
Kangngaudaube Irang thinks more the way I do. I don’t like to be idle. It’s empty and It’s also boring. Being busy is better, as long as one doesn’t get too busy. It’s a difficult balance to walk. (Quote from YourQuote)

So, no. I’m not unhappy about my currently too busy life. To a certain extent I’m apologizing for my irregular blog-posting schedule. I also hope to offer a glimpse of what’s been going on with me. Next week, things should smooth out. Several major hurdles should be in the rearview.

And when I finally get to roll out some of those creative projects I’ve been working on, I dearly hope you’ll be pleased.

This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt says, "In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility."
Here’s hoping I’m making the right ones, Eleanor!  (Quote image from TooMuchOnHerPlate).

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks toLiveLifeHappy for the quote from Mandy Hale, even though I respectfully disagree. I also want to thank BrainScape for the “too many tabs” image,  and TooMuchOnHerPlate for the quotes from David Allen and Eleanor Roosevelt. Finally, thanks also to Kangngaudaube Irang and YourQuote for the “stay busy” sentiment.

This illustration shows a cartoon of a running man in a suit, along with the words of Lewis Carroll: "The hurrier I go the behinder I get!"

The hurrier I go . . .

Yes, you remember correctly. did have a really short post last week, too. Then as now, it’s a symptom of the (annual review) season. And I’m afraid that “the hurrier I go the behinder I get” is my current life, for real!

This is not exactly a complaint. In general, I like being busy. My Beloved and I realized several decades ago that if we don’t have anything to do, we’ll soon dream up new projects. This can have its downside, of course!

This illustration shows a cartoon of a running man in a suit, along with the words of Lewis Carroll: "The hurrier I go the behinder I get!"
Quote by Lewis Carroll (image from Rose Bowen)

Results of a fertile imagination

The ability to think up new projects means I am rarely bored (I figure if I’m bored, that’s on me. There’s always something to observe or think about, if you don’t depend on someone else to entertain you. Of course, some situations do minimize or even stifle stimulating inputs). But it also means I sometimes over-book myself

Whenever I realize I’m meeting myself coming and going, and getting that “hurrier I go” feeling, it’s usually because I start feeling overwhelmed. And what makes me feel overwhelmed is a lack of time to stop and think

A fantastical ideal

I know the stereotype of the decisive leader is that they just instinctively understand the right thing to do. They’re so quick-witted, they can spot the solution right away. 

A whole bunch of colorful gear wheels of many sizes create the shape of a human brain in this illustration.
Gotta keep the wheels turning! (image by MediaEd, via Chris Drucker)

But I’m a novelist. I can spot a fictional creation when I see one–and nobody’s an infallible, quick-witted leader unless they’re both intelligent and they regularly find time to think through what’s coming next. It may not take them long, and it may come as a jolt of gestaltat least sometimes. 

But one way or another, the consistently astute leader has to take “Think Time.” When I get too harried and start that “the hurrier I go the behinder I get” feeling, I know I’ve shorted myself on crucial “Think Time.”

What is “Think Time”?

Why, that’s elementary my dear. Literally. That’s when the concept of “Think Time” frequently is taught: in elementary school. But it works at any age, because it’s good human psychology. When I was teaching I learned that if the teacher asks a question, then enforces a three-second delay before students can answer, several positive results happen.

Students ask fewer questions, but the questions reflect better thinking. The number of “I don’t know” answers and blank stares go down. Over time, when consistently used, “Think Time” (also called “Wait Time,” but I believe “Think Time” says it better) is associated with rising test scores

Granted, I normally want to think for longer than three seconds about the problems I’ve encountered. I want multiple minutes to meditate upon the way forward. So let it be a sign unto me! Anytime I start muttering my favorite Lewis Carroll quote, I should know what I need to do.

Because “the hurrier I go the behinder I get” is no sane place to live.


Many thanks to Rose Bowen, for the illustrated Lewis Carroll quote, and to the no-longer-viable MediaEd, via Chris Drucker’s “How to Organize and Run a Mastermind Session,” for the “brain gears” illustration. I appreciate both of them!

This image depicts the author herself, with a pair of handcuffs, and the quote, "If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning."

A horrible warning?

The Artdog Quote of the Week

I don’t know whether last Friday’s post about the Library Liberation Project shows me to be a good example (cleaning up at last!) or a horrible warning (watch out, or this could be you!).

Either way, it’s set my January “workout routine.” From the look of things, I’ll be “pumping boxes” and hauling stuff regularly for a while.

This image depicts the author herself, with a pair of handcuffs, and the quote, "If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning."

A broken tradition

It’s traditional to make New Year’s resolutions to improve this or that about one’s life. But it’s also traditional to break New Year’s resolutions. There’s almost a sense of doom about the exercise from the get-go.

Some people skirt the issue by calling them something else, such as “goals.” Perhaps that changes their mind-set enough that it works for them, perhaps not. Goodness knows it’s hard to make major changes in one’s habits, no matter what we call the process, and no matter how life-threatening the thing we’re trying to change (such as stopping an addictive behavior, losing weight, or improving fitness).

This "EE Card" reads, "I can't believe it's been a year since I didn't become a better person."

The general consensus of advice columns, articles, and blog posts comes down principles we’ve all heard before: persistent baby steps, not big flashy changes we can’t sustain, are more likely to result in real improvement.

But change is possible, right?

Yes, change is definitely possible. Not only is it possible, but it’s inevitable. Positive change after negative actions is hard, but it’s possible, too. The past doesn’t have to doom the future

Otherwise, no education would ever prepare us, no addict would ever recover, and recidivism after prison would always be 100%. We all make mistakes, missteps, blunders. What we learn from them, and how we change our behavior as a result of them, is what makes the crucial difference.

This illustrated quote from Mark Twain reads, "Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions."

As time goes on, I guess we’ll see what sort of omen I’ll turn into. Meanwhile, I probably should sample some Catherine Aird mysteries (the author looks as if she has personality to spare).

IMAGE CREDITS: The photo of Catherine Aird is courtesy of her Goodreads page and her website. The illustrated quote is from me, Jan S. Gephardt, using Adobe Illustrator (reblog or re-post freely, but please attribute it to me, and link back to this post!). The “ee card” about not becoming a better person is from some ee cards New Year’s memes. Many thanks to them, and also to QuoteFancy, for the Mark Twain quote. Thank you and happy New Year to all!

These are most of the books we donated to the local library, so they'd find good homes and we didn't have to haul them across literally half the continent. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt)

The Library Liberation Project

My son and I (with occasional help from my Beloved) have embarked upon a project we’ve long dreamed about. We call it the Library Liberation Project. When we moved into our current home (30 years ago come June 1), I declared that a back room addition the previous owners had used as a rec room was to be the Library.

Some of the family couldn’t imagine what we’d do with a whole room just for books, but others laughed and said, “It’s perfect!” And for many years, it was a good study and writing space, with my office tucked in a back corner amongst the stacks.

Here's a corner of the Library in 2004. Yes, it usually looked a lot more lived-in, but we were getting ready for a party, so I even dusted and vacuumed!
Here’s a corner of the Library in 2004. Yes, it usually looked a lot more lived-in, but we were getting ready for a party, so I even dusted and vacuumed! Sixteen years later, the lamp, the chair and the coffee table have passed on, but we’ve added lots more bookshelves. And loads of other stuff.

Some days I’d walk into my library, take a big, blissful sniff, and revel in the scent of being surrounded by books. Somehow ebooks just don’t smell the same. The Library was a place of liberation back then.

Tragedy strikes. Repeatedly

About a year and a half after I took the picture above, our family began a sad but inevitable process. My brother-in-law Warren died, at way too young an age, at the start of the summer of 2005. Before the end of that season, I’d also lost one of my aunts.

By 2007, stuff had begun to pile up.
By 2007, stuff had begun to pile up.

went to California with my father to settle my aunt’s estate. It was small and relatively simple to handle. But I would benefit from that apprenticeship in the years to come. Aunt Betty was also a writer, and I brought a few of her things back home with me.

They took up a small corner in the Library, but that would only be for a little while. Till I got photos digitized and organized, and went through her papers. The books from Warren found homes on the expanding board-feet of bookshelves. The art supplies and fun boxes and bags . . . well, I’d figure out a good place soon.

Another loss, another deluge

The next year my mother died. Gigi and I struggled to get her house cleared out and ready to sellNot sure what to do with all her stuff–and too heartsick to face sorting through it–we hauled it all to Kansas City.

Some went into storage, and some to my house. Gigi didn’t have room. She was still cleaning out the home she’d shared with Warren, and struggling to deal with abrupt widowhood.

By 2009, the burgeoning piles of stuff in the Library were accumulating at a much faster rate than I could keep up with it.
By 2009, the burgeoning piles of stuff in the Library were accumulating at a much faster rate than I could keep up with it. The Library was beginning to need Liberation, but I already had too much to do.

Piled higher and deeper

My mother also had a library in her home. She’d managed to confine it to one long wall of floor-to-ceiling books in her house, but when she passed away, my library suddenly had a whole new wall’s worth of books to assimilate. Yes, I got rid of a few. But Mom had some really cool books!

I only discovered later that some of the stuff from Mom’s house had originally belonged to my grandparents. And some of that had belonged to their parents or siblings. I had unwittingly joined a grand family tradition of accumulating inherited boxes full of stuff.

The year after that, my father-in-law passed away, and my mother-in-law began to downsize. More things arrived at our house, bit by bit. Year by year. And the Library took the brunt of it.

My kids went off to college and took some of the excess furniture–but a few years later they came back. With all of the same furniture, plus lots of new books. Then my other aunt became ill. My daughter went out to California to care for her, but eventually that aunt, too, died.

The California tsunami

And left us all her stuff. This time I went out to stay with Signy in my aunt’s condominium for several months, while we sorted through decades of accumulated wonderful things. Yes, she also had a full wall of books, but I was out of space and then some (of course, I still brought some of them home).

I read all I could, and wrote several blog post book reviews while I was at it. If you’d like to read them, I reviewed The Keepsake byTess Gerritsen,  The Sentry by Robert Craisas well as The Innocent and The Sixth Man, both by David Baldacci. We donated a large trove of hardback thrillers and mysteries by well-known authors to the local public library (they were delighted) before we left town.

These are most of the books we donated to the local library, so they'd find good homes and we didn't have to haul them across literally half the continent. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt)
These are most of the books we donated to the local library, so they’d find good homes and we didn’t have to haul them across literally half the continent. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt)

Donation mania

That wasn’t all we donated. We never found a good auction company or estate liquidator, and the Realtor was eager to get the place emptied so it could be staged. So we made lists and lists and lists of donations for tax purposes, and then we donated stuff. Clothing by the bales and bags, some of it designer items. Household goods till the local donation center personnel began to recognize us. We even found a place to donate much of the furniture.

But we still had to rent a 16-foot box truck to get the rest of it out of her place. Who knew a three-bedroom condo could hold so much stuff? We hauled it to Gigi’s place first. She didn’t take exactly half of it, but she took a lot. Even so, what was left was enough to swamp the remaining clear spaces at our house.

When we arrived home from California, emptying the truck loaded up our living room. It deluged our dining room. And let's not even talk about what it dit to the Library. Except, not talking about it didn't make it go away.
When we arrived home from California, emptying the truck loaded up our living room. It deluged our dining room. And let’s not even talk about what it dit to the Library. Except, not talking about it didn’t make it go away.

Stop! Stop!

But wait. There’s more! My mother-in-law moved into a nursing home. My father moved from his large home at the lake to a smaller place, then to a condo near us. In both cases a select few cherished or useful objects arrived at our place, along with other stuff that “needed to be gone through.”

We kept trying to live our lives, throughout all of this. To build businesses. Write books. Deal with medical emergencies, and my daughter’s chronic illness. We kept intending to go through all the stuff, but there was never time.

Well, now it’s time.

The Library Liberation Project is ON. We broke down and rented another storage unit last October. The one from last decade, after my mother died, had long been cleared out and closed, and we’d hoped to handle further inflows “in-house.” So, yeah, we caved. 

At this point, it's hard to find any floor space at all in our once-spacious Library (the pet fence is up to deter the dogs). If ever a Library needed Liberating, it's ours!
At this point, it’s hard to find any floor space at all in our once-spacious Library (the pet fence is up to deter the dogs). If ever a Library needed Liberating, it’s ours!

Retreat to the caves!

But we needed some slack. We were like one of those sliding-tile puzzlesbut with no empty space to slide a tile into. The rental’s not cheap. When I say “we caved,” I mean that literally as well as figuratively. Not far from our house is an underground storage facility in a repurposed mine. The good part is that it’s naturally temperature-controlled. You may also have seen it featured on my friend Lynette M. Burrows’s blog.

In 2020, we hope to reclaim our Library for real. We got a slow start in the last quarter of 2019, but we’re determined. But The Artdog needs a better StudioWeird Sisters Publishing needs a real office, and the Gephardts may not be as reliant on the “dead-trees versions” of books as we once were, but we want our Library back! And the Library Liberation Project will (eventually) get us there. We hope.

2020 vision

You may periodically receive updates on our progress in this blog space. You may also periodically see fewer or shorter entries, as I juggle the time requirements to factor in the Library Liberation work. We didn’t get into this situation overnight, and it’ll take a lot of time and hard work to get us out.

I hope by talking about my quest, I may encourage you to tackle any accumulating problems that may be developing in your life (before they get this bad!). Or perhaps you may just enjoy laughing at the crazy woman with a knack for inheriting mounds of interesting stuff. Either way, I hope it’s interesting.


Most of the photos in this blog post were taken by me, Jan S. Gephardt. The one of my late aunt’s collection of thrillers and mystery novels was taken by Tyrell E. Gephardt. Feel free to reblog or re-post any you may find helpful, but please only do so with an attribution and a link back to this post. Thanks!

this black and gold image is a word cloud with a background of fireworks. At the center is a large "2020," surrounded by words and phrases such as "Happy New Year, Good luck, Success, Health, Happiness, Love, Peace," and "Satisfaction," as well as " Wish you all the best for 2020."

Happy New Year!

this black and gold image is a word cloud with a background of fireworks. At the center is a large "2020," surrounded by words and phrases such as "Happy New Year, Good luck, Success, Health, Happiness, Love, Peace," and "Satisfaction," as well as " Wish you all the best for 2020."

As I have in the past, do now, and always will! I wish you all the best of a Happy New Year! 

IMAGE: Many thanks to meineurlaubswelt via 123RF, for this New Year greeting!

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén