Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Category: Police K9s

Covers for Jan's three "Cops in Space" books, "The Other Side of Fear," "What's Bred in the Bone," and "A Bone to PIck."

What should police do?

By Jan S. Gephardt

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.

"Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They've got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law." - Barack Obama.
Many thanks to BrainyQuote.

Asking as a Novelist

One of the best things science fiction does is hold up a mirror to society. If you think about it, all fiction does that in a certain way, because all fiction is a reflection of our experiences of life. I’ve written elsewhere about the role of the novelist in society. And yes, a fundamental aspect of our work is purely to produce entertainment.

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?”

"My role as a novelist is to explore ideas and imagination, and hopefully that will inspire people from my world to continue dreaming and to believe in dreams." - Alexis Wright.
Thanks again, BrainyQuote!

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?”

"Each day, millions of police officers do the selfless work of putting their lives on the line to protect civilians, frequently responding to or preventing crises completely with no recognition." - Letitia James
You’re now 3-0, BrainyQuote!

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.

But what problems are the police meant to solve? Unlike some observers on the leftward end of the spectrum, I do believe there is a role for police in society. Unlike some observers on the rightward end of the spectrum, I don’t believe we will ever be well served by our current system. Certainly not when it’s focused on criminalizing poverty and mental illness. Not when it majors on crackdowns on minority populations and small offenders. And certainly not when it perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline.

This graph charts United States crime clearance rates in 2020, the most recent year for which the statistics are available. “Murder and nonnegligent homicide:54.4%. Aggravated assault: 46.6%. Violent crime: 41.7%. Rape: 30.6%. Robbery: 28.8%. Arson: 21.5%. Larceny-theft: 15.1%. Property crime: 14.6%. Burglary: 14.%. Motor vehicle theft: 12.3%”
Graphic ©2023 by Statistia.

What Problems WERE Police Meant to Solve?

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%.

Flunking Crime-Solving

Think about it. That’s only a bit better than a 50-50 chance that any given murder will be solved. If I were grading a test and my student made a 54.4% on it, their grade would be an F (On a normal grading scale, 0-60% = an F). And that’s the best they do! You want them to solve your burglary? Sorry to tell you, but you have only a 14% chance that the perpetrator will be caught and charged with the crime. Someone stole your truck? Oh, dear. You only have a 12.3% chance they’ll ever arrest the thief.

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?”

"When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe." - Mary Frances Berry
Thanks yet again, BrainyQuote!

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.”

"Accountability for police officers should be an expectation, not an aberration." - Alex Padilla
You rock, BrainyQuote!

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.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to BrainyQuote (what would I have done without you for this post?) and Statistia.

BFFs Lynette M. Burrows and Jan S. Gephardt.

A Pair of BFFs Talk about Writing

By Jan S. Gephardt and Lynette M. Burrows

A note from Jan to her readers: My longtime friend Lynette M. Burrows and I belong to some of the same writers’ groups, and first met through the Kansas City Science Fiction & Fantasy Society (KaCSFFS). We bonded over (among other things) our interest in writing, and we’ve been friends literally for decades. We regularly check in with each other to “talk shop” or be each others’ cheerleaders. Earlier this summer, I suggested we co-write a post in which we talk about writing, our personal writing journeys, and our books. This post is the result of that conversation.

Before we Talk about Writing, Who is Lynette M. Burrows?

Covers for “My Soul to Keep” and “Fellowship,” the two books so far published in the Fellowship Dystopia.”
From Rocket Dog Publishing. Cover artwork for My Soul to Keep is © 2018 by Elizabeth Leggett. Cover artwork for Fellowship is © 2019 by Nicole Hutton at Cover Shot Creations

Lynette M. Burrows loves hot coffee, reading physical books, and the crack of a 9mm pistol—not all at the same time, though that might be fun! She writes thrilling science fiction for readers who love compelling characters with heroic hearts.

The White Box Stories, which she co-wrote with Rob Chilson, appeared in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact Magazine.

Her series, The Fellowship Dystopia, presents a frightening familiar American tyranny that never was but could be. In Book One, My Soul to Keep, Miranda discovers dark family secrets, the brutality of the Fellowship way of life, and the deadly reality of rebellion. My Soul to Keep and the series companion novel, Fellowship, are available at most online bookstores. Book two, If I Should Die, will be published in 2022.

Owned by two Yorkshire Terriers, Lynette lives in the land of Oz. You can find her online at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter @LynetteMBurrows.

Who is Jan S. Gephardt?

Covers for “The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt.
Covers courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing. Cover artwork, L-R © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk, © 2019 and 2020, respectively, by Jody A. Lee.

Jan S. Gephardt commutes daily between her Kansas City metro home in the USA and Rana Station, a habitat space station that’s a very long way from Earth and several hundred years in the future.

She and her sister G. S. Norwood are the founders and co-owners of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. Her XK9 “Bones” Trilogy and its prequel novella, The Other Side of Fear, feature a pack of super-smart, bio-engineered police dogs called XK9s. They struggle to establish themselves as full citizens of the space station where they live, while solving crimes and sniffing out bad guys.

The Other Side of Fear tells how the XK9s and their humans found each other. What’s Bred in the Bone begins the tale of XK9 Rex, a dog who thinks too much and then acts on his thoughts. Even after his human partner Charlie is injured and out of the picture. A Bone to Pick was just released last month. In it, Rex and the Pack have new and different problems, even before Rex’s enemy from the past comes gunning for him. Jan’s now working hard on Bone of Contention, in which the dogs must prove to a critical panel of judges that they are truly sapient, before the Transmondians manage to exterminate their kind completely.

Now, let’s Talk about Writing!

Lynette and I developed a list of questions, then each of us answered them. The rest of this post continues in a Q&A format. We hope you’ll enjoy this “conversation,” in which a pair of BFFs talk about writing!

What’s your most recently- or imminently-to-be-published title? What’s it about, and when/how/where can readers find it?

LYNETTE

This banner for “Fellowship” has a photo of a person in a snowy forest and the words, “The AZRAEL are real. The Cleaners are coming. Run, Ian, run!”
Banner and cover for Fellowship courtesy of Lynette M. Burrows on Twitter.

Fellowship, a companion novel to the Fellowship Dystopia, series, is my most recently published title.

Two years before Miranda begins her journey, tragedy shatters a high school senior’s dreams of being a journalist when his parents are Taken by the Angels of Death. Hunted by government agents, Ian and his younger siblings run for their lives. He leads them to the Appalachian Mountains. He knows how to survive, but resources are scarce. The mountains are unforgiving. And winter is in the air. If they are to survive, Ian and his siblings need help. But who can he trust?

I had intended to write a short story in the same world as My Soul to Keep, Book One in the Fellowship Dystopia, series. When Ian came alive on the page, Fellowship, a longer story about trust, was born. Read how, while writing this novel, My Story Went to the Dogs.

Fellowship is available at most online bookstores.

JAN

“A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt, envisioned as an ebook on the left and as a trade paperback on the right.
Jan’s new book A Bone to Pick is widely available in a variety of formats. Cover artwork © 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

My most recently-published novel is A Bone to Pick, Book Two of the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. It should now be widely available in a variety of formats.

The protagonist of the whole Trilogy is XK9 Rex, who becomes recognized on Rana Station as the Leader of the Pack for the Orangeboro XK9s. But an enemy from his past is still gunning for him.

Before Rex came to Rana Station, he ran afoul of Transmondian spymaster Col. Jackson Wisniewski. He deliberately flunked out of the espionage program and threatened Wisniewski’s life. Now Wisniewski wants Rex dead. Transmondian agents watch and wait for any opportunity to strike.

Meanwhile, his human partner, Charlie, faces a different struggle. Injured and out of the action for most of Book One, Charlie now works to recover from  his catastrophic injuries – and comes face-to-face with a once-in-a-lifetime love he thought he’d lost forever.

What is your current work-in-progress, and how does it fit into the rest of your oeuvre?

LYNETTE

I’m finishing up edits of the second book in the Fellowship Dystopia, series titled If I Should Die. It takes place in the same world as My Soul to Keep and picks up Miranda’s story.

Two years ago, former rebel soldier, Miranda Clarke, vowed she would never pick up her gun again. Vowed to help instead of kill. She created the Freedom Waterways and rescued fugitives from the Fellowship’s tyranny. With every rescue, she heard about nightmarish suffering and loss, and her dream of peace grew more and more desperate.

Until the day she received two simultaneous requests: a loved one on the Fellowship side wanted her help to bring peace to the nation, while a loved one on the rebel side would surely die without her help. No matter which choice she made, it would cost her. Dearly.

In a deadly battle between her dreams and loved ones, will she stick to her peaceful principles, or risk everything to settle the score?

JAN

I’ve recently started two projects. One is a short story tentatively titled Beautiful New Year, It’s set on Rana Station and features Rex’s partner Charlie, before he and Rex teamed up.

I’m also at work on the third novel in the Trilogy, Bone of Contention. Rex and the Pack have begun to enjoy the freedom Ranans believe they deserve. But they also have work to do. They’re hot on the trail of a murderous gang that blows up spaceships in the Black Void.

But in the far-flung systems of the Alliance of the Peoples, trafficking in sapient beings is the most-reviled crime of all. The leaders of the XK9 Project that created Rex and his Pack deny any wrongdoing. And the system-dominating Transmondian Government that sponsored the XK9 Project will do anything they must to protect themselves. Even if it means destroying every XK9 in the universe.

How did this series start? What themes did you know from the beginning that you wanted to address, and why? Have you been startled by other themes or ideas that developed in the course of writing?

LYNETTE

This has been one of those stories that cooked for a very long time. I knew I wanted to create a heroine who had survived abuse and ultimately makes the choice to thrive. Exploring abuse of politics, power, and people was a logical offshoot of my original idea.

The thing that startled me the most was that I would think I’d written a brilliant scene about abuse and violence until a first reader started questioning me about the scene. The way I’d written it, the abuse and violence were always off stage.

It took a long time for me to write more active and direct scenes.

JAN

This series started with a “what if?” I’ve been a dog-lover for a long time, and I’d been wanting to write a mystery set in a science fictional milieu. Reading about police K-9s used for scent tracking, I found a quote from an investigator: “It’s not like we can put the dog on the witness stand and ask him what he smelled.”

“Oho!” I thought. “But what if we could?” Science fiction is full of uplifted animals. It was a pretty short intuitive leap from there to Rex and the Pack.

This meme image shows a German Shepherd with its paw on a Bible held by a police officer, in what looks like a courtroom. It says, “ his look of determination: ‘I saw, heard, and smelled what you did. You’re going down, David!’”
Meme image courtesy of ImgFlip.

And when we talk about writing themes, my stories always seem to have an internal “compass.” One way or another, they end up being about interactions between people of different cultures, as seen through a lens of equity and social justice.

How did your book change from the first day of writing to your last day of the final draft?

LYNETTE

I started writing My Soul to Keep as a fantasy with dragons and a Cinderella story arc, which stalled out pretty quickly.

Then I tried setting the story in the future, but it smacked too much of The Handmaid’s Tale. And the writing stalled out again.

What I needed was a world that allowed me to explore the theme of thriving despite abuse. My husband suggested I write in the style of a 1950s Noir Mystery. So I explored that option, knowing this was a character growth story, not a murder mystery.

From there, it morphed into an alternate history. Once I had the alternate history idea, it was a small step to using the Isolationist movement of the 1920s and ’30s to turn America into an isolated religious tyranny.

JAN

It took me a while to research, think, write through, and develop the science fictional elements. I wasn’t sure at first how smart to make the dogs, or how they’d communicate with their humans.

A member of my writer’s group pointed out that my first concept for Rana Station wouldn’t actually work, for a lot of valid reasons. So I surveyed space habitat designs that have been proposed by sf writers and actual space scientists. Then I mixed, matched, and came up with my own (pardon the pun) spin on their ideas. After that, I had fun extrapolating how the inhabitants would design and use the interior.

What is your writing practice? Do you have a ritual to start your day? What time of day? How many hours, and how many days a week? How do you write (machine, dictate, hand write)?

LYNETTE

When I first started writing, I had a ritual. I’d light a candle or incense and start music and then do writing exercises in a journal. Those, I usually hand wrote. Then I’d re-read the manuscript pages I had written the day before. Finally, I’d put a blank sheet of paper in my IBM Selectric typewriter and re-type those pages, revising as I went. Then I wrote the next scene.

I had an infant when I started writing, so I wrote during his naps. Later, I wrote while he was in preschool (about two hours twice a week), and while he was in school.

Now, my dogs and I go to my office after breakfast. I might turn on some instrumental music or I might write in silence. I might review the latest pages. Just as often, I start where I left off. I write for at least two hours, but if the words are flowing, I will write for ten hours or more. I write six days a week with rare exceptions.

An adorable photo of Lynette’s Yorkies, Neo and Gizmo.
Yorkshire Terriers Neo and Gizmo in Lynette’s office, courtesy of Lynette’s Facebook Author Page.

JAN

I’ve never particularly made a ritual of creating a setting in which to write, but I do need to self-isolate. Attempts to write in a coffee shop or library result in people-watching instead. I write best between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. when there are no interruptions, and I write every day, if possible.

Let’s talk about writing tools. I started with crayons on cheap paper when I was four, but I’ve “traded up” a few times since then. I wrote my first complete, novel-length manuscript in 1976-78 on an Underwood manual typewriter. Later I went through two electric typewriters, a Kaypro computer (using WordStar) in the late 1980s, a succession of other PCs, and several Macs. I currently use a 15” MacBook Pro.

For early drafts I use Scrivener. It creates a separate file for each section. That makes it easy to switch their order and keep an eye on word-count. Closer-to-final drafts get copied over into MS Word. It creates a .docx file that’s easy to share for critique, print, or import into Vellum when it’s time to publish.

More specific to this book—do you write with music, tv or radio or silence? Is there a specific soundtrack you used for your book?

LYNETTE

When I started writing My Soul to Keep, I developed a specific soundtrack that I played on repeat. These days, about half the time I write in silence and the other half I’ll write with that soundtrack running or instrumental music that provides the perfect mood for the scene I’m writing. Music from epic movie battle scenes works well for me.

JAN

Sometimes I can write to instrumental music, or to songs with lyrics in a language I don’t speak. I love Two Steps From Hell and movie or show soundtracks. Current favorites include selections from The Mandalorian, as well as Raya and the Last Dragon and Captain Marvel. I grew up listening to Classical music and still enjoy it, particularly when it’s played by my sister’s band, The Dallas Winds.

However, when I’m trying to compose finished work I go silent. I need to listen to the internal cadence of the words I’m polishing, and music drowns that out.

What did you research the most? Did any of your research surprise you?

LYNETTE

What I researched the most is hard to say. It might be a three-way tie between the location and the history of the American Isolationist and the Eugenics movements.

My research constantly surprises me. I start off researching some small piece of history I recall and, in the process of that research, find a snippet that leads somewhere interesting. One of those surprises that became a large piece of My Soul to Keep was the eugenics programs that existed in the U.S.A. prior to World War II. You can read about the Better Baby Contests and the Eugenics movements on my blog.

JAN

I’ve done deep dives into both dog cognition and space habitat design. Like Lynette, I turned both of those inquiries into blog posts. My “Dog Cognition” series explored how much normal dogs understand, surprising canine word comprehension, and canine emotions. The “DIY Space Station” series offered an overview, then specifically looked at Dyson Spheres, Bernal Spheres, O’Neill Cylinders, and the Stanford Torus.

Not surprisingly, I needed to do lots of research into police standards, culture, practices and procedure—and wow, did that ever put me on the cutting edge of current events last year! You’ll find echoes of that research in the way police operate on Rana Station.

I think some of my most surprising research started when I was searching for sources of protein that one could sustainably produce in a space-based habitat. That led me to cultured milk, eggs, and meat and branched over into some of the ideas that underpin the speculative medical technology my characters call “re-gen therapy.”

When you started fleshing out your ideas for the book, did you start with plot, character, location, or something else?

LYNETTE

I almost always start with one or more characters. For me, character starts with a voice or an attitude that I find interesting. Plot and theme arise out of the characters’ needs and wants. And I choose locations because of real-life history, the mood I want to evoke, or an event that needs to happen. I also created locations that are totally fictional, but they provide an element that strengthens the theme or plot.

JAN

My whole series started with the idea of a dog who could testify in court. Stories can start literally anywhere. But it’s not really a story until there’s a character with a problem.

A character wants something, but they’re blocked from getting what they want. The character, their desire, and their obstacle(s) are the initial setup. Without those essential elements you can’t build a plot, although you can (and probably will) imagine snippets of action that may eventually become part of the plot.

Would You Like to Ask Us Other Questions?

The plan is for both of us to publish this as a post on our blog. We thought some of you might become interested in a new writer, or encounter a new idea. We hope you’ve enjoyed our talk about writing our stories.

If you thought of questions we didn’t ask, please ask them below in the comments! We’ll happily continue the conversation, because both of us love to talk about writing.

IMAGE CREDITS:

The banner with the covers from My Soul to Keep and Fellowship and the banner for Fellowship are from Rocket Dog Publishing. Cover artwork for My Soul to Keep is © 2018 by Elizabeth Leggett. Cover artwork for Fellowship is © 2019 by Nicole Hutton at Cover Shot Creations. And the adorable photo of her Yorkies, Neo and Gizmo, is © 2019 by Lynette M. Burrows

The banner with the three XK9 covers and the one for A Bone to Pick are both from Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. Cover artwork for The Other Side of Fear is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk. Cover artwork for What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick is © 2019 and 2020 respectively, both by Jody A. Lee. The meme with the K-9 on the witness stand is courtesy of ImgFlip.

In the header image, the photo of Lynette M. Burrows is courtesy of her website. The photo of Jan S. Gephardt is © 2017 by Colette Waters Photography. Gosh. We look nothing alike, do we? Many thanks to all!

Candy, streamers, gift bows, and other party objects surround the word “Celebrate!!!”

The Road to Release Day

By Jan S. Gephardt

I feel as if I’ve been on the road to Release Day for most of this summer, but at last it’s here! We made it! A Bone to Pick should now be available in print and ebook formats through a wide variety of outlets!

“A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt, envisioned as an ebook on the left and as a trade paperback on the right.
Jan’s new book A Bone to Pick is now widely available in a variety of formats as of Release Day, September 15, 2021. Cover artwork © 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

What’s it about?

In case you’re new to this blog, here’s the book description for A Bone to Pick:

XK9 Rex is a dog who knows too much. Now his past is gunning for him.

Rex and his Packmates were bio-engineered and cyber-enhanced to be cutting edge law enforcement tools. So smart they’re considered uplifted sapient beings on Rana Habitat Space Station. Rex may be the Leader of the Pack on Rana, but his past is still on his trail.

Before Rex came to Rana Station, he ran afoul of Transmondian spymaster Col. Jackson Wisniewski. He deliberately flunked out of the espionage program and threatened Wisniewski’s life. Now Wisniewski wants Rex dead. Transmondian agents watch and wait for any opportunity to strike.

Rex takes pains to evade his old enemy. His human partner, Charlie, faces a different struggle. He works to recover from catastrophic injuries – and comes face-to-face with a once-in-a-lifetime love he thought he’d lost forever.

Can Rex and Charlie confront their pasts and secure their futures? Or will events force them to sacrifice everything?

Four of the male XK9s at a run.
Out for a run, L-R: XK9s Tuxedo, Victor, Razor, and Rex (artwork © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk).

The Road to Release Day

If you’ve been following this blog, you might feel you’ve been on the road to Release Day along with me. It hasn’t exactly been a full summer of unrelieved hype, but I have written about this book, um, a time or two.

In June I blogged about my long writing process in Writing A Bone to Pick and Almost There. Tangentially, I also touched on some aspects of creating Rana Station, home of the Orangeboro Pack, in Real and Fictional Space Stations.

In July, I discussed the author-business need for Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) and used my then-current project of creating an ARC for A Bone to Pick as a case in point, in the post Making ARCs.

As the road to Release Day grew shorter, I blogged about The Story Behind A Bone to Pick’s Cover, which probably was a longer, more involved story than you might expect. Last week I shared a short excerpt from Chapter One in Midnight Crop Inspection.

So now it’s here! Today is Release Day! Yay!

Candy, streamers, gift bows, and other party objects surround the word “Celebrate!!!”
September 15, 2021 is Release Day for A Bone to Pick (frame design by 9 Dream Studio, via 123rf).

Okay, so Now What?

Yes, that is the next question, isn’t it? Sure, it may have taken me more than two years to write that one, but it’s out now. When’s the next one coming?

Well, it’s in the works. I’ve already started on the road to Release Day for Bone of Contention. I’m not just plotting it, I’m already writing it. However, I must refer you to the cautionary tales I told in Writing A Bone to Pick and The Story Behind A Bone to Pick’s Cover. If you’re already wondering about Bone of Contention, fair warning: have patience.

Both of the first two books in the Trilogy are what you might call “big books.” What’s Bred in the Bone, in its current version, weighs in at 478 pages. That includes the Directory of “Who’s Who and What’s What,” including acronyms. It’s a reader-requested feature I added in an update this year. A Bone to Pick (which also comes with a Directory in the back) is even bigger, at 624 pages in the printed Amazon version.

The third book, Bone of Contention , will almost certainly be a big one, too.

Covers for “The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “ A Bone to Pick.”
The three XK9 books in print as this post goes live are The Other Side of Fear (a prequel novella, available for sale in print or e-formats, or for free as an ebook to anyone who subscribes to Jan’s mailing list), What’s Bred in the Bone (#1 of the Trilogy), and A Bone to Pick (#2 of the Trilogy), which releases today! (covers © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk, © 2019, and © 2020 by Jody A. Lee).

What to Expect from Bone of Contention

I did my very best to make A Bone to Pick a story that could stand alone, if need be. As in any series, it’s best if you start at the beginning (ideally, start with The Other Side of Fear, which you can get for free as an ebook, if you subscribe to my mailing list). But I’ve tried my best to bring each book to its own, internally-satisfying conclusion. I don’t want readers to feel cheated by any story I release into the world.

But the XK9s and their human allies haven’t solved the whole case yet. In the course of the events in A Bone to Pick, the Izgubil investigation expands considerably. The Pack and their human law enforcement colleagues from the Orangeboro Police Department and the Station Department of Investigation make a lot of progress on the case.

But that case is still not totally solved yet, by the end of the second book. Not all of the “bad guys” behind the Izgubil’s destruction are in custody yet. After all, the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy is a Trilogy, and that’s for a very good reason. There’s still a lot of the story left to tell!

The 10 XK9s of the Orangeboro Pack.
Meet the Orangeboro Pack! Top Row, L-R: XK9s Razor, Elle, Crystal, Petunia, and Cinnamon. Bottom Row, L-R: Scout, Victor, Tuxedo, Shady, and Rex. (Artwork © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk).

New and Old Points of View

So, who will be back in Bone of Contention ? At the risk of spoilers, I’ll reveal that Rex, as the Trilogy’s primary protagonist, will continue in that role. His mate Shady will continue as a point-of-view (POV) character. So will Rex’s human partner, Charlie Morgan.

In A Bone to Pick I added a new POV, Hildie Gallagher. She worked with Charlie back in the “old days,” before the accident that changed the course of his life. Readers first met her in What’s Bred in the Bone.In Bone of Contention she’s back as a POV. Pamela Gómez, XK9 Shady’s human partner, will be, too. Pam was our sole POV in The Other Side of Fear, as readers of the full oeuvre will remember.

Readers also will see more of the ozzirikkians, the non-human sapient beings who make up a significant minority of Rana Station’s population. We’ll also see more of Dr. SCISCO and nir Farricainan AI siblings—another small, but extremely significant, minority group of Ranan citizenry. If you like reading speculative stories about non-human exo-Terrestrial beings, I hope you’ll enjoy Bone of Contention for its exo-Terrans, as well as its XK9s. I certainly have been having great fun developing and fleshing out ideas for them.

In other words, I’m just getting warmed up on the final book in the Trilogy. The road to Release Day for Bone of Contention is just beginning to open before me. But I’m already on my way!

IMAGE CREDITS

Returning readers of this blog will probably have seen most of the images in this post before. The two Trilogy-so-far covers, those for What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick, are © 2019 and 2020, respectively, by Jody A. Lee. The cover for The Other Side of Fear is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk. Lucy is also the artist responsible for the Four Running XK9s and the ten portraits of the dogs of the Orangeboro Pack. All of those illustrations are © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk. The “Celebrate!” design uses a framing image created by 9 Dream Studio, sourced via 123rf. Many thanks to all!

“A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt, envisioned as an ebook on the left and as a trade paperback on the right.

Midnight Crop Inspection

A Short Excerpt from Chapter One of A Bone to Pick

By Jan S. Gephardt

“What is that dark thing in Bonita’s quinoa patch?” XK9 Shady Jacob-Belle dialed her vocalizer low, flattened her ears, and growled. Unease slithered in her gut. She drew back from the balcony’s railing.

A portrait of XK9 Rex, a large black dog.
XK9 Rex Dieter-Nell, © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

Her mate Rex had been gazing toward the starry nighttime sky-windows with a dreamy look on his furry black face. Now he crouched beside her in the shadows, tense and focused. He stared toward the quinoa. “I am not sure.” Like her, he’d lowered his volume as far as it would go.

Together they peered through gaps in the trailing curtain of sweet potato vines that hung down from the rooftop garden on the level above them. The leafy vine tendrils provided a handy impromptu blind.

Through their brain link, Shady felt her partner Pam rouse from an exhausted sleep. Physically, Pam was at home, seven kilometers away in the Central Plaza District of Orangeboro. But their brain link gave her the ability to be aware of what Shady was doing. Shady? Pam’s mental voice came across drowsy and disoriented. You okay?

For now. Stand by, Shady answered. Whatever lurked a hundred meters away in their neighbor’s field, it was roughly human-sized. Shady’s hackles rose with a prickle of foreboding. All she could see in the darkness was a lumpy shadow among the meter-high quinoa spikes. Veils of mist drifted on thermals up the clifflike terraces from the river far below. Some were too thick to see through. Air currents carried scents from the quinoa patch away, not toward her.

Mist over Chinese rice terraces.
Misty rice terraces in China. Rice terraces inspired the landforms of Rana Station. (Jack Zhou/Tripadvisor).

She stifled an urge to bark. Better stay silent until they knew more. It might be nothing. But it also might be a Transmondian agent, here to spy on Rex’s Corona Tower home. Spy, or do something worse.

Shall I come out there to you? Pam seemed wider awake now.

Be ready to call it in but stay put for the moment. There may be a simple fix.

Shady activated the neural Heads-Up Display of her Cybernetically-Assisted Perception equipment, then shifted to the thermal-imaging setting. A man’s hot, white form blazed into view among the dark, much-cooler stalks. He’d positioned himself about a meter from Rim Eight Road. “Damn. Definitely a man out there.”

At her side, Rex’s deep growl rumbled like thunder. “Not. On. My. Watch.” He rose from his crouch, then whirled toward his bedroom door. No light flicked on when he entered. He must’ve used the com in his CAP to disable the motion sensor.

A portrait of XK9 Shady, a large black sable dog.
XK9 Shady Jacob-Belle, © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

She followed, of one accord with him. On a different night they might have been less alarmed, although no night was good for prowlers. But tonight their world had changed, very much against the Transmondian government’s wishes. The humans of Orangeboro and Rana Habitat Space Station had publicly declared to the Universe that XK9s were not mere forensic tools, but sapient beings.

News feeds all over Alliance Space had broadcast a presentation that Rex, Shady, and the rest of the Pack had given to demonstrate some of their capabilities. They’d designed it to show that XK9s were capable of sapient-level thought.

The government of Transmondia had tried to stop the presentation. They’d launched hot rebuttals the moment broadcasts began. Transmondian government officials, as well as the government itself, were the XK9 Project’s major backers. They’d sold XK9s to agencies all over Planet Chayko, and planned expansions far beyond Rana Station. Premium dogs sold for millions of novi, a lucrative trade that would end if XK9s were declared sapient and shielded from trafficking by Alliance-wide laws.

Pam is a pretty Latina detective who wears her long dark hair in a ponytail.
Pamela Gómez,
© 2016 by Jeff Porter.

I’m calling it in, Pam said. I’m getting dressed.

Shady’s gut tightened. Her hackles prickled anew.

“Head for the garage,” Rex said. “We can swing through the orchard. Approach from the back of the property. I imagine he will be focused more toward the road, with its potential traffic. He may not expect us to come from the other direction.” Rex had lived here more than two months. He knew the layout of the two-hectare property far better than Shady, who’d only visited a couple of nights.

She and her mate moved silent as wraiths through the apartment, then six flights down. They passed rack upon rack of seedlings, bathed in blue light and fastened all the way down the leeward wall of the stairwell. The young plants’ vigorous, fecund smell hung thick in the air, laced with faint, faded scent-trace from Family members—but not from Rex’s human partner, Charlie Morgan. Charlie was currently in the hospital. The doctors had brought him out of his re-gen coma on Friday, but he still wasn’t healed.

A flat of seedlings under blue LED light.
Blue light stimulates seedling growth. (Dean Kopsell, University of Tennessee/Hort Americas).

I alerted Dispatch, Pam reported. Your backup’s on the way.

Thanks. Shady passed this on to Rex. Gratitude for Pam’s conscious presence and backup through the link filled her with a warm swell of affection. Poor Charlie had worn himself out, staying up to watch the XK9s’ presentation on the vid screen in his hospital room. He probably was deep asleep right now, unable to advise or comfort Rex.

Mist-borne odors of hours-ago supper and the big oak tree at the courtyard’s center mingled with the other smells into Corona’s unique mélange. Rex led her to the underground garage, then out on the spinward side of the tower, opposite their watcher’s location.

They leaped up the embankment by the driveway. “He is crouched in a harvest-ready field, heedless of the damage he is doing to the crop.” She hadn’t been a Ranan for long, but angry disgust soured her throat. “Only an ignorant foreigner would do that.”

Hot rage like charred coals burned in Rex’s scent factors , and deepened the menace in his growl. “Transmondian agent. Got to be. Probably thinks the crop is just tall weeds.”

Her mate was right. No Ranan would make such a mistake. A stealthy foreigner, concealed, spying on Corona, almost certainly came from the Transmondian Intelligence Service. Rex had good reason to hate the TIS, and especially Col. Jackson Wisniewski, the spymaster who’d tried to make Rex one of his assets.

A north Indian apple orchard.
Apple orchard in Himachal Pradesh (Vandana Gupta/Twitter).

Shady followed him toward a grove of fruit trees. By now she’d phased into full guard-dog-on-the-hunt mindset, ready to deal with this trespasser. They’d learned as puppies how to quietly navigate thick, wild brush. Far easier to move in silence through Corona’s well-maintained orchard, but better not get sloppy. Especially not if this guy was from Transmondian Intelligence. She kept her nose up, sorting through the night-smells. At last came a tendril of the stranger’s scent, laced with a telltale touch of gunshot residue.

GSR? Alarm radiated through the link from Pam. Is he armed?

I don’t think so, Shady replied. “Faint GSR,” she texted to her mate, not daring any sound at this point. If only she and Rex had a brain link like the one she shared with Pam!

“GSR confirmed, but maybe a day old,” Rex texted back.

Gunshot residue didn’t wash off easily, although this man had tried. It was yet more proof that he was a Transmondian, or at least a dirtsider from Planet Chayko. Almost no Ranans had either access to firearms or any need for them on their space station home. Good thing this man didn’t smell as if he had a gun tonight.

Misty vineyard rows.
Mist over vineyard rows at Flowers Vineyards & Winery (couldn’t find a photographer’s credit).

They crept closer, screened behind a trellised vineyard row on the leeward side of the tower, their footsteps muffled by clover. A quick dash across a short gap brought them onto neighboring Bonita Tower property, between two rows of leafy quinoa topped by heavy seed heads. Shady brushed carefully between the drying stalks, wary lest they crackle.

She and Rex moved upwind of the intruder, a couple of rows over. She’d already committed his personal odor profile to memory, but now she studied his scent factors. The involuntary exudations betrayed the dusty-smoky smell of fatigue. Perhaps a touch of shuttle-lag? She caught the faint pa-pum of his heartbeat, his careful, even breathing, and then his quiet yawn.

“Wait here,” Rex texted. “I’ll approach him from behind.” He disappeared around the end of a row.

Shady halted, ears up. “How close is our backup?” she texted Dispatch.

“En route,” the dispatcher replied. “ETA about five minutes.”

“Good evening, sir,” Rex said in a calm, moderate tone.

A man stands in a ripe quinoa field.
A man stands in ripe quinoa field. Granted, it’s daylight and he’s not hiding. (Toronto Star/no photographer credited).

The man gasped. Dry stalks crunched.

“I do not believe I recognize you.” Rex’s robotic vocalizer-voice wasn’t capable of much emotional nuance, but from the cadence she pictured him with ears up and tail wagging. Trying to look as non-threatening as an unexpected, enormous black wolf-dog in the night could. “May I please ask what brings you—” The pop of a trank-pistol cut him off.

Shady shouldered between the plants. “Shot fired!” she told Dispatch. “We are engaging!”

“Here, now! There is no call for that.” Rex had dodged the trank bolt. A black blur of motion beyond a last row of stalks, he darted in, snapped his teeth onto—

The man twisted, faster than humans could move. His weapon popped again.

Rex stumbled backward into the quinoa, legs wobbly, then fell over.

Sorry—I did say “short.”

A Bone to Pick, from which “Midnight Crop Inspection” is excerpted, is available for pre-order in Kindle format in both the United States and the United Kingdom, for automatic delivery on Release Day, Sept. 15, 2021. After release it will be available in many formats (including print) from many fine booksellers.

If you’d like advance peeks in the future, as well as XK9-related behind-the-scenes background and bonus material, sign up for my monthly newsletter!

“A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt, envisioned as an ebook on the left and as a trade paperback on the right.
Jan’s new book A Bone to Pick will be widely available in a variety of formats after Release Day, September 15, 2021. Cover artwork © 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

IMAGE and OTHER CREDITS:

This excerpt from Chapter One of A Bone to Pick is © 2021 by Jan S. Gephardt, and published by Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. All rights reserved.

First, many thanks to my wonderful illustrators! To Jody A. Lee, who created the cover for A Bone to Pick (© 2020). to Lucy A. Synk, who painted the portraits of Rex and Shady(© 2020). And to Jeff Porter, who brought Pam to life (© 2016). You all are a blessing!

I also deeply appreciate everyone whose photos helped me illuminate this excerpt. A thousand thank-yous to Jack Zhou, a multitalented fellow. Check out his website! So much gorgeous photography! I found his photo through Tripadvisor. I’m also grateful to Dr. Dean Kopsell and Hort Americas for the photo of broccoli microgreens seedlings under the kind of blue light Uncle Ralph employs in the Corona Tower stairwell.

What a lovely find on Twitter: Vandana Gupta’s atmospheric apple orchard conveyed the look I wanted for Corona’s orchard. I’m also inspired by the photo of the vineyard in the mist from Flowers Vineyards & Winery. Do yourself a favor and spend some time on their beautiful website! And I’m also grateful the Toronto Star provided such a brilliantly illustrative photo of a man in a ripe quinoa field (but in brighter light than what Shady had for her midnight crop inspection). Now you know how a quinoa field looks, and how tall the stalks are compared to an adult human male.

Deepest thanks to all!

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).

IMAGE CREDITS:

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.

A Bone to Pick by Jan S. Gephardt

Almost There

By Jan S. Gephardt

To quote Red Leader Garven Dreis, we’re almost there!

In this case, I mean we’re almost to the point where A Bone to Pick is available and ready to read. Almost. We’re close enough that I can at last announce a presale offer on Amazon, in both the US and the UK.

I’m also almost to the point where Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) are ready to go out as review copies. I’ll send them to my Street Team and other selected people (learn more about that process—and how to get one—when you subscribe to my newsletter).

The official release date is September 15, 2021. Take advantage of the presale offer to get it first thing on Release Day, and also to get it at an almost-half-off discount!

"A Bone to Pick.”
Pre-order A Bone to Pick as a Kindle ebook for a significant discount. Cover art © 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

What is A Bone to Pick? It’s the way-too-long-in-coming second novel in my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. What’s it about? Here’s a book description.

XK9 Rex is a dog who knows too much.

Now his past is gunning for him.

Rex and his Packmates were bio-engineered and cyber-enhanced to be cutting edge law enforcement tools. So smart they’re considered uplifted sapient beings on Rana Habitat Space Station. Rex may be the Leader of the Pack on Rana, but his past is still gunning for him.

Before Rex came to Rana Station, he ran afoul of Transmondian spymaster Col. Jackson Wisniewski. He deliberately flunked out of the espionage program and threatened Wisniewski’s life. Now Wisniewski wants Rex dead. Transmondian agents watch and wait for any opportunity to strike.

Rex takes pains to evade his old enemy. His human partner, Charlie, faces a different struggle. He works to recover from catastrophic injuries – and comes face-to-face with a once-in-a-lifetime love he thought he’d lost forever.

Can Rex and Charlie confront their pasts and secure their futures? Or will events force them to sacrifice everything?

“The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “A Bone to Pick.”
Cover art for The Other Side of Fear, a prequel novella about the XK9s, is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk. Covers for What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick are © 2019 and © 2020 respectively, by Jody A. Lee.

Almost There

I’m hopeful that I have made A Bone to Pick complete enough within itself that it will stand alone. Early returns from my Brain Trust look good.

I had a lot of fun writing this book. I enjoyed interweaving a romantic subplot (and making things tough for the would-be lovers). The Izgubil investigation continues, of course, with new twists and revelations. The XK9s face enemies both old and new – and the complexities that come with taking on the responsibilities of sapient beings begin to baffle and bemuse them.

I’ve tried to make this book as entertaining as possible. Some readers may be pleased that I reached gender-parity with the point-of-view (POV) characters in this book. In What’s Bred in the Bone there were three: Rex, Charlie, and Shady. Kinda heavy on the guys. We get to ride along in the head of a new, fourth POV this time, with Hildie’s point of view. I hope you’ll agree that she adds a new dimension.

I could say more, but I’ve hinted at enough spoilers already.

I’ve poured a lot of energy and time into this project, as readers of last week’s post may have discerned. I’m excited for you to read it. But it’s the second book in a trilogy. A reader undoubtedly will get more out of A Bone to Pick, if they read the first book, What’s Bred in the Bone, first. If you haven’t yet read it, here’s your chance!

“What’s Bred in the Bone.”
Published in a number of formats, What’s Bred in the Bone, the first book in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, is available from a variety of booksellers. Cover art is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee.

XK9 Rex is a dog who thinks too much

. . . and it could get him killed.

Rex and his Packmates were bio-engineered and cyber-enhanced to be cutting edge law enforcement tools, both smart and verbal. But there’s smart . . . and then there’s sapient. In the star systems of the Alliance of the Peoples, that’s a legal distinction with potentially deadly consequences for XK9 Rex and his Pack.

Sold to a police department on an in-system space station, Rex trails a pair of murder suspects. But his rookie mistake in microgravity, plus a catastrophic spaceship explosion, sideline both Rex and his human partner, Charlie.

But Rex’s keen senses picked up a vital clue about the exploded ship. He knows he must get the humans to listen to him somehow, even if it means breaking protocol. He doesn’t realize that protocol hides an ugly truth: XK9s are more than forensic tools with cold noses and wagging tails. When Rex takes an independent hike to HQ, he blows open an international conspiracy that could destabilize the entire system . . . and place all XK9s everywhere in mortal peril.

If you haven’t read it yet, there’s no better time than the present to get your copy. But maybe you’d like to know more about the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. What’s the idea behind it? Here’s the trilogy’s description.

Can a pack of uplifted police dogs find a home among the stars?

Or will their creators hound them to extinction?

The XK9s are super-smart dogs, bio-engineered and cyber-enhanced to be cutting edge law enforcement tools. But do smart and verbal equal sapient? In the star systems of the Alliance of the Peoples, that’s a legal distinction with potentially deadly consequences for XK9 Rex and his Pack of canine super-sleuths.

When Rex, his Pack, and their human allies on Rana Habitat Space Station tackle a grisly mass-murder case, more than an interstellar pleasure ship blows wide open. Now the people behind the XK9 Project, and their sponsors in the system-dominating Transmondian government, are desperate. They’ll do all they can to erase the evidence of their international conspiracy, before inspectors from the powerful Alliance of the Peoples can investigate.

Will Rex and his Pack run down the perps and defend their sapience claim? Or will their enemies destroy them?

four running XK9s.
XK9s Tuxedo, Victor, Razor, and Rex are headed somewhere in a hurry! Illustration artwork © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

Almost There” is Relative

Don’t get me wrong. I’m really excited to have a finished manuscript of A Bone to Pick. It’s literally the labor of years. But it took fewer years by far than What’s Bred in the Bone. And I really, really hope that Bone of Contention will be ready even sooner than that.

So, then. When do we get Book Three? Well, I’m working on it now. I don’t have a cover yet, but I do have a title, Bone of Contention. And I have an ever-more-detailed concept.

How close am I? Well, I have an established world and characters. Also a lot of ideas, a handful of early-draft scenes, and a partial outline.

And a book description! Can’t forget the book description. It may not be the final book description. But more experienced hands than me have advised that it’s a good practice to write a book description as part of starting a novel project. That way, when inevitable conundrums arise when the author’s drafting the novel, the book description can help keep things on track.

XK9 Rex is a dog who dreams too big.

Now he may lose everything.

Rex and his Packmates were bio-engineered and cyber-enhanced to be cutting edge law enforcement tools. But they’re more than super-smart forensic tools with cold, wet noses and wagging tails. Their human allies on Rana Station claim the XK9s are sapient beings.

Rex and the Pack have begun to enjoy the freedom Ranans believe they deserve. But they also have work to do. They’re hot on the trail of a murderous gang that explodes spaceships in the Black Void of space—killing all the souls onboard.

Mass murder in the Black Void is a hideous crime. But in the far-flung systems of the Alliance of the Peoples, trafficking in sapient beings is the most-reviled crime of all.

Inspectors from the Alliance of the Peoples are headed to Rana, to test the XK9s’ sapience claim. The leaders of the XK9 Project that created Rex and his Pack deny wrongdoing. And the system-dominating Transmondian Government that sponsored the XK9 Project will do anything they must to protect themselves.

Even if it means destroying every XK9 in the universe.

Updates to “Almost There”

This post contains a lot more information than I usually give on “Artdog Adventures” or even “The Weird Blog,” about my projects-in-progress. Those blogs generally cover more wide-ranging topics. (These blogs have featured the same material in recent months, presented simultaneously. Both my sister and I found ourselves stretched too thin to write multiple blog posts each week and cover all the other things we needed to do.)

Why not take a look?
XK9s Petunia, Crystal, Cinnamon, Scout and Shady invite viewers to take a look at ways to get updates. Illustration artwork © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

If you like more “behind-the-scenes” information about what I’m writing and how it’s going, the place to look is my monthly newsletter. Its readers get sneak peeks, bonus materials, and free giveaways that our blog readers never see. If that interests you, please give it a try!

Here on this blog, you’ll see more about A Bone to Pick when we get closer to the September 15, 2021 release date. Meanwhile, next week I’ll return to one of my favorite blog subjects—space stations, in science fiction and real life.

IMAGE CREDITS

Admiration, honor, and thanks to my marvelous illustrators, Jody A. Lee and Lucy A. Synk. See cutlines on individual images for copyright notices. You may feel free to reblog or repost any images used in this post if you want, but please show respect: link back to this post and acknowledge the image creators and their copyrights. We appreciate it!

The authors featured in this post are Jen J. Dana, Kylie Logan, Margaret Mizushima, Jodi Burnett, Diane Kelly with dog Junior, and Ann Vanderlaan with dog R. Kane.

K9 Mysteries

“K9 Mysteries” is a category that doesn’t currently exist. Well, it doesn’t, if you ask Amazon or the BISAC categories. But I want to wrap up our Women’s History Month series (a day late; sorry!) on women writers of mysteries, romance, and science fiction with some brilliant practitioners of this officially-nonexistent art form.

The mystery genre is chock-full of subcategories: cozies, thrillers, police procedurals, noir, and on and on. And many of those categories have subcategories: paranormal thrillers, for example. Or cat, dog, or animal cozies. But there’s no official niche for K9 mysteries. This is how sometimes-bizarre mismatches happen in listings such as Amazon’s Top 100 Lists.

But I’m here to plead the case for a separate “K9 Mysteries” subcategory. These are often closer in focus and tone to a police procedural detective mystery than an “animal cozy.”

Why a separate “K9 Mysteries category?

K9 Mysteries center on a human handler and his or her working K9. The detective is usually a professionally trained dog handler: an FBI agent, police K-9 handler, or search and rescue specialist (sometimes more than one of those). Like many in law enforcement, many also have a military background. You’ll meet a few of these folks and their K9s below. The professional status of the detective alone should distinguish this class of stories from animal cozies, because by definition a cozy centers on an amateur sleuth.

Also, a well-trained working K9 (real or fictional) is usually a German shepherd, Labrador retriever, Bloodhound, or other such breed. Their nature and work has relatively little in common with typical cozy mystery companion animals such as cats, Yorkies, or Dachshunds (lovable and perceptive though they might be).

The XK9 Pack consists of ten fictitious, sapient police dogs.
A gallery of “Pack Portraits” showing each of the ten members of the XK9 “Orangeboro Pack.” Top L-R: Razor, Elle, Crystal, Petunia, and Cinnamon. Bottom L-R: Scout, Victor, Tuxedo, Shady, and Rex. Artwork ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

And yes, I fully admit that I have a Pack of ten dogs in this hunt. My XK9s would fit into yet an additional niche subcategory, Science Fiction K9 Mystery. Yeah, I’m not holding my breath for them to establish that one. Meanwhile, let’s talk about five female masters of the genre, who really know how to handle their K9 mysteries.

Diane Kelly

Among the first K9 mysteries I encountered was Diane Kelly’sPaw Enforcement” series. These books follow the adventures of Fort Worth Police Officer Megan Luz and her K-9, Brigit, with regular appearances by Megan’s primary romantic interest, firefighter Seth Rutledge and his explosives detection dog Blast.

A former state assistant attorney general and graduate of the Citizens Police Academy in Mansfield, Texas, Kelly’s research has resulted in a realistic portrayal of a patrol officer’s daily life and the kinds of mundane—and not-so-mundane—situations first responders deal with. She writes about Fort Worth with an authentic understanding of the local geography and climate that I appreciate.

Kelly’s tone throughout the books is more lighthearted than some of the series featured in this post. There’s also a romance element that (mostly) takes a back seat to the police work and each book’s mystery plot line. As a reader, I enjoy seeing the relationship between Megan and Seth evolve slowly over the course of multiple books.

Here’s Diane Kelly with her dog Junior and the 9 covers of her “Paw Enforcement” Series.
Author Diane Kelly (shown here with dog Junior) writes the “Paw Enforcement” K9 mysteries. (See IMAGE CREDITS below).

Jodi Burnett

Indie writer Jodi Burnett’s website calls her writing “suspense with a hint of romance,” and there are plenty of both in her Amazon-identified bestseller Avenging Adam (now also available as an audiobook). The first of her F.B.I. K-9 series, of which there currently are four books. Burnett publishes exclusively via Amazon.

I’ve only read the first in the series so far, but I found it to be a compulsive page-turner. The K9 work came across as authentic (the intra-office romance was less so, for me). It certainly was entertaining enough that I anticipate reading the rest of them. Note that the series’ protagonists change with each book, moving among a group of agents who know each other and are associates. Example: the romance of the second novel is set up in the first. We also meet the third protagonist in the first novel.

Burnett lives on a ranch southeast of Denver, Colorado in the Rocky Mountain region about which she writes. The F.B.I. agents of the K9 series work out of the Denver office. This offers an interesting variety of locations for the action, from urban to remote wilderness. She also has written the “Flint River” suspense trilogy, set in Montana, and recently a new K9 mystery, Renegade, first in a new series set in the Black Hills of Wyoming.

Jodi Burnett wrote the four books of the F.B.I. K-9 Series.
Author Jodi Burnett writes the “F.B.I. K-9” mysteries. (See IMAGE CREDITS below).

Kylie Logan

The amazing Constance Laux has deep roots in Cleveland, Ohio and is the daughter of a Cleveland Police detective. She writes prolifically under (at least) ten pen names (!), including Kylie Logan.

She was an established romance and mystery writer before she turned her hand to K9 mysteries. Indeed, she has written many cozies, Including the “League of Literary Ladies” series, which includes cats (and also is set in Cleveland). But she made this list because of her current and growing “Jazz Ramsey Mysteries” series, featuring a protagonist who trains cadaver dogs.

Laux/Logan has written stories set in a variety of places, but the fictional Jazz Ramsey lives in familiar territory—Cleveland. Based on an interview by local author Charles Cassaday, it seems she was inspired to write about cadaver dogs after a presentation to a dog club she belongs to. An Urban Exploration tour of the Tremont neighborhood gave her the ideal setting. As part of her research, she observed cadaver dog training, which she described as “incredible.”

Connie Laux, AKA Kylie Logan, wrote the three books of the Jazz Ramsey K9 Mysteries Series.
Author Connie Laux, AKA Kylie Logan, writes the “Jazz Ramsey” mysteries. (See IMAGE CREDITS below).

Margaret Mizushima

We return to Colorado with Margaret Mizushima, who lives on a small ranch in the northern part of the state with her veterinarian husband. They have two daughters. The unmistakable parallels with Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries main characters that include a veterinarian with two daughters, living in essentially the same part of the world, explain some of the authentic “feel.”

The stories center on Sheriff’s Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9, Robo in the fictional town of Timber Creek, Colorado (there isn’t a town, but there is a campground by that name in Rocky Mountain National Park). The series begins when Mattie, a seven-year department veteran receives her first call as a K-9 officer. There’s a slow-burning, evolving relationship between Mattie and the local veterinarian, Cole Walker, a divorced father of two daughters with workaholic tendencies. Mattie, with a history in foster care, has her own personal issues to sort out, along with the perplexing murder cases that come her way.

Mizushima started writing after she sold a rehabilitation agency she’d started during her earlier career speech pathology. (See? It’s never too late!) Since then, she has won a variety of awards and become active in the writing community in the American West. She’s six books into the Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries series. As a fan, I hope she continues it for a good long time.

The 6 books of the “Timber Creek K-9” Series with author Margaret Mizushima.
Author Margaret Mizushima writes the “Timber Creek K-9” Series. (See IMAGE CREDITS below).

Sara Driscoll

Author Sara Driscoll, creator of the “F.B.I. K-9 Novel” Series, is actually two people: she’s a collaboration between Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan. Confusingly, Fantastic Fiction uses Danna’s photo on the Ann Vanderlaan listing.

There’s a photo of The Real Ann Vanderlaan on her Amazon author page, and I also found it by way of her rescued dogs. (She’s sharing the photo with R. Kane, her rescued American Bully). So many aspects of the series and especially of protagonist Meg Jennings’ twin sister Cara (a dog trainers who owns two rescued dogs) suddenly made new sense, once I learned this.

The supporting cast in this series is one of my favorite aspects. Not only is Meg’s clever twin sister an ongoing part of her posse, but the women also have parents who run an animal rescue operation (and are quite a resource, themselves). And then there are their gentleman friends, Todd Webb (firefighter/paramedic) and Clay McCord (investigative reporter and avid local history buff). Together or separately, they are a force to be reckoned with.

Add to this combination a series of fascinating puzzles, new terrain and a new, fiendishly clever murderer in each book. It all adds up to a fascinating series in which I keep wondering how they can possibly top the last one—and then they do.

Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan write the “F.B.I. K-9 Novel” Series under the pen name Sara Driscoll.
The “two sides” of Sara Driscoll, collaborating authors Jen J. Danna (at left) and Ann Vanderlaan (at right with R. Kane), who write the “F.B.I. K-9 Novel” Series. (See IMAGE CREDITS below).

Comments Welcome

I know I’ve barely begun to survey all the outstanding K9 Mysteries writers out there. I also haven’t even mentioned excellent male writers such as Steven Henry or Robert Crais, to mention only a couple. If you’d like to suggest others my readers and I should check into, please leave us a comment and tell me who I missed.

I also welcome other comments (keep them positive and relevant, please!) about this post if you have them. Perhaps you’ve met some of these writers, or have other thoughts. That’s why I’ve tried to make it as easy to leave comments as possible.

IMAGE CREDITS:

All montages in this post were sized and assembled by Jan S. Gephardt. Many thanks also to the talented Lucy A. Synk, who painted the ten “Pack Portraits” (©2020) showing the characters in Jan S. Gephardt’s XK9 books.

I’m grateful to Diane Kelly and her website for most of the cover images for her “Paw Enforcement” series (scroll down to it on the “books” page and click on individual titles for buying options), as well as her author photo. Thanks also to Barnes & Noble for the cover of the first book, Paw Enforcement.

Many thanks to Jodi Burnett and Amazon for the author photo of Burnett and the book covers for the F.B.I. K-9 Series.

I had to be something of a sleuth, myself, to dig down through the pseudonyms and find a decent photo of Connie Laux, AKA Kylie Logan. I am grateful to ScripType Publishing and photographer J. Kananian for the photo of Laux/Logan (holding The Scent of Murder, no less!). Many thanks to the Mystery Book Series website’s Kylie Logan page, for the book covers of the Jazz Ramsey books.

Many thanks to Margaret Mizushima’s website for both her author photo and the cover images of the “Timber Creek K-9 Mystery” series books. Click on the listings for book descriptions and varied buying options.

And finally, I want to extend my deepest appreciation to Jen J. Danna/Sara Driscoll’s website for the “F.B.I. K9 Novel” series covers, to the “Wording Well” blog, for the photo of Jen J. Danna, and to the “Coffee with a Canine” blog for the photo of The Real Ann Vanderlaan.

Several signs promote a growing push to defund and demilitarize the police.

Rethinking policing on Rana Station

Rethinking policing has always been an important part of my world-building  for the futuristic world of my science fiction novels. Recent protests and calls to abolish or defund the police have given me fresh material to work with. But they haven’t changed my plans for the series.

Jan S. Gephardt’s current “XK9” books are “The Other Side of Fear,” and “What’s Bred in the Bone.”
At the time this post went live, these were the “XK9 books” available. Cover art for The Other Side of Fear is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk; Cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee.

Balancing reality and fiction

One of the joys of speculative fiction is that you get to make up your own world. That makes it possible to explore all sorts of thought experiments. How would this or that work out, if this or that other thing happened? The challenge that comes with the joy is making your world believable.

I wanted to combine my love of science fiction, dogs, and mystery stories into a science fiction series. 

But I couldn’t assert spontaneously sapient, talking dogs (sure, that’s believable . . . or is it?). No, they’d need to be engineered and equipped. Most people probably wouldn’t do that for a pet. Contemporary smart dogs are already sometimes too smart for their own good. Plus it would be expensive, and take a long time. My fictional dogs needed a job that required the development. I already knew I wanted to write a mystery in this futuristic settingso K9s–police dogs–were a natural choice

A German Shepherd places its paws on a computer keyboard in a police station office. The meme reads, "Saw bad man, bit same. End of Report."
They aren’t using computers yet, but dogs are smarter than we think. (GSCSafety/Donna Clayton/Pinterest)

I set my story on a space-based megastructure built on designs actual rocket scientists thought might work. My canine-cognition, robotics, and other research led me to other extrapolations. I hoped I’d figured it out so my readers could suspend their disbelief, and enjoy the story.

Reality and fiction in policing for Rana Station

But how to portray the police? I knew from the start that TV and movies were no guide. They tend to show cops as good-guy protagonists. They’re frequently wildly erroneous.They often glorify, erase, or excuse terrible misconduct for the sake of drama. 

My original goal was to portray a style of policing that a real police officer could read and think, “yes, this is right. This is how it really works.” 

Never having been a police officer or worked in that world, I had a lot of learning to do. But the more I’ve learned about the way it really worksthe less I think it fits with the rest of how Rana Station is conceived

Several signs held by protesters promote a growing push to defund and demilitarize the police.

The society on Rana Station is yet another thought experiment. This one is steeped in my roots as a teacher in urban schools. I built it on understandings from working on my Master’s degree in Multicultural Education. As one of my characters says in a later chapter of What’s Bred in the Bone, Rana’s “governmental aim is to support the realization of each and every inhabitant-being’s full potential.”

The rest of the surrounding universe looks more like systems we’re unfortunately familiar with. In some ways Ranans themselves don’t live up to their ideals. In others, they do better. Part of the fun is speculating about what might happen when social systems, values, and priorities collide.

Rethinking crime 

One thing about humans: crimes happen. People screw up. They fight. Greed gets the best of them. Con artists run their scams. Passions rise, and sometimes people die. There are plenty of cases to solve, even on Rana Station

But a society built on respect for everyone, and dedicated to supporting their achieving full potential, isn’t going to criminalize many of the things our society uses the police to address.

Members of the Pinellas Sheriff’s Department Forensics Team and St. Petersburg Police gather evidence at a murder scene in St. Petersburg, FL in 2017.
When murders occur, they must be investigated. Members of the Pinellas Sheriff’s Department Forensics Team and St. Petersburg Police gather evidence at a murder scene in St. Petersburg, FL in 2017. (Uncredited/Tampa Bay Times)

Addiction isn’t illegal on Rana Station. People can have small quantities of controlled substances. But authorities regulate potentially dangerous substances and try to stifle smugglingSapient-trafficking is illegal pretty much everywhere (but which beings are sapient?).

Digital thievery plagues everyone. Rana’s “second-story men” (and women) sometimes intrude on residence towers. As in Chapter One of What’s Bred in the Bone, people sometimes get mugged.

Assaults, rapes, and murders do still occur (although there are lots more conflict mediation efforts on Rana Station than in the USA right now).

And the XK9s, along with their human allies, are on the case.

Rethinking policing in more ways than one

But a social system designed to support every inhabitant-being reaching their full potential would not look like our reality. That means not only is the agriculture different. The schools are different. Ranan mental and physical health-care infrastructure is different (to name just a few).
And Ranan policing is different, too.

Today’s “defund” advocates demand some changes that already were planned features on Rana Station. Even before our collective consciousness raising on police use of force. For instance, police won’t be the first responders called for most mental health crises. Mental health professionals called “Listeners” will. Many current “de-criminalize” issues are handled outside of the justice system on Rana.

Police prepare to clear a camp set up by people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, in 2017.
The criminalization of poverty reaches an extreme when it comes to people experiencing homelessness. Police prepare to clear a “homeless” camp in San Francisco, in 2017. (Judith Calson/San Francisco Public Press)

Readers of What’s Bred in the Bone may recall that the Orangeboro Police Department has a STAT Team (for “Special Tools and Techniques”). I originally called them a “SWAT” Team, but “Special Weapons and Tactics” recalls the old-fashioned militarized unit of contemporary practice. That’s not what I intend to portray.

In very special circumstances some SWAT-like tactics may be needed. Think sharpshooters, or psychologist-trained negotiators. But Ranan STAT teams also embrace what we think of as search-and-rescue,  bomb squads and communications and surveillance specialists. They’re known for saving lives, not kicking doors.

Rethinking police mental and physical health

One major area where my police research appalled me is the real world of police officer/first-responder stress. Rather than write in generalities, I’ll share a summary of an all-too-typical case study. This one’s from the March 2016 AA Grapevine, but unfortunately none of it seemed unusual, or out of step with other cases I’ve studied. 


Erika J.’s story

The writer was a young woman who’d wanted to be a police officer since she was in high school. Right at the start of her first rookie year she had a “suicide by cop” call. Although it was devastating, she felt compelled to “lie my butt off” to the department psychologist so she wouldn’t lose her job

There are so many wrong things, just in that one element of her story.

From the beginning, this young employee understood if she was honest she’d be fired (like most people, she needed her job). She didn’t feel supported, and that pattern continued. Later promoted to detective, she was “the only police officer in town assigned to juvenile cases.” Not surprisingly, the caseload overwhelmed her. She asked for a reassignment after six years, unsure how many more autopsies of abused babies she could handle. Her request was denied.

So she “boarded out” and qualified for a promotion. Later, as a now-sergeant with a 3-month-old breastfeeding infant, they denied a reassignment that would make it easier to care for her baby. “I was told to quit whining and do my job.” There’s more. But if you’re like me you’ve seen enough already. It’s really not surprising this woman developed a problem with alcoholism. The way she was treated–by her brothers (and sisters?) in blue–ought to be criminal.

Mitchell, SD Police Officer Mici Bolgrean does paperwork.
Stress and feelings of isolation can build up for cops if they’re not given adequate support. Mitchell, SD Police Officer Mici Bolgrean does paperwork. Only 5% of South Dakota officers are female. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

So many wrong things

Instead, it’s not uncommon. She probably got more grief because she was a woman (way to diversify, people!!). But male officers don’t get much less pressure. That old-school police culture is toxic, no matter who’s on the receiving end. As other pressures in society build virulence, police officer suicides have hit an upward trend.

Cops also work long hours with few breaks and little access to healthy food. That’s why you see so many fat officers after they’ve been on the job for a while. They’re usually not so much lazy as stressed-out and overextended. You won’t be surprised that police officers are at 30-70% more risk of sudden cardiac arrest than others, when thrown into stressful situations.

It’s not an acceptable reason, but it’s easy to see how some officers grow jaded, callous, or abusive. That kind of job environment is practically a formula for inappropriately-displaced aggression. Give that human powder-keg a racist system to work in, a history of oppression, and a gun, and you have a police brutality offense just looking for some “uppity” brown-skinned person to trigger it. 

Rethinking policing in a better way

Ranan culture doesn’t put up with any of these ways of doing things. They are stupid, counter-productive, and deeply destructive. Excuse me while I’m “unrealistic,” and explore a better way.

We need to ask why our own contemporary society puts up with those stupid, destructive ways of doing things. Must we abolish the police and start over from scratch to get rid of rampant, racist old-school police culture? If so, it might be a better way of rethinking policing than many people believe.

IMAGE CREDITS:

The covers of my books are from my Jan S. Gephardt’s Artdog Adventures website. Many thanks to Greater St. Cloud Public Safety Foundation, via Donna Clayton’s Pinterest Board, for the K9-making-a-report meme. I’m grateful to The Hill, for the photo of the “defund” protesters. Many thanks to the Tampa Bay Times for the photo of the murder scene investigation. I am grateful to Judith Calson of the San Francisco Public Press, for the photo of the police outside the “homeless camp.” and thanks also to the Mitchell (SD) Republic and photographer Sean Ryan for the photo of Mitchell, SD Police Officer Mici Bolgrean at work.

This meme shows police violently throwing a protester on the ground. The superimposed words read "Protect and serve Yer doin it wrong"

Abolish the police?

If we abolish the police in the 21st Century, why should people need XK9s in the future? 

Wait! That wasn’t the question at the top of your mind?

Here are Jan's XK9 books, that she'd published by June 2020: "The Other Side of Fear," and "What's Bred in the Bone."
Learn more about Jan’s XK9 Books on her website. She writes science fiction police procedurals about sapient police dogs on a space station. Cover artwork for The Other Side of Fear is © 2020 by Lucy A. SynkCover artwork for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee

Actually, it wasn’t my first question, either (although I do have answers). When I originally learned about the movement to abolish the police, my first question was why would we do that? 

Then I realized that by asking that question I had already marked myself as a person who owns property and benefits from white privilege

Clearly, there was a disconnect happening. I needed to remedy it by educating myself.

Why would we abolish the police?

Let’s start with my “Why would we abolish the police?” question. The answer depends on why the questioner thinks the police exist. Well, their motto is “to protect and serve.” But protect what? Serve whom? That’s where it starts to get dicey

This meme shows police violently throwing a protester on the ground. The superimposed words read "Protect and serve Yer doin it wrong"
(Meme courtesy of Cheezeburger.)

Functionally, throughout their history police forces have existed to protect the property and persons of some of the people from basically everyone else (except when they don’t protect property or the personal safety of civilians). And in recent days we’ve heard many authorities cite “protecting property from destruction” as a reason for cracking down on protesters who linger past curfews.

They also don’t exist to protect public safety in all the ways we tend to believe they do. Did you know that according to the Supreme Court, the police are not obligated to protect a person from physical harm, even when it is threatened? 

Above all, they primarily exist to serve the current power structure, for well or ill. And that’s a big part of the problem. If you have a racist or corrupt power structure, police exist to support it

Police in riot gear advance in a line through billowing blue tear gas smoke, with their batons out.
Minneapolis police advance through tear gas on a group of protesters. (Photo courtesy of Scott Olson/Getty Images, via NPR).

Do we have a racist or corruptible power structure in the USA?

I feel kind of silly, even writing that question. Of course we do.

We certainly have a racist power structure in the USA. If anyone can have lived through the last several years and still doubt that, they probably live in a gated community, are relatively wealthy, white, and only watch Fox News. In other words, they very carefully tune out many distressing aspects of reality

But you can’t close your eyes, cover your ears, yell “La-la-la-la!” and magically transport yourself into a post-racial America. No such place exists.

Do we have a corruptible power structure in the USA? A look at the situation in Ferguson, MO, in 2014 offers a window on such a power structure. It was a community mostly run by the minority population of white people, with a mostly white police force.Racial profiling led to repeated arrests for petty infractions, and jail time when fines weren’t paid. The city basically criminalized poverty, as well as driving or doing almost any other action while black.

A person holds a poster that lists all kinds of things people weren't safely able to do "while black."
The most discouraging part? This list only hits the “famous ones.” (photo courtesy of KISS).

But wait! The police are the “good guys!” Right?

Well, they’re certainly supposed to be. Both in real life and in our mediathey’re portrayed as (and quite often are)braveself-sacrificing, and strong protectors of the weak or vulnerable

A white DC police officer interacts pleasantly with several black kids, in a demonstration of community policing.
The District of Columbia has been at the forefront of the “community policing” effort. But is it enough? Many don’t think so. (Photo courtesy of Governing)

But again, whether you view them as good guys or not depends on your experiences. After some of the experiences and understandings explored in this blog post, you may be starting to feel less happy with the police.

But . . . abolish the police? Entirely? Is that realistic? And is it even remotely desirable? Don’t we actually need the police for a lot of important things?
What about murders? What about armed robbery? Car theft? Rape? Human trafficking? Fraud? How would we deal with those things, if there were no police? I have yet to find comprehensive answers from the “abolish” advocates, other than promoting a decentralized approach that parcels out some duties to other agencies. 

But unpacking many of the angles will take at least another blog post or so. I’m looking forward to examining how the “abolish” and “defund” advocates may turn out to inform (or not)the process of reforming, reducing or in some cases completely dismantling the ways policing is done–as well as implications for the future (both ours in reality, and in my science fiction).

IMAGE CREDITS:

The covers of Jan’s books are from her website. The meme about protecting and serving “the right way” is from Cheezeburger. The photo of the cops and the tear gas is courtesy of Scott Olson/Getty Images, via NPR. The very long list of unsafe things to do “while black” is from KISS, and the photo of the officer doing “community policing” is from Governing. Many thanks to all!

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