Thank you for being a devoted follower. I hope this change doesn’t cause you too much inconvenience, and I look forward to seeing you in the future on The Weird Blog!
Changes can be Good
This move allows us to optimize our blogs for better, more seamless content delivery without sacrificing so much of my writing time! Artdog Adventures has been a project of my heart since I started it in 2009. Moving away from the name–and from my own author website is difficult.
I’m also still making fine art fantasy paper sculpture–although I must admit I’m not making as much of it as I used to! But believe it or not, I’m working on a couple of new series that I hope will see the light of day pretty soon.
So please follow the Artdog’s ongoing Adventures over to The Weird Blog! There’s plenty more to come!
KaCSFFS friends introduced me to fandom, provided transportation and shared rooms at other conventions, and opened a new world of wonder and delight to me. I’ve always been grateful for their tutelage and their friendship. I’ve served several times as an officer of the club, most recently a stint from 2010-2017 as Communications Director. I also was the ConQuesT Art Show Director for three inglorious years (2011-2013), until the far more capable Mikah McCullough took over.
So going to ConQuesT is like coming home for me. These days, I’m much more of a program participant than I am concom, but the love hasn’t changed.
Things I’m Looking Forward To
One thing I always look forward to is being on panels. I’m writing this post too early to know exactly what panels I’ll be on. I filled out the Panelist Questionnaire a while back, so I feel a fair amount of certainty that they’ll come up with something for me to do this year!
I’ve asked for an opportunity to do a reading, and expressed my openness to a number of other options. So I guess we’ll see.
Going to ConQuesT as a panelist in recent years has become even more pleasant for me than ever, because we have half-hour breaks between panels. This allows for follow-up conversations, getting from place to place, impromptu autograph-signings, and bathroom breaks. I wish more conventions would add this lovely feature.
I also look forward to seeing old friends at ConQuesT: some from Kansas City, and others “regulars” from other parts of the region. Many times con-runners will work the whole weekend at their own convention, then go to the next one nearby to relax and just be fans hanging out with fans.
And of course I’m looking forward to the Dealers Room and the Art Show!
Our Dealers Table
Last year, some of my Kansas City friends invited me to join them at their ConQuesT dealer’s table. I’d been contemplating the possibility, but daunted by my persistent night-owl tendencies. No way was I likely to prosper running my own dealer’s table all alone if it meant being alert before 9 a.m. and attempting to make money selling only three titles! But they invited me to Try Something Newand join them.
If you’ve followed this blog recently, you probably know that was a fateful first step. I subsequently shared tables at SoonerConand Archon. This year, my son Tyrell E. Gephardt and I have roped our Household Morning Person, my husband Pascal, into joining us for this convention season. He’ll be the person who primarily runs the Weird Sisters Publishing dealers table.
We also have a wonderful range of other excellent books by some of our Kansas City Author Friends. They include books by the two friends who invited me to share their table last year, M. C. Chambers and Karin Rita Gastreich. They also include fellow “Mad Authors Party” friends Lynette M. Burrowsand Dora Furlong. And how could we not bring books by our longtime friend Randal Spangler? All in all, it’s a great lineup!
The Art Show
For most of my history at science fiction conventions, I’ve primarily been known for my artwork. No one knew me as an author – even though I’ve always been both a writer and an artist. But it takes a LOT longer to finish a book than a piece of artwork. I actually had something to show, as an artist, that would back up my claims that I was one!
And it’s not as if art was ever a minor part of my life. I majored in visual art (printmaking and graphic design) as an undergrad. During both of my teaching careers, I was hired as an art teacher who also could teach publications. After a decade of commercial graphic design work and my “second art-teaching career,” my paper sculpture eventually opened doors to national juried fine art shows around the country.
I’m still doing paper sculpture, although the projects are fewer and farther between now than they have been in a long time. Most of my artwork these days is (once again) graphic design. And as an added bonus, I get to be the Art Director for Weird Sisters Publishing! But the art show still means a lot to me – as I discovered recently at DemiCon. Last year’s ConQuesT Art Show was another marvelous one, under Mikah’s skilled direction. I anticipate this year’s will be, too.
Going to ConQuesT 54
All in all, I’m looking forward to going to ConQuesT this year. I’ve had decades of fun history there. The new Dealers Table project and Pascal’s attendance add adventure to the prospect. And I hope to see a lot of old friends, plus maybe meet some new ones. All of those things add to my anticipation.
Will you be there, too? If you are, I hope you’ll watch for my panels, check out the Art Show, and stop by my Dealer’s Table. Mention that you read this post, and I’ll make sure you get your choice of our badge ribbons!
And if you’re not going to ConQuesT – I know some readers live far away from Kansas City and it’s not practical – I hope you’ll enjoy my next post. I plan to share photos and write about the convention.
I don’t think I was ever sure who took the “historical documents” that show me at ConQuesT in 1985 and 2012, but I can identify my fellow panelists. In the 1985 photo they are L-R: Dell Harris, Ken Keller, me, and the late Roland Schmidt, my former co-teacher and a fantasy watercolorist. BTW, that’s my calligraphy on the name cards, back before desktop printing made them easy to print.
DemiCon 34 may have been my last DemiCon. I have a lot of great history with DemiCon as an institution, and as an eagerly-anticipated annual event. I’ve blogged about it in this space for the last several years, as veteran readers of this blog may recall.
But DemiCon 34 may have been my last DemiCon. At least for a while.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
I figured we were off to another great start last fall, when I received an invitation to attend with a guest as a professional guest (this means the membership fee is waived because I’ll be “paying for it” by appearing on panels. It’s a normal-enough procedure, and I’m always happy to agree). I responded quickly to say quite truthfully that I was looking forward to it.
After that, however, crickets. (Okay, it was winter. But still). Finally in March I figured I’d better find out if they’d forgotten me. As it turned out, they kind of had. There’d been a reshuffling of the con committee in some way. My invitation and acceptance had gotten lost in that shuffle. But Amanda in Programming said of course I’d be welcome, and she’d find ways to fit me onto panels. No author reading, though.
Um, okay. Well, things could still work out. It didn’t have to be my last DemiCon. But unfortunate events and disappointments gradually accumulated.
I couldn’t find Art Show information online. Turns out it was on their website and they did (let the record show) have an Art Show. It was listed under “Venue” in dim type at the bottom of their index page. I found “Dealers Room” on that drop-down menu, but somehow my eyes kept skipping over “Art Show” (second down after “Anime Room”).
I guess I was always in too much of a hurry to search the fine print. And, perhaps because of the concom shakeup, I also never received a contact from the Art Show Director. Usually I get a cheery email a few months out, asking if I’ll be showing art again this year. That really would have saved me, this year.
So, I didn’t bring any art (thought, “what’s the point?” and we were tight on space). Then, to my dismay, I discovered there was an Art Show after all. I tried not to be too upset, but I never could quite bring myself to go inside and see what was there. I suppose it should be no big deal in the grand scheme. But I was crushed.
Granted, a mistake I made shouldn’t be used as a justification to make this my last DemiCon. But it was one more, particularly searing disappointment on the growing pile of them.
A Very Tight Squeeze
The Big Convention Experiment for this year is a quest to answer the question: Can Weird Sisters Publishing present a profitable Dealers Table at sf conventions? Didn’t have to be super-lucrative, but at least breaking even would be nice. We tried to vary our offerings (and increase the odds of selling things) by including the work of selected Kansas City Author Friends Dora Furlong, Lynette M. Burrows, Randal Spangler, Karin Rita Gastreich, and M. C. Chambers, as well as my books and my sister G. S. Norwood’sDeep Ellum Duet. Happily, we did sell something from almost everyone. But did we break even? No.
Our first challenge was squeezing ourselves into the space. To say the Dealers Room was “cozy” . . . well, check out the photo above. There wasn’t room for our banner. In fact, it’s a good thing I’ve lost about 30 lbs. over the course of the past year (thank you, NOOM!), or I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze through to work the table.
Unfortunately, the aisle space was almost as constricted as the space behind the table. ADA compliance? Ouch! Not so much. The aisles were consistently congested each time I came in, but that doesn’t mean there was room for a lot of traffic. Yes, it was a small con. But as a semi-frequent visitor to the dealers rooms of many conventions, I can tell you I personally would have looked at the congestion and thought, “Nope.” Was that the experience that made me question whether this would be my last DemiCon? Well, no. Not by itself.
The Best Bright Spot: My Panels
For me, the highlight of this convention was the panels. This is often true. For one, I love to talk about our genre(s), writing, art, and related topics. For another, I generally love working with the other panelists. Most are interesting, knowledgeable, and intelligent people, and would be so in any setting. A well-moderated, intelligent discussion with such people is a delight I relish.
Most of my panels teamed me up with either Steven Southard or David J. Pedersen. The “A.I. Meets SF” panel on Friday 5/5/23 included all three of us. I had a lovely time working with both of them. They’re bright, thoughtful men. I’d met and been on panels with David before, but a major high point of DemiCon 34 was meeting Steven. Our panel discussions were lots of fun, and we had large, intelligent, well-informed audiences. It was a mix of elements practically guaranteed to be both stimulating and fun.
I was on five panels. By the time we got to the final one on Sunday afternoon (where I joined Author Guest Rachel Aukesto discuss “Who Will We Meet in Space?”), I think everyone was exhausted. The audience barely outnumbered Rachel and me, and they seemed little disposed to talk much. But that somewhat “flat note” certainly wouldn’t have been enough, on its own, to make me ask, “Is this my last DemiCon?”
My Last DemiCon?
In my first book, What’s Bred in the Bone, there’s a chapter titled, “A Combined Weight of Awfulness.” I wouldn’t ascribe “awfulness” to my DemiCon 34 experience (with one exception). But disappointment after disappointment built up through the weekend. The convention committee seemed disorganized. There weren’t many panels that looked interesting to me, outside of the ones I was on. Readings by friends were mostly scheduled against my own panels, so I couldn’t attend them. I didn’t get many other networking opportunities.
But our discovery in one of our rooms would’ve sent us home immediately if we’d been there strictly as fans. A rash of distinctive red bumps rose on several sensitive square inches of my son’s skin. Then he found a rather distinctive little brown bug in his bed. And when you find one, you know there must be more. De-con efforts have continued since we got home, to make sure none infiltrated our luggage.
We had a dealer’s table. I’d made promises to be on panels. We’d bought a program book ad. So we accepted a change of rooms and stayed. But combined with all the other issues and disappointments, this was definitely the nadir of all my convention-going experiences in the more than three decades I’ve been going to conventions all over the country. So DemiCon 34 is likely to have been my last DemiCon. At least for a good long while.
It’s that time of year again: getting ready for “con” season, and specifically for DemiCon 34. Repeated blizzard events over several recent years have discouraged us from attending Capricon in February. This means DemiCon, an annual, early-May convention in Des Moines, Iowa, has become our “new normal” first science fiction convention of the summer season.
But for DemiCon 34, things will be a bit different from our usual. Some of the changes were planned, others not. Here’s hoping I’m in much better health and voicethan I was last year! I’m also hoping that we have our typically pleasant DemiCon experienceon the whole.
A Couple of DemiCon 34 Disappointments
Let’s get these out of the way, so I can go on to the much-more-fun stuff. Due to a snafu in communications, I won’t be doing a reading at DemiCon 34. Readings are one of my favorite forms of “giving out free samples,” so I’ll miss it! To partially compensate for that, you might enjoy My First Original Video, which was filmed for 2020’s Virtual DemiCon (DemiCon 31, “Contaminated”).
In that video my son Tyrell Gephardt filmed me reading the first chapter of The Other Side of Fear aloud. That’s the prequel novella to my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, which was released that year. It was as close as we could get to a live reading during the early months of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Perhaps you’d also like to read the “free sample” first chapter from one of my novels, What’s Bred in the Bone (XK9 “Bones” Trilogy Book One) orA Bone to Pick (Book Two). Just follow the links to their Weird Sisters pages, where you’ll find them offered.
My other DemiCon 34 disappointment? There doesn’t seem to be an Art Show. I have a long history of bringing my paper sculpture to sf cons, and I’ve enjoyed showing (and selling) my artwork at DemiCon for many years. I also love hanging out with the artists who gather in greater numbers at conventions where they can show and sell their work!
But another one of the things I love to do at sf cons will definitely be happening at DemiCon 34: panels! I have started pulling together notes for the five panels on which I’m scheduled! The first, AI Meets SF, is scheduled for Friday, May 5 at 6:00 p.m. I’ve been on a number of panels that discussed science fictional stories about artificial intelligence. But this will be my first discussion primarily about the potential for AI to write science fiction.
On Saturday I’m set for two more, a back-to-back pair. Thank goodness, they’re in the same room! Starting at 2 p.m., the first addresses a topic very near to my heart, The Role of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Predicting and Shaping the Future. That one’s pretty self-explanatory, I think. The other also promises to be a meaty topic: Pandemics Through History and Their Effects on Literature.
Sunday wraps up with two more. And again, they’re scheduled back-to-back. The first starts at noon, which will be a stretch for me, especially on Sunday of the convention! The rooms are next door to each other, so that should help me make it to the second one on time. At noon we’ll discuss Gadgets in SF. This is where we’ll talk about ways writers can incorporate speculative tech into their stories without grinding the story to a halt while they deliver a data-dump to explain how it works. Then, at 1:00 p.m., we’ll discuss life forms we might encounter on the Final Frontier in Who Will We Meet in Space? Should be fun!
Our Biggest News for DemiCon 34
For the Gephardt household, the most important change at DemiCon 34will be our official presence in the Dealers Room. Not only will we have a Weird Sisters Publishing dealers table with all four of our books. We’ll also have a new member of the Gephardt clan at the con: my husband Pascal. My son Ty and I have traveled to sf cons for many years, while Pascal has always had obligations elsewhere.
But here’s the thing. Pascal is the lark among us night owls – the family’s Designated Morning Person. A lot of the Dealers Room schedule happens before 1:00 p.m., which means that someone has to be awake then to run it! Add to that the fact that he’s got years of experience traveling to art shows and Renaissance festivals with our friend Randal Spangler, and he was doomed to be drafted for this role!
All in all, things definitely will be different at DemiCon 34. But then, change is the most constant thing about our lives. I’d love to see you at the convention. If you can’t make it, I plan to publish a follow-up after we get back so you’ll know how it went. And here’s hoping one thing that doesn’t change is having a fun and creative weekend at another year’s DemiCon!
As for the photos of me at conventions through the decades: I don’t think I was ever sure who took the “historical documents” that show me at ConQuesT in 1985 and 2012, but I can identify my fellow panelists. In the 1985 photo they are L-R: Dell Harris, Ken Keller, me, and the late Roland Schmidt, my former co-teacher and a fantasy watercolorist. Might note that’s my calligraphy on the name cards, in an era before desktop printing made them easy to print.
For the fourth illustration, I am indebted to the authors, their publishers, or Amazon, for the cover images of our Kansas City Writer Friends’s books (see their embedded links in the text of this post). The design is mine.
Valentines and love are pretty inextricably bound together in our contemporary culture. But that connection wasn’t always understood in the same way. This post is part of a series of looks at holidays that have periodically appeared on “Artdog Adventures” and “The Weird Blog.” It will go live the day after Valentine’s Day, so it seems like a good time to consider the holiday.
Troubadours sang songs about love. But many marriages among the upper classes of that period were matches made for political advantage. Marriages usually were arranged between powerful families when the girls, and often also the boys, were small children. If love had anything to do with it, it was a side benefit, developing later.
However (and however many times) it began, the February 14 date became linked in North European cultural imaginations with a celebration of mate-finding. Observations persisted and evolved through the unfolding centuries. Valentines and love became more firmly linked as time went on.
By the time I finished high school in 1972, Valentines and (always heterosexual) love had long since been permanently linked with romance and marriage. But meanwhile the institution of marriage went through a lot of turmoil and cultural change. At my high school in a small town, “catching a husband” by getting pregnant was still a thing. Until a Planned Parenthood came to a nearby city, girls had to ask their parents to get them a prescription if they wanted to use “The Pill.” I don’t know of anyone who had the guts to ask.
The linkage of love and marriage that we were fed by popular culture when I was growing up held that once you were married, you’d found your “happily ever after.” Marriage was supposedly the magic key to “legal sex” and a happy life. But the institution was far from a straightforward thing when, for many of us, the legal line between partner and property (or at least second-class citizenship) remained blurry.
And then several waves of our parents’ marriages started coming apart at the seams after the divorce laws changed. The economy changed, too, and within a decade more and more women were commonly expected to work outside the home.
Valentines and Love and Spending Money
I finished college, taught for a couple of years, and then married my longtime boyfriend. By then it had become the “new reality” that a middle-class family needed two incomes to make ends meet. The income from the “wife’s job” somewhat made up for the fact that all salaries were falling ever-farther behind the cost of living.
But now we needed an ever-growing number of appliances and gadgets to help make up for not having a full-time stay-at-home person to cook, clean, and supply child care. A woman couldn’t do all of that the way her mother had, and also work full-time (the husband, help with housework? What??). Working Americans became ever more voracious consumers of nearly everything, from ready-made clothing to microwave ovens. Corollary to that evolution, Valentines Day became ever more expensive. Our contemporary focus on buying expensive gifts for our loved one has roots planted firmly in the United States (you’re welcome, World).
It’s become one of our biggest shopping days. Valentine’s Day spending in the US hit $23.9 billion (yes, that’s billion-with-a-B) in 2022. Every year we see articles on how to have a heartfelt Valentine’s Day without spending lots of money, but for many of us, Valentines and love mean spending big bucks, whether we have them or not.
Whose Love “Counts”?
Up till now, we’ve focused on North European and American ideas about Valentines and love that are pretty exclusively heterosexual (And middle-class. And white). But there are billions of people in this world, and Northern Hemisphere, white, middle-class heterosexuals make up only a tiny fraction of them. As Valentine’s Day has become more widely celebrated through the world, it has expanded well beyond its original expressions.
Singles who feel left out and demoralized by the holiday live among us. There’s a variety of healthy ways to cope with feelings of being left out, left behind, or erased on Valentine’s Day. Among them are celebrations of familial love, deep friendship, pet love, and more.
But there’s another whole rainbow of love in this world that in my opinion deserves equal treatment, both on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year. Included in their ranks are some of the most amazing, creative, wonderful people I know – and some of the most admirable examples of long-term commitment. Yet they aren’t feeling any love at all from certain conservative legislatures in my country (or from certain governments in others). I mean, of course, the whole range of what we call the LGBTQIA+ community. When we’re talking about Valentines and love, a narrow paradigm that’s stuck in Northern Hemisphere, white, middle-class, heterosexual love falls far too short.
Love is More than Valentines
When all is said and done, Valentine’s Day is only one day. It’s an annual opportunity to think about and value all the love that’s in your life. A day to reach out and express your love for others. And to receive love from them as well.
Too much focus on how much you spend, what gift(s) you were (or were not) given, or how someone made you feel rejected, is a warning that your perspective needs work. But working on your perspective is a worthy use of your time on Valentine’s Day.
Because self-reflection is a form of self-care. Dare I say it, of self-love. And until your core self is secure in the knowledge that you are a person of value who deserves love (which you are, and you do), you can’t truly love anyone else. So start with healthy self-love – then look outward.
Otherwise, any external show of Valentines and love just rings hollow.
Many thanks to Wikipedia, for the 19th century visualization of the medieval wedding. A scan by Laura Valentine of the book Aunt Louisa’s Nursery Favourite yielded the engraving, created 1 January 1870.
Thanks also to my friend, the author Rob Chilson, who called my attention to the New York Times article that featured the 19th century Valentines. The article discusses a collection from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. It yielded the two 3D Valentine pictures.
I’m a little over a week back from my last in-person science fiction convention. It truly was an Archon to enjoy. Archon 45 offered at least a little bit of everything I’ve come to love about sf “cons.”
The Archon Art show is always a highlight for me. Not only do I always make a point of showing my artwork in the show, but I also enjoy looking at the strong showing of excellent art that usually shows up.
I reserved two panels, and I think I made a pretty decent showing. Sold a couple of pieces, which is an accomplishment (paper sculpture is hard to price at sf con levels). Cat Conrad was this year’s Artist Guest of Honor. It was fun to see him, and chit-chat a bit. He and I have been friendly acquaintances for a long time.
But of all the artists in the show, I have to say I really thought Lucy A. Synk brought an unusually wonderful display. And that’s not just because about two-thirds of her panels featured artwork I commissioned.
it’s because there was an unusual quantity of gorgeous original oil, acrylic, and mixed-media paintings, and because several were impressively big. The show-stopper had to be her magnificent Oak Park Halloween painting, which I once blogged about. She also brought some of her mixed-media planetscapes, including the one that won an award at Chicon 8.
Of the “Rana Station” art, in addition to Jogging in Gaudí Park, First Responder, and Hildie, she also brought several “XK9 Portraits.” An all-around outstanding display! But don’t just take my word for it. She won Best of Show, Best Pro Artist, and tied with other artists for Fan’s Choice in the voting at Archon.
Panels and Fellow Panelists
For me, a highlight of any science fiction convention is attending panels. In that way, too, it was an Archon to enjoy. I had a fun and lively group of artists, both in the audience (including Rachael Mayo, the ultimate word on dragons) and on the panel for “Do People Still Like Dragons?” Brent Chumley, Allison Stein, and Lucy A. Synk officially joined me on the panel. It was mostly about the current state of the art market for fantasy & sf artists. But we quickly established that yes, people do still not just like, but love dragons. They are in no danger of going away.
I got to be the moderator for all of the panels I was on, which I very much enjoy. I like being able to make sure that the audience is involved and able to ask questions. And after a career in teaching I know how to balance out the speakers so everyone gets a turn.
Maintaining balance (and keeping the conversation mostly in English laymen could understand) was my primary challenge for the “Current and Future A.I.” panel! My co-panelists, Bryce Meyer and Jack Glassman are experts in the field, whom I’ve had the pleasure of moderating before. Both are brilliant – and very enthusiastic. They love above all else to talk about their field. But they’re also respectful, and they take a cue pretty well.
A Great Note-Taker for a Co-Panelist
The downside of being the moderator is that it’s very difficult to take notes. We had a wide-ranging conversation at the panel titled, “Children’s Cartoons and the Adult Viewer.” My family and I have enjoyed a number of these shows, such as Inside Job, Lower Decks, Centaurworld, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and The Owl House. My co-panelists were Nick Butcher, Rhiannon Gonzalez, and Matthew Edward Munro. They brought ideas and reactions about a range of other shows. So did several well-versed audience members. The conversation included straight-up Anime shows and game tie-ins, as well – but unfortunately I can’t tell you their titles.
As the moderator I also couldn’t take notes on “Best Indie Authors of Science Fiction & Fantasy,” either. But fortunately, I didn’t have to! Co-panelist and the other author on the panel, Rachel Neumeiernot only took great notes, she turned them into a blog post! For my list, I drew heavily on a post I’d written last year, “Indie Women of Science Fiction.” You’ll see that list included in Rachel’s post, but my write-up expands a bit more on each author, so both might interest you.
I don’t believe Rachel mentioned Jerry Boyd, however. He’s the creator of the “Bob and Nikki” series (now up to 28 titles) Two of our fellow panelists, Cheryl Medley and Linda Wyatt were not writers, but avid readers, who like to specialize in Indie writers for several reasons. Cheryl wore a “Bob’s Saucer Repair” T-shirt (the title of “Bob & Nikki Book 1”) to the panel, but did complain that Jerry had failed to put his name on it anywhere!
I always like to do a reading at science fiction conventions I attend – and I also love to go to readings, as anyone who’s followed my blog for a while can attest. Over the years I’ve written about authors’ readings at DemiCon, ConQuesT, several at SoonerCon, at Worldcons, the NASFiC SpikeCon, FenCon, and of course, at Archon. Having a chance to share my work with fans was guaranteed to help make this an Archon to enjoy!
This year, however, I didn’t have much advance-time to publicize my reading at the convention itself. It was set for the very first night on the con. So I used social media beforehand, to alert people. It must’ve worked! Most of the people who came were there for my reading. I was originally set to read with D. A. Robertsand Elizabeth Donald, but Roberts had to cancel his attendance.
I had therefore planned to read a slightly longer selection (essentially Chapter Two of Bone of Contention– I’d read Chapter One last year, and several of my listeners were there last year, too). But we ran into technical difficulties that made us run late, and I didn’t have time to read all of mine. I plan to serialize it, plus the next several chapters after that, for my Newsletter subscribers in coming months, however (in case you’re curious).
Elizabeth was able to read all of hers, though! It was a wonderful short story called “Sisyphus,” from her Setting Sunsanthology.
Hollingsworth and Weird in the Dealers Room
I wrote quite a bit in my post just before Archon this year about my pre-con publicity, my special banner and table-cover, and my plans for sharing a dealers table with Aaron Hollingsworth. Most of those plans worked out pretty well.
I especially liked the chance to share Chapter One of my book What’s Bred in the Bonewith prospective readers via a QR Code. A surprising number of people took a postcard, planning to read Chapter One that night and, if they liked it, come back the next day. Imagine my delight when they actually came back the next day to buy books! That definitely made it an Archon to enjoy!
I had a new toy, this time, a Square Terminal. It made things a whole lot easier. And it even prints out a paper receipt! I think exactly one person asked for one, but still! It has Weird Sisters Publishing’s logo on it and everything. Pretty nifty.
An Archon to Enjoy – And I’m Already Looking Forward to the Next!
My Archon experience was good enough (and made enough money for me) to decide that Weird Sisters Publishing will have a dealers table from now on. Next spring, when the conventions start up again, I’ll actually have more titles (though people will have to wait a bit longer for Bone of Contention).
We plan to sell my sister’s two Deep Ellumstories as a single printed book, titled Deep Ellum Duo. We’ll also have print editions of the four novels in my late brother-in-law Warren Norwood’sWindhover Tetralogy. We’ll release all of these books this winter, so stand by for further updates on that!
All in all, as you probably have gathered, it was totally an Archon to enjoy. I’m already looking forward to next year!
Some of the photos and illustrations I’ve used here have also turned up in other posts or on social media. Anything not credited is a photo or montage of photos that I took and assembled. I assembled the other montages, too, but the images in them have several sources.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 Contentionthat 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!
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 ofWhat’s Bred in the Bone and added it to the label on my postcards that I give out at the convention.
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.
Sometimes a creative person “takes dictation from God” (or the muse, or whatever divine inspiration you want to evoke). That’s when the flow is strong and all the words, strokes, notes, or steps come out just right. Other times we are like gleaners coming into a field after the harvesters have been there. That’s when we find ourselves scrambling to find bits and pieces of inspiration.
For the past few days I’ve been in the “scrambling gleaners” group. All over the place mentally. With lots of disparate “input” coming my way. The bits and pieces of inspiration are like little sparkling jewels scattered through deep straw. They’re there. But what do they mean? How can I bring them together into some kind of a “whole” that works?
Bits and Pieces
A great example of “bits and pieces of inspiration” lurks in my studio. They are paper sculpture projects I started years earlier but for various reasons couldn’t figure out how to finish. These are not “failed projects,” mind you. They just have to wait to be rediscovered at an opportune moment.
You see, when it comes to creative projects, I follow the adage “never throw anything away.” This drives my “neatnik” son crazy sometimes. But I’ve learned the hard way. About the time I think I’m never going to need something, a serendipitous idea tends to happen along. All at once, it’s the perfect “writing prompt” for the next scene. Or it’s a handy piece of already-drawn, colored, sculpted, and assembled artwork to match with this other thing that didn’t work with the original concept.
For a long time I’d had a concept of trying to create a circular composition with dragons in midair. I tried several sketches and they just didn’t please me. Nothing looked quite right to me. Finally in 2014 I got a “leaping dragon” on a circular trajectory that I liked. But when I tried to do a “reflected” version of that sketch for the “other half” of the draconian air-circle, it didn’t work. They were awkward with each other. Their tails didn’t fit. It was just bad.
I needed a different dragon. Tracing paper overlays and more frustration followed. I did “dragon variations” on the first design for other purposes. I sculpted it in larger and smaller sizes and made it different colors. Created Koi-patterned approaches. Painted it with iridescent paint before I cut and sculpted it. Most of those experiments sold within a few showings, so people must’ve found them interesting. But I wasn’t satisfied.
Sometimes it Works, Sometimes it Doesn’t
Of course, I was working on other artwork during this time, as well as writing (and repeatedly rewriting) the manuscript that eventually became What’s Bred in the Bone. That was also the period when I designed Coming Through! and Common Cliff Dragon – Male. Both of those worked exactly as originally designed. Why couldn’t all of my pieces do that?
Because they don’t, that’s why. Sometime in 2016 I finally drew a second dragon that I thought really interacted well with the first. I’d at last managed a good “Yang” to the first dragons “Ying.” They didn’t look like they were fighting, though, so I scrapped that thought. By this time it was 2016, and there was plenty of other strife in the world. But they still needed a background. They couldn’t just do their love-dance in a void. They needed context.
Picking Through the Bits and Pieces of Inspiration
So I started digging through the boxes and bins of “parts” in my studio. I’d been doing paper sculpture for quite a while by then. It took going through various phases before I kind of “found myself.” That process had left behind lots of bits and pieces. And when I say “lots” I do mean LOTS.
These bits and pieces of “art parts” vary in style and polish of execution. Some just don’t go together. Some ideas occur to me as a single composition that’s all one drawing. An example of that? Common Cliff Dragon – Male. (The linked blog post goes into greater detail than I can here). It’s made of several pieces, but I did a “base drawing” then made overlays for the parts that needed to be executed separately.
That “needed to be executed separately” part is the thing that all too often gets me into trouble. When I try to bring several pieces that I made separately together into one composition I sometimes discover that I’ve gauged the scale slightly wrong. Or I’ve unintentionally varied the styles. Or maybe the pieces just “fight” with each other visually.
Chaos Waiting for Order
When the “art parts” don’t play nice with each other, they go into my holding boxes with the other quarrelsome bits and pieces. I’m not planning to stop making paper sculpture anytime soon, and I’m a patient woman. I mean, seriously. If I were an impatient artist I’d be making some other style of art!
So I put them in a box with some of their other troublesome cousins, and I keep cooking up new things. Or new combinations of old things. Take the pair of brand-new originals I debuted at Chicon 8 last week. Both are the result of “voyages of discovery” through the bits and pieces that hadn’t worked all that well in earlier combinations. Or they did work well, but that piece came together, was sold, and I’d thought it was completed. In this case, I found a background in my files that offered interesting potential. Here’s how the “variations” came out.
Love in the Storm
Remember the “Tale of Two Dragons,” above? When I left off in that story, I finally had a dragon pair that I liked, but not a background. What to do? Seeking inspiration, I went back through my bits and pieces. Eventually I found a “crashing wave” that looked promising. It hadn’t worked out as the background of an earlier piece, but I figured I might need it sometime. For something.
Well, that might work, I thought. So I made three copies of it and went to work. With a little cutting and fitting, it created a great background (in my opinion) for my “air-circle” dragons. I stepped back, lived with it for a while, and realized the waves formed a sort of a heart-shape. Woot! Serendipity won the day! That’s the origin-story for Love in the Storm, now a steadily-selling limited edition of multiple originals.
Bits and Pieces of Inspiration
I look upon my boxes and bins of “art parts” as bits and pieces of inspiration. They continue to yield up treasures from time to time, although sometimes it takes years. I’ll give you another example, The Silver Lady Appears.
I started with a set of Alhambra-inspired columns in 2012 and tried a bunch of ideas and combinations that didn’t work. No matter what I did with it, it looked like a stage-set waiting for the actors. Probably close to a dozen ideas “auditioned” on that stage. Nope. Nada. Nothing.
Nothing, that is, until I found a way to paper-sculpt and assemble acid-free tracing paper. Then the Silver Lady materialized on the stage that had been waiting more than half a decade for her. And at that point the piece came right together.
After all that, you probably know what kind of advice I’m going to offer to anyone who’s involved in a creative pursuit in any field. However you do it, be it in a journal, digital files, or half-a-dozen bins of “art parts,” don’t throw away your “didn’t quite work” ideas. You never know when your next project might need some of those bits and pieces of inspiration!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 asmy 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.
Meet My “Bad Bards and Beyond” Table-Mates
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.
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.
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!
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!
When faced with the fact that an old tactic doesn’t work, it’s time to try something new. That was the choice that confronted me when I started this “sf convention season.” My son Tyrell E. Gephardt and I typically attend 6-8 sf conventions in a normal year.
Because I don’t have a lot of different books available to sell in paperback format, I haven’t seriously considered setting up at a dealers table. I also don’t “do mornings” gracefully, because of my habitual “Graveyard Shift” work schedule (fewer interruptions then). Before the Pandemic, I normally could find a general bookseller with a table full of traditionally- and Indie-published authors’ work. They often were willing to set up an “on-commission” deal.
But that was then. Now it seems that the only people selling books in dealers rooms are Indies and author groups selling their own work. A changing market landscape meant it was time to try something new.
A Pair of Friends in Need
Especially since ConQuesT is my “home con,” I was able to ask around and soon found a friend, M. C. Chambers, who was planning to have a dealers table there. She and another friend, Karin Rita Gastreich, had already agreed to share a couple of tables. When I asked, they graciously invited me to join them. Time to try something new!
You already met my table-mates if you read last week’s blog post, but a brief re-cap is in order in case you didn’t.
M. C. Chambers
I first met Mary through KaCSFFS, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. She just looked like an interesting person from the get-go, and we hit it off right away. 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. She sold copies of several anthologies that contain her stories, as well as the novel.
I’ve previously remarked that the “sf con circuit” is like a small, traveling community. This weekend I discovered that folks in the dealers room are even more of a close-knit “village.” When I showed up at a table for the first time, a number of longtime friends made a point of welcoming me to a whole new level of the community.
Two of the longtime friends who deserve special notice for a warm welcome are author Dennis Young and Zac Zacarola, whose “Wall of Doom” has been a popular fixture of Midwestern dealers rooms for years.
I met the prolific writer Dennis Young(a Kansas-City-area “local”) at ConQuesT a few years ago. The first time I remember talking with him about writing was when he was a fellow panelist on one of the first writing panels I ever dared to join. Known for decades in fandom as an artist, I had not yet published What’s Bred in the Bone. It still felt audacious to call myself a writer. A teacher and mentor by nature, Dennis warmly encouraged me. To this day, he still does. Most recently he’s offered encouragement to become a dealers room “regular.”
As I recall, when we were on that early panel he was about 3 books into his fantasy Ardwellian ChroniclesSeries (it now numbers six books and has a new set of covers). Since then, he’s branched out in many other directions and offers collections set in several universes. They include his Mercenary Trilogy, the Bloodlinesduo, and the three-book Earthfleet Saga. With an ever fertile imagination, he also has a whole array of other newideas in varied stages of progress.
I’ve known Zac long enough that this actually is not the first time I’ve written a blog post that includes a feature about him. Trained as an analytical chemist, he’s worked in in Nuclear Power (Commercial & Naval Reactors) since January, 1980. Indeed, he worked at Cooper Nuclear Station in Chemistry for almost 22 years. Since 2008, he has strictly worked in the Environmental Group, with Chemistry. But he’s best known in fandom as the proprietor of Ziggy’s West.
I had not regularly frequented dealers rooms for a while. My last few conventions, both before the Pandemic and in recent months, have kept me hopping between programming items. About the time I’d get a break, the Art Show and Dealers Room were either about to close or had closed. If either was still open, I usually opted for the Art Show, to see if I or friends had gotten any bids.
Richard E. Friesen’s banner and cover art may have been the thing that drew me across the aisle, but the guy manning that table at the time was his friend Peter Sartucci, whose covers were done by a different, but also very accomplished artist, Claire Peacey.
We struck up a conversation. Both Peter and Richard are from Colorado. Like Mary, Karin, and me, they had decided to team up and share a dealers table. If you’d like to try something new, you might want to check out some of their work. Here’s Peter’s Amazon author page, and here’s Richard’s.
After the Dealers Room officially closed Friday night, the Art Show stayed open a little longer so dealers could get a chance to see it (Thank you, Mikah McCullough!). Peter and I toured the show together. I was able to show him my paper sculpture and tell him a little about the background of nearly every artist in the show (most of whom are my friends). Check back in next week for my Art Show post!
Did it Pay to Try Something New?
Since this was my first dealers table, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Did I sell well? Depends on how you define “well.” I know I sold almost all the books I had, and that’s a heck of a lot better than I normally do selling books out of my rolling luggage “traveling show” after a reading or panel.
Likewise, while Karin and Mary weren’t so rushed they couldn’t keep up, both sold many books, and Mary sold out of one title. She said she’d never sold this well as a “solo” act. We hypothesized that with three of us we had more variety to offer, and perhaps that appealed to people.
We also probably benefitted from the fact that people have been on lockdown for the past two-and-counting years. They’ve been unable to go to sf cons all that time, unable to buy art or books or anything from our speculative genres in person – so some of it might be “making up for lost time.” But whatever caused us to do well, I’m glad I decided to try something new!