Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: July 2021

The cover of the Advance Reader Copy edition of “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt, shown as an ebook.

Making ARCs

By Jan S. Gephardt

I’ve been making ARCs recently.

What does that mean? It means I’ve been assembling an assortment of documents into an early version of my latest book, to create Advance Reader Copies. It’s not exactly parallel to a dress rehearsal for a stage play, but for me it’s a necessary step in the publicity rollout for my science fiction mystery novel A Bone to Pick.

I’ve been blogging a lot in this space recently, about A Bone to Pick. Those posts are another part of the rollout. As basically an Indie writer, I’m trying to build a small press publishing company, Weird Sisters Publishing, with my sister, G. S. Norwood. I may not have to face the kind of “gatekeepers” a writer encounters in traditional publishing. But plenty of other challenges attend every attempt to promote and sell each book we “weird sisters” produce and release.

G. and I decided to share part of our approach to those challenges in this blog post. We know some of our blog subscribers will be more interested in this than others. Perhaps you found G.’s post from last week more interesting. But maybe you’ll enjoy seeing me pull back the curtain on part of our process, and the role that making ARCs plays in it.

The cover of “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt, as an ebook.
The release date for A Bone to Pick is September 15, 2021. (Cover art ©2020 by Jody A. Lee; 3D effect by Book Brush).

The Struggle to find Our Kind of Readers

In an earlier post I explored some of the difficulties an Indie or small press faces, when trying to get the attention of reading public. The first thing we had to understand is that “the reading public” isn’t actually our target. A small subgroup of the global population who reads books—that select group of readers who are interested in the specific kinds of stories we write—is the population we need to find.

It’s a search that never ends. This blog is part of how we search. My website and that of Weird Sisters Publishing are other essentials. Reviews, social media interactions, and targeted advertising provide other ways for us to reach out. Check us out: I have an Author Page on Facebook, and so do G and Weird Sisters. I also have a presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.

I traveled to science fiction conventions for publicity as well as pleasure, until COVID put a temporary halt to that. Last fall I started building a mailing list for followers of my XK9 stories. They receive a monthly newsletter full of insider glimpses, extras, and exclusive freebies.

Join the Pack newsletter offer with FREE copy of “The Other Side of Fear” novella.
The offer still stands: Get The Other Side of Fear FREE when you sign up for my Newsletter! (all artwork ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk).

The Rollout

Those are all ongoing efforts. The rollout is different. It’s a focused push to let as many of “my kind of readers” as possible know about my new book. That includes advertising. It also includes the series of blog posts we’ve been running. Newsletter updates and excerpts. Changes to our websites.

And, importantly, it includes making ARCs. Because it has taken me so darn long to write the book, and because I’ve been planning a return to science fiction conventions that starts at FenCon, I cut my rollout shorter than would have been ideal, and set my release date for September 15, 2021.

The Kindle version of A Bone to Pick is available for presale now, in both the United States and the United Kingdom. I’ve offered a discounted price for the presale: $2.99 in the U.S. (after release it’ll go up to $4.99), and £2.12 in the UK (post-release, that’ll go up to £3.84).

I wanted, if possible, to have printed copies of the new book available at FenCon, which is scheduled for September 17-19. My proofreader is still carefully combing through the manuscript for errors. But the shortened time frame means I should have been making ARCs weeks ago, not now.

Jan at her autograph table at Capricon 40.
I go to science fiction conventions such as Capricon (where this was taken) and FenCon as part of my ongoing outreach. (Photo ©2020 by Tyrell E. Gephardt).

Making ARCs

So, okay. How hard can that be? What goes into making ARCs? Well, a finished-for-real manuscript, for one! That was the hardest and longest part.

I also have created a Directory of names, places, and acronyms in the book. That was a reader request. I’ve also included one for the first book, in current versions of What’s Bred in the Bone. Both are large, sweeping space opera mysteries, full of exo-terrestrial and multicultural names, police-style acronyms, and a rather large cast of characters. The readers were right!

Thank goodness, I’ve had the cover already created for a while now. But I needed to differentiate it from post-release “official” copies of the book, so I created an identifying element to the cover design. Yes, I could simply have overprinted “ADVANCE READERS COPY” on the cover, but I think this looks better.

What else goes into an ARC? Well, there’s all the “book stuff” you need for the real thing. A title page, with our Weird Sisters Publishing logo and URL. The page with copyright notices. Vellum, the publishing program I use, automatically creates a Table of Contents, but I needed to compose the Dedication’s wording. I added my bio for the About the Author page (with a photo), and there was other material needed for the end of the book. Did you know I also specifically designed the “Wolf Tracks” ornamental break we use in all of the XK9 books? That needed to go in there, too.

Design elements, author photo and a directory all went into the ARC compilation.
Here are some of the elements that went into making ARCs for A Bone to Pick. (Credits below).

Why do I need ARCs?

Advance Reader Copies go out ahead of the release date to my all-important Street Team—and the sooner, the better! Street Team members are people who have signed up to not only be on my mailing list and get my newsletter. They also receive free Advance Reader Copies before release date. In return, they write honest reviews of the book, and post them to Amazon on Release Day. ARCs should go out to current Street Team members today!

If you are interested in being on my Street Team, sign up for my newsletter! You’ll receive more information in the follow-up emails. It’s not too late to get an A Bone to Pick ARC of your own!

Other ARCs go to reviewers, bloggers on review sites, and other authors willing to consider giving me a cover quote. I’m in the process of contacting them now. ARCs are just a part of what goes into the “entrepreneurial” side of being an independent writer. But for me, making ARCs is the step that makes it “real.”

Yes, the book is finished at last! It says what I want, and the Brain Trust has reassured me it’s ready. And yes, others will read it soon! For me, that’s at least as big a thrill as writing THE END.

The cover of the Advance Reader Copy edition of “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt, shown as an ebook.
Making ARCs is an important part of the rollout process before the release of A Bone to Pick. (Cover art ©2020 by Jody A. Lee; 3D effect by Book Brush).


The cover painting for A Bone to Pick is ©2020 by Jody A. Lee. The artwork on my Newsletter offer, including the cover of The Other Side of Fear, is ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk. The photo of me at Capricon 40 with all the S.W.A.G. on my autograph table is ©2020 by Tyrell E. Gephardt. In the montage of “ARC ingredients,” the photo of me is ©2017 by Colette Waters Photography. The Weird Sisters Logo and the “Wolf Tracks” ornamental break were designed by me, and are ©2019 by Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. The photo of the Directory’s first page is a screen capture of the preview in Vellum. The 3-D effects on both the regular edition and ARC images are by Book Brush. If you wish to reblog or repost any of these images, please do so with an attribution and a link back to this post. Thank you!

The recipe that launched this blog post, “pigs in a blanket.”

Cooking is Fun!

By G. S. Norwood

Are You a Cook? Or a Snob?

Do you cook for yourself? Not just an occasional cake mix or pork chop, but really cook? Breakfast in the morning? Dinner every night? I do. Although I didn’t learn a lot about cooking when I was a kid, I can now cover the basics nearly every day. And do you know what? Cooking is fun!

Well, sort of. Once I mastered the simple stuff like scrambled eggs, and grilled cheese sandwiches, I started branching out. Looking for recipes I’d never tried before. And that’s where I ran into problems. You see, some recipes are for people who just want to put food on the table. But some recipes are aimed at hobbyists, and hobbyists are a whole different class of cooks. They look for the challenging recipe that needs special ingredients, special devices, and an elevated level of snobbery to pull off.

Scrambled eggs and beef stew.
The simple stuff, like scrambled eggs and beef stew. (G. S. Norwood).

Special Devices

I once bought a cookbook with a recipe for a delicious-looking blueberry poundcake, only to find that all the ingredients were weighed, not measured. No cups and tablespoons for this chef! And no conversion chart either, for those of us who don’t want to take up valuable counter space with a digital kitchen scale that measures things in grams.

Other food gadgets I’ve been told I “must have” include meat thermometers, candy thermometers, slow cookers, instant cookers, things that cook rice, things that cook beans, and a professional grade stand mixer that costs more than my last four grocery orders combined. I’ve even been told that no Christmas is complete unless I have an ebelskiver pan.

Every gadget listed in this blog post.
Here’s every gadget listed in this blog post. Can you name them all? (Credits below; montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

Clearly, if I don’t invest in all these gadgets, I’m not a serious cook. As if millennia of poor folk developing recipes we now call “authentic ethnic cuisine” had to wait around for the invention of the food processor to get tasty results. Which came first? The ebelskiver, or the pan?

Special Ingredients

And then there’s the “snobbier than thou” ingredient list. Nearly every single hobbyist recipe I’ve ever run across has at least one ingredient that I don’t have on hand. Some of them are not available in my local grocery store. One friend wanted to try a new recipe, only to find that none of the ingredients were commercially available in the entire 910 square miles of her county. And she doesn’t exactly live in a food desert. She has her pick of major grocery stores, plus an active farmers market and countless roadside stands in the summer.

But forget about organic quinoa, Pacific Rim seaweed paste, and rambutan. Let’s talk about salt.

Five ramekin-like holders with different colors and textures of salt.
Here are five of the article’s twelve kinds of salt. (Wide Open Eats).

The cooking website lists twelve different kinds of salt. Each has a specific use in the kitchen, and if you don’t use the right one? Well, my dear, clearly your palate is not as refined as it should be. Nor is you bank account as fat. Old fashioned cooks like my grandmother may be forgiven for rolling their eyes.  

Unrealistic Expectations

Sometimes the recipe writers assume the home cook has access to things we just don’t have access to. Not only are we expected to have a top-of-the-line, professional grade stand mixer with all the attachments, we really ought to have multi-level cooling racks, a professional grade gas stove, and a huge refrigerator dedicated entirely to proofing dough, chilling cupcakes, and making the fancy frosting frosty. I recently tried a recipe that had me mixing a simple dough in a “large bowl.” The 12” bread bowl I used was just right.

Then I got to the part about chilling the dough overnight in the refrigerator. I found room in my fridge, but I immediately thought of my grandmother’s refrigerator and my mother’s. It was a running joke in my family that those iceboxes were crammed with stuff wall to wall, front to back. My good friend follows that tradition, and kindly let me take a photo of her fridge. Please tell me where the 12” bread bowl is supposed to go?

Packed-full refrigerator shelves.
Now that’s a full fridge! (G. S. Norwood).

Cooking Is Fun!

Time to take a deep breath and a big step back. If you try to meet every expectation of those untethered-to-reality recipes, you’ll never venture into the kitchen again. But how do you “de-snobify” a new recipe?

Use what you’ve got: If the recipe calls for salt gleaned from the brows of sweaty Tuscan virgins, just use salt. Table salt is fine. Trust me.

Buy locally: If you must buy an ingredient or two, make sure they’re things you can get locally. No, I didn’t have dried cranberries or orange juice on hand when I made that orange cranberry cake, but I knew they were available at any grocery store, and the cake was worth the trip.

Edit: If I’m trying a recipe for something I know my hillbilly grandmother made all the time—like, say, ham and beans—I feel pretty safe in leaving out the seaweed.

Beans and brussels sprouts.
This recipe taught me how to cook beans, but I leave out the seaweed. (G. S. Norwood).

Give yourself plenty of time: That recipe for simple dough that needed to rest overnight in the fridge? From the moment I first mixed the yeast into warm water, to the happy instant I took the finished products out of the oven, I spent 24 hours on that “fun, fast” recipe for pigs in a blanket. Turns out, the dough recipe is enough for three batches of pigs. Maybe a hint that it’s a catering recipe? But the dough keeps in the refrigerator for weeks. The second and third batches are much faster to make, and the “pigs” are worth the work!

When you can bring a recipe back to earth and cut out all the “my palate is more refined than yours” snobbery, cooking is fun!

The recipe that launched this blog post, “pigs in a blanket.”
Worth the work! (G. S. Norwood).


Author G. S. Norwood has written a previous Weird Blog post, “Setting the Table,” about things to eat off of. Jan S. Gephardt periodically writes about growing food in space habitats on this blog.

But “Cooking is Fun!” breaks new ground for us. We haven’t previously written about cooking. What do you think? Would you like to see future posts about cooking? How about recipes? (no snobbishness allowed, of course!) Please leave a comment if you have an opinion or a question!


First: many of the photos (and delicious concoctions) are by G. S. Norwood, © 2021; reuse or reblog with attribution and a link back to this post, please. Montages are by Jan S. Gephardt.

We have lots of acknowledgements for the montage of gadgets. Many thanks to Williams Sonoma for the KitchenAid stand mixers “rainbow” and the nostalgic photo with the ebelskiver pan. We’re grateful to Alzashop for the pic of the Gorenje food processor with attachments, and to Sur la Table for the photos of a meat thermometer, candy thermometer, and digital food scale. Our deepest gratitude goes to Ebay for the Crock Pot picture, to Zojirushi for the big and little rice cookers, and to the New York Times’s “Wirecutter” feature, for the row of Instant Pots. And finally, we’re thankful to Amazon and Fox Run for the great “bean pot with ingredients” photo.

We are indebted to Wide Open Eats, for the photo showing five of the twelve kinds of salt described in their fascinating article. The variety truly is kind of amazing. Thanks!

Details from Jan’s paper sculptures show typical forms.

Leitmotifs in Your Life

By Jan S. Gephardt

Have you noticed any leitmotifs in your life? I’m using the term loosely here, to describe a phenomenon I’ve observed in many creative lives. But I probably should explain a little. By definition, a leitmotif (pronounce it “LIGHT-mo-teef”) is a recurring theme or thematic element in a work of art.

The 19th century German opera composer Richard Wagner popularized the term—and made brilliant use of the technique. You often hear the term “leitmotif” in reference to music, literature, or film.

For examples, think of the color red in The Sixth Sense, or Hedwig’s Theme” in the Harry Potter movies (20th-21st century American composer John Williams makes brilliant use of the technique, too).

We don’t usually think of it in terms of visual art but that’s a mistake. Paul Cézanne kept returning to Mont Sainte-Victoire (which he could see from his studio in his ancestral home). It wasn’t the only thing he painted. Far from it! But he kept coming back to it. Mont Sainte-Victoire was a leitmotif in his approach to his work. Many other artists offer parallel examples.

Three Paul Cézanne paintings of Mont Sainte Victoire.
Three decades, three paintings of the same mountain. L-R, Paul Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire in 1887, 1895, and 1902-4. (Credits below).

Creatures Built to See Patterns

We humans are creatures built to see patterns. Evolution has crafted us that way. It’s a survival tactic. The bright little hominid who spotted a pattern of sights, sounds and smells that signaled a tasty kind of fruit, or a way to fresh water, or the approach of a predator? She was the one who lived. She survived to successfully rear her babies and carry on her genetic heritage.

In a very deep way, we need to make sense of things. There must be an explanation, we insist. And if one doesn’t readily reveal itself, we’re fully prepared to make one up. It’s how we figure out ways to make our lives easier. It’s how we invent new things. And it’s the origin of our primal storytelling need.

it’s where conspiracy theories, myths, superstitions, and OCD routines come from, too. We’ll readily see patterns, even where there aren’t any. Consider: None of the objects pictured below actually have faces. But most of us see faces, anyway.

Everyday objects that remind us of faces.
Our human aptitude for seeing patterns makes us recognize “faces” on familiar objects. (Google Image Search screen-capture).

Every Pattern Tells a Story

You’ve heard the saying, “every picture tells a story.” But I’d also say we humans are hardwired to think that every pattern tells a story, too. That’s what makes implied lines work. Are you aware that you see lines where there actually aren’t any? Well . . . of course you do. You just followed two: a dotted line (there is no line, just dots), and a “line” of text.

When you look across a field to a line of trees . . . there are no lines. The crop-growing area stops. Some trees grow nearby. The lines are all in your head. A line of dunes. A line of waves breaking on the beach. Line up, children! We’ll go out for recess, where we might line up a kick to a ball or dream of hitting a line drive to the bleachers.

Our brains make “lines” where reality offers nothing of the sort. It’s all metaphors. That we can make sense of a 2-D drawing or painting—that we can look at a photo montage on a blog post and say, “there are three different paintings of the same mountain”—is a testament to the power of suggestion on a human brain primed to see patterns.

Three examples of implied lines in artwork.
Our brains insist there are lines there, even when they’re only implied. (Credits below).


So, then. Have I shaken your confidence in the reality of lines? It may help to remember that your pattern-recognition function is there for important survival reasons. Our bright little hominid’s family eventually produced you—and you aren’t here because all of your ancestors were out of touch with reality.

We may see things that aren’t there—a face in a faucet, or a building with eyes—but we also laugh at those fancies. We have less reason to laugh about other patterns—patterns in our own lives that may signal trouble until we learn to see and adapt to them.

Perhaps you’ve read some or all of Portia Nelson’s There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery. Her “Hole in my Sidewalk” poem about seeing and avoiding problems in life offers a handy metaphor.

This quote from Portia Nelson is a little too long for alt text.
Here’s the poem, “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk,” by Portia Nelson. (More Famous Quotes).

In Portia’s poem, the “hole in the sidewalk” can be seen as a pattern of behaviors and attitudes that we’ve developed in our life that repeatedly gets us in trouble. Until we recognize the “hole” for the danger it represents, we keep falling in. People’s “holes” aren’t all the same. For some it may be an addiction. For others, a pattern in their relationships. Or maybe a depressive pattern of thinking.

But if you’re honing your skill at pattern-recognition . . . at recognizing the leitmotifs in your life . . . you’re developing a vital survival tool.

Leitmotifs in My Life

What are the patterns you see in your own existence? What are the leitmotifs in your life? If you need time to stop and think about the question, let me offer an illustration. I’ve already been thinking about this.

One leitmotif I’ve noticed is that I always end up circling back to my sister. We were “first best friends.” We’ve wobbled in and out of each others’ orbits as our lives and careers took us in different directions, but G. is in many ways one of my most important touchstones in life. Whenever and wherever we come back together, we’re still that foundational “us.” Some things may change, but others never do.

My Beloved, Pascal, my husband, hasn’t been in my life quite as long (only going-on-49-years as I write this), but he’s another touchstone who keeps me grounded in myself, even as I try to do the same for him. But people aren’t all there is in the world. And they certainly don’t represent the only patterns in life.

Photos of my sister, my husband, and me, earlier in my life.
My sister G. and my Beloved, Pascal with me, earlier in our lives. (Family archive).

Other Leitmotifs Open Insights

I realized that nurturing things—students, children, gardens, companion animals, friends, the environment—is another constant in my life. Kind of a default setting. That’s why I went into teaching. The reason why I wanted kids. It’s how I conduct my life.

Animals, especially dogs, are another recurring theme, for me. Having them around just makes life complete. Not having them around means all of my sensory systems are not in place, and the absence of smaller, furry beings . . . echoes kinda hollow. I don’t like it.

In my visual art, it’s sinuous creatures, curling leaves, and expanding blossoms, literally rising off the page as paper sculpture. It’s maps and earth-from-above, and the ever-unfolding adventure of architecture. In my written art, it’s love, family, community—the work of finding a way back together after being pulled apart. It’s lovers and partners protecting each other. Finding hope. And building a way out of darkness. (And dogs).

Details from Jan’s paper sculptures show typical forms.
These details capture recurring imagery in Jan’s paper sculpture (images are © 2013-2021 by Jan S. Gephardt).

Leitmotifs in Your Life

But that’s me. What about you? What patterns keep cropping up in your life? Which ones are your good-and-true touchstones? Which patterns have you learned to dread and shun? What invariably fills you with joy? To what things and places do you keep returning, because you just can’t stay away?

I pray that for you they are the solid and true things. Things that nurture insight. Perhaps they’re painful things. But if they teach you about yourself, and how to live more genuinely in your own true skin, they’re golden.

You may or may not want to share them in the comments below. If not, no problem: this got personal. But if you’ve realized or recognized again that there’s a pattern in your life that you’d care to share, please do!


Many thanks to Smart History for the images Mont Sainte-Victoire (1902-04) and Mont Sainte-Victoire With Large Pine (1887), and to WikiArt for Mont Sainte-Victoire (1895), all by Paul Cézanne. I appreciate Google Image Search for the results from a search for “Photos of objects that look like faces” (my screen-capture).

All gratitude to Ms. Dodge’s Website, “The Elements of Art” page, for the instructional chart showing examples of actual lines versus implied lines. I totally love Matt Fussell’s lesson “Losing Lines in Drawings” on The Virtual Instructor, and his great example with the skull and shadows. And I was utterly delighted to share Malika Favre’sThe Leftovers,” a master class in implied lines. It came from Design Culture, found via Erika Oldershaw’s wonderful “Implied Line in Art” Pinterest Pinboard.

Many thanks to More Famous Quotes and its “Hole in My Life Chapter Quotes” page, which gave me a great visual for Portia Nelson’s wisdom. The photos for the montage featuring G. and Pascal in my life all came from the family archive. And the examples of Jan S. Gephardt’s paper sculpture are all © 2013-2021 by Jan S. Gephardt.

The cover of the “We Dare: No Man’s Land” Anthology from Chris Kennedy Publishing.

Strong Female Protagonists

By Jan S. Gephardt

What’s your first thought, when you see or read the phrase Strong Female Protagonists? What memorable characters come to mind? Do you smile at the idea of finally seeing more strong women in leading roles? Do you grind your teeth a bitt, at the fact that Strong Male Protagonists aren’t pointed out?

You can search for “Strong Female Protagonist” in several genres on Amazon. There are BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) categories for “FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Women Sleuths,” and “FICTION / Women.” But you probably won’t be astonished to learn that no parallel Categories for “FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Men Sleuths,” or “FICTION / Men,” exist. Not unless you want to count “FICTION / Animals,” which I don’t.

And seriously: “Strong Female Protagonist” is doubly redundant. If your protagonist (male or female) is a wimpy pushover all the way through to the end, why would we want to read about her/him/them?

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien, Brie Larson as Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel, and Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2.
Three strong female protagonists from cinema. (Credits below).

You-Hoo! Half of the Human Population, Here!

I’m reminded of the time when I asked one of my elder family members, “We have Mothers Day and Fathers Day, but when is Childrens Day?”

My relative laughed. “Every day is Childrens Day!”

My child-self found this answer less than satisfying, as you can imagine. And I feel a similar irritation with singling out female protagonists as somehow “unusual,” despite the fact that biologically female persons are only narrowly in the minority among the humans on the planet. (In 2020, there were estimated to be 101.69 male humans for every 100 females in the world. The reverse—more females than males—was the norm until about 1957).

But these categories exist because, as in so many other realms, male protagonists have been a default setting. More than that, really. There was an active mindset among the editors who chose what to publish. They selected for male (cis, white, straight) “heroes.”

This quote from Drew Gilpin Faust says, “I’m not the woman president of Harvard, I’m the president of Harvard.”
Eliminate the excess qualifier. (World Economic Forum).

Strong Female Protagonists

Very early in my writing career I was told “girls will read books with boy protagonists, but boys don’t want to read books about girls.” Therefore, write about boys if you want to sell better, was the bottom line. By that reasoning, girls didn’t have much choice, did they?

I started thinking about strong female protagonists most recently while reading We Dare: No Man’s Land: An Anthology of Strong Female Leads, edited by Jamie Ibson and Chris Kennedy. This is their third “We Dare” title. The others are An Anthology of Augmented Humanity, and An Anthology of the Apocalypse. The focus in all three is the subgenre Military Science Fiction.

On the whole, I enjoyed it. As in any anthology, some stories are stronger than others. Many had good moments. My personal favorites are Leaving Paradise, by Griffin Barber, None Left Behind, by Jonathan P. Brazee, and Ragged Old Golem, by Rachel Aukes.

And the best line I’ve read in months came from The Relentless, by Melissa Olthoff: “If you can’t have fun being a space pirate, what are you even doing with your life?”

The cover of the “We Dare: No Man’s Land” Anthology from Chris Kennedy Publishing.
This anthology inspired this blog post (Chris Kennedy Publishing).

Define “Strong”

Unfortunately, in some of the We Dare: No Man’s Land stories, the strong in “strong female protagonist” got a little twisted. Yes, I know most military science fiction leans toward the dystopic (read more about the appeal of dystopian stories). But in a few stories “strong” seemed more equated with kill ratio, ruthlessness, or “not dealing with trauma in a healthy manner” than it did with what I think of as strength.

Strong, to me, does not mean being so emotionally brittle you can’t have friends or trust anyone. It also doesn’t necessarily mean having the ability and willingness to mow one’s way through legions of enemies. Especially not when other approaches (involving less mayhem but more thinking) might also yield success.

This quote from writer C. Joybell C says, “The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have hand on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.”
Here’s one way to look at female strength (Quotemaster).

Finding the Strength

There’s a reason why less-violent and less-physical characteristics don’t always register immediately as strong, and it has its roots in sexism. If you think of “male” and “female” traits, the gentler, kinder, more peaceable and nurturing traits are all lumped on the “female” side, along with “weak,” “soft,” and “emotional.”

“Strong,” on the other hand, is assumed to be a “male” trait. With that as the subconscious and conscious bias, a strong female protagonist is starting from a disadvantage by appearing to be an oxymoron, right out of the box.

Writers and readers also may mistakenly think she must have traditionally “male” characteristics to be “strong.” As if stuffing your feelings, smashing things, and killing people are any variety of “strong.” Toxic masculinity is also toxic for men.

This quote from writer Ernest Hemingway says, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
Everyone faces challenges, regardless of gender/identity (ItsWorthQuoting on Twitter).

Resiliency as Strength

I think a better way to look for true strength is to ask for a resilient protagonist. Sure, they need to be tough in the face of life’s outrageous fortunes. But to me the most important kind of strength isn’t so much in a person’s muscles as in their mind and their character. Are they strong, as in loyal to their word? Are they strong, as in steady and trustworthy? And are they strong enough to admit they can’t always handle everything without help?

Ursula Po, Gracie Medicine Crow, and Cassius were my favorite strong female protagonists from the third We Dare anthology. Well, Gracie was already a favorite, since I’m a fan of Jonathan Brazee’s Nebula-finalist novella, Weaponized Math (starring Gracie). Also of his Navy of Humankind: Wasp Squadron series, and his character Beth Dalisay.

Book covers for “Weaponized Math,” “Navy of Humankind: Wasp Squadron Book One, Fire Ant,” “Barrayar,” and “The Flowers of Vashnoi.”
Here are the covers of some books mentioned in this post (credits below).

Favorite Strong Female Protagonists

Branching out from military sf (not really my wheelhouse), my first thought is Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan (Shards of Honor, Barrayar, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen). But then I realize that pretty much any woman who is a protagonist in a Lois McMaster Bujold novel. Ista of Chalion (Paladin of Souls) and Ekaterin Vorkosigan (Komarr, A Civil Campaign, The Flowers of Vashnoi) also leap to mind.

A speculative fantasy protagonist in a “warrior woman” vein, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Maggie Hoskie, kicks butt, kills monsters, and hates to admit she has a soft spot for some of her friends and allies. Find her in Roanhorse’s Sixth World books, Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts.

Book covers for “Paladin of Souls,” “Trail of Lightning,” “Storm of Locusts,” and “My Soul to Keep.”
Here are the covers of some books mentioned in this post (credits below).

Beyond “Spec-Fic”

Dystopian fiction does inescapably imply a certain level of trauma. Overcoming it and emerging on the other side is the classic story arc, especially in dystopian fiction. And the subgenre is full of strong female protagonists—including a few who don’t rack up a bunch of kills. An example who leaps to mind is Miranda Clarke, the strong female protagonist of Lynette M. Burrows’ My Soul to Keep. Miranda can defend herself, but she’s not cutting notches in her gun stock.

Leaping to yet another genre I’ve learned to love, I also should mention Margaret Mizushima’s Mattie Cobb (The Timber Creek K-9 mystery series) and Meg Jennings (along with her talented posse) in Sara Driscoll’s FBI K-9 mysteries. And just about any of Diane Kelly’s protagonists, although many of them would question that “strong” characterization at the start of the story.

I could go on and on, but I’ll offer just one more: Ms. Eddy Weekes, proprietor of Deep Ellum Pawn (and so much more) in G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Series. Perhaps in a future post G. will offer her own thoughts on Strong Female Protagonists. Who are some of yours? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section!

Book covers for “Killing Trail” (Timber Creek K-9), “Lone Wolf” (FBI K-9), “Paw Enforcement,” and “Deep Ellum Pawn.”
Here are the covers of some books mentioned in this post (credits below).


Many thanks to IndieWire for the photo of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien. We’re grateful to The Guardian for the photo of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. And we thank Marvel Cinematic Database for the photo of Brie Larson as Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel.

We deeply appreciate the World Economic Forum for the quote from Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University. Humble gratitude to Quotemaster for the C. Joybell C quote, And we thank ItsWorthQuoting on Twitter for the Ernest Hemingway quote. The We Dare: No Man’s Land cover is courtesy of Chris Kennedy Publishing.

Many thanks to Jonathan Brazee’s website for the cover images for Weaponized Math and Fire Ant. We have Barnes & Noble to thank for the Barrayar cover. We’re grateful to Amazon for the covers for The Flowers of Vashnoi, Paladin of Souls, and Paw Enforcement. Lynette M. Burrows’ website provided the cover image for My Soul to Keep.

Our thanks go out to Simon and Schuster for the covers of Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts. Margaret Mizushima’s website provided the cover for Killing Trail, first in the Timber Creek K-9 series. The Lone Wolf cover (first of the FBI K-9 series) is from the website of Jen J. Danna and Sarah Driscoll. And Weird Sisters Publishing provided the cover art (© 2019 by Chaz Kemp) for Deep Ellum Pawn.

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