When I first wrote this post, I was dealing with Weird Blog Woes. The Weird Sisters Website (including The Weird Blog) had been knocked offline by a persistent software glitch and increasingly-long “repropagation” issues. Cutting to the chase: It was broken. We were (trying to) fix it.
UPDATE! It’s now FIXED!
But while it was still broken, it was blog day. So, while reserving time to work on fixing the Weird Blog Woes, we thought perhaps you’d enjoy reading three great “fan favorite” posts of the past by G. S. Norwood—plus a BONUS!—via a website you actually might be able to access!
We hope to be back in the next two weeks with a new post on The Weird Blog! But in the meantime, please check these out—and don’t forget there’s a BONUS at the end!
Three Great Posts By G. S. Norwood–Plus a Bonus!
Let’s start our quest to fight off the Weird Blog woes with this wonderful post by G. S. Norwood, author of the “Deep Ellum Stories.” They’re normally available through our website. G. has a full-time job with The Dallas Winds, but she’s also an entertaining blogger.
I write urban fantasy, so I’m fairly open to the idea of magical energies at play in our mundane world. Still, I had no intention of adopting a cat in October of 2019. When my oldest cat, Scrap, died that July, I was comfortable with the idea of being reduced to a two-cat household. “If the Universe gives me a cat, I’ll have another cat. But I’m not going to go out looking,” I told myself. It became my mantra. Read more here.
Those Weird Blog woes are fading, right? Who doesn’t love a great cat story? Now let’s move on to another mood-lifter: Wildflowers!
It’s March in Texas, and that means wildflowers—specifically bluebonnets. For the next two weeks, roadsides and fields will be covered with our beloved state flower, a hardy lupine that loves rocky soil and early spring sunshine.
Fields of bluebonnets cover the hills of the Texas Hill Country, often peppered with clumps of Indian Paintbrush. People take pictures of themselves, their sweethearts, their babies, and their pets in bluebonnet pastures. Senior citizens who take up painting as a post-retirement hobby love to paint bluebonnet-filled landscapes.
Why are there so many bluebonnets along Texas roadsides? Read more here.
Have you shaken off the Weird Blog woes by now? Perhaps you’d like some reading ideas “for the road (or the Wildflower Trail?). After all, this is posting in the summer, and summer is the quintessential season for “beach reads” and literary vacations. With that in mind, we hope you enjoy the following.
Well. I finally did it. I made it safely through months of writing major grant proposals. Organized three far-from run-of-the-mill concerts. Took on some new job responsibilities, on top of the two full-time jobs I’m doing already. And I survived. Now, my friends and readers, it’s time for my summer getaway.
I’m looking for a place that will allow me to relax. Spend some quality time looking at outstanding scenery. And be much, much cooler than Dallas, both in temperature and in vibe. Read more here.
You’ve made it to the BONUS! One of the very best ways we know to escape Weird Blog woes—or any others—is a trip to Deep Ellum, Texas. Specifically, the magical and amazing Deep Ellum Texas of G. S. Norwood’s Ms. Eddy Weekes, as featured in her Deep Ellum Stories. Here’s your introduction: a free read! Enjoy Chapter One of the first “Deep Ellum Story,” Deep Ellum Pawn.
The guy on the other side of the counter was antsy, shifting from foot to foot, sniffing, taking quick swipes at his streaming nose with the cuff of his faded beige flannel shirt. His eyes, half-hidden by greasy blond bangs, darted from side to side, as if he was afraid Hell Hounds would appear at any moment, hot on his trail.
He probably was. And God knows, the Hounds wouldn’t have any trouble following his scent. He reeked of sweat, adrenaline, and old urine.
I looked from him to the battered violin case he’d dropped on the counter and shoved toward me. I was pretty sure what I’d find inside . . .
Many thanks to G. S. Norwood herself, for the photos of her and Gift, her cat. For the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center photos, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center provided their logo, as well as the photo of their stone entry building, which Jan found via Tour Texas, and the picture of the predominantly yellow plantings, which came via CBS Austin. Texas Highways provided the photo of the Center’s “Garden of Yes” designed for full-bodied fun by families with small children.
Thank you for being a devoted follower. I hope this change doesn’t cause you too much inconvenience, and I look forward to seeing you in the future on The Weird Blog!
Changes can be Good
This move allows us to optimize our blogs for better, more seamless content delivery without sacrificing so much of my writing time! Artdog Adventures has been a project of my heart since I started it in 2009. Moving away from the name–and from my own author website is difficult.
I’m also still making fine art fantasy paper sculpture–although I must admit I’m not making as much of it as I used to! But believe it or not, I’m working on a couple of new series that I hope will see the light of day pretty soon.
So please follow the Artdog’s ongoing Adventures over to The Weird Blog! There’s plenty more to come!
KaCSFFS friends introduced me to fandom, provided transportation and shared rooms at other conventions, and opened a new world of wonder and delight to me. I’ve always been grateful for their tutelage and their friendship. I’ve served several times as an officer of the club, most recently a stint from 2010-2017 as Communications Director. I also was the ConQuesT Art Show Director for three inglorious years (2011-2013), until the far more capable Mikah McCullough took over.
So going to ConQuesT is like coming home for me. These days, I’m much more of a program participant than I am concom, but the love hasn’t changed.
Things I’m Looking Forward To
One thing I always look forward to is being on panels. I’m writing this post too early to know exactly what panels I’ll be on. I filled out the Panelist Questionnaire a while back, so I feel a fair amount of certainty that they’ll come up with something for me to do this year!
I’ve asked for an opportunity to do a reading, and expressed my openness to a number of other options. So I guess we’ll see.
Going to ConQuesT as a panelist in recent years has become even more pleasant for me than ever, because we have half-hour breaks between panels. This allows for follow-up conversations, getting from place to place, impromptu autograph-signings, and bathroom breaks. I wish more conventions would add this lovely feature.
I also look forward to seeing old friends at ConQuesT: some from Kansas City, and others “regulars” from other parts of the region. Many times con-runners will work the whole weekend at their own convention, then go to the next one nearby to relax and just be fans hanging out with fans.
And of course I’m looking forward to the Dealers Room and the Art Show!
Our Dealers Table
Last year, some of my Kansas City friends invited me to join them at their ConQuesT dealer’s table. I’d been contemplating the possibility, but daunted by my persistent night-owl tendencies. No way was I likely to prosper running my own dealer’s table all alone if it meant being alert before 9 a.m. and attempting to make money selling only three titles! But they invited me to Try Something Newand join them.
If you’ve followed this blog recently, you probably know that was a fateful first step. I subsequently shared tables at SoonerConand Archon. This year, my son Tyrell E. Gephardt and I have roped our Household Morning Person, my husband Pascal, into joining us for this convention season. He’ll be the person who primarily runs the Weird Sisters Publishing dealers table.
We also have a wonderful range of other excellent books by some of our Kansas City Author Friends. They include books by the two friends who invited me to share their table last year, M. C. Chambers and Karin Rita Gastreich. They also include fellow “Mad Authors Party” friends Lynette M. Burrowsand Dora Furlong. And how could we not bring books by our longtime friend Randal Spangler? All in all, it’s a great lineup!
The Art Show
For most of my history at science fiction conventions, I’ve primarily been known for my artwork. No one knew me as an author – even though I’ve always been both a writer and an artist. But it takes a LOT longer to finish a book than a piece of artwork. I actually had something to show, as an artist, that would back up my claims that I was one!
And it’s not as if art was ever a minor part of my life. I majored in visual art (printmaking and graphic design) as an undergrad. During both of my teaching careers, I was hired as an art teacher who also could teach publications. After a decade of commercial graphic design work and my “second art-teaching career,” my paper sculpture eventually opened doors to national juried fine art shows around the country.
I’m still doing paper sculpture, although the projects are fewer and farther between now than they have been in a long time. Most of my artwork these days is (once again) graphic design. And as an added bonus, I get to be the Art Director for Weird Sisters Publishing! But the art show still means a lot to me – as I discovered recently at DemiCon. Last year’s ConQuesT Art Show was another marvelous one, under Mikah’s skilled direction. I anticipate this year’s will be, too.
Going to ConQuesT 54
All in all, I’m looking forward to going to ConQuesT this year. I’ve had decades of fun history there. The new Dealers Table project and Pascal’s attendance add adventure to the prospect. And I hope to see a lot of old friends, plus maybe meet some new ones. All of those things add to my anticipation.
Will you be there, too? If you are, I hope you’ll watch for my panels, check out the Art Show, and stop by my Dealer’s Table. Mention that you read this post, and I’ll make sure you get your choice of our badge ribbons!
And if you’re not going to ConQuesT – I know some readers live far away from Kansas City and it’s not practical – I hope you’ll enjoy my next post. I plan to share photos and write about the convention.
I don’t think I was ever sure who took the “historical documents” that show me at ConQuesT in 1985 and 2012, but I can identify my fellow panelists. In the 1985 photo they are L-R: Dell Harris, Ken Keller, me, and the late Roland Schmidt, my former co-teacher and a fantasy watercolorist. BTW, that’s my calligraphy on the name cards, back before desktop printing made them easy to print.
DemiCon 34 may have been my last DemiCon. I have a lot of great history with DemiCon as an institution, and as an eagerly-anticipated annual event. I’ve blogged about it in this space for the last several years, as veteran readers of this blog may recall.
But DemiCon 34 may have been my last DemiCon. At least for a while.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
I figured we were off to another great start last fall, when I received an invitation to attend with a guest as a professional guest (this means the membership fee is waived because I’ll be “paying for it” by appearing on panels. It’s a normal-enough procedure, and I’m always happy to agree). I responded quickly to say quite truthfully that I was looking forward to it.
After that, however, crickets. (Okay, it was winter. But still). Finally in March I figured I’d better find out if they’d forgotten me. As it turned out, they kind of had. There’d been a reshuffling of the con committee in some way. My invitation and acceptance had gotten lost in that shuffle. But Amanda in Programming said of course I’d be welcome, and she’d find ways to fit me onto panels. No author reading, though.
Um, okay. Well, things could still work out. It didn’t have to be my last DemiCon. But unfortunate events and disappointments gradually accumulated.
I couldn’t find Art Show information online. Turns out it was on their website and they did (let the record show) have an Art Show. It was listed under “Venue” in dim type at the bottom of their index page. I found “Dealers Room” on that drop-down menu, but somehow my eyes kept skipping over “Art Show” (second down after “Anime Room”).
I guess I was always in too much of a hurry to search the fine print. And, perhaps because of the concom shakeup, I also never received a contact from the Art Show Director. Usually I get a cheery email a few months out, asking if I’ll be showing art again this year. That really would have saved me, this year.
So, I didn’t bring any art (thought, “what’s the point?” and we were tight on space). Then, to my dismay, I discovered there was an Art Show after all. I tried not to be too upset, but I never could quite bring myself to go inside and see what was there. I suppose it should be no big deal in the grand scheme. But I was crushed.
Granted, a mistake I made shouldn’t be used as a justification to make this my last DemiCon. But it was one more, particularly searing disappointment on the growing pile of them.
A Very Tight Squeeze
The Big Convention Experiment for this year is a quest to answer the question: Can Weird Sisters Publishing present a profitable Dealers Table at sf conventions? Didn’t have to be super-lucrative, but at least breaking even would be nice. We tried to vary our offerings (and increase the odds of selling things) by including the work of selected Kansas City Author Friends Dora Furlong, Lynette M. Burrows, Randal Spangler, Karin Rita Gastreich, and M. C. Chambers, as well as my books and my sister G. S. Norwood’sDeep Ellum Duet. Happily, we did sell something from almost everyone. But did we break even? No.
Our first challenge was squeezing ourselves into the space. To say the Dealers Room was “cozy” . . . well, check out the photo above. There wasn’t room for our banner. In fact, it’s a good thing I’ve lost about 30 lbs. over the course of the past year (thank you, NOOM!), or I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze through to work the table.
Unfortunately, the aisle space was almost as constricted as the space behind the table. ADA compliance? Ouch! Not so much. The aisles were consistently congested each time I came in, but that doesn’t mean there was room for a lot of traffic. Yes, it was a small con. But as a semi-frequent visitor to the dealers rooms of many conventions, I can tell you I personally would have looked at the congestion and thought, “Nope.” Was that the experience that made me question whether this would be my last DemiCon? Well, no. Not by itself.
The Best Bright Spot: My Panels
For me, the highlight of this convention was the panels. This is often true. For one, I love to talk about our genre(s), writing, art, and related topics. For another, I generally love working with the other panelists. Most are interesting, knowledgeable, and intelligent people, and would be so in any setting. A well-moderated, intelligent discussion with such people is a delight I relish.
Most of my panels teamed me up with either Steven Southard or David J. Pedersen. The “A.I. Meets SF” panel on Friday 5/5/23 included all three of us. I had a lovely time working with both of them. They’re bright, thoughtful men. I’d met and been on panels with David before, but a major high point of DemiCon 34 was meeting Steven. Our panel discussions were lots of fun, and we had large, intelligent, well-informed audiences. It was a mix of elements practically guaranteed to be both stimulating and fun.
I was on five panels. By the time we got to the final one on Sunday afternoon (where I joined Author Guest Rachel Aukesto discuss “Who Will We Meet in Space?”), I think everyone was exhausted. The audience barely outnumbered Rachel and me, and they seemed little disposed to talk much. But that somewhat “flat note” certainly wouldn’t have been enough, on its own, to make me ask, “Is this my last DemiCon?”
My Last DemiCon?
In my first book, What’s Bred in the Bone, there’s a chapter titled, “A Combined Weight of Awfulness.” I wouldn’t ascribe “awfulness” to my DemiCon 34 experience (with one exception). But disappointment after disappointment built up through the weekend. The convention committee seemed disorganized. There weren’t many panels that looked interesting to me, outside of the ones I was on. Readings by friends were mostly scheduled against my own panels, so I couldn’t attend them. I didn’t get many other networking opportunities.
But our discovery in one of our rooms would’ve sent us home immediately if we’d been there strictly as fans. A rash of distinctive red bumps rose on several sensitive square inches of my son’s skin. Then he found a rather distinctive little brown bug in his bed. And when you find one, you know there must be more. De-con efforts have continued since we got home, to make sure none infiltrated our luggage.
We had a dealer’s table. I’d made promises to be on panels. We’d bought a program book ad. So we accepted a change of rooms and stayed. But combined with all the other issues and disappointments, this was definitely the nadir of all my convention-going experiences in the more than three decades I’ve been going to conventions all over the country. So DemiCon 34 is likely to have been my last DemiCon. At least for a good long while.
It’s that time of year again: getting ready for “con” season, and specifically for DemiCon 34. Repeated blizzard events over several recent years have discouraged us from attending Capricon in February. This means DemiCon, an annual, early-May convention in Des Moines, Iowa, has become our “new normal” first science fiction convention of the summer season.
But for DemiCon 34, things will be a bit different from our usual. Some of the changes were planned, others not. Here’s hoping I’m in much better health and voicethan I was last year! I’m also hoping that we have our typically pleasant DemiCon experienceon the whole.
A Couple of DemiCon 34 Disappointments
Let’s get these out of the way, so I can go on to the much-more-fun stuff. Due to a snafu in communications, I won’t be doing a reading at DemiCon 34. Readings are one of my favorite forms of “giving out free samples,” so I’ll miss it! To partially compensate for that, you might enjoy My First Original Video, which was filmed for 2020’s Virtual DemiCon (DemiCon 31, “Contaminated”).
In that video my son Tyrell Gephardt filmed me reading the first chapter of The Other Side of Fear aloud. That’s the prequel novella to my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, which was released that year. It was as close as we could get to a live reading during the early months of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Perhaps you’d also like to read the “free sample” first chapter from one of my novels, What’s Bred in the Bone (XK9 “Bones” Trilogy Book One) orA Bone to Pick (Book Two). Just follow the links to their Weird Sisters pages, where you’ll find them offered.
My other DemiCon 34 disappointment? There doesn’t seem to be an Art Show. I have a long history of bringing my paper sculpture to sf cons, and I’ve enjoyed showing (and selling) my artwork at DemiCon for many years. I also love hanging out with the artists who gather in greater numbers at conventions where they can show and sell their work!
But another one of the things I love to do at sf cons will definitely be happening at DemiCon 34: panels! I have started pulling together notes for the five panels on which I’m scheduled! The first, AI Meets SF, is scheduled for Friday, May 5 at 6:00 p.m. I’ve been on a number of panels that discussed science fictional stories about artificial intelligence. But this will be my first discussion primarily about the potential for AI to write science fiction.
On Saturday I’m set for two more, a back-to-back pair. Thank goodness, they’re in the same room! Starting at 2 p.m., the first addresses a topic very near to my heart, The Role of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Predicting and Shaping the Future. That one’s pretty self-explanatory, I think. The other also promises to be a meaty topic: Pandemics Through History and Their Effects on Literature.
Sunday wraps up with two more. And again, they’re scheduled back-to-back. The first starts at noon, which will be a stretch for me, especially on Sunday of the convention! The rooms are next door to each other, so that should help me make it to the second one on time. At noon we’ll discuss Gadgets in SF. This is where we’ll talk about ways writers can incorporate speculative tech into their stories without grinding the story to a halt while they deliver a data-dump to explain how it works. Then, at 1:00 p.m., we’ll discuss life forms we might encounter on the Final Frontier in Who Will We Meet in Space? Should be fun!
Our Biggest News for DemiCon 34
For the Gephardt household, the most important change at DemiCon 34will be our official presence in the Dealers Room. Not only will we have a Weird Sisters Publishing dealers table with all four of our books. We’ll also have a new member of the Gephardt clan at the con: my husband Pascal. My son Ty and I have traveled to sf cons for many years, while Pascal has always had obligations elsewhere.
But here’s the thing. Pascal is the lark among us night owls – the family’s Designated Morning Person. A lot of the Dealers Room schedule happens before 1:00 p.m., which means that someone has to be awake then to run it! Add to that the fact that he’s got years of experience traveling to art shows and Renaissance festivals with our friend Randal Spangler, and he was doomed to be drafted for this role!
All in all, things definitely will be different at DemiCon 34. But then, change is the most constant thing about our lives. I’d love to see you at the convention. If you can’t make it, I plan to publish a follow-up after we get back so you’ll know how it went. And here’s hoping one thing that doesn’t change is having a fun and creative weekend at another year’s DemiCon!
As for the photos of me at conventions through the decades: I don’t think I was ever sure who took the “historical documents” that show me at ConQuesT in 1985 and 2012, but I can identify my fellow panelists. In the 1985 photo they are L-R: Dell Harris, Ken Keller, me, and the late Roland Schmidt, my former co-teacher and a fantasy watercolorist. Might note that’s my calligraphy on the name cards, in an era before desktop printing made them easy to print.
For the fourth illustration, I am indebted to the authors, their publishers, or Amazon, for the cover images of our Kansas City Writer Friends’s books (see their embedded links in the text of this post). The design is mine.
I’ve been reading some very enjoyable books recently. They really are due a review. I’m an Indie author myself. Co-publishing out of a micro-press I run with my sister counts as “indie,” trust me. Thus, I know how vitally important reviews are. But frankly, reviews are important to all writers, whether indie or traditionally published.
Every single review posted by an individual reader tells the world that this author wrote a book someone felt moved to write about. It’s “social proof” that YES! Somebody out there not only read this book, but wanted to tell the world something about it. It’s the absolute, A-Number-One, hands-down, best gift you can give an author whose work you enjoy.
Reviews have the power to move algorithms, those arcane formulations that dictate which books turn up first in the recommendations a reader searching for new books sees. They also can provide an author with authentic voices to quote in their marketing efforts. Do you write reviews? Do you give star-ratings when you finish a book? If you do, God bless you!
A Lengthening List of Books that are Due a Review!
I “preach the gospel” of review-writing, but all too often I vow, “I’ve got to write a review for this! . . . Um, just as soon as I can.” And then “as soon as” stretches on for way too long. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “Justice delayed is justice denied”? Well, that goes for book reviews, too.
I realized recently that I’ve accumulated a rather long list of books I deeply enjoyed, that are still due a review. In the interest of making good on some of those mental promises – and also amplifying their reach a bit more by sharing them here, I thought I’d collect four in this blog post.
When I do finally get around to writing reviews, I customarily write them using the online forms provided by Amazon or Goodreads, and make sure I post to both. If one is writing a review anyway, why not extend the book’s visibility as much as you can? Another good thing to do, while we’re on Goodreads, is add a book to one of their Listopia lists. Not sure how to do that? They publish aguide.
Sheila Lowe’s “Forensic Handwriting” Mystery Series
Let’s start with the “Forensic Handwriting” (also called the “Claudia Rose Novels”) mystery series by Sheila Lowe. I saw this author mentioned in the acknowledgements of a recent Margaret Mizushima novel, Standing Dead (Timber Creek # 8), and I was intrigued with a forensic handwriting angle for a mystery novel. That’s what led me to look it up. I’m glad I did.
Longer-term readers of this blog might remember I have featured work by Margaret Mizushima before. Back in 2021 I included her Timber Creek K9 series in my post on K9 Mysteries. I recommended the series back then, and I still do. It just keeps getting better! Speaking of which, Margaret also is due a review (actually, several) from me! But first let’s turn to Claudia Rose.
Twists, Turns, Smoke, and Mirrors With a Heart-Pounding Finish
Poison Pen, Book One of the “Forensic Handwriting” mystery series, opens with an interesting situation and kept me engaged all the way through till the end. It’s extremely well-written, and paced to keep readers turning pages. Claudia Rose has a unique approach to the world and makes an engaging protagonist. Her friends and frenemies also come across as three-dimensional, sympathetic, and distinctly quirky people.
Author Shelia Lowe deftly balances character strengths and weaknesses and offers us a lively array of suspects and questionable motives. Set in LA and focused mostly on the high-stakes, high-glamour, highly competitive world of the almost-famous who orbit the Hollywood scene, this book evokes a richly textured world as colorful and quirky as the cast of characters.
Lowe has us double-and triple guessing about “What is real?” and “Who can we trust?” But make no mistake, the twists, turns, smoke, and mirrors lead us into a heart-pounding final sequence that’s hard to put down–and delivers a deeply satisfying finish.
The Action Never Lets up and the Pages Demand to be Turned
Once I find a series I enjoy, I tend to follow it for a while. There’s a special delight in returning to a world and a group of characters I liked, to see what they’re up to now. In Written in Blood, Claudia Rose faces new challenges and a new set of enemies, while trying to navigate a relationship we saw begin in the first book. In this one, we spend less time navigating the desperate glamour of second-tier Hollywood than we did in the previous novel. Instead, we tighten our focus to an exclusive Los Angeles school for troubled rich girls. But if anything, the stakes are even higher.
One note: This book was published in 2008, and I kept noticing little time-warps: teenagers went to malls, back then. Marijuana laws in California have radically changed. Technology back then was different, too. As with many long-running series, little “period” things crop up. That said, it didn’t spoil my fun one bit.
Once again, Claudia’s skill with forensic handwriting helps her navigate the treacherous rip-tides of “Who is lying?” and “What is this person’s potential to harm others?” But even she isn’t infallible. The action never lets up and the pages demand to be turned–all the way to the breathtaking finish.
About a third of the way into the first book, The Dog Thief, I felt certain my daughter would enjoy it, too – so I bought her a copy for her birthday. And clearly, this is another that’s due a review! If you like unusual perspectives, love dogs, and appreciate a good mystery, you might enjoy this series, too.
A Unique Protagonist Keeps Us Engaged All the Way
Dog rehabilitator Maddie Whitney appealed to me from moment she told a woman to take off her scarf because it scared the animals. It’s clear from the very first page that Maddie has a markedly different perspective on life. I enjoyed simply inhabiting the world as she sees it. But Marta Acosta’s fast-paced mystery The Dog Thief also is peopled by many other interesting characters and challenges.
Maddie’s neurodivergent quirks and issues plunge us into a fascinating way of interfacing with the world. As we inhabit Maddie’s point of view via the brilliant evocation Acosta sustains throughout, we grow in understanding. We get why she likes dogs better than people, and how some of her behaviors make perfect sense to her – even as we understand why others react as they do.
She’s facing a lot of stress, even before she finds the dead woman in her neighbor’s field. Money issues threaten the Whitney Canine Rehabilitation Center, and she’s heartbroken over a recent breakup. Even more misunderstood in her Northern California hometown of Coyote Run than some of the hard-luck dogs she champions, she hangs in there. She’s true to herself. And in her own unique way she bridges divides, finds new love in an unlikely place, and outsmarts a desperate killer who’s hiding in plain sight.
A One-of-a-Kind Viewpoint and more Acosta Magic
Maddie’s back, along with the other colorful range of human and canine denizens in Coyote Run for Mad Dog Down the Road. This time it’s summer, and our favorite “Mad Girl” is struggling to make her way without younger sister Kenzie around to provide her accustomed guardrails. As ever, her neurodivergent quirks give her a one-of-a-kind viewpoint on priorities.
But once she’s locked on to the sad case of the torn-up “bait dog” tossed out like roadside trash by a dog-fighting operation, she’s found a new obsession for her whiteboards and indignation. She’ll also decry a new local guru’s adult, pajama-clad “summer campers” who set off fireworks in mid-July despite prime conditions for a bad fire season. And don’t even get her started on the new deputy.
Then a local fisherman dies in a suspicious boat explosion, and her new dog Vixen finds a grisly, inexplicable “clue” that doesn’t seem to fit. Soon she’s hip-deep in all the mysteries, and unwittingly setting herself up for the most dangerous night of her life. This is typically superb Acosta magic. I didn’t want to put it down.
When We Read a Book We Complete It
As with all works of art, when we listen, view, and react to it, only then is the creative circle complete. And I would argue that part of reacting to it is writing a review, if possible. The ones I’ve written and shared in this blog post are around 180 to 250 words long, but if you can boil it down to one sentence, it still counts – as long as you share it.
I can think of a bunch more great books that are due a review from me. I hope to share some of them in future blog posts. I’d prefer to collect them in groups for which I can establish a theme, just as I’d say “unusual angles on contemporary mysteries” is how I’d group those in today’s post.
I hope today’s blog post has given you a lead on a couple of interesting series, and maybe also pricked your conscience (as it did mine!). Because if you’ve read this far, I bet you’re the kind of person who loves to read interesting books. And perhaps some of them are also due a review.
It’s called “Housing First,” and it’s a well-tested, successful, and cost-effective approach to the growing problem of unhoused people. It’s also humane and supportive – which may be why a lot of people have never heard of it. For a certain school of policy-making thought, I guess it just doesn’t punish poor people enough?
Whether you call them “homeless,” “persons experiencing homelessness,” or “unhoused persons” probably matters little in practical reality, although some would disagree. Poor people who can’t find a safe, secure place to sleep at night or keep their stuff from being stolen labor under a whole range of disadvantages. That’s a problem – both for the individuals who live each day in that dangerous situation, and for their communities.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Housing First
But how should we solve the problem? The traditional way, tested for centuries and failing for centuries, says if we do anything at all, we certainly should make them clean up their act before they “deserve” help. But if you accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the traditional view gets it exactly backwards. Also, it’s cruel, ineffective, and dehumanizing.
Article 25 (1) says, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” (my emphasis).
“Housing First” embodies that concept. And yes, strange as it might seem, the United States did ratify that agreement – although a lot of people in our assorted legislatures, a majority of dedicated capitalists, and a far-too-loud segment of the chattering class would like to conveniently forget that part.
How Big is the Problem?
Nearly every city of any size seems to have a growing number of unhoused persons. And no, that’s not your imagination. According to the 2022 Annual Homeless Assessment Report from HUD Public Affairs (the most recent one out, at this writing), there’s been an upward trend in this population since 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic made it worse, despite officialmoratoriums on evictions.
Not every place has the same levels of homelessness, though. Whatever your take on “Blue State” cities and their status as strongholds of “bleeding-heart liberals,” unhoused populations are generally higher there. That’s not because less liberal places are kinder – it’s because affordable housing is harder to find in vibrant, growing cities where real estate prices are highest.
Atlantic writer Jerusalem Demsas likens it to a game of “musical chairs” where there are more children than chairs. Or, in this case, more people than places to live. Those who can’t compete (read that “those not paid a living wage or even sometimes higher”) are literally left out in the cold. Creating more available, affordable housing is the obvious answer and it’s a basic tenet of the Housing First model. Still, cities and legislators resist.
But What about Personal Responsibility?
Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about the rights and problems of our fellow human beings who are unhoused. If we are not ourselves among the working poor – or even if we are – it’s uncomfortable to think about. We’ve probably avoided making eye contact with panhandlers on the street. Stood so we’re upwind of a “street person” or “rough sleeper” who smells bad. Maybe even complained that they’re trashing our parks and street corners, or that they make us feel unsafe.
We also commonly wonder how they got themselves into this mess. Is it because they have PTSD and can’t hold a job? Because they’re alcoholics or addicted to some other drug? Because they’re lazy or can’t manage their money? Underlying all of these questions is the question of what is wrong with them? What character defect made them vulnerable to this? Why can’t they take personal responsibility?
We (all too self-righteously) often unconsciously accept the idea that “Well, clearly something must be wrong with them, because it hasn’t happened to me.” But that’s buying into the myth of the “undeserving poor.” We assign primary blame to the unhoused person, when all too often they ended up unhoused because they ran out of options. We never stop to wonder if maybe nothing is wrong with them, or if they really aren’t “degenerate,” but merely unlucky. We don’t do that, because doing that makes us feel way more unsafe than any “scary” homeless person’s presence could.
Evolving Views on Addiction, Dysfunction, and Enabling
I now have a personal understanding of issues connected with addiction that I didn’t have fifteen years ago before a close family member went through that long, dark tunnel and unintentionally dragged the rest of us along. I’ve had an up-close-and-personal view of the state of addiction treatment and recovery during a period when the opioid crisis also dragged a lot of other families through their own long, dark tunnels.
I’ve emerged from that experience with a currently-sober, functional, recovering family member (for which I’m thanking God, day-by-day). My family and I also have a lot of healing bruises and new (inward, spiritual) scars . . . And I know I now have a profound disgust for traditional, “one-size-fits-all,” “destroy ‘em to fix ‘em,” blame-based models of addiction treatment. People heal, recover, and grow, I’ve discovered, when they’re given realistic supports and autonomy-empowering options.
That’s why I see a lot of sense in the Housing First approach. It looks past the oppressive prejudice. Past the smelly clothes and scruffy appearance that lack of access to bathrooms and laundries guarantee. And past the trauma upon trauma that life on the streets inflicts endlessly. Instead, it focuses on the person. What does this person need? How can this person feel secure enough to look beyond the grinding daily struggle to survive, and find their unique way to thrive? How can this person, with all their challenges and strengths, be empowered to live their best life?
The Many Challenges to Come
In the United States, Housing First is slowly beginning to gain ground, but it still is regarded as “experimental” and strange. It takes a while to bring people’s hearts and minds around. People still resist seeing new permanent housing for the formerly homeless as a better, more functional approach than bulldozing homeless encampments in the middle of the night. Especially if that new permanent housing is anywhere near their neighborhood.
Old-school ways of thinking and “cop culture,” which favor criminalization of the unhoused, will take a while to get rid of – even though they cost significantly more than Housing First. We’ll always have to push back against those who prefer to shove unhoused persons out of sight, rather than deal with them as human beings.
Ultimately, however, we can’t criminalize people out of existence. We cannot solve the problem just by wishing it didn’t exist. Unhoused persons will never find housing until it becomes available. Housing First offers a better way forward.
“Not in my neighborhood!” I’m sure you’ve heard this characteristic cry of property owners almost everywhere. It’s a near-universal protective reflex when anything new or even potentially threatening appears on the horizon.
And there are times when it’s thoroughly justifiable. After all, the vast majority of us are persons of limited means. If we don’t protect and steward the value of things we own, who will? If our property value goes down too much, our home or other property can turn into more of a liability than an asset.
But “not in my neighborhood” isn’t always possible. That’s because what it actually means is “somewhere else.” So, for all too many of us, it’s okay if someone else’s neighborhood is trashed, just as long as ours isn’t? My country – indeed, my own home city – offers many cases in point, both from history and in the present.
That’s because the power to say “not in my neighborhood” doesn’t belong to everyone. No matter how “equal” we try to convince ourselves we are. It never has. In the United States, as I write this, dramatic economic inequality colors every aspect of our lives and the way we live. “Not in my neighborhood” currently finds some of its expression in gated communities. Some of it comes with gentrification. And it often finds expression that results in environmental injustices.
Historically, “not in my neighborhood” is the very heart and soul of redlining. That’s a now-illegal lending and real estate practiced that very successfully segregated our cities. Its legacy lingers today. But it’s a concept our kids are unlikely to learn if we live in certain states that have restricted academic freedom and the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
How “Not in My Neighborhood” can Cause Enduring Harm
Redlining by real estate developers such as J. C. Nichols in Kansas City created cascading results we still see today. By figuratively but quantifiably “walling off” parts of the metro area from each other, these practices guaranteed division. You can still see stark differences from one block to the next in my home town.
When they systematically invested money in some, while actively barring investment in others, they guaranteed harsh divisions between rich and poor areas. They chose to bless some with fertile ground to prosper, while they monetarily “salted the earth” in others to make sure they stayed poor. This not only impacted personal wealth – we also see it in schools, health outcomes, and many other compounding effects.
The statutes that enabled redlining have since been declared illegal and unconstitutional, but the disparities persist. Johnson County, KS was the “favored land” in the Nichols vision – read that white and Christian only. No Jews need apply, and certainly no Black people back then. Our local officials and state legislators are still trying to eradicate all of the old, racist language from housing covenants. Legally, that’s been a lot harder than it should be.
Rectifying historic wrongs will take a lot more than erasing old language, however. The harder work is fighting persistent biases and historic patterns. In my town there’s a common understanding about which are the “good” or “safe” neighborhoods, and which are the “bad parts of town.” Cultural memory persists. To this day, some of my neighbors actively fear going into “the wrong parts of town.”
Unfortunately, avoidance doesn’t usually breed either an appetite to do something about it, or the individual means to do so. And heaven forbid we should suggest anything as radical as reparations! Most of those selfsame neighbors are still stuck in the “that was then, this is now” mindset of people afraid of losing their historic advantages.
How “Not in My Neighborhood” Creates a Toxic Stew
Those disadvantaged, redlined communities also have borne the brunt of environmental injustice. Because they are poor (as well as often poorly-educated, hungry, over-scheduled by juggling multiple low-wage jobs, and ill), they don’t wield a lot of clout in municipal decisions. The working poor are almost never at the table when zoning changes that impact them are made.
This post has been long on problems and short on practical solutions. That’s partly because few of the difficulties I’ve highlighted are easy-to-fix issues. Hidden danger lurks in only focusing on the “low-hanging fruit” – the easy fixes. Simple-minded solutions to complex issues aren’t solutions at all. They just defer the inevitable (and possibly attempt to shift blame).
If we habitually look at life as a zero-sum game where someone must by definition be a “loser,” we’ve not only taken a morally bankrupt approach. We’ve also set ourselves up for later grief. I write science fiction about an imaginary place far from earth. But through it I often try to re-imagine how solutions to clear and present problems might be solved – and what those solutions might look like.
Here in the present, our neighborhood is increasingly connected to everyone else’s neighborhood. All-or-nothing “solutions” are not helpful at all. It takes creativity to look at complex problems in new ways. It takes ingenuity and determination to craft new, better answers to the problems born of inequity, pollution, and systemic injustice.
In the final analysis, “Not in My Neighborhood” doesn’t truly fix anything. Not unless it transforms into “Not in Anybody’s Neighborhood.”
As noted in the cutlines under the illustrations, for this post I’m grateful to AZ Quotes, QuoteFancy, and the wonderful post full of “Quotes about Justice to Inspire Positive Change” from GoodGoodGood.
We rarely think to ask a fundamental question: what should police do? What part should they play in a multicultural, representational democracy? The ubiquity of police forces around the world argues that many societies believe police do have a role in civilized life. But what – exactly – should it be?
As a novelist whose primary characters are science fictional detectives, I am in an unusual position, both to ask and to answer this question. But I believe it’s also a question everyone should ask. Especially every citizen in a representational, multicultural democracy.
Why should we ask? Isn’t the answer to that question obvious? Well, no. We’ve all grown up “pre-loaded” with conscious and unconscious attitudes and understandings of what police officers and police forces do, and why they exist. But clearly, those seldom-examined attitudes and understandings aren’t leading to very good outcomes. Not in much of the world. And certainly not here in the United States.
But it’s not the only aspect. I would (and frequently do) argue that it may not even be the most important aspect, particularly in the realm of science fiction. That’s because science fiction is all about thought experiments.
When we start asking “what if?” a whole multiverse of possibilities opens up. What if a recent scientific discovery led to a new technological breakthrough? How would that change the world we live in? What if our society continues on its current course in this aspect, what might the future look like? How would our world change? How would we react?
So, as a novelist who writes about police in a future society, I must ask “What Should Police Do?”
Asking as a Citizen
But I’m also a citizen: of the world, and also specifically of my country and community. I’m a taxpayer, a voter, a member of “the public.” I can be sliced and diced out and defined demographically, culturally, and any other way you choose. Mother. Wife. Daughter. Woman. Educated. Teacher (retired). Middle class. United Methodist. White. Senior citizen. Democrat. Science fiction fangirl. Creative person. Animal lover. Multiculturalist. I am all of those things and more.
And as that complex, multi-aspect creature, I bring all of my experiences, understandings, and biases into my role as a responsible adult in contemporary society. For me, that involves an active interest in news and politics. I have formed some rather strong opinions over the course of my life. Each day I refine them or adjust them or reinforce them as I receive and process information.
I see it as my right – indeed, my responsibility – as a citizen to ask if my government and community leaders are representing me and governing in a way I think is appropriate. Are they respecting and honoring values I share? If they’re not, then I have a right to question them, and to seek better representation. As do we all.
This means, as a citizen in contemporary society, I must ask “What Should Police Do?”
What Do We Ask Police To Do?
We currently ask police to fill a wide range of roles. “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said in a 2016 interview by the Washington Post. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. … Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. … That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”
I tend to agree with Chief Brown. As a teacher, I learned all too much about the many things our communities want to dump in the laps of their public servants. Usually while also underpaying them, restricting their operating budgets, and asking them to do work they never trained or signed up for. I get it, and I agree.
If you were to ask the average “person on the street” this question, they’d probably say “Solve crimes,” or maybe “keep public order,” or perhaps “enforce the law.” Fair enough. So, how well are they doing?
Let’s take that first one, “solve crimes.” A look at the crime clearance rates (percentages of crimes that are cleared in a given year) is downright discouraging. “Clearance rate,” by the way, does not mean the full Law & Order-style litany of captured, charged, tried, and convicted. No, “clearance” means at least one person has been arrested and charged, or it means the probable perpetrator(s) are identified, but outside circumstances make arresting and charging them impossible. For two examples, circumstances could include that they died. Or maybe they’re in another country from which we can’t extradite them. Stuff does happen sometimes.
Clearance rates vary by the type of crime. But according to Statistia.com the only type that gets solved more than half the time in the USA is “murder and non-negligent homicide.” The clearance rate for that is 54.4%.
So, basically, police in the United States flunk at crime-solving. Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons, and many of them are tied up in the other answers to the question “What should police do?”
What Should Police Do to “Serve and Protect”?
What does “keep public order,” “enforce the law,” or “protect people” look like, when it’s happening? Does “keeping public order” mean bulldozing camps of unhoused persons? Or imposing a curfew on a small population’s free movement during a specific part of the day or in a specific place? Does it mean beating or injuring protesters? The words “keeping public order” have been used to justify all of those actions.
On the other hand, it also could mean directing traffic away from an accident. Maybe it means repelling a violent insurrection from the Capitol. And it could mean shielding a person who has not been convicted of any crime from a lynch mob that wants to kill them. It’s an umbrella phrase, broad and nonspecific enough to be both used and abused.
Standards Without Clarification
And in the end, it’s not a very helpful standard without further clarification. The seemingly obvious “protect people” brings the same host of issues when we try to apply it to specific cases. Which people are the police to protect? From whom or what? In a racist, sexist society (don’t kid yourself: that’s this one), how many ways could that go wrong?
“Enforce the law” is only deceptively “more specific.” Does that mean “enforce all the laws, all the time?” By that standard, most of us should be, or should have been, arrested at many points in our lives.
People are fallible. There are times when we’re sick and can’t cut the noxious weeds in our front yard. Or we’re forgetful and only notice later that our driver’s license has expired. Perhaps we’re tired or in a hurry, so we jaywalked when we saw an opening, instead of walking down to the corner and waiting for the lights to change. Minor traffic violations, legally carrying a gun, or simply walking down the street have resulted in citizens being killed by police in the name of “enforcing the law.”
Okay, so: What SHOULD Police Do?
As we’ve seen, that’s a really problematic question! But, both as a citizen and as a novelist, I want to find better answers to it. I cannot endorse a blanket approach such as “abolish the police.” I’m not a fan of “defund,” either. Neither of those represent where I think this conversation should go.
On the other hand, a thoroughgoing interrogation of that “what should police do?” question isn’t going to deal kindly with old-school “cop culture.” Not with many contemporary police training techniques and approaches, either. Nor even with a fair number of contemporary laws and standards.
Yes, dear reader, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m cueing up a series of blog posts on this topic. I’m not sure how long it’ll be. Considering our upcoming publication schedule, it most definitely won’t be every single post for the next umpty-dozen times without a break!
But over the next few months, I propose to take up one aspect of “what should police do?” at a time. I’ll examine how it’s currently being handled in the USA, survey the critiques, and then explain “how we handle it on Rana Station” and why I think that might work better. I hope you’ll find the series interesting.
Valentines and love are pretty inextricably bound together in our contemporary culture. But that connection wasn’t always understood in the same way. This post is part of a series of looks at holidays that have periodically appeared on “Artdog Adventures” and “The Weird Blog.” It will go live the day after Valentine’s Day, so it seems like a good time to consider the holiday.
Troubadours sang songs about love. But many marriages among the upper classes of that period were matches made for political advantage. Marriages usually were arranged between powerful families when the girls, and often also the boys, were small children. If love had anything to do with it, it was a side benefit, developing later.
However (and however many times) it began, the February 14 date became linked in North European cultural imaginations with a celebration of mate-finding. Observations persisted and evolved through the unfolding centuries. Valentines and love became more firmly linked as time went on.
By the time I finished high school in 1972, Valentines and (always heterosexual) love had long since been permanently linked with romance and marriage. But meanwhile the institution of marriage went through a lot of turmoil and cultural change. At my high school in a small town, “catching a husband” by getting pregnant was still a thing. Until a Planned Parenthood came to a nearby city, girls had to ask their parents to get them a prescription if they wanted to use “The Pill.” I don’t know of anyone who had the guts to ask.
The linkage of love and marriage that we were fed by popular culture when I was growing up held that once you were married, you’d found your “happily ever after.” Marriage was supposedly the magic key to “legal sex” and a happy life. But the institution was far from a straightforward thing when, for many of us, the legal line between partner and property (or at least second-class citizenship) remained blurry.
And then several waves of our parents’ marriages started coming apart at the seams after the divorce laws changed. The economy changed, too, and within a decade more and more women were commonly expected to work outside the home.
Valentines and Love and Spending Money
I finished college, taught for a couple of years, and then married my longtime boyfriend. By then it had become the “new reality” that a middle-class family needed two incomes to make ends meet. The income from the “wife’s job” somewhat made up for the fact that all salaries were falling ever-farther behind the cost of living.
But now we needed an ever-growing number of appliances and gadgets to help make up for not having a full-time stay-at-home person to cook, clean, and supply child care. A woman couldn’t do all of that the way her mother had, and also work full-time (the husband, help with housework? What??). Working Americans became ever more voracious consumers of nearly everything, from ready-made clothing to microwave ovens. Corollary to that evolution, Valentines Day became ever more expensive. Our contemporary focus on buying expensive gifts for our loved one has roots planted firmly in the United States (you’re welcome, World).
It’s become one of our biggest shopping days. Valentine’s Day spending in the US hit $23.9 billion (yes, that’s billion-with-a-B) in 2022. Every year we see articles on how to have a heartfelt Valentine’s Day without spending lots of money, but for many of us, Valentines and love mean spending big bucks, whether we have them or not.
Whose Love “Counts”?
Up till now, we’ve focused on North European and American ideas about Valentines and love that are pretty exclusively heterosexual (And middle-class. And white). But there are billions of people in this world, and Northern Hemisphere, white, middle-class heterosexuals make up only a tiny fraction of them. As Valentine’s Day has become more widely celebrated through the world, it has expanded well beyond its original expressions.
Singles who feel left out and demoralized by the holiday live among us. There’s a variety of healthy ways to cope with feelings of being left out, left behind, or erased on Valentine’s Day. Among them are celebrations of familial love, deep friendship, pet love, and more.
But there’s another whole rainbow of love in this world that in my opinion deserves equal treatment, both on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year. Included in their ranks are some of the most amazing, creative, wonderful people I know – and some of the most admirable examples of long-term commitment. Yet they aren’t feeling any love at all from certain conservative legislatures in my country (or from certain governments in others). I mean, of course, the whole range of what we call the LGBTQIA+ community. When we’re talking about Valentines and love, a narrow paradigm that’s stuck in Northern Hemisphere, white, middle-class, heterosexual love falls far too short.
Love is More than Valentines
When all is said and done, Valentine’s Day is only one day. It’s an annual opportunity to think about and value all the love that’s in your life. A day to reach out and express your love for others. And to receive love from them as well.
Too much focus on how much you spend, what gift(s) you were (or were not) given, or how someone made you feel rejected, is a warning that your perspective needs work. But working on your perspective is a worthy use of your time on Valentine’s Day.
Because self-reflection is a form of self-care. Dare I say it, of self-love. And until your core self is secure in the knowledge that you are a person of value who deserves love (which you are, and you do), you can’t truly love anyone else. So start with healthy self-love – then look outward.
Otherwise, any external show of Valentines and love just rings hollow.
Many thanks to Wikipedia, for the 19th century visualization of the medieval wedding. A scan by Laura Valentine of the book Aunt Louisa’s Nursery Favourite yielded the engraving, created 1 January 1870.
Thanks also to my friend, the author Rob Chilson, who called my attention to the New York Times article that featured the 19th century Valentines. The article discusses a collection from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. It yielded the two 3D Valentine pictures.