Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

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This year’s image is a book with bright bubbles and fairy dust rising from its glowing pages. The words say, “ConQuesT 54 June 2 @12:00 p.m. – June 4 @6:00 p.m.”

Going to ConQuesT

By Jan S. Gephardt

I’ve been going to ConQuesT or about as long as I’ve been going to science fiction conventions. I think of it as my “home con.” It’s sponsored by KaCSFFS (we pronounce it “KAX-fuss”), the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. I was “discovered” by Robin Wayne Bailey and his wife Diana J. Bailey, when I showed my artwork at a relatively short-lived convention at a local community college. That was back in 1982.

KaCSFFS friends introduced me to fandom, provided transportation and shared rooms at other conventions, and opened a new world of wonder and delight to me. I’ve always been grateful for their tutelage and their friendship. I’ve served several times as an officer of the club, most recently a stint from 2010-2017 as Communications Director. I also was the ConQuesT Art Show Director for three inglorious years (2011-2013), until the far more capable Mikah McCullough took over.

So going to ConQuesT is like coming home for me. These days, I’m much more of a program participant than I am concom, but the love hasn’t changed.

Photos of Jan at ConQuesT in Kansas City (in 1985 and 2012), plus at Archon 43 (2019).
Here’s a walk through the decades that I’ve been going to sf cons – and it’s telling that two of the three are from past ConQuesTs. (See credits and panelist identifications below).

Things I’m Looking Forward To

One thing I always look forward to is being on panels. I’m writing this post too early to know exactly what panels I’ll be on. I filled out the Panelist Questionnaire a while back, so I feel a fair amount of certainty that they’ll come up with something for me to do this year!

I’ve asked for an opportunity to do a reading, and expressed my openness to a number of other options. So I guess we’ll see.

Going to ConQuesT as a panelist in recent years has become even more pleasant for me than ever, because we have half-hour breaks between panels. This allows for follow-up conversations, getting from place to place, impromptu autograph-signings, and bathroom breaks. I wish more conventions would add this lovely feature.

I also look forward to seeing old friends at ConQuesT: some from Kansas City, and others “regulars” from other parts of the region. Many times con-runners will work the whole weekend at their own convention, then go to the next one nearby to relax and just be fans hanging out with fans.

And of course I’m looking forward to the Dealers Room and the Art Show!

This year’s image is a book with bright bubbles and fairy dust rising from its glowing pages. The words say, “ConQuesT 54 June 2 @12:00 p.m. – June 4 @6:00 p.m.”
For the first time that I can remember, ConQuesT will not be on Memorial Day Weekend. The convention also has moved to a new hotel. (Image courtesy of ConQuesT 54 website).

Our Dealers Table

Last year, some of my Kansas City friends invited me to join them at their ConQuesT dealer’s table. I’d been contemplating the possibility, but daunted by my persistent night-owl tendencies. No way was I likely to prosper running my own dealer’s table all alone if it meant being alert before 9 a.m. and attempting to make money selling only three titles! But they invited me to Try Something New and join them.

If you’ve followed this blog recently, you probably know that was a fateful first step. I subsequently shared tables at SoonerCon and Archon. This year, my son Tyrell E. Gephardt and I have roped our Household Morning Person, my husband Pascal, into joining us for this convention season. He’ll be the person who primarily runs the Weird Sisters Publishing dealers table.

We also are coming to ConQuesT with considerably more books than just the three “XK9 Book” titles I had with me last year. This year, we not only have the Weird Sisters book Deep Ellum Duet by my sister and co-publisher, G. S. Norwood.

We also have a wonderful range of other excellent books by some of our Kansas City Author Friends. They include books by the two friends who invited me to share their table last year, M. C. Chambers and Karin Rita Gastreich. They also include fellow “Mad Authors Party” friends Lynette M. Burrows and Dora Furlong. And how could we not bring books by our longtime friend Randal Spangler? All in all, it’s a great lineup!

The words say, “Look for Weird Sisters Publishing and Kansas City Writer Friends in the Dealers Room at the Convention!” The imagery includes covers for books by WSP authors Jan S. Gephardt and G.S. Norwood, as well as Kansas City-based writers Lynette M. Burrows, M.C. Chambers, Dora Furlong, Karin Rita Gastreich, and Randal Spangler.
This is the announcement I created about the table, primarily for social media.

The Art Show

For most of my history at science fiction conventions, I’ve primarily been known for my artwork. No one knew me as an author – even though I’ve always been both a writer and an artist. But it takes a LOT longer to finish a book than a piece of artwork. I actually had something to show, as an artist, that would back up my claims that I was one!

And it’s not as if art was ever a minor part of my life. I majored in visual art (printmaking and graphic design) as an undergrad. During both of my teaching careers, I was hired as an art teacher who also could teach publications. After a decade of commercial graphic design work and my “second art-teaching career,” my paper sculpture eventually opened doors to national juried fine art shows around the country.

I’m still doing paper sculpture, although the projects are fewer and farther between now than they have been in a long time. Most of my artwork these days is (once again) graphic design. And as an added bonus, I get to be the Art Director for Weird Sisters Publishing! But the art show still means a lot to me – as I discovered recently at DemiCon. Last year’s ConQuesT Art Show was another marvelous one, under Mikah’s skilled direction. I anticipate this year’s will be, too.

This is a montage of some of my recent paper sculpture. The artworks are: Top Row, L-R: “Common Cliff Dragon – Male,” “Gemflower Outburst,” and “Love in the Storm.” On the next row, L-R: “Overcoming Complications,”  pair from the “Guardians” series in yellow top mats, “Protector” and “Defender;” and “White Clematis with Dragons.” The lower pair of “Guardians,” in green top mats, are “Fierce” and “Brave.” All artwork is © by Jan S. Gephardt.
Here are samples most of my paper sculpture I’m showing this year. All artwork is © by Jan S. Gephardt.

Going to ConQuesT 54

All in all, I’m looking forward to going to ConQuesT this year. I’ve had decades of fun history there. The new Dealers Table project and Pascal’s attendance add adventure to the prospect. And I hope to see a lot of old friends, plus maybe meet some new ones. All of those things add to my anticipation.

Will you be there, too? If you are, I hope you’ll watch for my panels, check out the Art Show, and stop by my Dealer’s Table. Mention that you read this post, and I’ll make sure you get your choice of our badge ribbons!

And if you’re not going to ConQuesT – I know some readers live far away from Kansas City and it’s not practical – I hope you’ll enjoy my next post. I plan to share photos and write about the convention.

IMAGE CREDITS

I don’t think I was ever sure who took the “historical documents” that show me at ConQuesT in 1985 and 2012, but I can identify my fellow panelists. In the 1985 photo they are L-R: Dell Harris, Ken Keller, me, and the late Roland Schmidt, my former co-teacher and a fantasy watercolorist. BTW, that’s my calligraphy on the name cards, back before desktop printing made them easy to print.

And in the 2012 photo that’s me on the left. Tracy S. Morris sits in the middle with her book Bride of Tranquility. At the right is fellow Kansas City writer, artist, and longtime sf fan Sherri Dean. I owe Tyrell Gephardt thanks for photo of me, masked up behind my then-current collection of signs, books, and S.W.A.G. at Archon 43 (2019).

Many thanks to the ConQuesT 54 website, for their header image. The designs for the social-media image about our Weird Sisters Publishing dealers table and the sampler of my paper sculpture are my work. My paper sculpture is, of course, my original multimedia artwork, all © by Jan S. Gephardt.

The cover art for my book The Other Side of Fear is ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk. Cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 and for A Bone to Pick is ©2020 by Jody A. Lee. The art for G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Duet cover is © 2022 by Chaz Kemp. Many thanks to our Kansas City Author Friends, and in a couple of cases to Amazon, for their cover images. See embedded links above.

Two photos of “Harvey” – later renamed Slater – taken at the Collin County, Texas Animal Shelter.

The Definition of “Dog”

By G. S. Norwood

I love dogs. When I was growing up, we always had at least one dog around the house. Penny, my mother’s dog during my childhood, was my earliest definition of “Dog.” She died at the ripe old age of 16. After that, the dogs were mine. Penny was followed by Burr, a collie mix, then Finnian, an Irish setter. Then Lightfoot—who went to live with Jan—and Nigel, K.D., Bashō, Liam, . . . you get the idea.

Four dogs from the family’s past – 2 from the Norwood side and 2 from the Gephardts – all have those distinctive black-and-white markings. Also included: a painting by Lucy A. Synk of Jan’s fictional XK9 mates Elle and Tuxedo, reveals that they look extraordinarily like a red border collie and a black-and-white one.
Our “once and future definition of ‘dog’” is clear to see. At top, Bashō (with cat Ella) and Liam nap in the Weatherford, Texas home of Warren and G.S. Norwood in the ‘00s. Left bottom are Wolf (Ty Gephardt’s dog) and Cole (originally Grandma Janet’s dog, but at that point the dog of Signy Gephardt). Bottom R a sweeping view of Jan S. Gephardt’s fictional Sirius River Valley on Rana Station forms the backdrop for a romp by XK9 mates Elle and Tuxedo (who bear a striking resemblance to a red border collie and a “classic” black-and-white border collie) in a painting ©2020-2022 by Lucy A. Synk. (See full credits below).

My Mother’s Dog

But Liam taught me something I just hadn’t figured out with the other dogs. Liam was a seven-year-old border collie who clearly had professional herding experience when he fetched up on my doorstep. My mother had just lost her long-time pup, and I thought she might like Liam. Penny, that dog of my childhood, had been a border collie and she was the best dog ever, according to Mom.

Penny had belonged to neighbors back when Mom was pregnant with Jan. Through the long, humid summer, in the days before air conditioning, Mom spent her afternoons in her relatively cool garage, reading and resting. Often Penny, left outdoors and not confined, came over to keep her company. Mom and Penny bonded. Then, one day, Penny disappeared. Mom learned that the neighbors, tired of a dog they never paid attention to, had dumped her out in the country.

Two weeks later Penny came back—not to the neighbors who had neglected and abused her, but to Mom. My mother promptly went next door to inform her neighbors that Penny had returned, but she was no longer their dog. Mom claimed her, as Penny claimed Mom. The two of them remained loyal to each other through two children, three moves, a crumbling marriage, and all the rest. Along the way, Jan and I grew up with a strongly imprinted archetype. In the deepest parts of our brains, “Dog” equaled a black and white border collie. I didn’t fully understand this until I saw Liam, and realized he was the definition of “Dog” for me.

Four views of G.’s black-and-white border collie Liam, two from his old age and one with a tiny black kitten.
The dog who taught G. her definition of “dog” was Liam, seen here in four different stages of his life. (All photos courtesy of author G. S. Norwood).

The Definition of “Dog”

Since that time, I have only looked at border collies. I first noticed Tam at an adoption event because he had border collie lines. He turned out to be a border collie/golden retriever mix. After Liam died, I started volunteering with a border collie rescue group.

Chess was my first foster, and first foster fail. Zoe was the dog I was really looking for—a classic black and white female like Penny—and Kata . . . Well, okay, Kata looks like a smooth-coated sable border collie if you get her in the right light. She was stranded at a high-kill rural Texas shelter and got classified as “border collie enough” so she could get out of there. The four of them became my Texas Pack.

Clockwise: Zoe, Chess, Kata and Tam in a photo montage that has appeared on this blog before.
Until recently, this was G.S. Norwood’s “Texas Pack,” described in loving detail in an earlier blog post. (See credits below).

An Opening in the Pack

Back in October, however, Tam, at age 13, lost his battle with lymphoma. His passing left a huge hole in the Texas Pack but opened up space for me to start fostering again. I wasn’t eager to get another dog, but I did check the shelters for border collies from time to time.

Which is how, in mid-November, I happened onto a photo of a sweet young border collie boy who looked like he was smart, a little wary, and more than ready to get the heck out of my local dog pound. Those big brown eyes hooked me, with his direct gaze and knowing attitude. I called my current rescue group’s coordinator. She said it was okay if I wanted to evaluate him, but she warned that she didn’t think we had any fosters available.

Three photos of Tam on a “rainbow river” background image.
G.’s dog Tam recently crossed the proverbial “Rainbow Bridge,” but she got some great photos of him while she had him. Here are three of the best. (See credits below).

Harvey Needs Help

I went to the shelter anyway. Once I saw the overcrowded conditions, I knew this dog—shelter named Harvey—needed rescue. It seemed everyone in my county had decided to surrender their pandemic pups in time to have a dog-free home for the holidays. I like my local shelter. The folks there do a good job of keeping it clean, treating the animals well, and moving them through without euthanizing healthy animals to create more space. But they were bursting at the seams, and crating dogs in the hallways. They needed some help to clear the shelter before Christmas.

The shelter worker was happy to show me to Harvey’s kennel. He seemed to be a calm, friendly dog. I asked to meet him in a private space and was led to an outdoor exercise pen. When the shelter worker brought Harvey out, she warned that he hadn’t been out all day, and was a little slow to warm up. As if he knew why I was there, Harvey came directly to where I sat and put his head in my lap for a friendly meet-and-cuddle before he trotted off to do his business like a house-trained guy who had been holding it for a while.

I knew right then I was not leaving this dog behind. I called the rescue coordinator again and offered to foster him through the holidays, until she could find a long-term place for him.

Two photos of “Harvey” – later renamed Slater – taken at the Collin County, Texas Animal Shelter.
These two animal shelter photos piqued G.’s interest in learning more about “Harvey.” (Photos via G. S. Norwood from Collin County (TX) Animal Services).

Harvey Goes Home

How could she refuse an offer like that? Harvey left the shelter with me—then spent fifteen minutes refusing to load into my car. Apparently getting into cars meant strange, bad things were about to happen.

Once home I discovered that the recently-neutered Harvey still had the urge to do a lot of territorial marking. Which spurred the long-neutered, completely house-trained Chess to mark his territory right back. Great. But we made it through Thanksgiving week, which included a lot of outrage from the cats and an emergency trip to my vet to treat the upper respiratory infection Harvey had picked up at the shelter.

It also included a name change. Rescue groups handle a lot of dogs, but we try not to repeat names, so we always know which dog we’re talking about. They can’t all be Zoe, Molly, or Max. This guy couldn’t be Harvey, either, since the group had already had a Harvey. And a Shiloh. And a Dylan. I dug out my name book and he became Slater.

A large photo of Slater in his “forever home” back yard is surrounded by smaller photos of his canine and feline housemates Kata, Ella, Gift, Chess, and Zoe, underlain by a fabric pattern of cartoon grey squirrels and the words “Squirrel Patrol.”
Slater (center) now lives in a new domain with canine housemates (L-R) Kata, Zoe, and Chess, as well as felines (L-R) Ella and Gift. Ever vigilant, he enjoys his new “Squirrel Patrol” duties. (See credits below).

Slater Meets the World

And eventually—probably inevitably—he became Slater Norwood. The cats are still adjusting, but the rest of the pack has agreed to tolerate this new guy. Slater is slowly coming out of his shelter shock and learning the ropes of his new life: pottying happens outdoors, it’s okay to cuddle on the bed, but he can’t chase the cats. Ever.

He is discovering squirrels. He is learning his new name, and that he really should come when I call him. Things are starting to make sense to him. One thing he definitely knows is that I am a kind person who will reassure him if he gets confused and love him even when he transgresses.

Border collies are smart about things like that. That’s one reason why they are my definition of “Dog.” As Jan so wisely observed, our mother would have loved him.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to G. S. Norwood and Jan S. Gephardt, who provided nearly all of the photos for this post. The montages are all Jan S. Gephardt’s fault.

We would like to thank Lucy A. Synk for her wonderful painting ©2020-2022 of XK9s Elle and Tuxedo at play on a meadow high above Rana Station’s Sirius River Valley (characters from Jan S. Gephardt’s XK9 novels). Our gratitude goes to Evgenii Lashchenov and 123rf as well, for the “Multicolored-Magical-Rainbow-River” digital illustration that provides a backdrop for the “Memorial to Tam.”

We deeply appreciate Collin County Animal Services for the two photos of Slater when he was known as “Harvey” and was up for adoption. And we’re very grateful to Jessica Prout of Little Arrow Design via Spoonflower, for the cute “Squirrel Patrol” fabric pattern for the “Slater in His Domain” montage. Prout’s design is available in fat quarters or yardage on Spoonflower.

L-R: Aaron Hollingsworth at a recent book-signing; the Weird Sisters Publishing banner for the dealers room table, and Jan with Weird Sisters books at Archon 44.

Packing up for Archon

By Jan S. Gephardt

This week I’m packing up for Archon 45. I’m set to depart on Thursday, and I have a very full weekend planned. If this blog post is a little shorter than some, it’s because this week, of all weeks, time is of the essence. In addition to all of the “necessary maintenance” stuff there is to do on any given week, packing up for Archon tops the priorities!

It’s a broad-spectrum effort. If you’ve followed this blog for the last several months you’ve been a secondary witness to a recent change in my approach to conventions. In May, for ConQuesT 53, I decided to Try Something New. I dipped my toe into the idea of spending part of my time at a dealers table, and it worked out better than I expected.

L-R: Karin R. Gastreich at her end of our table; M. C. Chambers and Jan S. Gephardt, also at our table.
We weren’t far from the Art Show – you can see it behind Karin R. Gastreich (L). At another time, M. C. Chambers and I posed for a photo. (See credits below).

Testing My Hypothesis

When it came time for the next convention, SoonerCon (#30 this year, in Oklahoma City, OK), I decided to test that hypothesis some more. Had my initial experience been a fluke? I had A Very Busy SoonerCon, and discovered that, no – it wasn’t just a one-off. That was a good experience, too. Nothing of that sort worked out for me with Chicon 8, the Worldcon in Chicago. Indeed, I actually ended up not going (“too expensive” headed a list of reasons), more focused more on Using My Time Well in other pursuits. Thus, I couldn’t test it further.

Until now.

I am packing up for Archon with some new equipment: A custom-made table cover (its design is based on a nebula image I licensed from Chaz Kemp, and I think it looks wonderful) and a 71-inch-tall banner to back up my end of yet another dealers table. This time we’re calling it Hollingsworth & Weird – once again, I’m depending on a trusted partner (who’s also a “morning person”) to make sure the table is staffed as much of the time as possible.

L-R: Aaron Hollingsworth at a recent book-signing; the Weird Sisters Publishing banner for the dealers room table, and Jan with Weird Sisters books at Archon 44.
As I’m packing up for Archon 45, I have lots of plans for this convention! (See credits below).

Introducing the Hollingsworth Part of Hollingsworth & Weird

In this case my intrepid partner is a Kansas City-area science fantasy writer, Aaron Hollingsworth. He’s worked with me before, and I know him as a trustworthy go-getter with a strong work ethic. He normally stakes out a place in the dealers room at the conventions he attends. He tells me he prefers to interact with readers individually, face-to-face, rather than participate in panels.

You might enjoy his literarily-witty novels and novellas, such as The Broken Bards of Paris, The Broken Brides of Europe, and The Apothecary of Mantua. He’s also the author of numerous role-playing game supplements for D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder, most under the series names Shattered Skies and Porphyria.

Aaron Hollingsworth’s author-bio illustration, with 6 of his titles: the books “The Apothecary of Mantua” and “The Broken Brides of Europe,” and four of the RPG guides he has written.
Aaron Hollingsworth and some of the books he has written. (See credits below).

Let us not Forget the Weird Part

I’ll be there to represent Weird Sisters Publishing. We’re in the process of preparing my late brother-in-law Warren C. Norwood’s  vintage series, The Windhover Tetralogy for re-issue in new e- and paperback editions. But they won’t be ready till this winter. My sister G. S. Norwood has a couple of wonderful novelettes available as the Deep Ellum Stories – but they’re short works currently in e-editions only.

Thus, when I’m packing up for Archon this year, the only physical books I’ll have available to sell are still my three XK9 stories: the prequel novella The Other Side of Fear and XK9 “Bones” Trilogy Books One and Two, What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick. This is the same lineup I’ve successfully taken to the other conventions this season.

Unfortunately, it’s a fairly small pile of books. In my opinion, it’s still too small to justify taking up a whole table, plus covering the membership and time of a dedicated “morning person” to run it. I’m eager to fill out the Trilogy next year with Bone of Contention, and to start offering Warren’s books. But I’m also very pleased that in the meantime I could find a tablemate who’s as reliable and proactive as Aaron!

Weird Sisters Publishing: We have tales to tell. This picture shows covers for The XK9 Series, Deep Ellum Stories, and The Windhover Tetralogy.
We have a growing list of tales to tell . . . but not all are in print yet! (The Other Side of Fear cover is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk. The other two XK9 covers are ©2019 and 2020 by Jody A. Lee. The background nebula (also used for the dealers table cover) and all the rest of the covers are ©2019-2021 by Chaz Kemp).

And Speaking of Bone of Contention . . . My Reading!

I normally request to have my reading scheduled later in the day on Saturday, or even on Sunday of the convention. That gives me a good part of the weekend to promote it. But that doesn’t always happen. At Archon 45 it’s scheduled at 7 p.m. on Friday night. That makes it my first scheduled Programming item. No chances to promote it on panels before that! So I’ll have to rely on social media to alert people to it, and hope enough notice it to bring some listeners in!

Depending on who shows up and what they prefer, I have a number of options. There are a couple of scenes from Bone of Contention that I could share (I read an early version of Chapter One last time). I also have fun scenes from a couple of short stories I wrote as exclusives for my Newsletter subscribers (each month I offer them a free downloadable story or XK9-related project).

Which Shall I Choose?

Which story would you choose, if you attended my reading? Use the Comments section of this post if you’d like to weigh in with opinions. Can’t attend the reading, but you’re interested in one or more of these? Subscribe to my Newsletter!

The banner shows a 3D mockup of the story’s cover on an e-reader, an empty park bench, and the words, “Shady couldn’t see the entity on the bench in Glen Haven Park, but she could clearly smell it.”
Design and e-book text © 2021-22 Jan S. Gephardt (with help from 123rf and BookBrush). Shady portrait ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk.
Alongside a visualization of the story as an ebook, the words say: Happy New Year! In a “target-rich environment” of marks and johns, Charlie’s after grifters, pimps . . . and his crooked partner. Can he survive to greet the New Year?
Jan created this banner with a little help from her friends at BookBrush and 123rf. Story © 2021 by Jan S. Gephardt.
The banner shows a 3D mockup of the story’s cover on an e-reader, plus the headline, “What else could possibly go wrong?” Under that, it says, “Left to sift through a jumble of reeking, noisome trash for possible evidence, Officer Pamela Gómez and rookie Detective Balchu Nowicki strive to stay professional. They do their work well, despite the stench and the complexity of the site. But then their day gets worse . . . “ There’s also the credit line: “Cover artwork ©2022 by Chaz Kemp.”
Anywhere but Sixth Level Artwork ©2022 by Chaz Kemp. Story is ©2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Packing up for Archon, I Added Another Idea to Test: QR Codes!

As partial compensation for fact that the early reading has truncated some of my publicity efforts, I’m also trying a different “test project.” We’ll see if it turns out to be a good idea or not. You may have noticed that QR codes, those funny-looking splotchy square or circular patches, have started turning up in more and more locations. Some people find them irritating or inscrutable, but more and more of us have started using our smartphones to scan them for a fast link to a web page or other online material.

Earlier this year, Weird Sisters Publishing created downloadable versions of Chapter One for each of my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy novels that’s available so far. But it only just recently dawned on me as I started packing up for Archon that I could create QR codes to take people to those “free samples” even more quickly and easily (I know: Well, duh! Right??). So I generated a QR code for the downloadable first chapter of What’s Bred in the Bone and added it to the label on my postcards that I give out at the convention.

It says “Choose Your Next Great Read,” and shows e-reader visualizations of “Sample Chapter One of What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “Sample Chapter One of A Bone to Pick.” The left-hand QR code takes readers to the free download for Chapter One of “What’s Bred in the Bone,” while the QR code on the right leads to the free download for Chapter One of “A Bone to Pick.”
The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick is ©2019-2020 by Jody A. Lee. Scan the QR codes to go to the sample chapters, or click on the links in the titles. QR codes were generated via QR Code Generator.

But Wait! There’s Also Art!

Yes, I’m also bringing my paper sculpture to Archon 45. Lucy A. Synk will be there too, with most of her “Welcome to Rana Station” display from Worldcon (other than the artwork she sold there). You’ll probably see lots more about the Archon 45 Art Show in one or more future posts on this blog.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to see highlights from past Archon Art Shows, you might enjoy my blog posts Artwork at Archon 43 and Artists at Archon 44.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish packing for Archon 45!

IMAGE CREDITS

Unless otherwise stated, all of the photography and graphic design in this blog post was created by Jan S. Gephardt. In the first picture, Deb Branson, my intrepid proofreader, took the photo of M. C. Chambers and Jan at their ConQuesT 53 table.

In the second picture, that’s Aaron Hollingsworth at a book-signing. It was held at Readers World in Sedalia, MO on August 13, 2022. Jan accessed it via Aaron’s public Facebook page. The photo of Jan with Weird Sisters books at Archon 44 by Tyrell E. Gephardt.

In the third montage, Jan got Aaron’s Author photo from his website, and acquired his book covers for The Apothecary of Mantua and The Broken Brides of Europe from Amazon. She represented his RPG titles with a screen-capture of four listings on that page of his website.

The fourth montage is lifted from the Weird Sisters website. It features the work of Lucy A. Synk, Jody A. Lee, and Chaz Kemp. The rest are graphics originally designed for Jan’s Newsletter (Sign up for it here!). See the credits in their cutlines with copyright notices and links to the sources’ websites.

Three photos focus on the three authors’ displays on the “Bad Bards and Beyond” sales table.

A Very Busy SoonerCon

By Jan S. Gephardt

SoonerCon 30 was a very busy SoonerCon for me. I had a chance to once again share one end of a sales table (this time in the Creators Alley). But I didn’t want to give up being on panels or in the Art Show. This was guaranteed to be a little crazymaking.

But it was so lovely to be back at SoonerCon! It’s one of my favorite conventions, as you can see if you look through my past blog posts about it. In a lot of ways it feels like an “adopted second ‘home con.’” SoonerCon has been very good to me, my artwork, and my books over the years!

So, during the Pandemic I contributed several sets of autographed XK9 books and one of my larger pieces of paper sculpture to their online auction fundraiser. I contributed to their Kickstarter, too. And I made sure I bought space for Weird Sisters Publishing in their digital and program Book advertising. In my opinion all of those efforts to support the convention are “Win-Win” efforts. When SoonerCon survives and thrives, my businesses have an excellent outlet for this and future years.

The Weird Sisters Publishing ads at SoonerCon 30 included three digital images at left, and a print ad in the program book.
Three digital ads and a print ad helped both SoonerCon and Weird Sisters Publishing. (images from Weird Sisters Publishing LLC).

A Very Busy SoonerCon Art Show

In its former home at the Reed Conference Center the SoonerCon Art Show was shoehorned into a relatively small space. Everything was cramped, and the sightlines were short. You couldn’t back up to view a whole panel without the risk of running into someone else’s art panel. Not so in their new home at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Norman Hotel & Conference Center!

This year the SoonerCon Art Show was enormous, and the artwork was of very high quality. I enjoyed wonderful displays from Artist GoH Elizabeth Leggett, plus Rachael Mayo, Lucy A. Synk, and almost everyone else I pointed out in my two ConQuesT 53 Art Show posts. Chaz Kemp, Peri Charlifu, and other notable members of the Convention Artists Guild turned out in force with large and beautiful collections.

Two photos from the SoonerCon Art Show portray Jan’s display of paper sculpture and Lucy A. Synk’s paintings and prints.
Two SoonerCon Art Show display panels show work by Jan S. Gephardt and Lucy A. Synk. (See credits below).

Other artists whose work caught my eye? Vanessa Green’s embroidery, Brooke Lydick’s quilting, and Rachel Karch’s striking mixed-media/polymer clay provided marvelous examples of striking work in unusual media. I loved the ingenuity of Joshua Cook’s imaginative metal sculptures of fantasy creatures (or are they machines?). Kelly Stoll, whom I understand to be Rachael Mayo’s sister, created exquisite fantasy miniatures on brooches and pendants. But the tour de force (and a top crowd-pleaser) of the entire, massive show were the amazing dioramas of Beth Lockhart. Lockhart also displayed beautiful painted gourds and chainmail dragons.

A Very Busy SoonerCon Panelist Schedule, too!

Before I knew I’d be holding down one end of a sales table all weekend, I had told the Programming people to “use me and abuse me.” At most conventions, my appearances on panels have been the major way I can communicate anything about myself, my artwork, and my books. I also (as I’ve mentioned a few hundred times in my blog posts) love to moderate panels, even though it’s extra work. The SoonerCon Programming people know this. They also seem to think I do a decent job of it, so I moderate a lot of my SoonerCon panels.

Two photos from my reading.
I love going to readings, but this year I only got to one: my own, along with (L-R: Selina Rosen, an unidentified audience member, Melinda LeFevers, Donna Frayser, and Tim Frayser. (See credits below).

A Very Busy Schedule, Indeed

This created the perfect recipe for a very busy SoonerCon programming schedule! On Friday I had two panels, one of which I moderated, plus an Author Reading. It was the only one I managed to attend. That night, the Art Show Reception provided a great chance to see the show and visit with lots of people. On Saturday, in addition to my Autographing session, I moderated three panels and enjoyed a late-evening Artists’ Chat. That turned out to be quite interesting and enjoyable. I hope they keep it on as a repeating feature!

On Sundays, I always ask not to be scheduled opposite Art Show check-out. Occasionally programming people ignore this, but I always appreciate it when I don’t have to throw myself on my son Ty’s mercy to avoid messing up the Art Show Staff’s teardown/load-out schedule. This time the programmers managed to both respect my Art Show commitment and schedule me for one last panel – a fun one called “Wry Wit for Writers: Humorous Fiction.” We laughed a lot, and I was pleased to be able to join the fun.

Three photos focus on the three authors’ displays on the “Bad Bards and Beyond” sales table.
L-R: Rie Sheridan Rose created a copper-pipe “Steampunk” rack to display her books, DVDs, and other materials. In the center of the table are polymer clay figures, magnets, four books and other items from Mel. White. On the other end is Jan’s display of signs and XK9 books. (See credits below).

“Bad Bards and Beyond” – Another Shared Sales Table

The final part of my recipe for a very busy SoonerCon came from the last-minute addition of the “Bad Bards and Beyond” sales table. (Our books and I are the “Beyond” part). This table was almost as successful as my table at ConQuesT 53. That’s even though all the other commitments meant I spent considerably less time working it. We may have been positioned at the end of a long hallway, but there was a lot happening “out in our neck.” Things never got dull that I saw, and traffic stayed pretty busy.

My table-mates were Mel. White (Dr. Mel. White, Ph.D., to be formal) and Rie Sheridan Rose, both from Texas. I’ve know Mel. for what seems like donkeys’ years through the conventions, and she and Ty have independently struck up a pleasant friendship. We memorably hung out a lot together at NorthAmericon ’17 in Puerto Rico. I’ve known Rie less well, but we’ve amicably bumped into each other at SoonerCon, FenCon, and probably others in the past. The three of us spent the weekend deciding we made a pretty good team and planning to meet again at FenCon . . . but then a development made it important to cancel my attendance at the September convention.

Jan traveled with Weird Sisters Publishing signs, copies of her books, and bookmarks to Archon 44 in 2021.
Here I am with my “traveling display” at Archon 44 in 2021. (Tyrell E. Gephardt).

Meet My “Bad Bards and Beyond” Table-Mates

Mel. White

Mel. White’s bio on her Amazon page (she doesn’t seem to have an author website) describes her as a “Professor, scientist, artist, author, educator, and former computer programmer [who] writes science fiction and draws webcomics.” She and the late Robert Asprin created the “Duncan and Mallory” graphic novels (there were three), first published by Starblaze Graphics, 1986-1988. Aspirin died in 2008. Mel. has written many anthologized stories over the years. With co-author John DeLaughter, she re-launched the “Duncan and Mallory” series in 2018.

She earned her Ph.D. in Information Science in 2014, and followed that with work on a degree in Egyptology. Mel. is an adjunct professor (Egyptology and Anthropology) at Dallas College Richland Campus. She also works on dinosaur bones at the Perot Museum and pursues other pursuits. A longtime and accomplished filker, her music is part of the reason we called our table “Bad Bards And Beyond,” though I’m less sure about the “bad” part.

Rie Sheridan Rose

I’m grateful that Rie has a website, where it’s been easier to find (dated) biographical information. When her bio says she’s “contributed to innumerable anthologies,” she’s not kidding! Her Amazon Author Page goes on for pages and pages. Most of the items listed are anthologies. She’s also a prolific poet, as well as a filker and lyricist (the other part of the “Bards” in the table’s name).

But she’s also up to twelve novels now, if her website’s “My Work” page is up to date. Many are fantasy works. She’s also the author of the 5-book Conn-Mann Chronicles Steampunk series, as well as other Steampunk books and stories. In the “Steampunk spirit,” she’d created a fun little book rack for her end of our table, made of copper pipes.

The “Duncan And Mallory” series in their original covers by Mel. White form part of a montage that also shows Mel’s “Syskitty” avatar, which she uses on Facebook, Rie Sheridan Rose’s author photo, and the series image for Rie’s “Conn-Mann Chronicles.”
My table-mates Mel. White and Rie Sheridan Rose have produced a number of interesting fiction projects. (See credits below).

As you can imagine, all of these elements came together to create a very busy SoonerCon 30 for yours truly. But, as SoonerCon always proves to be for me, it also was a fun, stimulating, and utterly worthwhile weekend. I’m already looking forward to next year!

IMAGE CREDITS

Jan S. Gephardt took many of the photos in this post myself (as noted in cutlines). She designed all of the advertising and other graphics for Weird Sisters Publishing with skillful help from illustrations © by Chaz Kemp, Lucy A. Synk, and Jody A. Lee and used with authorization. The photo of Lucy’s artwork display was taken with her permission. My son Tyrell E. Gephardt took the photos of my art display in the SoonerCon Art Show. He also took the photo of me with all my books and signs at Archon 44 (2021).

The photos from my reading portray fellow authors/readers Selina Rosen, Melinda LaFevers, and Tim Frayser, along with his wife Donna Frayser and an unnamed audience member. All photos were taken with permission by their subjects.

The “Mel And Rie” Montage pulled imagery from several sources. The original three “Duncan and Mallory” covers are part of a screen-capture from Google Search. Mel’s Facebook avatar, “Syskitty,” came from her Facebook page. Rie’s author photo came from her Amazon Author Page. The “Conn-Mann Chronicles Series” graphic is courtesy of the Amazon page for that series. Many thanks to all!

A panoramic view of the ConQuesT 53 Art Show tops photos of Mikah and Renji (Kat is camera-shy).

A Show full of GoHs

By Jan S. Gephardt

The ConQuesT 53 Art Show was certainly a “Show full of GoHs.” Perhaps I should unpack that a bit. In fannish circles the acronym “GoH” stands for “Guest of Honor,” and is pronounced “go.” Every science fiction convention invites several headline guests. They appear, generally all- or most-expenses-paid by the convention committee, to attract people to the convention.

In the early years, the GoHs (plural for “GoH,” pronounced “goes”) were nearly all authors. And still today the “Author GoH” usually gets listed first. As conventions and sub-fandoms proliferated, though, we also began to see Media GoHs, Fan GoHs, Special GoHs. And – most important for this post, Artist GoHs.

I arrived at this post’s title when I wandered from display panel to display panel and realized “this really is a show full of GoHs.” I counted five (I apologize if I missed any!), including this year’s Artist Guest, who’ve been Artist Guests of Honor at ConQuesT in recent decades. There were so many, I decided to dedicate a separate blog post to them.

On the 2022 convention’s themed sparkly background, the graphic reads “ConQuesT 53, Memorial Day Weekend 2022, Sheraton Crown Center, Kansas City, MO. Guest of Honor: Donato Giancola, Artist known for classical realist depictions of the worlds of George R. R. Martin, J. R. R. Tolkien, & more.” This message is flanked by a photo of the artist and the cover of his book “Middle Earth: Journeys in Myth & Legend.”
Donato Giancola was the Artist Guest of Honor at ConQuesT 53 (image courtesy of ConQuesT).

Donato Giancola, 2022

Every few years an illustrator becomes such a master of the craft, and so universally-respected, that he or she becomes generally acknowledged as a grandmaster. Frank Kelly Freas, Michael Whelan, and a handful of others have reached that status. They illustrate their period’s most important books. Their work regularly receives Hugo Awards, Chesley Awards, Spectrum Awards, and more. They eventually tend to branch out into fine art, gallery representation, and their works become the centerpieces of museum gallery shows.

I’d say it’s probable that in recent years Donato Giancola has joined those ranks. A rising talent in fantasy, science fiction, and speculative art since the mid-1990s, he’s currently best known for his J.R.R. Tolkien illustrations in Middle Earth: Journeys in Myth and Legend and his Empathetic Robots Series. Long revered for his wonderful Magic; The Gathering card designs, his work displays a stunning technical expertise, little wonder he’s also a popular online teacher.

This screen-grab from a rotating series of background images on Donato Giancola’s website uses a detail from one of his paintings t back navigational images for New Art, Magic: The Gathering prints, proofs, and artworks, the Online Store, Techniques in Drawing & Painting instructional materials, and Gallery.
Donato Giancola’s website offers a trove of art resources. (image courtesy of Donato Arts).

Elizabeth Leggett, 2018

The next-most-recent guest whose work I spotted in this “Show of GoHs” is Elizabeth Leggett. I remember the year ConQuesT honored her as a particularly interesting time. That’s partially because I had more chances than usual to catch her panel appearances as well as enjoy her work in the show. It’s also because that’s the year she and my friend Lynette M. Burrows did a “cover reveal” at the convention. She painted the original cover for Lynette’s debut novel, My Soul to Keep (It’s still my favorite of Lynette’s covers, but genre conventions forced her to change it later).

I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth’s work ever since. Her website says “Elizabeth Leggett is a Hugo award-winning illustrator whose work focuses on soulful, human moments-in-time that combine ambiguous interpretation and curiosity with realism. . . . In 2012, she ended a long fallow period by creating a full seventy-eight card tarot in a single year. From there, she transitioned into freelance illustration. Her clients represent a broad range of outlets, from multiple Hugo award winning Lightspeed Magazine to multiple Lambda Literary winner, Lethe Press. She was honored to be chosen to art direct both Women Destroy Fantasy and Queers Destroy Science Fiction, both under the Lightspeed banner.”

Rachael Mayo, 2017

The year before Elizabeth became the Artist GoH, hometown favorite Rachael Mayo received that honor. Rachael is a friend, but even if she wasn’t, I’d have a special place in my heart for her wonderful, often vibrantly-colorful creatures. She persistently self-identifies as an “amateur” artist at sf convention art shows because she has a “day job.” But that has never dented her serious focus on materials, craftsmanship and mastery of skills.

According to Rachael’s Noble Fusion bio, her artful adventures in the publication field include a period when she produced several covers for Hadley Rille Books (including for my friend M. C. Chambers’ Shapers’ Veil), interior illustrations for Tremorworks: Demongate High Monster Manual, and work for now-apparently-inactive (?) Hive, Queen and Country Victorian miniatures. More readily available are Rachael’s beautiful and challenging coloring books.

Four images from Elizabeth Leggett’s online gallery and three from that of Rachel Mayo offer a taste of their work.
Take a deeper dive into the online galleries of Elizabeth Leggett and Rachael Mayo for many more visual riches. (See credits below).

Peri Charlifu, 2010

Few artists have found better success focusing on science fiction conventions than Peri Charlifu. A master of his craft (he mixes his own glazes, for example), he has normally sent his wonderful pottery creations (in sturdy boxes, nestled in carefully-crafted cradles of pool noodles and bubble-wrap) to some 40-50 shows each year. His entries are the objects of delighted admiration and spirited bidding everywhere they go, as far as I can tell. I don’t recall having ever been to a convention where the art show staff had unsold Charlifu ceramics to send back to him. And as anyone who exhibits their work at sf cons can attest, that’s saying something!

Peri began offering detailed workshops on how to conduct a successful art career, both at conventions and in his home state of Colorado. He and his ever-expanding group of mentees and associates created the Convention Artists Guild. The group had formed before the Pandemic, but it became a port in the storm for working artists then. Its weekly Virtual Art Shows offered a needed outlet when all the normal ways of doing business went on lockdown.

Peri was the Artist GoH at ConQuesT in 2010, but in many ways he’s “Primus” (his Convention Artists Guild title) among artists who exhibit their work at sf conventions. He’s not extremely tall, but even in this “Show full of GoHs,” he’s a towering (though always gentle) figure.

Theresa Mather, 2005

Theresa Mather’s visually-luscious fantasy art is another regular fixture at many sf convention art shows. She normally exhibits her work at more than 70 shows each year. In this “Show full of GoHs” she seems to shine on timelessly.

Theresa earned her place in this post when she was the ConQuesT Artist GoH in 2005 (I still treasure her T-shirt, and I’m not alone). She appreciates the convention art show staffs that handle her work as few other mail-in artists seem to (she never fails to enclose some little gifts for the staff). And her generous spirit shines through her work.

Like Peri Charlifu, she has a large, devoted fan base. Also like him, Theresa never took the more usual sf and fantasy artists’ route of working for book publishers or gaming companies. Instead, she relates directly to her followers. Although paintings and prints on paper are her normal fare, she’s also known for her elaborate paintings on feathers and rocks. Active in the field of antique carousel restoration early in her career, her bio says she has painted “suites of large-scale paintings for the crestings of five antique carousels and decorative paintwork for a sixth” (three of those are currently on public display).

Photos from Theresa’s panels after setup on Thursday night of ConQuesT 53, and a screen-grab of Peri’s pottery from the Aegean Goods Website.
The ConQuesT 53 display of Theresa Mather, alongside a gallery of Peri Charlifu’s pottery. (See credits below).

The Force Behind this Show full of GoHs

Before I end this two-part series of posts on the ConQuesT 53 Art Show (see last week’s post for the first in this two-parter), one more salute. I think it’s important to note that none of these artists would have a forum to show their art in a visually stunning and widely- respected art show, were it not for the leadership of Art Show Director Mikah McCullough and his devoted team (most especially including his wife Katarina Gibb, and, yes, his Corgi Renji).

During their tenure Mikah and Kat have modernized the show, improved its efficiency, and promoted it (most notably through the show’s Facebook Page) energetically. They care deeply about fantasy and science fiction art. They make sure the art placed in their care is handled gently, and completely accounted for from receipt through sale or return and payment to artists.

They’re the reason so many artists, including so many past and present Artist Guests of Honor, have found it worthwhile to send or bring their work year after year. They laid the solid groundwork for this “show full of GoHs.” And everyone who saw the show is the richer for their work.

A panoramic view of the ConQuesT 53 Art Show tops photos of Mikah and Renji (Kat is camera-shy).
Mikah (L) and his intrepid art show staff (to represent them, that’s Renji at right with stacks of mailed-in art in boxes) put on an awesome show Full of GoHs. (See credits below).

IMAGE CREDITS

Fair use of copyrighted artwork is always a fraught question with artists profiled in blog posts. For this post, I’ve used only publicly-shared photos and screen-grabs of galleries on the artists’ websites. I hope that they’ll give you a taste of what each artist has to offer. For better, larger views of these wonderful pieces, please click on the URL links. Take some time to enjoy browsing the artists’ websites. Each one offers unique rewards and visual delights.

As noted above, the “Artist Guest of Honor” graphic for Donato Giancola is courtesy of ConQuesT 53. The peek at his website’s range is courtesy of Donato himself, via his website. The gallery-views representing Elizabeth Leggett and Rachael Mayo offer only small glimpses of what you’ll find on their websites.

Mikah McCullough took the photos of Theresa Mather’s ConQuesT 53 display panels. He posted them publicly on the ConQuesT Art Show’s Facebook for sharing, with her blessing. The detail from Peri Charlifu’s Aegean Goods gallery of pottery offers a partial view of his work’s range and sophistication. See much more of both artists’ work via the links.

Mikah also took (and posted) the photos of the ConQuesT 53 Art Show panorama. Ditto with his dog Renji with the mailed-in art boxes. The photo of Mikah himself is from his Twitter profile (photographer uncredited). Many thanks to all! The montages are Jan S. Gephardt’s doing.

The ConQuesT 53 Art Show in a panoramic photo that shows the entire display.

A Sampler of Excellent Artists at ConQuesT 53

By Jan S. Gephardt

ConQuesT 53 offered quite a sampler excellent artists. It really was a beautiful show, a credit to both the artists and the Art Show director, Mikah McCullough (ably assisted by his wife Katarina Gibb, and his Corgi Renji). I don’t have time or room to feature them all, but several of them impressed me with the range, beauty, and inventiveness of their work. Most had new things that I haven’t seen at ConQuesT before.

For the short profiles offered below, I have borrowed liberally from the artists’ self-posted biographies. Please note that I did need to edit most for length and to fit the needs of this blog post. However, it is not my intention to misrepresent the facts stated in them.

As for the artwork shown, “fair use” standards are always tricky when one hasn’t had the “bandwidth” (because of illness and family urgencies to attend to) to contact all of these artists ahead of time. Lacking their expressed wishes, I have only used photos that they themselves authorized to be publicly posted – either on their own websites or on the ConQuesT Art Show Facebook page. I strongly encourage you to explore their work at more depth on their websites.

The ConQuesT 53 Art Show in a panoramic photo that shows the entire display.
A panorama of the ConQuesT 53 Art Show, just prior to the end of the silent auction. (Mikah McCullough/ConQuesT Art Show).

Lucy A. Synk

Yes, I’m biased. And please note that this post’s sampler of excellent artists isn’t all ranked according to “who Jan knows best” order. But I just had to start here. As frequent readers of this blog know, Lucy A. Synk and I are close friends. She painted the cover art for my novella The Other Side of Fear. She is a member of my first-to-be-consulted Brain Trust (along with my sister G. S. Norwood and Dora Furlong), whenever I have new XK9 stories that need feedback. And readers of both this blog and my Newsletter know her as the artist who frequently creates developmental and promotional images of characters from Rana Station.

Lucy has exhibited her art at science fiction conventions, Renaissance Festivals, and art fairs.  She illustrated magazines and books in both the U.S. and Europe, most notably the cover for Andre Norton’s book Wizard’s Worlds. She also continued to hone her various skills in painting and portraiture. Through more than a decade of work in the natural history exhibit industry, Lucy painted murals and illustrations. She considers her Cretaceous mural, installed at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, IL, the high point of that career (scroll down on this page to see the mural).

Lucy is now exploring new directions for her artwork. Experiments with “Dirty Pour” and Mixed Media techniques resulted in her Planets series and the fantasy sea/ship paintings. She also has created some wonderful new still-life and Plein Aire paintings, and has embarked on an ambitious series of paintings called the “Rejoicing in Our Differences” series.

Arden Ellen Nixon

No sampler of excellent artists at ConQuesT 53’s Art Show would be complete without Arden Ellen Nixon’s work. Especially not, since she’s recently returned to full-time “artist-ing” and had some new-to-me work in this show.

I first encountered Arden’s work when I was the Art Show Director at ConQuesT myself, back in the dark times before Mikah McCullough took the helm. Since then we’ve become friendly acquaintances (I once had fun giving her a tour of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art). Here’s what she has to say about herself and her art.

“Hello! I am Arden Ellen Nixon, and I will be your charmingly awkward artist this evening. It is my sincerest wish for my paintings to find the beauty in the dark–as with my extensive “Make-Shift Angel” series–the silly in the sublime, and the humanity shared by the creatures and the world around us. Legend has it that I could draw before I could walk. While I don’t know about that, I do know that I bought my first set of acrylics at thirteen. I found my starter set at a hardware store, of all places, on clearance for $13.75. “Why not?” I thought–little did I know! When not painting, you’ll find me pursuing my love of ancient history, watching soccer–Come On You Spurs!–with my husband, and visiting whatever zoo or museum is available at the time.”

The ConQuesT 53 displays of L-R: Lucy A. Synk and Arden Ellen Nixon.
L-R: Displays by Lucy A. Synk and Arden Ellen Nixon. (See credits below).

Jeff Porter

I worked with Jeff Porter on a few early XK9 developmental images, after I discovered his artwork at ConQuesT. Back then, he was deeply involved in creating the game “Xenofera,” which opened the door to a whole new avenue of illustration work for him. I’ve watched it unfold with great interest. I collected bits from his online bio for the introduction below.

Jeff, he is a freelance Illustrator from the Midwestern United States. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and very early in life realized the passion he had for creating art. He graduated from Raytown South High School, and then joined the United States Marine Corps for a four-year tour of service as an artillery cannoneer. After the service, Jeff started attending art classes at Longview Community College and later the University of Central Missouri, graduating in 2009 with a degree in Commercial Illustration. In 2013, he received his MFA from the University of Hartford’s limited residency program under the guidance of Murray Tinkelman. He now spends his time staying busy working on projects and learning as much as he can about the field of art and illustration.

Mike Cole

I have no idea when I first met Mike Cole. He’s been a (very funny and enjoyable) fixture at midwestern science fiction conventions for a long time. Since he lives in the St. Louis area, there’s a good chance our first encounter happened at an Archon! But whenever we met, he definitely belongs in this sampler of excellent artists.

Mike has been drawing since he was three years old. He has been displaying his artwork at science fiction conventions across the country for the last 25 years. Currently he lives in St. Charles, MO in a multi-level comic book storage facility. A science fiction fan since the early 70’s, Mike has attended, volunteered, run, and doomed, (don’t ask) something on the order of 300 conventions. He is a working artist as well as creating award winning digital artwork, and covers for Yard Dog Press.

Screen-grabs from the website homepages of Jeff Porter and Mike Cole.
From the websites of Jeff Porter and Mike Cole. (See credits below).

Sarah Clemens

I first encountered the artwork of Sarah Clemens the same way I did Arden’s, the first year I was the ConQuesT Art Show Director. I’ve been delightedly following her work ever since. My daughter Signy is among her devoted fans (she’s collected several of Sarah’s prints). Sarah works primarily in oils, but has also tried her hand at rock-painting and sculpture. She’s probably best known for her “Magnus and Loki” series, about a cat and a small dragon who are partners in hijinks.

“Working in oils brings everything into focus,” Clemens writes in her online bio. “I have had to work in all types of media to make a living as an artist and I pride myself on doing well in all of them, but oils…they’re special. Perhaps it’s the sense of history and tradition that makes them unique. There is also something extraordinary about they way you can push the pigments around a canvas. Oil has a luminosity, a gem-like glow. Moving the to Southwest has given me new ideas for painting, and for the first time, I am doing landscapes and flowers, along with the figure studies I love so much.”

Sara Felix

I met Sara Felix through ASFA, the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy artists. It seems to me that she’s been the President of ASFA for at least 2-3 terms (it’s a job that has burned out many people over the decades, so I’m in awe of her stamina!). And with no fewer than six Hugo Awards in her CV, she surely deserves to be included in my sampler of excellent artists!

Sara describes herself as a mixed media artist. Her works are typically done in alcohol ink, acrylics and resin. She also creates a weekly tiara for Tiara Tuesday and has created over 100 unique tiaras in the project. Whenever she can, she teaches online and in-person classes. They typically sell out quickly because she has a large following with her creations.

She has been guest of honor at multiple conventions across the states and shows at science fiction art shows when she can. Her design work includes two Hugo bases, the 2016 base and the 2018 Hugo base co-designed with Vincent Villafranca. She also has designed three WSFS Young Adult Award/Lodestar awards as well as the nominee pins.

Screen-grabs from, L-R, the “Magnus and Loki” online gallery of Sarah Clemens and the “Tiara Gallery” of Sara Felix.
At left, Sarah Clemens’ Magnus and Loki are always up to something. At right, catch a glimpse of the stunning beauty and variety of Sara Felix’s fantasy tiaras. Her “Tiara Tuesdays” are a regular social media feature. (See credits below).

The Convention Artists Guild

The Convention Artists Guild was strong with us, this ConQuesT, so naturally several of them belong in my sampler of excellent artists at ConQuesT 53. What is the Convention Artists Guild? Here’s how they describe themselves:

“We are a group of professional & semi-professional Colorado artists who participate in Convention art shows and events. Our work is exhibited in Art Shows and Vendor Rooms alike throughout the country . . . It is our intention as a group to provide: support, trust, collaboration, aid, resources, information, motivation, community, education and inclusiveness both within our core group and with the community in general.”

In addition to Founding Member Peri Charlifu, and Remote Member Elizabeth Leggett, both of whose work I’ll examine in greater detail next week, several other CAG members showed their work here. Three in particular caught my eye.

This header says: Convention Artists Guild, Colorado Chapter.
The Facebook Page header for the Convention Artists Guild. (Convention Artists Guild).

Mike Kloepfer

Mike is a Founding Member of the Convention Artists Guild. I think I first met him at a SoonerCon, but it was a while back. I immediately fell in love his luscious, painterly technique. His art looks a lot like it was painted in oils to me, but he actually uses acrylics. I especially love his sense of humor and his anthropomorphized animals. Check out his “Dogs of War,” as well as his “Flyboys” and “Animals of Adventure.” They all look like such interesting characters!

Here’s how he introduces himself on his website: “Hi! My name is Mike Kloepfer. My friends call me Mikey. I call my art mikeyzart. I create unique imaginative characters, creatures, and places – Fantasy, SciFi, and Whimsical art, as well as Portraits, Figures, and wildlife. As a professional artist for over 3 decades, my art and myself have appeared in many places: books and magazines, including The Artists Magazine, and Classical Drawing Atelier by Juliette Aristides; as well as galleries, art shows and conventions. I have been a technical illustrator for Microsoft, Boeing and COBE Laboratories, a map-maker for USGS, graphic designer, cartoonist, fine artist, and many other artistic occupations.”

Jim Humble

I first noticed Jim Humble’s artwork about a decade or more ago, at a science fiction convention – possibly at a DemiCon. He, too, offers wonderful, humorous paintings and prints of anthropomorphized animals. His Steampunk Kittens and Star Wars cats are especially fun. But this man has range. He also creates amazing resin and mixed-media sculptures (I particularly enjoy his amazingly intricate dragon sculptures). Give yourself some time to peruse his whole website. It won’t take long to see why he belongs in my sampler of excellent artists.

Here’s his self-introduction: “Some people think I was born with a pencil in one hand and some clay in the other. It’s pretty much true. I lucked out since my parents supported my art habit. In fact early on my mother and I baked one of my first clay pieces in the old oven. Of course it was crayola clay and it just melted and stunk up the house! Whoops! Live and learn.

“I’ve progressed since those days and still strive to improve. My life experiences have shaped my art in particular a 3 year stay in Germany and Europe. There my love of art (in particular the human form, gargoyles, grotesques and mythology) was really intensified. I’ve been pursuing my vision and passion to create now for more than 20 years.”

Brenna Deutchmann / Whimsical Whiskers

Brenna is another Convention Artists Guild Founding Member, and while she’s also a sculptor, she’s chosen the medium of fiber art. The result is unique, sometimes articulated, stuffed fantasy creatures that range from rather large to keychain-sized. She produces them under the name of Whimsical Whiskers LLC. As she explains on her website:

“All of our products are made with love and care. All of our products are original designs, and all production, sewing and construction are overseen by Brenna, who is the designer and artist.

Accessories and jointed dragons are handmade in Denver, Colorado and the USA by Brenna and local artisans. Each and every dragon is jointed, stuffed and finished by Brenna.

“Some of our products are my original designs but are produced off site in a factory. I work closely with my suppliers to ensure quality, softness of fabric, and ethical production. All are safety tested for age 0 (baby safe). These products include keychain animals, foxes, bunnies, silver and rainbow stripe dragons.”

Whimsical Whiskers’ “Dice Dragons,” a header from Humble Studios featuring a Steampunk Kitten and a mischievous-looking dragon, and a gallery of images representing Mike Kloepfer’s print series represent the three artists.
Clockwise from lower left, “Dice Dragons,” the Humble Studios header, and a “gallery of galleries” offers a representative sample of Mike Kloepfer’s artwork.” (See credits below).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sampler of excellent artists whose work I enjoyed at ConQuesT 53!

IMAGE CREDITS

As noted in the introduction, out of concern over fair use, I have only used photos that the artists themselves authorized to be publicly posted – either on their own websites or on the ConQuesT Art Show Facebook page. All montages were made by Jan S. Gephardt.

Art Show Director Mikah McCullough took the panoramic shot of the ConQuesT 53 Art Show on Saturday, May 28, just before the silent auction ended. He posted it on Facebook. Jan took the photo of Lucy A. Synk’s 2-panel art show display during Art Show setup on Thursday, May 26, 2022. Mikah McCullough took the photo of Arden Ellen Nixon’s display at about the same time – both with the motive of showing the two mail-in artists how their displays looked. Lucy gave me permission to share hers, while Arden and Mikah shared hers on Facebook.

Jan captured screen-grabs from the website homepages of Jeff Porter and Mike Cole. Likewise, the imagery representing Sarah Clemens is a screen-grab of part of her “Magnus and Loki” online gallery, showing six images, complete with itty-bitty watermarks. The one representing Sara Felix screen-captured nine of the wildly imaginative tiaras for which she is well known. To see more, please visit their websites!

The header image for the Convention Artists Guild came from the organization’s Facebook Page. Three of their members are represented by images in the montage below it. Whimsical Whiskers‘ “Dice Dragons” came from a Facebook image. Images representing Jim Humble and Mike Kloepfer are screen-grabs from their respective homepages. Many thanks to all, for helping me share this sampler of excellent artists!

ConQuesT 53, Memorial Day Weekend 2022, Sheraton Crown Center, Kansas City, MO.

Pack Up and Do It Again

By Jan S. Gephardt

It’s time to pack up and do it again. When we have two sf conventions in one month, it’s something of an endurance run. My son Tyrell Gephardt and I just start getting sorted out and rested up (in my case this month also healed up), and it’s time to do it again.

As I noted last week, Demicon 33 was a good convention for me – but it also took a toll. Now it’s time to prepare for ConQuesT 53, my home “con.” I would hate to miss it, even though they expect it to be a low-turnout year.

Attending ConQuesT means I need to pack up and do it again, after it feels as if I just got home. But there’s a new wrinkle this time around. I’m doing the usual things – art show and some programming. But I’m also launching into (for me) an uncharted new adventure: a dealer’s table.

ConQuesT 53, Memorial Day Weekend 2022, Sheraton Crown Center, Kansas City, MO.
(Header Image courtesy of ConQuesT).

A Dealers Table? ME?

Yes, I recognize that many Indie authors make much or most of their income from dealers’ tables at conventions. It’s a marketing choice that can, and sometimes does, keep the con-going trip in profit-making territory. I respect that. But personally, I’ve always had several problems with this approach.

Most dealers rooms open by 9 or 10 a.m. But my circadian cycle is firmly skewed to the “Graveyard Shift.” Wrenching myself out of bed to be on time to open would mess up my sleep cycle and leave me a “sleep zombie” for at least a week afterward. I know this because I’ve tried it. It’s not pretty.

If you’re running a table, it’s important to always be there (as much as possible!) while the dealers room is open. This means if you’re going to connect with colleagues, network, be on panels, or visit other people’s panels or readings, you either do it at your table, arrange for someone to cover for you, do it after the dealers room closes, or you don’t do it. Your table is both your base, and your anchor.

And there is a lot of stuff to haul. I’m an older lady who walks with a cane for stability. There was a day when I could bend, lift, and haul stuff pretty well – but that was several decades ago. Nowadays, I have to be strategic about how I haul boxes of books. Hand trucks and my athletic son are my friends, but I can’t always assume they’ll be available.

Tables of displays from artists, crafters, Indie authors, and gaming suppliers in the DemiCon33 Dealers Room.
The Dealers Room at DemiCon 33. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt).

A Little Help From Friends

When I first started bringing my book (singular) to sf cons back in 2019, I often could find a general bookseller in the dealers room who’d work out a consignment deal with me. But since the pandemic’s ebb (let’s hope it’s actually waning!), it’s hard to find general booksellers running dealers’ tables at sf cons.

Ty observed at DemiCon 33 that most of the folks in the Dealers Room were Indie authors selling their own books, artists, jewelers, artisans, or other craftsfolk with a specific line of products, or stores selling gaming gear. That was my observation at Archon 44 last fall, too.

But this is my “home convention,” and I know a lot of other writers in the area who really don’t have enough books (and other resources) to justify having a whole dealer’s table of their own. Three of us have banded together and decided to see if teamwork and our collected works can make a table worth the effort. So, we’ll give it a try, and see how it works. One of us has already said she can cover mornings (blessings upon her!), so at least that worry is alleviated.

But when I pack up and do it again this time, I’ll have considerably more to pack than usual.

A box full of books and other Dealers Room supplies, with covers for Jan’s three books, “The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “A Bone to Pick.”
I’m packing up my dealer’s table supplies. (See credits below).

Meet my Table-Mates

For this dealer’s table adventure, I’ve paired up with a couple of wonderful writers I met in local fandom and critique groups. From working with them in writers’ groups, I know they write good stuff. I’m proud to be associated with them, even if I am the “odd science fiction writer” in the mix.

M. C. Chambers

I first met Mary through KaCSFFS, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, about which I’ve blogged in the past. She just looked like an interesting person from the get-go. We talked and discovered we have many things in common (including our birthday). I invited her to join my then-current writers’ group, and we’ve been friends ever since. Her work includes a bunch of wonderful short stories, several of which have won awards, and the fantasy novel Shapers’ Veil. She’s also the mother of five boys (“Mother of Heroes”), a flutist, and a variable print programmer.

Karin Rita Gastreich

I met Karin in a different writers’ group, and I’ve recently had the privilege of beta-reading her latest (really wonderful) novel, which I don’t believe is available yet. She’s also written multiple short stories and won several awards. But she’s best known as a writer for her woman-centered fantasy Silver Web Trilogy. All this, and writing is not even her “day job.” In the rest of her life, Dr. Karin Gastreich, ecologist and author, serves as Chair of the School of Natural and Applied Sciences at Avila University in south Kansas City.

M. C. Chambers’ Author photo and the cover for her novel “Shapers’ Veil,” with the three-cover collection of the “Silver Web Trilogy” and Karin Rita Gastreich’s Author photo.
My table-mates have written some cool stuff! (See credits below).

Pack Up and Do it Again: Art Show

It wouldn’t seem like I really was at a convention if I didn’t have anything at the Art Show. Moreover, ConQuesT historically has an outstanding art show, especially for a convention of its size. I don’t just say that because I was the Art Show Director for three years (a decade ago). People have long come to this show to buy art, and the artwork comes in from all over. It’s now run by the highly competent and awesome Mikah McCullough, who is a way better Art Show Director than I ever was!

I’m bringing essentially the same pieces to ConQuesT that I brought to DemiCon. That’s possible, because the work I sold in Iowa was part of a multiple-original edition. Not all of my paper sculpture artwork consists of multiple-originals, however. Some are one-of-a-kind. And Mikah has arranged for me to glom onto the end of a table for my Ranan mini-maps , so they’ll be displayed to their best advantage.

Jan’s paper sculpture on display at the DemiCon 33 Art Show.
My artwork at DemiCon 33. The display won’t look much different at ConQuesT 53. (photos by the author/artist).

Fewer Panels than Usual

I missed a key communication with ConQuesT Programming somewhere along the line, so I’m only on two panels this time. Considering my dealers table commitment, this is probably just as well. But this programming schedule is unusually light for me.

On Friday night, I’ll pair up with my friend Kathy Hinkle for a feature we’ve repeated the last several times we’ve had an in-person ConQuesT: SF & F Name that Tune (or Show). Kathy and I both love the music of science fiction and fantasy media. We’ll draw from our respective deep libraries of music we’ve collected, play selected cuts, and see how quickly our audience can name them. In past years it’s been a lot of fun.

Then on Sunday afternoon (after Art Show check-out, but before Closing Ceremonies), I’ll moderate a panel called Curiouser and Curiouser (on which my table-mate Mary is a panelist), about how protagonists’ curiosities can get them into trouble – and bring readers along for an interesting quest. Much to my disappointment, there are no author readings at ConQuesT 53. This is because when they had them they weren’t well-attended, and they’re restricted in the number of programming rooms available. I understand, but I’m still disappointed.

Time to Pack Up

And now it’s time to end this post and get back to work preparing for ConQuesT. Especially with this one, when I’m getting ready to pack up and do it again, it turns out I have a lot to pack!

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to ConQuesT 53 for their website’s header, and to my son Tyrell Gephardt for the photo of the DemiCon 33 Dealers Room. I took the photos of my dealer’s table preparations and my DemiCon33 Art Show display. I’m grateful to M.C. Chambers and Karin Rita Gastreich for their author photos, and to Amazon for the photos of Shapers’ Veil and the Silver Web Trilogy. Grateful appreciations to all!

Hildie stands on a balcony at her home. She wears a red and gold saree.

A Vision From a Different World

By Jan S. Gephardt

To a certain extent, every piece of fiction opens a vision from a different world. But in works of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction, the idea of “a different world” is often more front-and-center.

But translating that into visual art can be tricky. As I’ve described in the last two blog posts, “Visualizing a Character” and “Portraying Hildie,” this winter my friend Lucy A. Synk and I undertook a multi-painting project. We sought to create what are called “developmental” images of several important characters from my books.

Lucy has the painting skills and the “eye of an illustrator” I am disappointed to report that I lack. But I have a cast of characters I need to portray. I’m continually finding new ways to use them for advertising, my newsletter, on the website, and, of course, here on my blog. For me, they’re well worth the investment to bring Lucy’s talents to bear!

In last week’s post I explained why we chose to start with Hildie Gallagher first. And while I was more focused on Hildie herself, savvy illustrator Lucy knew from the start that these paintings would also have to “read” as science fictional.

Hildie makes her way through a maintenance tunnel toward an emergency patient.
Hildie Gallagher at Work, 2022. Our first glimpse of Hildie (in What’s Bred in the Bone) is in action, on the job, saving lives. Here she goes again. (Painting is © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

A Different World: We’re Not in Kansas (or Kolkata) Anymore

That wasn’t a problem for the “Hildie at Work” painting. Hildie is an experienced paramedic assigned to the Emergency Rescue Team at Rana Station’s “Hub,” a microgravity environment. I’ve relied a lot on studies and videos from the International Space Station to add verisimilitude to my descriptions of that environment. And the first painting, which shows Hildie floating through a maintenance tunnel toward a patient, is clearly in a science fictional setting.

But Hildie’s life is more than her job. And once again, Lucy had a clear idea from the start about how to show another side of this character. The objective was not only to portray Hildie. It also was to show the plantings around her (a big deal on Rana Station) and the toroid geography of the Sirius River Valley behind her.

If you’ve read A Bone to Pick, the second book in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, you’ll understand why portraying Hildie in a red-and-gold saree for her “civilian” painting seemed like a no-brainer. But Lucy remained determined that what could be seen as a painting of a pretty Indian woman on a balcony needed a science-fictional element. Thus, that glimpse of the Sirius River Valley that we see over Hildie’s left shoulder is extremely important. It’s clearly a vision from a different world. And it makes it clear that in this painting we are definitely not  in Kansas (or Kolkata) anymore!

From first sketch through photo-collage to partially-painted, partially drawn, partially collaged concept development.
Three steps in the concept-development process for the painting. Yes, that’s even a piece of Jody A. Lee’s cover for A Bone to Pick in the middle collage’s background. (Concept artwork © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

Oh, Those Balcony Plants!

One clear objective, beyond beyond the character herself, was to show the profuse plantings common on Ranan balconies. It’s an important element in this vision from another world. The plants are also one reason why the saree is plainer than most traditional sarees. It’s to give viewers’ eyes something of a break (and also because Lucy hates painting fabrics with repeating patterns on them).

As longtime readers of this blog know, I have strong opinions about feeding people in space – and about agriculture on Rana Station in particular. What you don’t see in the sketches and mock-ups is the conversations we had, sometimes by phone and sometimes via email or text, about the most likely and visually attractive plants to put on that balcony. You may notice in the montage above that the plants on the balcony changed in some way with every step in the visualization process.

A mass of orange and red nasturtium flowers with their rounded green leaves, red cherry tomatoes on the vine, and a white fence, with morning glory vines growing over the top. They have green, heart-shaped leaves and bluish-purple, trumpet-shaped flowers.
L-R: Nasturtiums, cherry tomatoes, and morning glories, our “Balcony Finalists.” (See credits below).

Flowers or Vegetables?

Lucy wanted flowers. She argued strongly for their undeniable aesthetic benefits. I wanted vegetables, mindful of the millions of mouths to be fed on Rana Station’s limited landmass.

But I know the results always turn out better when my illustrators make their own independent contributions to the vision. After all, they’re the ones who ultimately have to make that visual magic happen! And Lucy really, really wanted a flowering vine coming down from above in a certain, strategic spot. She sold me on morning glories when she discovered they’ve been used in herbal teas for centuries.

We eventually settled on two more plant species. Cherry tomatoes are as decorative as they are edible, with their complementary-color contrast of red and green. And nasturtiums, on the railing adjacent to the tomatoes in the final painting, make good salad ingredients. Bonus: they are an outstanding companion plant to match with tomatoes. We spent a chunk of one evening on the phone, mutually researching them. By the end I had become so enthusiastic about nasturtiums that I bought some for my garden this year!

The Saga of the Sirius River Valley

But by far the most challenging aspect of creating this vision from a different world came from a small section in the background. That little corner of the painting became a very big deal. Rex put his nose right on the problem in the first line of What’s Bred in the Bone:

“Damn it, no horizon should bend upward. . . . It was freaky-unnatural for a river to run down the wall at one end of the vista, as Wheel Two’s Sirius River did. Even worse for it to run back up the wall at the other.”

What’s Bred in the Bone

There’s no getting around it. The perspective inside a toroid space habitat is just damn weird (though, to my mind, not as weird as the inside of an O’Neill Cylinder). Add in the “undulating, terraced hills of the Sirius River Valley,” and the portrayal just gets more and more difficult.

Visualizations of the interior of a toroid space habitat: a landscape of the interior, and a cutaway of the interior with homes and landscaped plants.
Visions from 1975, of the inside of a Stanford Torus. (See credits below).

Most Definitely A Different World

The more I work with illustrators trying to wrestle that “from a different world” perspective into submission, the more admiration I have for Don Davis and Rick Guidice. They’re the two NASA artists who made it look easy to portray the inside of a Stanford Torus in 1975 (hint: it’s way NOT). You can read more about the long, angsty process Jody A. Lee and I went through creating the cover of A Bone to Pick on my blog, if you’re interested.

Lucy respected Jody’s rendition on the cover of A Bone to Pick, but she had a slightly different concept. If the terrace walls are 90-plus years old, she thought, they’ll have had time to weather, grow moss in the night mists, and undergo other changes. Also, why waste all that vertical space when even today we have “green walls” and “green roofs”?

So she set out to create more plausibly green primary terraces in her vision of a different world on Rana Station. She drew some inspiration from paper maquettes I’d made several years ago and photographed on an incline to simulate the torus’s curve. She also used my clumsy attempts to capture the view, Jody’s painting, and other resources to create her mini-painting. Then she isolated the landscape and scanned it, so I could use it as a separate piece of artwork/illustration, before she painted Hildie over part of it.

Lucy’s beautiful, verdant landscape captures the terraced hills with their little farms on either side, the meanders of the Sirius River through the center, and the torus’s perverse upward curve in the distance.
The Sirius River Valley: It’s hard to imagine the years of hard effort by a surprising number of people that lie behind this peaceful-looking landscape. (Painting © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

A Note About the Saree

Some people may think a saree is a startling thing to see anyone wearing on a far-future space station. How could that possibly fit into a vision of a different world? The answer lies in the culture and history of Rana Station. In the universe of the XK9 books, we humans managed to avoid destroying Earth. The Chayko System is two jump-points away from the place Ranans call “Heritage Earth,” but they maintain ties, communications, and some trade.

Moreover, as I’ve noted in past blog posts, Ranan culture is centered on families. It is perhaps natural that family-oriented people might grow curious about their ancestry. During an introspective moment in A Bone to Pick, major character Charlie Morgan reflects on a period in (from his perspective) Rana’s recent past:

“About a generation ago, Rana Station had gone through a period when seemingly everyone was exploring their ethnic backgrounds. The Human Diaspora had drawn people into space from all over Heritage Earth. During the early decades of space expansion, many cultural practices had been lost. But a few generations after its founding, family-oriented Rana Station had collectively decided they must ‘reclaim their roots,’ in an effort to ‘fully embrace the nature of their being.’ Or something like that.

“People all over the Station suddenly yearned for knowledge of the cultures they’d descended from. Religious and cultural festivals, ethnic foods, and traditional clothing all became important preoccupations.”

– “A Bone to Pick
Hildie stands on a balcony at her home. She wears a red and gold saree.
Hildie on a Balcony in a Saree, 2022. Ready for a special event, Hildie poses on an outer balcony of Feliz Tower. (Painting © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

My Multicultural Vision From a Different World

You can also see my fascination with the many and varied cultures of Earth in another passage, from a scene that comes near the end of What’s Bred in the Bone:

“Orangeboro officials began to assemble on the wide flat area at the top of the steps outside OPD Central HQ. The Borough Council emerged first, resplendent in formal attire. There was Rona Peynirci, in a deep red and shimmering gold saree. Charlie spotted Beatriz Chan in green and silver robes, with a matching turban and a stunning emerald necklace. Mayor Idris wore a blue silk wrap. The men, similarly glamorous, wore silken jackets, hanbok, kente, or kilts.”

– “What’s Bred in the Bone

In light of all that, it shouldn’t be surprising to find a saree on this particular space station. As Charlie says to Hildie at one point in A Bone to Pick, “A saree is timeless. It’s always in fashion.” And Hildie’s saree becomes symbolic of larger themes, in that sequence.

Lucy and I are not finished with our projects started this winter. Hildie is the first Ranan human to get character development illustrations. But the XK9s have many human friends. And as Lucy helps me fill out this vision from a different world, I’ll share their stories here (although Newsletter subscribers always get first looks).

IMAGE and Other CREDITS

Most of the imagery in this post is ©2022 by Lucy A. Synk. There’s a glimpse of a detail from Jody A. Lee‘s cover painting ©2020 for A Bone to Pick in one of Lucy’s “working image” photo-montages, used for her reference.

The photos of garden plants are courtesy of three different online seed and plant sales sites. The nasturtiums photo is courtesy of Bonanza, the cherry tomato shot came from Grow Joy, and the morning glories are courtesy of Park Seed. Many thanks to all! (check out their gardening offers!).

The 1975 visions of the inside of a Stanford Torus are ©1975 by NASA. They were painted by Don Davis (torus interior landscape) and Rick Guidice (cutaway view). I am deeply grateful that NASA has made this resource so freely available.

The excerpts from What’s Bred in the Bone are ©2019 by Jan S. Gephardt. The excerpts from A Bone to Pick are ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. All rights reserved.

Lucy A. Synk’s painting “Hildie Gallagher at Work.”

Portraying Hildie

By Jan S. Gephardt

Portraying Hildie Gallagher has been a rewarding collaboration Lucy A. Synk and I tackled this year. Each winter since 2019, my artist friend and I have combined our visions to create illustrations showing aspects of my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The books comprise a science fiction mystery series about a pack of extremely intelligent police dogs who live with their humans on Rana Habitat Space Station.

Last week’s post addressed the considerations that go into visualizing a character in general, a process all fiction writers tackle in one way or another. I ended that post with a look at this winter’s two finished paintings. Winter in the Northern Hemisphere may mostly be over, but my 2022 collaboration with Lucy isn’t. I have two paintings portraying Hildie that I plan to talk about – one this week and one next week. Lucy and I also have more works-in-progress, so stay tuned for additional future blog posts later this summer (or get advance views even sooner with a subscription to my newsletter).

Lucy A. Synk’s painting “Hildie Gallagher at Work.”
Hildie Gallagher at Work, 2022 (Painting is © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

Who is Hildie Gallagher?

If you haven’t (yet) read my novels, or if you’ve only just started them, you may be wondering who this Hildie person is. Her name doesn’t come up in the book descriptions, so what’s the point in portraying Hildie? Those book descriptions necessarily focus on the Trilogy’s protagonist, XK9 Pack Leader Rex Dieter-Nell (he’ the big black dog on my book covers). The descriptions mention Charlie, Rex’s human partner, but only in passing. And they barely hint at the rest of their world.

But the ten XK9 members of Rex’s “Orangeboro Pack” all have human partners. Charlie may speak ruefully about being Rex’s “on-call opposable thumbs,” but in truth the humans play important roles in their XK9 partners’ lives. Moreover, these humans and XK9s live embedded in a complex society on Rana Station. They all have families and friends. As any society would, this matrix of associations deeply affects how they live, the work they do, and the influence they are able to gain.

Three Portraits of Rex, a large black dog who looks like a wolf or German Shepherd.
Rex Dieter-Nell, ©2019 and 2020 by Jody A. Lee for the first two book covers in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, and ©2020 Lucy A. Synk. (See complete credits below).

Hildie Gallagher is one of that matrix of associations who becomes very important in the stories. It’s probably not much of a spoiler to say she’s introduced as Charlie’s old friend and becomes his current “love interest.” But she’s much more than just a pretty face or “arm candy.” Indeed, she’d be deeply insulted anybody might think that.

Considering our Options

So, then, how did we decide on portraying Hildie first, out of all the possibilities? Lucy and I finished a long series of XK9 portraits in 2020-2021 (To be clear: she painted, with considerable skill and sophistication. I kibbitzed, and also funded the effort). But that meant twenty different paintings of dogs. After all of those dogs, Lucy – a confirmed animal lover, but at heart a “cat person,” was ready to paint something else!

Head-and shoulders portraits of the ten Orangeboro Pack members.
Top row L-R: Razor, Elle, Crystal, Petunia, and Cinnamon. Bottom Row L-R: Scout, Victor, Tuxedo, Shady, and Rex. (All paintings are ©2020-21 by Lucy A. Synk).

Fortunately, there are lots of other options for things and people to paint on Rana Station. Not only are there humans, there’s also a large population of ozzirikkians. Ozzirikkians are a non-terrestrial species of Ranan citizens, without whom the station couldn’t have been funded and built.

Moreover, there’s a small resident population of Farricainan AIs. They are autonomous, highly intelligent, cybernetic entities. The XK9s become acquainted with one of these entities named Dr. SCISCO-3750, a local professor. The Farricainan AIs use android “focal objects” to interact more comfortably with “corporeal entities.” More comfortably for the humans and XK9s, that is.

We have plans to create paintings of both one of Dr. SCISCO’s androids and at least one ozzirikkian (we’ll possibly start with Vice Premier Kizzitikti Zhokittik) in the future. But portraying either of them presented multiple, time-consuming challenges. A much more obvious next step was to portray some of the humans. We decided to create paired portraits, at least for the main characters. One would show the person in work clothes. The other would portray them in a civilian context. But we immediately ran into problems there, too.

The Uniforms of Law Enforcement on Rana

We are still working on exactly how the uniforms and other official garb of the Orangeboro Police Department and the Station Bureau of Investigation look. In this particular fictional future human bodies have not changed much. But fashions, fabrics, and customs inevitably must have. Lucy correctly points out that in a painting, science fictional elements such as costumes have to read as science fictional.

A collection of ideas for science fictional clothing.
We have a wealth of ideas to use in developing the official law enforcement uniforms on Rana Station. This is a tiny sample. (See credits below).

For instance, will men still wear ties in the Twenty-Fourth-And-A-Half Century? More to the point, will police detectives wear them? Lucy doubts it. I’m still considering the matter, based on all the various permutations of “cloth around the neck” that history has seen. Constructive, on-topic comments are welcome if you’d like to weigh in, in the comments section below!

Other clothing options, such as embedded LEDs and shape-shifting fabrics may be flashy and “futuristic-looking.” But in a society where nearly every family is engaged in agriculture, durability and practicality are likely to prevail. Can those qualities mesh well with any of the futuristic fashions we’ve seen in entertainment media?

With no firm, final decisions yet hammered out about uniforms for Ranan officers, we also weren’t ready for portraits of most of my main characters. Especially for Charlie, who makes several appearances during the Trilogy wearing his OPD dress blues, we needed to know what OPD uniforms look like! Similarly, major characters Pam Gómez, Chief Klein, and Elaine Adeyeme pretty much all needed to be portrayed in uniform or some kind of regulation garb. In the winter of 2021-22, we weren’t ready to pull the trigger on those yet, either.

Portraying Hildie at Work

But portraying Hildie presented none of those challenges. I hate to call her the “low-hanging fruit,” but her work outfit – a universally-practical jumpsuit not unlike those worn by contemporary astronauts – presented far fewer challenges. Finding reference photos for that outfit was not going to be a problem! So we started with her.

As it is for many of us, Hildie’s job is a really important part of her identity. It’s also important in the stories of the Trilogy. She’s a paramedic with Orangeboro’s Emergency Rescue Team at the Hub. Assigned to the Rescue Runner Triumph, she was part of Charlie’s old team, when he drove a MERS-V (Multi-use Emergency Response Space-Vehicle) at the dawn of his career. Hildie’s a specialist in microgravity-based emergency medicine – a demanding and very challenging specialty.

A collection of resource images.
Rock-climbing shoes, paramedic patches and pouches, and NASA astronaut flight suits all factored into our development of the painting. (See credits below).

Consider fluid dynamics in microgravity, and then recall that human bodies are big bags filled with fluid that tend to leak alarmingly when injured. That’ll give you some of the more obvious difficulties a paramedic in microgravity would have to confront and counteract. Our first glimpse of Hildie, in What’s Bred in the Bone, is in action, on the job, saving lives. Specifically, saving Charlie’s life!

Building From Things We Know

Some visual things were clear from the books: Safety Services employees wear blue jumpsuits. Hildie’s uniform includes chevrons on the sleeve. And she has long, dark hair, which she wears tied back at work. Lucy based her jumpsuit on those used by NASA (as had I, when writing about them). We based the patches and insignia on similar items in current international use. It seemed needlessly confusing to come up with a whole new system of symbols that contemporary viewers might find hard to interpret.

We did go around and around some on her emergency medical equipment pouches. For aesthetic reasons, Lucy wanted to show her wearing a backpack. And contemporary, terrestrial paramedics do use backpacks. But when I envisioned the practical realities of trying to access a backpack in microgravity, in potentially a narrow work area somewhat like the Jeffries Tubes of Star Trek, it seemed awkward at best and utterly impractical, especially for a solo paramedic, at worst. When seconds saved can save a life, you don’t want to have to fight with your gear.

Lucy, however, wasn’t real enthusiastic about portraying Hildie with bulky, 21st -Century-style belt pouches around her middle. She wanted something more sleek, compact, and perhaps futuristic-looking. And maybe not something bright red, in the painting’s color scheme. So we negotiated ourselves to a compromise.

Sketch variations test various ideas for the “Hildie at Work” composition.
Between mid-January and mid-February 2022 we tested a lot of ideas. (Artwork ©2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

Lucy’s Ingenuity

Once we’d figured out a set of packs we both could live with, there was still the matter of Hildie’s surroundings in the painting. Here’s where Lucy’s ingenuity and spirit of innovation truly became valuable. She drew on her experience making dioramas for natural history museums, and assembled an array of “found objects” to provide long shapes and textures that she could use to create the dramatic perspective.

Once that had been glued together, she used the last of a can of silver spray paint from her studio. It transformed her impromptu background into a credible simulation of a maintenance passageway. Then she positioned her lights and photographed her posable wooden mannequin in the environment she’d created.

Take a look at the early sketch at the left corner of the illustration below. We went through a world of possibilities and variations for the decision-making on this piece. But the early sketch shows that Lucy’s overall composition concept actually didn’t change much. The idea of portraying Hildie floating in microgravity, making her way through a maintenance passageway toward a patient, never really changed.

The making of a painting: Lucy started with a sketch of her idea, then began to build a diorama to help her visualize it better. She shared photos of her diorama process on her Facebook page: collecting cardboard scraps and “dead ballpoint pen” parts, affixing them to their curved cardboard backing, spray-painting them silver-gray, then posing and lighting the diorama background with a poseable wooden mannequin standing in for Hildie.
An early sketch, and the steps to make and use a diorama background. (Art, diorama, and photos © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this examination of the illustration work that Lucy and I have combined our visions to create. I’m proud and pleased with Lucy’s oil painting of Hildie Gallagher at Work. Next week’s post will explore the more complex process of portraying Hildie in a completely different setting and costume.

IMAGE CREDITS

The vast majority of the imagery in this post is © 2020-2022 by Lucy A. Synk. However, I also have a handful of other sources to thank as well. They include most notably Jody A. Lee. whose two images of Rex, ©2019 and 2020, are details from the book covers for What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick. The detail of Shiva Shimon in a helmet and body armor (in the science fictional clothing collection) also is © 2019 and a detail pulled from the cover of What’s Bred in the Bone.

The other imagery from the science fictional clothing collection, moving clockwise from Shiv in the upper left, includes the following. A pair of highly improbable police uniforms from Daz3D. Genuine Leather Jacket’s design for Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds Leather Trench Coat, discovered via Pinterest (Lucy: note the necktie). Artist Lian Li’s “Shura Hitmen LawBreakers Concept Art” (Whoops! Another tie), also found on Pinterest. A production photo of Lieutenant Anastasia “Dee” Dualla from Battlestar Galactica, via Justin Grays. A page of futuristic fashion designs by gary jamroz-palma on Behance, found via Pinterest. And a police-ish-looking uniform which I also found on Pinterest but was unable to source beyond that.

The montage of resource images includes several pieces of a Google Image Search for “Paramedic Patches,” scattered throughout. The rock-climbing shoe collection at upper left is from “Rock And Ice’s” review of the recommended climbing shoes. The AP photo of the unidentified ISS crew came from a story on Sky News. And I found the red paramedic’s fanny pack on Amazon. Many thanks to all! The montages were created by Jan S. Gephardt.

Clockwise: a finished digital painting of Pamela Gómez, the illustration “Mac and Yo-yo in Their Workshop,” and design sketches of an EStee next to some studies for collar-mounted vocalizers all are examples of visualizing a character or a character’s tools.

Visualizing a Character

By Jan S. Gephardt

For a novelist, visualizing a character – bringing them into focus, learning who they are, and what makes them tick – is absolutely essential. Readers don’t read our books because they fell in love with the plot twists. They don’t seek out a book because they love murder, or war, or the scientific concept that makes a book “science fiction.”

They read our books because they fall in love with our characters.

At least, we writers desperately hope they’ll fall in love with our characters. Or anyway that they’ll be fascinated by them. Because if they don’t care what happens to our characters, all of our clever plot twists have no meaning. The murder or the war is just butchery or mayhem. That ingenious science fictional concept we invented might only make them say, “Oh. Well, that’s kinda interesting. But what’s happening on Tik Tok?”

No, the charactersare key. They’re the point of the story, as far as most readers are concerned. Their trials, their passions. The dangers they face, the risks they brave. And, most importantly for the core archetypal function of literature, the solutions they devise for their terrible problems.

“Books can change your life. Some of the most influential people in our lives are characters we meet in books.” — David McCullough
About a year ago, G.S. Norwood wrote about one of McCullough’s books. (See credits below).

Characters are Everything

When I was first learning to write, people sometimes asked, “is this a plot-driven story, or a character-driven story?” I have come to the conclusion that it’s a literature-analysis question making a point that is irrelevant to the way most readers of fiction engage with the stories they read. For me, every story is “character-driven.” It has to be, or it fails in fundamental ways.

That’s why it’s really important for a writer to know their characters. But it’s all very well and good to say that. How does one go about doing that? Especially when the person one is trying to get to know is an imaginary person in our own head? Because I am here to tell you, they don’t spring fully-formed from my forehead, Zeus-and-Athena-style.

No. Not even a little. Visualizing a character in all their dimensions takes effort and time.

Some writers “interview” their characters. They ask questions such as the character’s favorite color, their favorite food, music, and so on. I’ve tried that. It can be interesting, and occasionally enlightening. Some writers create elaborate backstories or dossiers on their major and semi-major characters. I’ve done some of that, too. And I always try to keep track of how tall, how heavy, eye color, age, and important skills, relationships, and so on – written down in a place I can remember! You might not believe how many times I’ve caught myself and said, “Wait! How much does Rex weigh, again?” (130 kilos, when in good shape). Visualizing a character only works for my readers if I’m consistent.

"Books can truly change our lives: the lives of those who read them, the lives of those who write them. Readers and writers alike discover things they never knew about the world and about themselves." – Lloyd Alexander
Possibly the most influential author in my own childhood, Alexander’s words continue to be true for me, whether I’m the reader or the writer. (See credits below).

How Best to Learn a Character?

I can only tell you what works for me. Sometimes I’ll get to a place in a story where I need someone to do something. Then a new person who is exactly when and where I need them sometimes steps forward. They do what the story needs, but add their own little personal touch to the way it’s done. That’s when visualizing a character is fun and easy. Occasionally I may decide that person needs a promotion to a bigger part in the story! (This is my “pantser” side emerging).

More often I’ll know, going into the story, that certain characters belong onstage. I’ll already know some basic aspects of those characters, but not enough. That’s when I need help visualizing a character. I like to use techniques such as the Character Flaw Pyramid or the Reverse Backstory Tool (see below). If this is getting too technical for you, feel free to skip over this part.

But for the writers and reviewers in my audience, I’ve found these very helpful for developing the Protagonist and Antagonist characters. I’ve also used them for supporting characters who have their own, smaller story arcs within the book.

The Character Flaw Pyramid asks a series of questions for the writer to answer about their character: What lie does the character believe about himself? What was the defining moment? What core flaws result from the lie? What lesser/secondary flaws stem from the core flaws? What are some of the character’s typical behaviors, thoughts, actions, or quirks?
From Jan’s “Writing Techniques” notes; source unclear. (See image credits below).
The Reverse-Backstory Tool is a chart. At the top is the question (with space to fill in an answer), “What is the character’s Goal/Outer Motivation?” An asterisk directs us to a note below the chart, which reminds: “inner and outer motivation are connected. If you know one, you can extrapolate the other!”
Below this heading area are two columns with four sections each, asking parallel questions as follows. Section One on the left: “What attributes help achieve the goal?” on the right: “What flaws hinder it?” Section Two, left: “What positive emotions does the character feel, regarding these attributes?” Right: “What painful emotions do the character’s flaws protect against?” Section Three, left: “Emotionally speaking, why does the character want to achieve the goal? What is the inner motivation?” An asterisk directs us back to the note below the chart about inner and outer motivations being connected. Section Three, right: “What traumatic event (the WOUND) triggers the painful emotions mentioned above in an intense, life-changing way?” Section Four, left: “What needs drive this character’s behavior?” Right: “Because of the wounding event, what incorrect belief (the LIE) does the Character hold to be true?”
From Jan’s “Writing Techniques” notes; source unclear. (See image credits below).

I got these . . . somewhere, at some point in the last five years. Probably/possibly they came from one or more of my friends (I hang out with a lot of writers. Possible sources include Dora Furlong and Lynette M. Burrows, but I really don’t remember. You might enjoy their books, though!). And I have no idea who, among all the many tutors, online courses, blogs, or writing gurus, originated them. I just know these tools work for me. But there’s also another important method in my toolbox.

Visualizing a Character . . . Literally

When I say I’m visualizing a character, I also mean that literally. I’m an artist, so I think visually and spatially. I make maps. Create floorplans. Collect visual reference photos, and make my own drawings. But I’ve never had the “illustrator” gift. Non-artists may find that confusing, but in my experience not every artist is cut out to be an illustrator. It’s a specific subcategory of skills that I’ve always wished I had! But the ability to create really awesome illustrations is just not a gifting I’ve received or been able to develop (Lord knows, I’ve tried!).

All the same, I am both lucky and blessed. I have many friends who are outstanding illustrators, richly endowed with that gift I wish I had. And, here in the later decades of my life, I also have been blessed with the ability to hire them to do what I can’t.

This means my longtime friend Jody A. Lee has made gorgeous covers for the first two novels in the XK9 Trilogy. If you’ve been following this blog since last summer, you may remember reading The Story Behind A Bone to Pick’s Cover. It also means I could commission some early character-and-tech-development images from artist and game designer Jeff Porter. And I could ask the illustrator Jose-Luis Segura to help me visualize two characters, Mac and Yo-yo, whom I intend to feature in a future story.

Clockwise: a finished digital painting of Pamela Gómez, the illustration “Mac and Yo-yo in Their Workshop,” and design sketches of an EStee next to some studies for collar-mounted vocalizers all are examples of visualizing a character or a character’s tools.
Jeff Porter’s 2016 visualization of Pamela Gómez is still the best one Jan has. Jeff’s design concepts for collar-mounted vocalizers and EStees influenced how later artists portrayed them. Jose-Luis Segura invented some creative ideas in his 2021 rendition of Mac and Yo-yo in Their Workshop. (images are ©2016 by Jeff Porter and © 2021 by Jose-Luis Segura. See credits below).

And it means I could embark on a long and ongoing creative collaboration with my good friend Lucy A. Synk.

Visualizing a Character with Lucy A. Synk

I chronicled my collaboration with Lucy to create the cover of my novella The Other Side of Fear on this blog almost exactly two years ago, in March 2020. Lucy was literally Rex’s first fan. She’s a well-regarded professional artist with years in the fantasy and science fiction world, a background in natural history museum murals, and a burgeoning fine art career. She’s about to unveil a brand-new website, so here’s hoping this link redirects properly. If you’re on Facebook, you also can see (and “Like,” if you’re kindly inclined) her Lucy Synk Fantasy Art page.

Last winter, she helped me visualize The Orangeboro Pack. She painted all ten XK9s from my books, both as head-and-shoulders portraits and in full-body action poses. I’ve used those a lot, especially in my monthly newsletter.

Head-and shoulders portraits of the ten Orangeboro Pack members.
Top row L-R: Razor, Elle, Crystal, Petunia, and Cinnamon. Bottom Row L-R: Scout, Victor, Tuxedo, Shady, and Rex. (All paintings are ©2020-21 by Lucy A. Synk).

This winter, her project has been to start visualizing the humans in my stories. Since she’s already posted the first two paintings from the new series on her Facebook page, I’ll show them here, too.

The two finished paintings: at left, all-business Hildie, working as a paramedic in microgravity; at right, in a saree on a balcony at home, ready for a party.
Here are the finished paintings, L-R: Hildie at Work and Hildie on a Balcony in a Saree. (Artwork © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

Next week, I’ll talk about our ongoing collaborative efforts, and the developmental stages we went through when we were visualizing a character named Hildie Gallagher for these two paintings.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Quotefancy, for the David McCullough quote. You may remember that G. S. Norwood blogged about one of McCullough’s books in this space about a year ago. And thank you very much, AZ Quotes, for the wisdom from Lloyd Alexander.

As noted in the post, Jan has no clear idea of exactly where the “Character Flaw Pyramid” or the “Reverse-Backstory Tool” came from. But the photo of the hands holding question-marks up in the air is definitely by “rawpixel,” via 123rf. And the pattern of books background certainly came from Madison Butler on LinkedIn and her “Unicorn Nuggets” newsletter. Many thanks to both!

The digital painting of Pamela Gómez and the sketches of an EStee, along with the designs for collar-mounted vocalizers, are all © 2016 by Jeff Porter. The digital painting Mac and Yo-yo in Their Workshop is © 2021 by Jose-Luis Segura. The ten XK9 portraits are © 2020-2021 by Lucy A. Synk. The two new oil paintings of Hildie Gallagher are © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk. Jan enjoyed every minute of those collaborations, and looks forward to doing it again! All montages in this post were designed and assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.

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