Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: February 2020

Signs, books for sale, and badge ribbons, bookmarks, and postcards for the taking, on Jan's Capricon 40 autograph table.

Creating S.W.A.G.

Capricon 40 kicked off my “con season” for 2020 on a high note. Time to get the rest of the reservations, plans, and itineraries in place. And time for creating S.W.A.G.

What is S.W.A.G., you may ask? It is Stuff We All Get (also abbreviated SWAG, without the periods, or spelled with lower-case letters). It’s the “freebies,” the samples, the advertising novelties that are handed out to people at conferences, conventions, and similar events. The stuff designed to help people remember our products and services later, after the event is over. 

S.W.A.G. makes a presence at every science fiction convention. And lately I’ve been handing out a lot of it. 

Jan with her autograph table display
I offered all manner of S.W.A.G. during my autographing at Capricon 40. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt)

SF conventions and sales

It’s hard to measure whether freebies actually sell books. I’ve handed out what feels like bushels of bookmarks and barrels of badge-ribbons, often to enthusiastic recipients–so there’s at least the initial impression that’s positive.

Does that sell books? Maybe. I think both convention-going in general and S.W.A.G. in particular is a brand-building effort, more than a retail opportunity. I did notice a small up-tick in my book sales after Capricon (thank you!!), but even if you count in my art show sales, the cons don’t pay for themselves by the end of the weekend.

That’s okay by me, because I go to conventions for a lot of reasons besides selling books and art. Idea-gathering, networking, seeing old friends, finding material to blog about, discovering new artists and writers, and more fill out my list of reasons. 

Best of all, for me, are the panel discussions, readings, and chances to interact with fans and readers.

"Detectives in the Wild" panel at Capricon 40
I like to participate in panel discussions at sf cons. “Detectives in the Wild” panelists at Capricon 40, L-R: Jan S. Gephardt (Moderator), Deirdre MurphyMark H. Huston, and Clifford Royal Johns. (photo by a kindly audience member who didn’t share his name).

Creating S.W.A.G.

If I’m honest, creating S.W.A.G. is fun. I undoubtedly have too many different badge ribbons, but I’ll keep giving them out (I have lots). Coming up with the slogans to put on them is a creative exercise. My sister discovered that this winter while we were creating S.W.A.G. for her.

I generally like to create three kinds of S.W.A.G.: Postcards, bookmarks, and badge ribbons. Each fulfills a slightly different function.


Jan's current postcard, featuring her novel, "What's Bred in the Bone."
This is my blank postcard before adding the label with specific info about my reading, autographing, and the dealer who carries the books at that convention. (Design by Jan S. GephardtWhat’s Bred in the Bone cover art © 2019 by Jody A. Lee). 

I have a generic postcard that’s been professionally printed, which I customize for each convention. Every year, each convention schedules me for different things at different times. There’s a place designed on the postcard for a label that’s printed with that convention’s specifics.

My postcards generally list when and where my reading is scheduled, when and where I’ll be signing autographs, and (if I can work out a consignment deal ahead of time) what dealer is carrying my books at that convention. 

I hand out postcards everywhere I can, especially in the early part of the convention, because if I can convince interested readers to come to those events and places, I have a better chance to sell them books!


Bookmarks from Weird Sisters Publishing: back and front sides of the two current bookmark designs.
Both sides of both current bookmarks: Left for What’s Bred in the Bone by 
Jan S. Gephardt
, and right is Deep Ellum Pawn, a novelette by G. S. Norwood. (Design by Jan S. GephardtWhat’s Bred in the Bone cover art © 2019 by Jody A. LeeDeep Ellum Pawn art © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.)

Bookmarks are probably my best overall S.W.A.G. sales tool. And if I do say so myself, my bookmarks are beautiful. 

Yes, I know the vast majority of books I sell are ebooks. But people do still buy the “dead trees” versions, and when you’re reading a physical book you need a bookmark.

For a writer, artist, or other creative professional, a bookmark functions much the same way as a business card, but in a number of ways it’s harder to lose and more practical

Maybe I’m weird, but I keep a large collection of bookmarks that also are a little memory trove. Some date back decades–but the ones I tend to keep, use, and enjoy the most are ones I especially like to look at

Bookmarks aren’t just for sf conventions, either. Lately I’ve had a slew of annual checkups, etc. At most of them I’ve found someone who likes science fiction and happily takes my bookmarks. All literate people can use bookmarks. I’m happy to supply them!

Badge ribbons

5 badge ribbon designs inspired by Jan's book, "What's Bred in the Bone."
Here is this year’s crop of What’s Bred in the Boneinspired badge ribbons. (preview images courtesy of P C Nametags).

As I said above, I undoubtedly give out too many badge ribbons. They’re not exactly cheap, and not all of the designs clearly remind people what book they’re promoting.

But I get a kick out of creating them, and many people get a kick out of wearing them at conventions.

Too many badge ribbons on a badge can be impractical–but people adapt. Pro tip: Duct tape on the back can keep a long string from breaking apart. Come prepared!

Even though they’re impractical, they’re quixotic. The silky texture and varied colors are pretty. They add a touch of whimsy. Many are funny, some are cryptic, and they’re altogether fun.

Seriously! What more excuse do you need?

5 badge ribbons inspired by G.S. Norwood's story, "Deep Ellum Pawn."
Here are the badge ribbons my sister and I brainstormed, based on her story Deep Ellum Pawn. (preview images courtesy of P C Nametags).

See you at the convention?

As you see, there are lots of reasons for creating S.W.A.G., and it can be fun to use. If you come to one of the conventions I attend, look for my postcards on the freebie tables and my Art Show display. 

Then come to my reading and/or autographing session, where I’ll have ALL the S.W.A.G.!

And if you’re a creative professional, perhaps you should consider creating S.W.A.G. of your own.

Photo of Jan's autograph table display, with signs, copies of her book, along with badge ribbons, bookmarks, and postcards for the taking.
Here’s another view of my Capricon 40 autograph table display. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt).


The photos of me with my S.W.A.G. offerings and books at my Capricon 40 autographing, and the detail-photo of the S.W.A.G. and books display, are both courtesy of Tyrell E. Gephardt. Please acknowledge him as photographer and provide a link back to this site if you re-post or reuse it. Thanks!

The photo of the “Detectives in the Wild” panel at Capricon 40 was taken by a kind audience member who did not give me his name–but whom I thank anyway! Please feel free to re-post or re-use it, too, but with an acknowledgement and link back to this post, if possible, please!

The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee

The cover art for Deep Ellum Pawn is © 2019 by Chaz Kemp

The images of the badge ribbon designs are previews generated by the P C Nametags Custom Badge Ribbons webpage. Many thanks to all!

Jonathan Brazee with books.

Authors everywhere

 There seemed to be authors everywhere at Capricon 40. I’ve already introduced several of them in the “Capricon Project” posts “Detectives in the Wild” and “Indie Author Speed-Dating.” But there were yet more!

the Capricon 40 header
(image courtesy of Capricon 40 website)

Personal experiences

These Capricon Project posts focus only on authors I met and interacted with personally at the con. My apologies to all the other authors who were there. If I didn’t encounter you in a meaningful way at the con, I didn’t include you.

I did also video-record a series of short interviews with Indie authors with tables in the Capricon 40 Dealers’ Room. I’m still working on those. I need to learn how to use Premiere Pro to edit them. I hope to produce them for posting during the spring months.

Yes, there were authors everywhere at Capricon 40. Let me mention a few more here.

Jonathan P. Brazee

Jonathan P. Brazee at the Indie Author Speed-Dating event at Capricon 40 (Photo by Jan S. Gephardt)
Jonathan P. Brazee at the Indie Author Speed-Dating event at Capricon 40 (Photo by Jan S. Gephardt)

I’ve had the pleasure of being friends with Jonathan Brazee since we met in Puerto Rico in 2017. He is a prolific, successful Nebula Award-nominated, Dragon Award-winning author who mostly writes military science fiction. I included a short profile of him in one of my post-Capricon articles last year, but he’s expanded several of his series since then.

He wrote his 2020 novel Gemini Twins in honor of his own twin daughters. Other recently-completed series include Ghost Marines and The Navy of Humankind-Wasp Squadron.

Books by Jonathan P. Brazee from right to left: the Navy of Humankind-Wasp Squadron series, Gemini Twins, and the Ghost Marines series. (Book cover images courtesy of Amazon).
Books by Jonathan P. Brazee from right to left: the Navy of Humankind-Wasp Squadron series, Gemini Twins, and the Ghost Marines series. (Book cover images courtesy of Amazon).

Dorothy Winsor

I shared a reading time-slot with Dorothy Winsor at Capricon 40. She read a wonderful short story. I believe she said it’s unpublished to date, but it deserves to be seen and read! She writes mostly middle-grade and Young Adult fantasy. 

The book she promoted most at Capricon was The Wind Reader. It’s a story about a young boy who tells fortunes on the street to earn a living. Then he tells a fortune for prince that later actually comes true(!) Next he’s compelled to come to the castle to be the royal fortune teller–a role for which he’s not prepared.

At right is Dorothy Winsor, just before her reading at Capricon 40. At left, her current novel, The Wind Reader. (photo by Jan S. Gephardt. Book covers are courtesy of Amazon).
At right is Dorothy Winsor, just before her reading at Capricon 40. At left, her current novel, The Wind Reader(photo by Jan S. Gephardt. Book covers are courtesy of Amazon).

Lance Erlick

I stayed for the readings that followed mine and Dorothy’s. This gave me the opportunity to hear an excerpt from Lance Erlick’s book RebornIt’s the first of his Android Chronicles books. Interesting and well written, it probably ought to come with trigger warnings

Erlick’s android protagonist “Synthia Cross is a state-of-the-art masterwork of synthetic human design—and a fantasy come true for her creator.” She shows enough alarming signs of emergent behavior, however, that her creator wipes her memory each day to keep her in control. He has his nefarious reasons, but she’s already learning how to leave herself clues so she can reconstruct her past–and reveal her creator’s true intentions.

Lance Erlick listens to Kristine Smith’s reading at Capricon 40, before it’s his turn. At right are three books of the Android Chronicles. (photo by Jan S. Gephardt. Book covers are courtesy of Amazon).

Kristine Smith

Kristine shared the reading time-slot with Lance. A winner of the John W. Campbell Award, she’s been writing the Jani Kilian Chronicles for several years. Its multiple volumes tell the story of a struggle for understanding and peace between humans and an exo-terrestraial species called the idomeni.

The title character is a former captain with powerful enemies and a body that’s been expensively repaired after traumatic injuries that allowed her death to be faked. Kilian subsequently forms a friendship with the idomeni ambassador. Smith’s reading selection this time was an excerpt from the most recent Jani Kilian book. She also writes the Lauren Reardon series, under the name of Alex Gordon.

Kristine Smith reads from part of the Jani Kilian series at Capricon 40. (photo by Jan S. Gephardt. Book covers courtesy of Amazon).
Kristine Smith reads from part of the Jani Kilian series at Capricon 40. (photo by Jan S. Gephardt. Book covers courtesy of Amazon).

Donna J. W. Munro

I shared an autographing table with Donna J. W. Munro, who primarily writes dark fantasy horror, YA fiction, and science fiction. She is a prolific writer of short fiction, including two stories, “Death’s Day Off,” and “My Forever Love,” in the anthology Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths, Vol. II

According to her blog, the first of a series about zombies, called the Poppet Series (“about tamed zombies and the girl who wants to save them”), will be available in May 2020.

Donna J. W. Munro and one of the anthologies in which her short fiction is published. (photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt; book cover image courtesy of Amazon.)
Donna J. W. Munro and one of the anthologies in which her short fiction is published. (photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt; book cover image courtesy of Amazon.)

W. A. Thomasson

W. A. (Bill) Thomasson (photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt)
W. A. (Bill) Thomasson
(photo: Tyrell E. Gephardt)

Like Jonathan Brazee, I met Bill Thomasson in Puerto Rico in 2017, and we’ve bumped into each other at conventions ever since. Bill has been working on a sword and sorcery novel for some time. He’d hoped that The Whip of Abadur would be available in time for Capricon 40, but it’s still in production (indeed, there’s no cover yet!). 

He describes the story this way: “In an ancient Fertile Land that is not quite the one we know, the cat burglar Teema is hired to retrieve a demon-god’s stolen symbol of power and return it to its proper temple. But she quickly learns that meddling in the affairs of gods and demons is more dangerous than she had thought.”

As you can see, Capricon 40 featured authors everywhere! I hope you’ve enjoyed one more small tour through some of the exotic and interesting worlds they’ve created, in this final episode of the Capricon Project.


The photos of Jonathan Brazee, Dorothy Winsor, Lance Erlick, and Kristine Smith all were taken at Capricon 40 by Jan S. Gephardt with the subjects’ knowledge and consent. If you wish to re-use or reblog any of these photos, please credit Jan as the photographer and if possible include a link back to this post. 

The photos of Donna J. W. Munro and W. A. (Bill) Thomasson were taken by Tyrell E. Gephardt, also at Capricon 40, and also with the subjects’ knowledge and consent. Please observe the same courtesy of including an attribution and link back, if you use these photos.

The Capricon 40 header is courtesy of Capricon 40’s website. All of the book cover images are courtesy of Amazon (see captions for individual links).

Here's Jan at the autographing table during Capricon 40

Indie Author Speed-Dating

The Capricon Project continues

On Friday of Capricon 40 I participated in the Indie Author Speed-Dating event. The idea was that we’d bring handouts and freebies, have books on hand to sell or show, and be prepared to deliver our “elevator speech” to tell people what our books are all about. The next morning I followed a similar process when I made myself available for autographing (more on that later). 

Photo of Jan with her stuff at the autographing table by Ty Gephardt.
Here’s Jan at her autographing table, with books and SWAG from Weird Sisters Publishing. (Photo by Ty Gephardt.)

Timed during the dinner hour, the Indie Author Speed-Dating event didn’t enjoy the best of turnouts. Some folks came in, and some of us actually sold books. A few of us circulated to “speed-date” other authors so we could get to know each other better. It would have been more fun if we’d had more people in the “audience,” but it was a nice opportunity for those who did come to talk one-on-one with authors.

There were some interesting books and authors at this event. I thought perhaps you’d like a “Virtual Indie Author Speed-Dating” glimpse! Where possible, I’ve used authors’ online statements and/or book descriptions in lieu of their “elevator speeches.”

Rook Creek Books

Blake Hausladen and Deanna Sjolander are the authors of Rook Creek BooksDeanna moderated the event. She and Blake did a lot of circulating at the beginning, to kind of get things going.

Here's a montage of all 18 Blake Hausladen book covers, courtesy of Rook Creek Books.
Eighteen Books by Blake Hausladen. (Montage courtesy of Rook Creek Books.)

Blake’s Vesteal Series is 15 books long. “The completed series has been published into three omnibus collection, The Ghosts in the YewNative Silver, and The Vastness.” NOTE: Rock Creek Books also presented a showing of their stop-motion movie production of Beyond the Edge at Capricon 40.

Deanna’s latest published editing project is Eileen Flaherty’s The Perilous StepHer own first novel, Sophie and the G-Man, is set to publish later this month (Feb. 2020).

Rebecca Ciardullo, a.k.a. R. L. Frencl

Rebecca brought the three books of her fantasy Star Circle Trilogy, which was published last year.Here’s a brief description from the trilogy’s page on Amazon:

“The Darkness that lives behind the stars rises, spinning plots and lies to entrap humanity and bring down the civilizations of mankind. The Star Bearers are called by the Lights to represent the best of mankind and drive the Darkness back behind the stars.

“Aerin and Robyn have been down this road before. Both have stood at a point of the Circle, giving all to the fight. They were two of the few who walked away from the last convergence. The Stars align once more, calling them to represent a world that doesn’t know it’s in danger.”

The Star Circle Trilogy by R. L Frencl includes The Shattered Prism, Walking with Shadows, and Dark Rainbow's End. (photo courtesy of Amazon.)
The Star Circle Trilogy by R. L Frencl includes The Shattered Prism, Walking with Shadows, and Dark Rainbow’s End. (photo courtesy of Amazon.)

She is the author of at least one other series, including some books available in the UK, as well as in the USA. I didn’t get a chance to talk much with Rebecca, but she and author Jen Haeger let me take their picture.

Rebecca Ciardullo/R. L. Frencl and Jen Haeger chat at the Indie Author Speed-Dating event at Capricon 40 (Photo by Jan S. Gephardt)
Rebecca Ciardullo/R. L. Frencl and Jen Haeger chat at the Indie Author Speed-Dating event at Capricon 40 (Photo by Jan S. Gephardt)

Jen Haeger

As I mentioned in an earlier post on this blogJen and I collaborated long-distance on a blog post back in 2017. Neither of us was able to come to Capricon 37. Without meaning to, we “orphaned” the panel Writing about Forensics, so we tried to make up for it by blogging the panel discussion.

At that time she’d only just published her first novel, a paranormal romance titled Moonlight Medicine: Onset. According to her website, however, “My werewolf paranormal romance trilogy, Moonlight Medicine: Onset, Moonlight Medicine: Epidemic, and Moonlight Medicine: Inoculation, previously published by Crowded Quarantine Publications, is not currently available except at the Barnes and Noble in Brighton, MI.”

The WHISPS Series-to-date consists of Whispers of a Killer, Whispers of Terror, and Whispers of Conspiracy. (Image courtesy of Amazon.)
The WHISPS Series-to-date consists of Whispers of a KillerWhispers of Terror, and Whispers of Conspiracy. (Image courtesy of Amazon.)

Meanwhile she’s been busy with the WHISPS Series (currently up to three books), and a novel titled Miles from Manistique

Chris Gerrib

Chris goes to a lot of the same sf conventions I do. I featured him in a post last year about three authors I’d encountered at Capricon 39His series about Martian pirates continues to be the extent of his science fiction explorations. He tells me he’s been writing mysteries more recently.

Chris Gerrib's Martian Pirates Trilogy consists of The Mars Run, Pirates of Mars, and The Night Watch. (Image courtesy of Amazon.)
Chris Gerrib’s Martian Pirates Trilogy consists of The Mars RunPirates of Mars, and The Night Watch. (Image courtesy of Amazon.)

Chris shared a table with me at the Indie Author Speed Dating event. He and L.A. Kirchheimer, posed for a photo beside my and Chris’s displays. 

Chris Gerrib and L. A. Kirchheimer show me their books at Capricon 40's Indie Author Speed-Dating event. (Photo by Jan S. Gephardt)
Chris Gerrib and L. A. Kirchheimer show me their books at Capricon 40’s Indie Author Speed-Dating event. (Photo by Jan S. Gephardt)

L. A. Kirchheimer

L. A. Kirchheimer seems like an interesting person, though I barely got to talk with her. To date she’s written two books, Secrets in Mystic Woodsand Journey Through Darkness.

Both center around the paranormal adventures of thirteen-year-old Charity Graves, who starts the first book seeking to learn more about a teacher with whom she’s come into conflict, but whose concerns quickly escalate to much larger and more terrifying threats.

L. A. Kirchheimer's books, Secrets in Mystic Woods and Journey Through Darkness recount the adventures of 13-year-old Charity Graves. At right, Kirchheimer participates in a panel at Capricon 40. (Cover images courtesy of Amazon. Kirchheimer at Capricon 40 courtesy of her Facebook Author Page).
L. A. Kirchheimer’s books, Secrets in Mystic Woods and Journey Through Darkness recount the adventures of 13-year-old Charity Graves. At right, Kirchheimer participates in a panel at Capricon 40. (Cover images courtesy of AmazonKirchheimer at Capricon 40 courtesy of her Facebook Author Page). 

We’ve only gotten partway through the list of authors at the Indie Author Speed-Dating event. In the next post we’ll meet some more. I hope you learned about someone new whose books you’d like to explore! Please leave a comment if you did!


The photo of Jan S. Gephardt with books from Weird Sisters Publishing is by Tyrell Gephardt, and is used with his permission.

Many thanks to Rook Creek Books for the Vesteal Series composite (and description), featuring books by Blake Hausladen with covers by Elizabeth Leggett

Many thanks to Amazon for the photo of R. L. Frencl’s The Star Circle Trilogy, Jen Haeger’s WHISPS Series, Chris Gerrib’s Martian Pirates Trilogy, and the cover art for L. A. Kirchheimer’s two books. The photo of Kirchheimer at the Capricon 40 panel is courtesy of the author’s Facebook Page.

The photos of Jen Haeger with Rebecca Ciardullo (R. L. Frencl),  and of Chris Gerrib with L. A. Kirchheimer, are both by Jan S. Gephardt, taken with their consent at the Indie Author Speed-Dating event at Capricon 40. Re-post or reblog if you wish, but please include an attribution to Jan as the photographer and a link back to this post, if possible.

This is the header for Capricon 40. Its bright, tropical colors and lettering reflect this year's theme "The Tropics of Capricon."

Detectives in the Wild

The Capricon Project – Detectives in the Wild

My first panel at Capricon  40 was one of the three I’m scheduled to moderate, “Detectives in the Wild.” In it we explored the many ways that mystery stories show up in speculative fiction.

"Detectives in the Wild" panelists, L-R: Jan S. Gephardt (Moderator), Deirdre Murphy, Mark H. Huston, and Clifford Royal Johns. (photo by a kindly audience member who didn't share his name).
“Detectives in the Wild” panelists, L-R: Jan S. Gephardt (Moderator), Deirdre MurphyMark H. Huston, and Clifford Royal Johns. (photo by a kindly audience member who didn’t share his name).

Deirdre MurphyMark Huston, and Clifford Royal Johns joined me as co-panelists. All of us have written, or are writing, speculative fiction mysteries. Just between the four of us, we covered the mystery sub-categories of CoziesAmateur SleuthDetective, and Police Procedural.

L-R: Jan S. Gephardt's What's Bred in the Bone and soon-to-be-released The Other Side of Fear feature crime-solving, super-smart police dogs. Mark H. Huston's Up-Time Pride and Down-Time Prejudice takes an alternate-history look at Austen. And Clifford Royal Johns' Walking Shadow explores the implications of a memory-erasing procedure. Unfortunately, Deirdre Murphy's book, Murder and Sea Monsters, isn't out yet. (See below for full image credits for these covers).
L-R: Jan S. Gephardt‘s What’s Bred in the Bone and soon-to-be-released The Other Side of Fear feature crime-solving, super-smart police dogs. Mark H. Huston‘s Up-Time Pride and Down-Time Prejudice takes an alternate-history look at Austen. And Clifford Royal Johns‘ Walking Shadow explores the implications of a memory-erasing procedure. Unfortunately, Deirdre Murphy’s book, Murder and Sea Monsters, isn’t out yet. (See below for full image credits for these covers).

The panel’s description made it seem as if mysteries in the speculative genres that range outside of urban fantasy are hard to find. But between us and the audience, we came up with a bunch. We quickly found ourselves sub-categorizing them, too.

Alternate History 

“Detectives in the Wild” aren’t hard to find in the alternate history genre. It’s so flexible, it can encompass any number of co-genres. Our panel’s alternate history point-person Mark Huston gave us an excellent overview. 

Mark writes in Eric Flint’s 1632 Universe.  Here are just a few of the recommended alternative history mystery novels we came up with.

Randall Garrett, Georg Huff and Paula Goodlett, Julie McElwain, and Michael Chabon all have entries in this category. Garrett and McElwain each created a series after publishing their series-openers shown here. (See below for full image credits).
Randall GarrettGeorg Huff and Paula Goodlett, Julie McElwain, and Michael Chabon all have entries in this category. Garrett and McElwain each created a series after publishing their series-openers shown here. (See below for full image credits).


No discussion of mysteries would be complete without the Noir Mystery category. For some people, it’s the first kind of mystery they think about when they hear “mystery fiction.” The Noir sub-genre has its own tropes and unique characteristics

These often extend into speculative fiction categories in distinctive ways. We included stories with the feel and general optics of traditional Noir, but which the authors have played for laughs or to make a different point. Here are some of the Noir-style novels we touched on.

Some panel- and audience-recommended recommended examples of Noir-style mysteries in speculative fiction. Authors are Richard K. Morgan, Jonathan Lethem, David Carrico, and Glen Cook. (See below for full credits).
Some panel- and audience-recommended recommended examples of Noir-style mysteries in speculative fiction. Authors are Richard K. MorganJonathan LethemDavid Carrico, and Glen Cook. (See below for full credits).


Yes, we know we weren’t supposed to get into urban fantasy. But the line between it and paranormal stories is blurry. We kept coming up with so many good ones! With our active, engaged audience, we shared ideas about books that are well worth reading. Many in this line-up are the first books in enduring and well-loved series.

Lee Killough's Garreth Mikaelian, Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse, Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, and Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden all anchor satisfying series. These are covers for the first book in each. (See below for full credits).
Lee Killough’s Garreth MikaelianCharlaine Harris’Sookie StackhouseLaurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, and Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden all anchor satisfying series. These are covers for the first book in each. (See below for full credits).

Robots and AIs

Speculative fiction’s detectives aren’t always human. The unusual capabilities of extrapolated and imagined artificial intelligences–whether they’re in the form of androids, robots, or other things–have made these creations a favorite for speculative fiction writers, especially since Isaac Asimov’s classic team of R. Daneel Olivaw and Elijah Baley. Panelists and audience came up with several highly-recommended titles and series.

From left to right, these covers represent the Isaac Asimov classic The Caves of Steel, A. Lee Martinez's The Automatic Detective (with distinctly Noir-ish cover art to reflect the adventures of Mack Megaton, an investigative robot), Guy Haley's Reality 36 (a cyborg and an AI team up as investigators), and Donna Andrews' cozy mystery You've Got Murder, the debut outing for Turing Hopper ("a computer with the heart of Miss Marple"),
From left to right, these covers represent the Isaac Asimov classic The Caves of Steel, A. Lee Martinez‘s The Automatic Detective (with distinctly Noir-ish cover art to reflect the adventures of Mack Megaton, an investigative robot), Guy Haley’Reality 36 (a cyborg and an AI team up as investigators), and Donna Andrews‘ cozy mystery You’ve Got Murderthe debut outing for Turing Hopper (“a computer with the heart of Miss Marple”),

General Science Fiction

But not all science fiction mysteries fall into easy categories. That’s the nature of the genre–it’s grounded in the unexpected. We couldn’t complete our survey of “Detectives in the Wild” without talking about some that defy confinement in traditional mystery categories.

These covers represent some of the unique places science fiction can go with a mystery. Lee Killough's The Doppelgänger Gambit explores the nature of a "perfect alibi" in a world where one's digital privacy has reached a new dimension. Kristine Kathryn Rusch explores questions of justice in a world where the presence of aliens changes the rules, in The Disappeared (first in the Retrieval Artist Series). Mur Lafferty's Six Wakes is the ultimate closed-room mystery in which seven crew members of a starship awaken to discover their previous bodies were murdered--by one of them. But they don't remember who is the murderer. And in Arkady Martine's "interstellar mystery" A Memory Called Empire, an ambassador must discover who killed her predecessor (everyone swears it was an accident) before she meets a similar fate.
These covers represent some of the unique places science fiction can go with a mystery. Lee Killough‘s The Doppelgänger Gambit explores the nature of a “perfect alibi” in a world where one’s digital privacy has reached a new dimension. Kristine Kathryn Rusch explores questions of justice in a world where the presence of aliens changes the rules, in The Disappeared (first in the Retrieval Artist Series). Mur Lafferty‘s Six Wakes is the ultimate closed-room mystery in which seven crew members of a starship awaken to discover their previous bodies were murdered–by one of them. But they don’t remember who is the murderer. And in Arkady Martine‘s “interstellar mystery” A Memory Called Empirean ambassador must discover who killed her predecessor (everyone swears it was an accident) before she meets a similar fate.

I’m sorry I couldn’t transport all of my readers into the panel room itself. This little overview has only scratched the surface of our discussion. I have to give a lot of credit to the breadth and depth of our panelists’ knowledge–and also to our stellar audience. It took all of us to create what was for me a fun and informative panel. I hope they enjoyed “Detectives in the Wild” as much as I did.


First of all, many, many thanks to the kind gentleman from the audience who volunteered to take our picture for me. He didn’t identify himself, but he has my deep gratitude! 

The images of our book covers come from varied sources. The cover art for Jan S. Gephardt’s What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. Cover art for Jan’s forthcoming novella The Other Side of Fear (watch for it in late March 2020!) is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk

The cover image for Mark H. Huston’s Up-Time Pride and Down-Time Prejudice is courtesy of Amazon. Many thanks to Goodreads for Clifford Royal Johns’ Walking Shadow cover image. Unfortunately, Deirdre Murphy’s Murder and Sea Monsters isn’t yet available online.


Many thanks to Goodreads, for the cover of Randall Garrett’s Murder and Magicthe first Lord Darcy book. I also wish to thank Ring of Fire Press for the cover image for A Holmes for the Czar. Many thanks to Goodreads again, for the cover image for Julie McElwain’s A Murder in TimeFinally, thank you to Abe Books, for Michael Chabon’s cover image from The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

I’m grateful to Book Depository, for the Altered Carbon cover art on Richard K. Morgan‘s book. Many thanks to Wikimedia for the first edition cover for Jonathan Lethem‘s Gun, with Occasional Music. Gratitude and thanks to Amazon for the Magdeburg Noir cover image, from David Carrico of Ring of Fire. NoteCarrico has showed up previously on Jan’s Artdog Adventures blog. Last but not least for the Noir section, I am indebted to Abe Books for a good image of cover art for Glen Cook‘s Sweet Silver Bluesfirst of the Garrett Files series.


Many thanks to Amazon for the cover of Lee Killough‘s Blood Huntand to Goodreads for the cover images of Charlaine Harris‘s Dead Until DarkLaurel K. Hamilton‘s Guilty Pleasuresand Jim Butcher‘s Storm Front. 

I’m grateful to Amazon for the cover of Isaac Asimov‘s The Caves of Steel, and to Goodreads for cover images for A. Lee Martinez‘s The Automatic Detective, Guy Haley‘s Reality 36and Donna Andrews‘ You’ve got Murder

Finally, many thanks to Amazon, for the covers of Lee Killough‘s The Doppelgänger Gambitand Mur Lafferty‘s Six WakesI’m grateful to Goodreads for the cover of Kristine Kathryn Rusch‘s The Disappearedand to NPR (nice interview there, too!) for the cover of Arkady Martine‘s A Memory Called EmpireI literally couldn’t have created this post without y’all! Thank you!

This is the header for Capricon 40. Its bright, tropical colors and lettering reflect this year's theme "The Tropics of Capricon."

The Capricon Project

Let me tell you about The Capricon Project. As I noted on this blog Feb. 1, I’m planning to attend Capricon 40 this week (God and the weather willing).  While I’m there, my publishing company and I hope to join forces (and blogs) to cover the event.

As you may know, I’m the Weirdness Manager for Weird Sisters Publishing LLC (I’m half of the partnership. The other half is my sister, G. S. Norwood).  As Weirdness Manager, I also write most of our posts for The Weird Blogand I’m in charge of preparing and posting all of them. But I can only split “me” into so many fragments. 

This is the header for Capricon 40. Its bright, tropical colors and lettering reflect this year's theme "The Tropics of Capricon."

What is The Capricon Project?

Artdog Adventures and The Weird Blog will join forces for The Capricon Project. I propose to take lots of photos and do a lot of things at the convention (followers of Artdog Adventures are familiar with my process). 

I like to highlight things I’ve seenpeople I’ve metand panels I’ve attended or helped present. We plan to cross-post the short profiles, photos, and other items I generate, to both blogs and some of our social media.

What’s the plan?

I have a pretty ambitious schedule for Capricon 40. I’m scheduled for eight programming events, including five panel discussions (three of which I moderate), an autograph session, a reading, and the Indie Author Speed-Dating event. 

This photo shows Jan S. Gephardt's Art Show display at Archon in Collinsville, IL as it looked October 6, 2019.
Photo by Jan S. Gephardt. This is my Art Show display at Archon in Collinsville, IL as it looked October 6, 2019.

I also have two display panels reserved at the Art Show. I’ll have a few copies of What’s Bred in the Bone with me, available for sale at the con (reduced at-con price is $13, or almost $2 off the regular trade paperback price).

I also plan to attend other panels and readings, and tour the Dealers’ Room. If they agree, I’ll take pictures or short videos of dealers whose work I can recommend, and post them on my social media (Artdog Studio is on Facebook and PinterestJan S. Gephardt-Author is on Facebook and Twitter, and Weird Sisters Publishing is on Facebook), as well as collect them for possible blog posts.

I hope you’ll follow my posts, and see how well The Capricon Project turns out!


The half-header for Capricon 40 is courtesy of the Capricon Website

The photo of my book display at the May 24, 2019 “Mad Authors’ Salon” at ConQuesT 50 is by Ty Gephardt, and used with his permission.

This photo shows a wide shot of a large crowd, many in dark clothing with protest signs, facing off against police in New York's Grand Central subway station.

Nothing is simple

Nothing is simple, although it may look that way from the outside.

I found an article the other day in one of my online research resources, Police Magazine. It reported on a disturbance in New York City’s Grand Central subway station. 

A group called Decolonize this Place organized it as part of a daylong series of demonstrations. This is the third time this group has staged demonstrations since earlier in 2019.

This photo shows a wide shot of a large crowd, many in dark clothing with protest signs, facing off against police in New York's Grand Central subway station.
A still from a video from New York Post, via Police Magazine, showing the protest in the terminal. (Police Magazine/New York Post)

They didn’t manage to close it down, as they’d hoped.

What they did manage to do was get national TV and other news coverage, and slow things down in Midtown. Reports on the size of the crowd and number of arrests varied. They left banners and sprayed graffiti, and tweeted about it. And they made an effort to look both intimidating and impossible to identify. Seems pretty obvious this group is up to no good, right?

Well, nothing is simple.

What’s the goal of the disruption?

This group clearly hates the police. According to their tweets, they want to “end all policing & destruction of public order . . . to bring public safety back to NYC.” They also want all mass transit fees ended, so the rides are all free. 

This retweet by NYC PBA of a Decolonize video says, "New Yorkers should pay close attention: this is true endgame of the anti-police movement, an end of all policing & destruction of public order. Our members have spent their careers--and in some cases given   their lives--to bring public safety back to NYC. We can't go backwards"
Photo from 1010 WINS Radio, via Twitter. (Note the
linked Twitter video contains profanity).

Let’s unpack this. First of all, “end all policing” is connected to “destruction of public order.” 

The goal is “to bring public safety back to NYC.”

While the article in Police Magazine did list their goals as “no cops in the MTA, free transit [and] no harassment, ” they focused more on the disruption and vandalism

That’s not surprising. Their aim, as stated by MTA Chief Safety Officer Pat Warren (quoted in the article), is to protect “transit services that get New Yorkers to their jobs, schools, doctors and other places they need to go.” Simple enough.

But nothing is simple.

How can the protests promote the need for public safety?

I’d just read another article about a UK study that demonstrated a 14-21% reduction in crime when the police patrolled subway stations every 15 minutes. These platforms previously had not had a police presence–exactly what the New York demonstrators are demanding

The article even went so far as to make a direct comparison: “London’s Underground, akin to NYC’s subway system, was the first underground railway in the world, and now services more than 1.3 billion passengers per year.”

The police show up and crime goes down. That’s pretty simple, isn’t it? But nothing is simple.

This photo shows a seating area at the Canary Wharf stop of the London Underground, with a train in the background.
A study showed police patrols every 15 minutes in the London Underground deterred crime. Yet Decolonize this Place is demanding that police stop patrolling the New York City subways. Does this make sense? (Photo courtesy of Forensic).

Who’s protecting whom, and from what?

The London Underground recently has seen delays from demonstrations, too, but those were staged by climate activists seeking attention. One of the biggest worries there seems to be terrorist attacks (and with good reason)

But hardly any of the London Underground’s users seem to think the police themselves are a danger to public safety. No so, for Decolonize this Place. They demonstrated to remove them from the subways entirely

The New York City subway system’s police officers, interacting with an assortment of low-income persons of color have been captured in distressing videos that went viral. This apparently happens frequently in the subways. 

Six homeless persons doze or sleep on a bench in a New York subway terminal.
The number of homeless persons living in the New York City subways has jumped by 20% recently (screencap of a video via ABC-7 News)

The MTA recently (and controversiallyhired 500 new officers to patrol the subways. They are there to address “quality of life” issues, such as illegal food vendors and the growing number of homeless people living in the subway system. 

Meanwhile, the NYPD has been cracking down on low-level crimes, and that’s no surprise, since that kind of crime is up. But that often means focusing on persons of color, whether it’s because of simple economics or racial bias. But addressing those issues, no matter how tactfully, is no simple matter.

Respect is not as simple a matter as it may seem. 

This 1981 news photo shows uniformed British police moving toward a barricade and bonfire, behind which a group of demonstrators hide.
1981 Brixton Riots in the UK: first large-scale clash between low-income black youths and white British police in the 20th Century. (Photo from The Royal Gazette)

As far as I can tell, one clear problem with NYPD and MTA officers’ approach is that it never seems to be respectfulDefensive, definitely–and in the current environment, caution is warranted

But whatever their intentions, the effect when they surround a tiny, elderly churro vender with four or five much taller armed police officers and handcuff her is pretty darned intimidating.

This is not a new thing, this antagonism between police forces and the working poor. And it’s not isolated to New York City. Fines that unfairly burdened lower-income residents of Ferguson MO fueled some of the fury in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing. And all too often cities’ attempts to “deal with the homeless problem” turn into efforts to chase the homeless out of town–or at least out of sight. 

In this CBC photo officials use a construction front shovel loader to dump debris from the homeless camp into a dumpster for disposal.
Officials used heavy equipment to clear out a homeless camp near Moncton, New Brunswick last May (photo by Shane Magee/CBC)

Even efforts designed to be helpful don’t always succeed. Many places create task forces that include social workers to coordinate with the police, but their success is mixed. “Neighborhood policing” doesn’t always have the desired result.

It’s not just the working poor who feel disrespected. Police officers also have every reason to feel they are not respected. Indeed, too often they are violently targeted. “Bad actors” among sworn-officer ranks get sensational headlines, and besmirch the ones who honestly struggle each day to serve their communities.

Nothing is simple. Especially not efforts to negotiate the delicate balance of respect, accountability, and public order that characterizes interactions between the police and the working poor

But it’s quite simply true that everyone’s safety and security depends on finding a way.


Many thanks to Police Magazine (and New York Post) for the coverage of the protest, and to 1010 WINS Radio and Twitter for the tweet from Decolonize this Place. I’d also like to thank Forensic for the photo from the London Underground, and ABC-7 News for the screencap of homeless people in subways. Additionally,  much gratitude to The Royal Gazette for the historic photo from the Brixton Riots, as well as The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and their photographer/reporter Shane Magee for the photo from the Moncton NB homeless camp.

This is the header for Capricon 40. Its bright, tropical colors and lettering reflect this year's theme "The Tropics of Capricon."

Looking forward to Capricon 40

My “sf convention year” kicks off in February. I’m looking forward to Capricon 40 on Valentine’s weekend, Feb. 13-16, 2020, in Wheeling, IL. And I’m already preparing for panel discussions and the Art Show.

My first Capricon was Cap 30, when my friend Lucy A. Synk was their Artist Guest of Honor. She invited me to attend as her guest. I had a lot of fun, but wasn’t able to go back for several years after that.

Blogging a panel

This image bears the words "Blogging a Panel - Writing about Forensics," superimposed over a montage of four images: ballistics-matching photos, forensic examiners in a lab, a cop interviewing a witness on the street, and a fingerprint being scanned.
Montage by Jan S. Gephardtto represent her Blogging a Panel post from the Capricon 37 she wasn’t able to attend.

I tried to go back in 2017, but a combination of countervailing events forced me to cancel so late in the process that I’d already been scheduled for panels. Unfortunately, one panel for which I’d been scheduled, Writing about Forensics, only had two panelists. The other, Jen Haegeralso had to cancel late in the process, so Writing about Forensics suddenly also got scrubbed.

Jen and I had been communicating online, and we decided that even if we couldn’t goto Capricon and present the panel in person, we still could present the panel virtually. This led to Blogging a Panel on this blog (I think it was paralleled on Jen’s blog and also that of Capricon’s parent group, Phandemonium).

Since then, I haven’t had to resort to such drastic measures

This blog has followed my adventures at Capricon 38 and my Artworktravel follies, and reflections upon Capricon 39.

Looking forward to Capricon 40

This is the header for Capricon 40. Its bright, tropical colors and lettering reflect this year's theme "The Tropics of Capricon."
Image courtesy of Capricon

I plan to have my artwork in the Art Show, and of course I’ll be on panels. I even have my schedule already! So I’m really looking forward to Capricon 40.

They called the one set for Thursday at 5:00 p.m.Detectives in the Wild (I moderate). We’ll talk about detectives in science fiction (as opposed to urban fantasy, where they more often turn up).

May 24, 2019. Books, badge ribbons and bookmarks at the
Mad Authors' Salon co-hosted by Jan S. Gephardt, Lynette M. Burrows, and Dora Furlong, at ConQuesT 50 in Kansas City, MO.
Photo by Ty Gephardt, taken May 24, 2019. Books, badge ribbons and bookmarks at the
Mad Authors’ Salon co-hosted by Jan S. Gephardt, Lynette M. Burrows, and Dora Furlong, at ConQuesT 50 in Kansas City, MO.

On Friday my panels are Pronouns and SF/F at 2:30 p.m., and Weird Hobbies for Immortals at 4 p.m. (I moderate that one, too). I’m in the Indie Author Speed-Dating event on Friday at 5:30 p.m. It should be interesting. I’ll bring badge ribbons and bookmarks to hand out!

Saturday starts early (for me). I’m scheduled to autograph at 10 a.m. I’ll read from What’s Bred in the Bone at 1 p.m., sharing the time slot with Dorothy Winsor. That evening at 7 p.m. I’ll facilitate the Creating a Tropical World workshop.

Finally, on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. I’ll join the conversation on Religion and Ethics in an Age of Artificial Intelligence. That also ought to be an interesting discussion. I promise I’ll come with coffee in hand, so I’m coherent.

Beyond programming items

Of course I’ll also bring paperback copies from Weird Sisters Publishing. Certainly I’ll have copies of What’s Bred in the BoneIf all goes well, I’ll also have paperback copies of my sister’s Deep Ellum Pawn novelette (as I write this, it’s still only available via Kindle)! 

With all of this, I hope that you, like me, will be looking forward to Capricon 40–either at the convention in Wheeling, or perhaps here in follow-up blog posts.

This photo shows Jan S. Gephardt's Art Show display at Archon in Collinsville, IL as it looked October 6, 2019.
Photo by Jan S. Gephardt. This is my Art Show display at Archon in Collinsville, IL as it looked October 6, 2019.

Please note: My next XK9 story, a prequel novella titled The Other Side of Fear, will be available in March 2020. The second novel in the XK9 “Bones” TrilogyA Bone to Pickis set for release this fall.


Jan S. Gephardt made the “Blogging a Panel” header with images courtesy of Reference,  Belleville News-Democrat National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Criminal Justice Degreelink

The half-header for Capricon 40 is courtesy of the Capricon Website

The photo of my book display at the May 24, 2019 “Mad Authors’ Salon” at ConQuesT 50 is by Ty Gephardt, and used with his permission. 

I took the photo of my art display at Archon, October 6, 2019 myself. you may re-post or re-blog any of them with correct attribution to the creators and a link back to this post.

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