Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: September 2020

The covers for Deep Ellum Pawn, Deep Ellum Blues, and a portrait of G. S. Norwood and her dog Kata, by Chaz Kemp.

Why I Admire G. S. Norwood

Please indulge me while I explain why I admire G. S. Norwood. Her new story releases today. Deep Ellum Blues provides a marvelous addition to her growing “Deep Ellum” stories collection. Read our post on The Weird Blog, and consider buying her stories!

Full disclosure: if you’re new to “Artdog Adventures” you may not know that G. is my sister. She and I co-founded the fledgling small press Weird Sisters Publising LLC.

The cover for “Deep Ellum Blues”
Deep Ellum Blues cover art © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Making Deep Ellum Blues happen

The ebook goes live via Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited today. I recognize that some of my readers resist buying anything from Amazon. Yeah, I get it. However, KU (via both page-reads and sales) offers better ways to maximize income from short fiction such as G.’s individual “Deep Ellum” stories.

Never fear. Once the fourth planned “Deep Ellum” story releases, we mean to collect all of them into one combined volume, and publish that collection “wide.” Both ebook and a print version, available everywhere. And, since G. has a BFA in theater and is a masterful dramatic reader, excellent audio options await in the future.

Others also Admire G. S. Norwood

Other authors also offer an appreciation of G. S. Norwood. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough read the two finished “Deep Ellum” novelettes and told us they’re “some of the best stories I’ve ever read!”

Author Bradley Denton (whose musical alter ego is “Bland Lemon Denton”) wrote in more depth. He said, “G.S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Blues takes the classic notion of “a deal with the Devil” and joyfully twists it sideways into a story that celebrates integrity, dedication, and artistry.

“The Blues have long been said to have more than a passing acquaintance with demonic power, and the tale of Mudcat Randall (and the immortal Miss Eddy’s concern for his fate) stems from that tradition. But Deep Ellum Blues reaches beyond the old stories to reveal that the true power of the Blues is rooted not in darkness and damnation, but in redemption and light.

“And along the way, it pays tribute to all the great artists whose songs have always, in truth, made the same point. Somewhere, Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker are smiling.”

The frustrating years

I take special joy in helping G. bring her stories to new and expanding audiences. That’s because I admire G. S. Norwood’s writing. Only her critique partners knew what a great writer she is until last November. We published Deep Ellum Pawn, the first of the “Deep Ellum” stories, around her birthday.

Like me, she spent a goodly chunk of the 1980s and 1990s balancing other work, writing when she could, and attempting to get traditionally published. Her supportive writer-husband Warren C. Norwood began making more money in the late ’90s. At his urging, she quit to give writing a full-time try. She finished several novels, but none of them sold.

I loved her books, and many editors did, too–but one thing or another always held them back. They would be hard to market. Her romances didn’t quite fit the formula they were looking for (at the time, romance novels dominated much of the market).

I always figured they didn’t sell because romance was the wrong niche. But what did I know? Her writing career seemed to end when Warren died. It was devastating, wrenching, and it forced her to find full-time work again.

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

A new opportunity

More than a decade later, we’re selling her stories in a different way. She wrote the first draft of Deep Ellum Pawn in 2017. Then as far as I know she put it in a drawer and didn’t look at it again till after I fumbled and bumbled What’s Bred in the Bone into print.

In between her demanding concert and behind-the-scenes schedule with The Dallas Winds (she’s Head of Concert Operations), she refined it into something we could publish. We really lucked out finding Chaz Kemp to do her covers.

That first story didn’t exactly turn into a bestseller. But there’s something awesome about being a published author. Especially with a story people out there in the world actually like and buy. Yes, indeed. Time to take another stab at a writing career!

A growing body of work

She definitely couldn’t yet give up her day job! But she’s been working on a delightful first-in-an-intended-series mystery novel (working title: “Sunshine and Ray”). She paused it to write Deep Ellum Blues, and then developed concepts for two more “Deep Ellum” stories.

Covid-19 lockdown put a serious crimp in the concert schedule. But it’s given G. more time to write. To my delight, she recently dusted off one of those “not-to-formula” romances and gave it an overhaul. I just got a polished new update of the last novel she finished before Warren’s death in 2005.

What’s next?

The novel, Wrong Way Riley, tells the story of a young woman determined to live her own life, despite intense pressure to be something she’s not. This book is no longer trying to be a romance novel (although the main character does enjoy one steamy romance), and it’s all the stronger for it.

If you’ve read G.’s “Deep Ellum” stories, you’ve noticed a strong music theme. Riley stays true to that trend. It’s deeply steeped in Texas folk music (we might get more setlists).

The covers for Deep Ellum Pawn, Deep Ellum Blues, and a portrait of G. S. Norwood and her dog Kata, by Chaz Kemp.
All artwork is © by Chaz Kemp. Be courteous. Re-post or reblog with an attribution and link back to this post and Chaz Kemp.

More will admire G. S. Norwood in the future

All of this means the fun and the discovery has only just begun. Much as I admire G. S. Norwood I could only offer a glimpse of what she has in store next.

She finished several other “failed romances” back in the 1990s. Those wonderful stories–and the “Route 66 novel” she hasn’t yet finished–deserve to be updated and read and loved.

My little sister has a powerful voice. I can’t wait to help her reveal it.

Four books from Weird Sisters Publishing in the order of release: What’s Bred in the Bone, Deep Ellum Pawn, The Other Side of Fear, and Deep Ellum Blues.

Gotta have a newsletter!

Everyone says, “You’ve gotta have a newsletter!”

Newsletters are a vitally important tool that authors can use to connect with readers.”

An author newsletter is an invaluable tool for authors.”

The data is in, and the guidance is out there, easy to find. Every Indie author needs a newsletter. So, yes, it’s clear. I’ve gotta have a newsletter.

Email “envelope symbols” above an electronic tablet visually describe sending emails.
Photo from Bigstock Photos, via The Book Designer blog.

As a former direct marketer, I already know this. Back in pre-Internet days, I was one of the people trying to convince tight-fisted small business owners to create a newsletter (and, incidentally, to hire me to produce it!).

So, then. Why haven’t I created one till now?

Because: Reasons.

I tried to set one up almost a year before I released my first book, What’s Bred in the Bone. I went with MailChimp, which is a reputable service that several friends use. The service starts the small folk out for free. I installed their plugin . . . and nothing happened.

Since I apparently had no one to send it to, I never wrote a newsletter. Then I got busy with several dozen other things. I always meant to come back to it, but it seemed a low priority. Zero subscribers, and low energy to go out and pursue any, kept that project on the back burner.

Finally, another friend who understands coding a lot better than I do looked at it. She’d tried to sign up and it sent her into cyber la-la land. It had done that to me, too, but I had no idea how to fix it.

She discovered the plugin interface was corrupted. She also found evidence that several hundred people had tried to sign up–but instead of going to my landing page, they took the same “nowhere” trip she had.

Oops! Is my face red!

If you’re one of the several hundred, I’m really sorry about that! Yikes. We uninstalled the plugin, I said goodby to MailChimp, and I vowed to try the whole thing again in the future “when I have more time.”

At that point I was hip-deep in creating a small press, Weird Sisters Publishing, with my sister. Also, getting What’s Bred in the Bone into print, which at the time I compared to wading through a swamp. (So far, alas, I’m still not a very adept Swamp Thing, but practice does help).

Book covers for “Deep Ellum Pawn,” “The Other Side of Fear,” and “Deep Ellum Blues.”
Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues cover art © 2019 and 2020 respectively by Chaz Kemp. The Other Side of Fear cover art © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

After that I got busy making the rounds of conventions (this was before Covid-19). After that, producing Deep Ellum Pawn.

And then working on A Bone to Pick and The Other Side of Fear.

And most recently, producing Deep Ellum Blues.

So, why now?

Because it’s way past high time. Since I didn’t start one several years ago, the next-best time is now. And besides, I’ve started getting all these cool pictures from my artist friend, Lucy A. Synk.

Lucy Synk has painted four of the male Pack members in running poses.
Portraits of (L-R) Tuxedo, Victor, Razor and Rex are all © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

Lucy and I have embarked on a mission to create portraits of all the XK9s in the Orangeboro Pack (I inform and finance; she paints). This has been a dream of mine, ever since I first realized how beautiful the Pack would be, all assembled together. Each has a unique coat color and personality. I can’t wait to introduce them to you visually!

That starts with this newsletter, but introducing Pack members is only the beginning.

What’s in the newsletter that you can’t get on the blog?

I’ve created blog posts about working with artists to develop cover artwork for Deep Ellum Pawn, The Other Side of Fear, and Deep Ellum Blues.

But glimpses of the “backstage” part of my work don’t show up too often on the blog.

In the October newsletter, Jan describes her efforts to visualize the environment inside Wheel Two of Rana Station.
Models and photos © 2017-2020 by Jan S. Gephardt.

They’ll be a regular feature of the newsletter. I’ll talk lots more about my works-in-progress. I’ll offer glimpses of ideas I’m developing for future work, character sketches, maps, and timelines.

I’ll also get a little more personal about what’s going on in my life, and how it informs my work.

Early glimpses and preview-previews

Lucy Synk painted a calico cat with a sweet expression.
This not-quite-finished
painting of Kali (for
one thing, no whiskers yet)
is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

Newsletter readers will get the “scoops.” The early glimpses. First looks at early scenes, ideas, and more. And newsletter readers will get to tell me what they think, especially if there’s something I haven’t yet decided, and I’m not sure which way to go.

For instance, when I was deciding on a name for Hildie’s cat, I asked my Facebook followers for ideas, and they voted (her name is Kali). Readers will get to meet her in A Bone to Pick.

From now on, I’ll be asking my newsletter readers such questions, instead.

Newsletter readers also get the first crack at presales and special offers, whenever I or Weird Sisters Publishing come out with something new. So. Are you interested? I sure hope so!

Shall we try this again?

I’m really doing it this time! I’ve signed up with a different mail service, ConvertKit, this time. Their interface makes more sense to me, and I think I’ve gotten all of the components loaded and turned on. I not only gotta have a newsletter, I now have the first one written!

It’s full of information on several current topics, including a look at some of the models I’ve made, to help me visualize the environment inside Rana Station better.

I have lots more things to share in future months, and I’d really like to include you in the audience I share it with! Will you please sign up for my monthly newsletter?

Deborah Crombie interviews G. S. Norwood about her new story, “Deep Ellum Blues.”

Urban Fantasy: Let’s Get to the Root

Deborah Crombie interviews G. S. Norwood

Bestselling mystery writer Deborah Crombie loves to get to the root of an intriguing puzzle. A long-time friend and critique partner of G. S. Norwood, she watched Norwood’s new novelette, Deep Ellum Blues, take shape over many weeks. Now she has some questions.

The cover for “Deep Ellum Blues”
From Weird Sisters Publishing LLC, Artwork © 2020 by Chaz Kemp

G.’s Writing Roots

Debs: Have you always wanted to write? Your late husband (Warren C. Norwood) was a wonderful writer. Were you drawn to him because you wanted to write, or did he inspire you to write? Or both?

Gigi: I tried to write my first story when I was about 4, although I didn’t get very far. I sent Random House my first request for guidelines when I was ten. When I was a freshman in college one of my professors told me that I wrote well enough to consider a career as a professional writer, and that’s when the serious dreaming began. All that was a good decade before I met Warren.

To be honest, the day after I met Warren, I bought his first book and read a few chapters before I met up with him again. I had to make sure he was a good enough writer that I could respect him in the morning. Turned out, of course, he was, and I learned a lot about the craft and the business from him.

Get to the Root of one important influence: G. and Warren C. Norwood were married for more than two decades before his death. This collection shows four snapshots from their life together.
Get to the Root of one important influence: G. and Warren C. Norwood were married for more than two decades before his death. This collection shows four snapshots from their life together. From the personal collection of G. S. Norwood.

Debs: Your background is in the theater and performance. How does that influence your writing?

Gigi: Although I’ve spent most of my theatre years backstage, my real interest is in directing and writing. The great thing about directing is that it teaches you how to deconstruct the play, figuring out the structure of each scene, the pacing of the overall story arc, and the motivations of each character. Knowing how to analyze the way those parts go together has given me a tremendous cheat sheet when I want to create my own characters, plot, setting, mood, and action scenes.

Debs: You write urban fantasy, women’s fiction, and mystery. What ties all these genres together in your work?

Gigi: I tell stories. Each of the genres you mention has a different set of tools I can use to tell the story I want to tell. Should it be a straight-up mystery? Do I blend suspense with romance? Can I let stuff blow up in magical ways? I use whichever set of tools seems to fit the story best, and I am certainly not above using all of them at once if I need to. But if you get to the root, it’s just the way I think about the world. I’m a very practical woman who believes there are magical energies at work in our lives every day. When I put magic into a story, I’m just writing what I know.  

Two moods of Miz Eddy for two covers, as portrayed by Chaz Kemp.
Developmental images of Miz Eddy, L-R for Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues, ©2019 and ©2020 respectively, by Chaz Kemp.

Debs: Ms. Eddy, the protagonist in Deep Ellum Pawn and now Deep Ellum Blues, is such a fabulous and unique character. What was your inspiration for her?

Gigi: When I was a kid, I read a series of children’s fantasy novels by Lloyd Alexander called The Chronicles of Prydain. The inspiration for Alexander’s fantasy world was The Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh mythology and folklore that dates at least as far back as the 12th century. My fascination with those stories led me to read more deeply about folklore from many different lands and introduced me to a wide range of magical characters.

When I got the idea for Deep Ellum Pawn, I didn’t really know who or what Ms. Eddy was. I had her name, and I knew about the pawn shop, but the rest revealed itself to me, slowly, as I began to write the story. Once I had an idea of what she could do, I had to do more research to figure out what kind of magical being she might be. Once I found it, I realized, “Well of course that’s who she is!” I really enjoy introducing ancient, magical ways to understand the world into modern, urban settings.

The “Deep Ellum Pawn” cover side-by-side with the “Deep Ellum Blues” cover.
From Weird Sisters Publishing LLC, cover art for Deep Ellum Pawn © 2019 by Chaz Kemp. Cover art for Deep Ellum Blues © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Now We Get to the Root: The music

Debs: Guitars, and guitarists, are central to Deep Ellum Blues. What connected you to guitars? Who are some of your favorite guitarists?

Gigi: Guitars are the dominant instrument of popular music. Some of the most iconic American guitar players of the early 20th century performed in Deep Ellum, or recorded just down the street at 508 Park, the Warner Brothers film and recording distribution center for the Dallas area. So Mudcat Randall, one of the main characters in Deep Ellum Blues had to be a guitar player.

A pen-and-ink drawing of a Stratocaster electric guitar.
Artwork of Mudcat Randall’s tobacco burst Strat ©2020 by Jan S. Gephardt.

I’ve met a lot of guitar players over the years, particularly when I hung out regularly at Craig’s Music in Weatherford, Texas. I have a lot of respect for the working guitarists who used to fill the bars and dance halls with music, before the pandemic. People like Warren’s adopted brother, Gerald Ray, or Fort Worth blues guy, Dave Millsap, keep music alive on the local level, and teach it to the next generation of players.

Outstanding singers, songwriters, and guitar players like Guy Forsyth, down in Austin, or Kevin Welch, formerly of Nashville, feed the music industry from just below the radar. And then there are the more recognizable names among my guitar heroes, like Keb’ Mo and the always amazing Sonny Landreth. I have enough Sonny Landreth stories for a blog post all his own. If you play guitar—particularly slide guitar—and you don’t know who he is, just trust me. Go look him up and prepare to be amazed.

A pen-and-ink drawing of an acoustic resonator guitar from Gretsch.
Artwork of Mudcat Randall’s Gretsch resonator ©2020 by Jan S. Gephardt

Debs: Can you give us a playlist to listen to as we read?

Gigi: I actually put together a set list for Mudcat’s two nights at Sons of Hermann Hall in Deep Ellum, while I was writing the story. It will be published as part of the e-book, and we’ll probably post it on the Weird Sisters Publishing website. In the meantime, check out music by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keb’ Mo, and Sonny Landreth. That will get you started.

Rooted in the Crossroads

Debs: Deep Ellum is a character in itself. Tell us why this area and its history are so special?

Gigi: Crossroads and margins have always been magical places. The geographical location that is now Deep Ellum was once the shallow edge of the Western Interior Seaway. Later, before European settlers came to the area, several trails used by Native American people met and crossed there. As Dallas grew into a city, Deep Ellum was the neighborhood where people on the outskirts of White society—Black people, but also Hispanics, Germans, and Jews—built lives for themselves.

It was where people from the upper reaches of society went when they wanted to “slum it.” The streets were lined with pawn shops, private clubs, and theaters, as well as the barber shops and dry goods stores that served the people of the neighborhood. That’s prime territory for musicians and entertainers of all types.

Deep Ellum was then, and continues to be today, a place to go when you want to have a slightly edgy good time. The people who have built their businesses there always say there’s a special spirit about the place that gives Deep Ellum its unique vibe. Now we know who that is.

Get to the root of this interviewer: Deborah Crombie with the cover of her book “A Bitter Feast.”
Photo of Deborah Crombie from her website is by Steve Ullathorne. The cover photo for A Bitter Feast is from the detail page on Crombie’s website.

About our Guest Interviewer, Deborah Crombie

Internationally acclaimed author Deborah Crombie has seen her British police procedurals, featuring detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, climb into the top ten of the New York Times bestseller list. Her latest release, A Bitter Feast, is the eighteenth novel in the series.

This post is a re-blog from The Weird Blog. My sister’s story Deep Ellum Blues is set for release on September 30, 2020. I thought you might enjoy Deborah Crombie’s interview of G. S. Norwood.

Collaborative vision: Creating a cover for Deep Ellum Blues

Creating the cover for Deep Ellum Blues called for collaborative vision. G.S. Norwood’s latest novelette is set for release on Amazon September 30, 2020.

To visually represent it, we needed a cover with something old, something new, and something recognizably magical. In pursuit of that, G., cover artist Chaz Kemp, and I blended ideas from three different creative viewpoints.

The cover for “Deep Ellum Blues” depicts a pivotal moment in the story, featuring Miz Eddy, Nick, and between them Mudcat, who is playing his guitar. The novelette by G. S. Norwood should be available from Weird Sisters Publishing on Amazon, starting September 30, 2020.
From Weird Sisters Publishing LLC: Cover art for Deep Ellum Blues © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

The cover of a book has to do a lot of things all at once, and it has to do them at a very small size. Amazon sure isn’t making its thumbnails any bigger than it has to, as you may have noticed. I’ve written other “how we made this cover” posts for Deep Ellum Pawn and The Other Side of Fear.

The cover must catch a prospective reader’s eye. Telegraph the genre. Offer a glimpse of a hint of the story that makes our ideal reader curious, and ideally it makes them want to click to find out more. And when it’s part of a series, it also has share identifying characteristics that make it look like it belongs in that series.

I’ll take these out of order, but here’s how we tried to satisfy each one.

A glimpse of a hint of the story

Stories are why we read fiction. If the cover offers an effective tease about the story within, most readers will want to know more. The difficulty lies in the tease. A cover that gives the whole story away is no fun. A cover that’s merely puzzling can be a turn-off. So we have to strike a balance.

At Weird Sisters, we respect artists’ vision. Rather than hand an artist a short description of what we think should be on the cover, we prefer that the artist read the story first (we’re even willing to pay extra for the time this takes). Artists, especially those who’ve designed covers in the past, often come up with great, graphically striking ideas that we haven’t even thought of.

Even if the first idea doesn’t quite nail it—and they almost never do—it offers a place to start. It’s all part of developing a collaborative vision.

For this project, we worked again with the talented Colorado artist Chaz Kemp. He created the cover for the first story, Deep Ellum Pawn. He already knows and has developed a portrayal for Miz Eddy, the main character. And we greatly value his willingness to work with our ideas as well as his own.

Chaz’s first idea had a white background, and portrayed the character Mudcat with his guitar, while an ethereal-looking Miz Eddy looked on.
Artwork © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Chaz’s first suggestion focused on a pivotal moment in the story. I wasn’t sure it quite expressed what we wanted it to, and G. worried that it gave away too much (should I have included a spoiler alert?). But we both agreed he’d hit on an excellent moment to dramatize.

Portraying Miz Eddy and the others

Chaz already had developed a strong character image for Miz Eddy Weekes on the first cover. She’s a strong, no-nonsense character with a blend of ethnic roots. Her strength came through clearly on the first cover, but in the scene we wanted to target she’d be facing an adversary, the recurring character we met in Deep Ellum Pawn as Nick.

The portrayal of Miz Eddy went through eight different changes before we settled on a version we liked. Sometimes a collaborative vision takes a while. Here’s a lineup of all eight.
Artwork © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

We went through a sequence of ideas to develop a body position and facial expression that we all agreed worked best for the scene.

We followed similar procedures with the other characters. Nick and Mudcat have specific traits that a good character portrayal can communicate. In Mudcat’s case, he also had to have one special, very specific guitar, which is clearly identified in the story.

A passionate music lover wrote this story, and it shows. People of any musical understanding can enjoy it, but it’s got a lot of cool “inside stuff” for other music lovers. Especially those who love the Blues. With good reference material from G., Chaz gave us the exact-right guitar. For those who know the Sons of Hermann Hall in Deep Ellum, TX, and its history, the background offers yet more authenticity.

Eye-catching, genre-specific, and series-consistent

For the first releases of the Deep Ellum novelettes, we’re publishing in Kindle Unlimited. They’re short enough to belong in Kindle’s “90-minute Science Fiction and Fantasy” category, but a paperback turned out to be impractical for something as small as a novelette (when the fourth one’s done, we’ll publish an omnibus edition to multiple platforms, as both ebook and paperback).

But that means the cover has to be eye-catching, even in a postage-stamp size. And it needs to be understandable, even in black and white—since some ebook readers don’t do color. We started out early, testing for “readability” in black and white. The way to achieve that is by using contrast.

Artwork © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Our primary source of contrast is also an element that conveys “magic.” So is the difference in scale between Miz Eddy, Nick, and Mudcat. This story is technically urban fantasy or occult fantasy by category. We needed to make the magic an easy-to-see element.

Finally, to make it clear this is part of a series, Chaz used the same type font, angle, and positions for the title and the author’s name on both covers. We also used the same kind of frame element around the edges.

From Weird Sisters Publishing LLC, cover art for Deep Ellum Pawn © 2019 by Chaz Kemp. Cover art for Deep Ellum Blues © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this description of how G., Chaz, and I developed our collaborative vision for the cover of Deep Ellum Blues. I’ve written other “how we made this cover” posts for Deep Ellum Pawn and The Other Side of Fear, if you’d also like to see them.

IMAGE CREDITS

All of the artwork in this post is by Chaz Kemp. The cover and working images for Deep Ellum Blues are all ©2020 by Chaz Kemp. The cover of Deep Ellum Pawn is ©2019 by Chaz Kemp. All rights reserved, but it’s fair use if these images are used as commentary, and this post, Chaz Kemp, and Weird Sisters Publishing are identified and credited. Don’t forget to add hyperlinks to the sources included.

Five white men in matching t-shirts, at least three of whom also wear military-style tactical vests and appear to be armed, stand together and exchange looks with four black men who stand across from them, wearing matching T-shirts of a different design bearing the words “#UNITY #JUSTICE #PEACE.” What are they thinking about this encounter?

What are they thinking?

By G. S. Norwood

When armed civilians take to the streets, what are they thinking?

The news out of Kenosha, Wisconsin, is bad. A 17-year-old boy, armed with an assault rifle, killed two protesters and wounded a third. I wanted to finish up this cycle of protest-related blog posts by trying to answer the question: What are they thinking?

Peaceful Protests or Armed Militia?

To get to that answer, I’ll recount a conversation I had online with two men who appeared to support the presence of heavily armed civilians at otherwise peaceful protests.

Before we get any deeper, I want to make clear that in the protests I discuss in this post, people marched peacefully in Weatherford, Texas, and other small towns around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. It was broad daylight. Nobody broke windows, toppled statues, or looted places of business. Nobody announced any intention to commit such acts of destruction.

The local police were both aware of the protesters’ actions and in place to keep the peace. Conditions might be different in other parts of the country, but this is what I saw, and learned from others who were present at the protests, including law enforcement officers.

Online Rumors

After a July 25 march in Weatherford, Texas, to protest the Confederate statue on the Parker County Courthouse lawn, rumors began to spread on the internet. They whispered that the group was going to march again at 3:30 pm on Saturday, August 8.

What are they thinking? Several men ride in the back of a black pickup truck with dark-tinted windows. A large black rifle and scope is tripod-mounted on top of the truck’s cab, next to a large Confederate Battle Flag. Behind them is a limestone storefront from the square in Weatherford Texas.
Photo by Trice Jones, via Dallas Morning News.

As early as 8:30 am, Facebook commenters had spotted some guy in a heavily armored pickup truck with a trailer parked on the square, apparently waiting for the marchers. Others appeared as the day rolled on. Local law enforcement was out in force, detouring traffic away from the square, and calling in reserve officers to monitor the situation.

Right about here you might wonder, “What are they thinking will happen?”

No marchers appeared and, according to a friend within the D/FW progressive community, no march was ever planned. Perhaps it was another example of someone trolling the militia, as happened at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 4.

Asking For A Friend

I asked another friend, one of the reserve law enforcement officers called to the square that day, what the official line was on vigilante policing. That is, “private armed citizens threatening other private, possibly armed, citizens in public places.”

He said he couldn’t speak for the officials, but personally he was not a fan. His response echoed the opinion expressed by other former law enforcement officers I know.

That was the point at which one of his other Facebook friends said state statutes and the Constitution allow “protection of property, including that of others.” He said they were there to protect the statue, in case the protesters tried to pull it down.

A stone statue of a man with a goatee, dressed as a Confederate infantryman with a rifle, stands atop a stone base dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy “In honor of the United Confederate Veterans of Parker County, 1861-1865.” The statue stands on the grounds of the Parker County Courthouse in Weatherford, TX.
Photo by Tony Gutierrez, via Dallas Morning News.

While my reserve officer friend agreed that state law allows private citizens to protect property, he offered a more nuanced response. “Her question was about ‘private armed citizens maintaining order by threatening other citizens . . .’ which is NOT allowed by statute or otherwise. I doubt seriously that a citizen that tried to justify the use of force ‘protecting a statue’ would stand much of a chance in court.”

As a former law enforcement officer, who has to maintain his state law enforcement certification to continue to serve as a reserve officer, he has actually studied these questions.

Then a second person commented that, “For a lot of them, [the armed civilians] they’re not specifically protecting the statue. The BLM and Antifa are known to destroy the surrounding area of statues.”

Which isn’t significantly different than just protecting the statue, so still isn’t a legally defensible excuse for armed civilians to threaten protesters. But I wanted to understand the rationale for coming out armed.

What Are They Thinking?

So, I asked one of the commenters, “Isn’t it the job of the Weatherford Police Department and the Parker County Sheriff’s Office to prevent that kind of property destruction? Not the job of private citizens? Do you have any credible information that the WPD and PCSO are incapable of doing the job taxpayers pay them to do in an effective and professional manner? I have always found the professional law enforcement officers in Parker County to be well-trained and highly capable.”

The commenter responded, “I never said the law enforcement agencies here were incapable of doing their job. I personally think that it would serve all concerned much better if there were no armed citizens looking like they were ready for a battle on the town square. I think that there should be a good number of people prepared, however, if things got ugly, to be there quickly to back the LEO up. Some of the folks parading around down there are not helping Weatherford, Parker County, or themselves look good.”

Five white men in matching t-shirts, at least three of whom also wear military-style tactical vests and appear to be armed, stand together and exchange looks with four black men who stand across from them, wearing matching T-shirts of a different design bearing the words “#UNITY #JUSTICE #PEACE.” What are they thinking about this encounter?
Photo by Jason Janik, via Dallas Morning News.

Then I asked, “Isn’t that what reserve officers are for? Trained and TCOLE certified? They would operate in coordination with, and under the command of, WPD, PCSO, and/or DPS. Otherwise you just have a bunch of freelance cop wannabes, operating on their own ‘best judgement’ with no accountability. Seems to me that just makes the whole situation harder for the actual cops to contain.” Nobody responded to that one.

What are WE Thinking?

What are they thinking? It appears to be that they’ll take their guns and go to the protest to “uphold the law” with no real training in what the law actually says, and no grasp of the fact that cops have to let the BLM people march and speak too.

The cops can’t take sides or they undermine the rule of law for everybody. If a bunch of freelance wannabes ride into town to enforce the law as they see fit, they are just winging it on the back of their self-aggrandizing hero fantasies. They make things worse for the real cops, who are trying to do their real jobs.

George Fuller, the mayor of McKinney—another Dallas suburb about 100 miles north and east of Weatherford—put it a different way when a small militia group showed up on the town square there. “As far as those outsiders that are coming in; get on the damn bus and go home. You are not wanted here, you’re not liked here, you don’t add anything other than division, and you look silly. Go play G. I. Joe somewhere else.”

A summer of protests, marches, confusion and disinformation now promises to plunge us into an autumn of more protests, marches, confusion, disinformation, unasked-for Federal responses, and a divisive election. On The Weird Blog and on my sister Jan’s “Artdog Adventures” blog, we’ve spent much of the summer commenting and exploring the issues that have arisen. Anyone who’s read them knows where we stand.

So the themes of Jan’s posts will vary for a while. At least until something else happens to make us ask, “What are they thinking?”

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to the Dallas Morning News for all three of the images in this post. We’d also like to salute photographers Trice Jones (a local activist?), for the photo of the guy in the truck with a gun in Weatherford TX, Tony Gutierrez, for the photo of the Parker County Confederate Veterans Memorial on the courthouse grounds in Weatherford TX, and Jason Janik, Special Contributor and an AP-affiliated photographer, for the photo of typical-for-2020 militia and protesters. These appear to have been in McKinney, TX, but they represent their compatriots well.

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