Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Category: Artdog Studio Features Page 1 of 49

On this multicolored square design the artist has grouped all eight of the covers for the books in the two posts covered in the “Artdog Adventures” Blog’s digest post that summarizes two posts filled with book reviews from The Weird Blog of Weird Sisters Publishing. In the left part of the design she grouped the five covers for the “Old Code” series by Anthony W. Eichenlaub. They are “Grandfather Anonymous,” “Grandfather Ghost,” “Grandfather Guardian,” “Grandfather Zero,” and “Grandfather Crypto.” In the right-hand part of the design are the three graphic books’ covers. They are The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts,” “The Book Tour,” “Fangs,” and “The Book Tour.” Below the grouped covers, the words say, “Covers Courtesy of Amazon.com.

More Book Reviews

I promised to return with more book reviews in March. With my time as crunched as it has been lately, I’ve started creating a monthly review of the posts I ran on The Weird Blog of Weird Sisters Publishing. Yes, it’s an aggregation and not completely original, but I hope you’ll enjoy my “digest” posts in lieu of no posts at all.

On a square black cover with a pale peach center, the book covers for “Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts,” “The Book Tour,” and “Fangs” span the center, slightly offset from each other.
Book covers courtesy of Amazon. See Credits below.

I Hope You Give Graphic Books a Closer Look

I began the month’s posts by highlighting Three Graphic Books Worth a Look. The category name might make someone unfamiliar with it to worry about explicit sexual content or extreme violence, but don’t worry. They’re not that kind of “graphic.”

The three graphic books I reviewed in that post cover a wide range of subjects and approaches. I hope they demonstrate how very much graphic books do not inevitably have to be “just comic books” – and they are definitely not intellectually simple.

But wait! There are more book reviews to come!

The five covers of the books in the “Old Code” series, by Anthony W. Eichenlaub, are arrayed across this square image in two rows. On the upper row, L-R. are the covers of “Grandfather Anonymous,” “Grandfather Ghost,” and “Grandfather Guardian.” On the lower row, L-R, are the covers of “Grandfather Zero” and “Grandfather Crypto.” The covers are monochromatic blue, turquoise, or purple. A single slender man with a hat and cane anchors the first three covers. He is joined by a young woman in the latter two. All covers are courtesy of Amazon.com.
Book covers courtesy of Amazon. See Credits below.

The Old Code Series Makes for Excellent Reading

I discovered the first book in this series, Grandfather Anonymous, through a BookBub newsletterlisting. It sounded interesting and they were practically giving it away, so I thought, “why not?” I don’t normally find “hacker” stories all that intrinsically interesting. But I’m an old gal who hopes she still has her skills, so the idea of an old guy who still has his skills was personally appealing.

Within the first page I was engaged, and the quality of the reading experience in these techno-thrillers remained consistent throughout. I’m glad I found this series for many reasons – but the most fundamental of them is that the Old Code series delivers the goods from start to finish.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of reviews, and I hope maybe you’ll even look around for a copy of one or more of them.

On this multicolored square design the artist has grouped all eight of the covers for the books in the two posts covered in the “Artdog Adventures” Blog’s digest post that summarizes two posts filled with book reviews from The Weird Blog of Weird Sisters Publishing. In the left part of the design she grouped the five covers for the “Old Code” series by Anthony W. Eichenlaub. They are “Grandfather Anonymous,” “Grandfather Ghost,” “Grandfather Guardian,” “Grandfather Zero,” and “Grandfather Crypto.” In the right-hand part of the design are the three graphic books’ covers. They are The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts,” “The Book Tour,” “Fangs,” and “The Book Tour.” Below the grouped covers, the words say, “Covers Courtesy of Amazon.com.
Book covers courtesy of Amazon. See Credits below.

I hope you enjoy the reviews in the linked posts, and that you’ll buy (or borrow from your local library) any that you think look interesting. Please feel free to comment below if you’ve read any previously (and agree or disagree). And please let me know if you’d like to see more book reviews!

About the Author

Author Jan S. Gephardt is an artist whose first love is line art, and a longtime science fiction reader. Thus, the books highlighted in this post and the two linked posts were all right up her alley. She’s also a science fiction novelist, the author of the XK9 Series, including the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The third book in the trilogy, Bone of Contention, is set for release September 24, 2024. A fourth book, Bones for the Children will extend the series past the trilogy and is now in the works.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Amazon for the book covers used in all the graphics for this post. The specific links for the first collection of three graphic books are: Fangs, The Book Tour, and Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts.

I also want to thank Amazon for the “Old Code” cover images, which represent the ebook covers for this series. See Grandfather Anonymous, Grandfather Ghost, Grandfather Guardian, Grandfather Zero, and Grandfather Crypto.

Header images for the three Weird Blog articles described in this post show book covers for nonfiction books "Sedition Hunters" by Ryan J. Reilly, "Burnout," by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, and "Why Does my Cat Do that?" by Catherine Davidson; a design by Erin Phillips that says, “Feed an author. Leave a Review. It takes five minutes and helps more than you can imagine. (from) Erin Phillips.me.”; and a montage of four covers representing books by two authors: By Jodi Burnett, "Extraction" and "Corruption." By Travis Baldree, "Legends & Lattes" and "Bookshops & Bonedust."

Recent Posts on The Weird Blog

The realities of SEO searchability have forced a change in how I’ve handled recent posts on The Weird Blog and here on Artdog Adventures. Unfortunately, Artdog got the shorter, messier end of that stick.

This blog, however, has been my “home blog” for a long time. I want to keep it current for the moments when my opinion pieces are a bit too “political” for my partner! 😊 And I’d like to keep you better in the loop, if you’re a loyal subscriber. To that end, I thought you might like some glimpses of recent posts on The Weird Blog that I am no longer able to share in full here.

This square image has a black background. The words are at the center, surrounded by a design of stars and dots. The words say, “Feed an author. Leave a Review. It takes five minutes and helps more than you can imagine. (from) Erin Phillips.me.”
Courtesy of Erin Phillips via Rebecca’s Write Inspirations (see Credits below).

Recent Book Reviews

I figured out what my New Year’s Resolution needed to be when I looked back over my recent book reviews from 2023. I only wrote eleven! Book reviews are essential for authors, so I decided that I must do better than that, if I’m going to ask my own readers to write reviews for me. Since I am reading many things every day, whether it’s fiction or fact, I have no excuse. Here’s how I formed my resolution to write more reviews.

This square image shows the covers of the three books featured in the blog post “Three Nonfiction Book Reviews,” by Jan S. Gephardt, published on “The Weird Blog,” 1/17/2024. The covers, L-R are those of: Ryan J. Reilly’s book “Sedition Hunters: How January 6th Broke the Justice System,” “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle” by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski DMA, and Catherine Davidson’s book “Why does my CAT do that? Answers to 50 Questions Cat Lovers Ask,” on a background that is a blend of the covers’ colors. Montage design by Jan S. Gephardt.
See Credits Below.

Three Nonfiction Book Reviews

In my first January post, I talked about book reviews that I have (and more importantly have not) written in 2023. At the end of that post I made writing more book reviews a New Year’s resolution. This post is my first installment toward making good on that resolution. In it I share three nonfiction book reviews, written either in 2023 or – a true start on my resolution – in 2024.

The covers of the four books reviewed in the blog post overlap each other slightly in a grouping around the central area of this square montage. The books represented are upper and lower left, “Extraction” and “Corruption,” both by Jodi Burnett. At upper and lower right are “Legends & Lattes” and “Bookshops & Bonedust,” by Travis Baldree.
Cover images courtesy of Amazon. (See Credits below).

A Post Full of Page-Turners

Rounding out my list of recent posts on The Weird Blog, how about a post full of page-turners? Book reviews have been the theme of the month. But fiction is my particular wheelhouse, and it’s the core business of Weird Sisters Publishing. So how about some fiction reviews? But not just any fiction. As promised above, it’s a post full of page-turners.

Header images for the three Weird Blog articles described in this post show book covers for nonfiction books "Sedition Hunters" by Ryan J. Reilly, "Burnout," by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, and "Why Does my Cat Do that?" by Catherine Davidson; a design by Erin Phillips that says, “Feed an author. Leave a Review. It takes five minutes and helps more than you can imagine. (from) Erin Phillips.me.”; and a montage of four covers representing books by two authors: By Jodi Burnett, "Extraction" and "Corruption." By Travis Baldree, "Legends & Lattes" and "Bookshops & Bonedust."
See Credits Below.

A Month of Book Reviews – Next up, Artists!

There were three recent posts on The Weird Blog for January, because there were three Wednesdays. I’ll post more book reviews and also share the links to them here in future months. In February I plan move on to a different theme, one that might be closer to the “home turf” of Artdog Adventures: profiles of fantasy and science fiction artists whose work I admired at science fiction conventions during 2023.

About the Author

I, Jan S. Gephardt, have been writing this blog since 2009. Since I don’t want to let it die of neglect, I still plan to come around as often as I can to post new things and keep readers up-to-date with recent posts we’ve run on The Weird Blog. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s the best I can do right now.

I’m also a novelist, as well as being a paper sculptor. I’m currently in final edits on Bone of Contention,the third novel in my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The series centers on a pack of uplifted police dogs who live, and solve crimes, on a space station in a star system far, far away. It is scheduled for publication September 24, 2024.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Designer Erin Phillips and Rebecca’s Write Inspirations for the “Feed an Author” quote. Thanks to Amazon for the book covers used in second image, Sedition Hunters, Burnout, and Why Does My Cat Do That? And ongoing thanks to Amazon once again, for consistently high-quality cover image files! Here are direct URLs to the sources for Extraction, Corruption, Legends & Lattes, and Bookshops & Bonedust.

“There is no better distraction in this world than losing oneself in books for awhile.” — Cassandra Clare Thank you, Quotefancy.

Due a Review

By Jan S. Gephardt

I’ve been reading some very enjoyable books recently. They really are due a review. I’m an Indie author myself. Co-publishing out of a micro-press I run with my sister counts as “indie,” trust me. Thus, I know how vitally important reviews are. But frankly, reviews are important to all writers, whether indie or traditionally published.

Every single review posted by an individual reader tells the world that this author wrote a book someone felt moved to write about. It’s “social proof” that YES! Somebody out there not only read this book, but wanted to tell the world something about it. It’s the absolute, A-Number-One, hands-down, best gift you can give an author whose work you enjoy.

Reviews have the power to move algorithms, those arcane formulations that dictate which books turn up first in the recommendations a reader searching for new books sees. They also can provide an author with authentic voices to quote in their marketing efforts. Do you write reviews? Do you give star-ratings when you finish a book? If you do, God bless you!

This image is created from two square-shaped images. The one on the left features a drone’s-eye-view of an old-fashioned black manual typewriter on a white background. The words say, “Your words are as important to an author as an author’s words are to you. Please leave a review. Katieroseguestpryal.com.” on the left is a predominantly black design with white, gold and tan dots around the edges. In the middle it says, “Feed an author LEAVE A REVIEW it takes five minutes and helps more than you can IMAGINE. ErinPhillips.me.”
Many thanks for these images to Katie Rose Guest Pryal and Erin Phillips, via Rebecca’s Write Inspirations.

A Lengthening List of Books that are Due a Review!

I “preach the gospel” of review-writing, but all too often I vow, “I’ve got to write a review for this! . . . Um, just as soon as I can.” And then “as soon as” stretches on for way too long. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “Justice delayed is justice denied”? Well, that goes for book reviews, too.

I realized recently that I’ve accumulated a rather long list of books I deeply enjoyed, that are still due a review. In the interest of making good on some of those mental promises – and also amplifying their reach a bit more by sharing them here, I thought I’d collect four in this blog post.

When I do finally get around to writing reviews, I customarily write them using the online forms provided by Amazon or Goodreads, and make sure I post to both. If one is writing a review anyway, why not extend the book’s visibility as much as you can? Another good thing to do, while we’re on Goodreads, is add a book to one of their Listopia lists. Not sure how to do that? They publish a guide.

The cover for “Poison Pen,” Book One at left, is a predominantly blue view of an almost implausibly empty street in Los Angeles, with strong one-point perspective that pulls the eye in. From top to bottom, the words say, “’Dynamite’ – Starred review – Publisher’s Weekly Sheila Lowe. Poison Pen, a Claudia Rose Novel.” At right, the two-tone cover in greenish gray and brown also shows an empty road in one-point perspective, this time in the Nevada desert. From top to bottom, the words say, “Top Ten List, Independent Mystery Booksellers Assoc. Sheila Lowe Written in Blood A Claudia Rose Novel.”
Many thanks to Goodreads for these cover images.

Sheila Lowe’s “Forensic Handwriting” Mystery Series

Let’s start with the “Forensic Handwriting” (also called the “Claudia Rose Novels”) mystery series by Sheila Lowe. I saw this author mentioned in the acknowledgements of a recent Margaret Mizushima novel, Standing Dead (Timber Creek # 8), and I was intrigued with a forensic handwriting angle for a mystery novel. That’s what led me to look it up. I’m glad I did.

Longer-term readers of this blog might remember I have featured work by Margaret Mizushima before. Back in 2021 I included her Timber Creek K9 series in my post on K9 Mysteries. I recommended the series back then, and I still do. It just keeps getting better! Speaking of which, Margaret also is due a review (actually, several) from me! But first let’s turn to Claudia Rose.

Twists, Turns, Smoke, and Mirrors With a Heart-Pounding Finish

Poison Pen, Book One of the “Forensic Handwriting” mystery series, opens with an interesting situation and kept me engaged all the way through till the end. It’s extremely well-written, and paced to keep readers turning pages. Claudia Rose has a unique approach to the world and makes an engaging protagonist. Her friends and frenemies also come across as three-dimensional, sympathetic, and distinctly quirky people.

Author Shelia Lowe deftly balances character strengths and weaknesses and offers us a lively array of suspects and questionable motives. Set in LA and focused mostly on the high-stakes, high-glamour, highly competitive world of the almost-famous who orbit the Hollywood scene, this book evokes a richly textured world as colorful and quirky as the cast of characters.

Lowe has us double-and triple guessing about “What is real?” and “Who can we trust?” But make no mistake, the twists, turns, smoke, and mirrors lead us into a heart-pounding final sequence that’s hard to put down–and delivers a deeply satisfying finish.

“There is no better distraction in this world than losing oneself in books for awhile.” — Cassandra Clare
Thank you, Quotefancy.

The Action Never Lets up and the Pages Demand to be Turned

Once I find a series I enjoy, I tend to follow it for a while. There’s a special delight in returning to a world and a group of characters I liked, to see what they’re up to now. In Written in Blood, Claudia Rose faces new challenges and a new set of enemies, while trying to navigate a relationship we saw begin in the first book. In this one, we spend less time navigating the desperate glamour of second-tier Hollywood than we did in the previous novel. Instead, we tighten our focus to an exclusive Los Angeles school for troubled rich girls. But if anything, the stakes are even higher.

One note: This book was published in 2008, and I kept noticing little time-warps: teenagers went to malls, back then. Marijuana laws in California have radically changed. Technology back then was different, too. As with many long-running series, little “period” things crop up. That said, it didn’t spoil my fun one bit.

Once again, Claudia’s skill with forensic handwriting helps her navigate the treacherous rip-tides of “Who is lying?” and “What is this person’s potential to harm others?” But even she isn’t infallible. The action never lets up and the pages demand to be turned–all the way to the breathtaking finish.

Covers for the first two books in the Coyote Run series. At left is a predominantly blue and green cover of a young woman and a Belgian Malinois dog looking across a northern California landscape. From top to bottom it says: “Coyote Run Book One. “Acosta’s talent is staggering.” – RT Magazine. The Dog Thief. Marta Acosta.” The second, mostly green cover shows the young woman and a German Shorthaired Pointer gazing into the woods. From top to bottom, it reads: “Coyote Run Book Two. Mad Dog Down the Road. Marta Acosta.”
Thanks for these cover images, Marta Acosta!

Marta Acosta’s Coyote Run Books

My sister G. S. Norwood recommended the first book in this series. She knew I’d enjoy the focus and analysis of dog behavior, which is quite important in my own XK9 science fiction mystery novels.

About a third of the way into the first book, The Dog Thief, I felt certain my daughter would enjoy it, too – so I bought her a copy for her birthday. And clearly, this is another that’s due a review! If you like unusual perspectives, love dogs, and appreciate a good mystery, you might enjoy this series, too.

A Unique Protagonist Keeps Us Engaged All the Way

Dog rehabilitator Maddie Whitney appealed to me from moment she told a woman to take off her scarf because it scared the animals. It’s clear from the very first page that Maddie has a markedly different perspective on life. I enjoyed simply inhabiting the world as she sees it. But Marta Acosta’s fast-paced mystery The Dog Thief also is peopled by many other interesting characters and challenges.

Maddie’s neurodivergent quirks and issues plunge us into a fascinating way of interfacing with the world. As we inhabit Maddie’s point of view via the brilliant evocation Acosta sustains throughout, we grow in understanding. We get why she likes dogs better than people, and how some of her behaviors make perfect sense to her – even as we understand why others react as they do.

She’s facing a lot of stress, even before she finds the dead woman in her neighbor’s field. Money issues threaten the Whitney Canine Rehabilitation Center, and she’s heartbroken over a recent breakup. Even more misunderstood in her Northern California hometown of Coyote Run than some of the hard-luck dogs she champions, she hangs in there. She’s true to herself. And in her own unique way she bridges divides, finds new love in an unlikely place, and outsmarts a desperate killer who’s hiding in plain sight.

"To lose yourself in a book is the desire of the bookworm. I mean to be taken. That is my desire."  — Fran Lebowitz
Thank you, AZ Quotes!

A One-of-a-Kind Viewpoint and more Acosta Magic

Maddie’s back, along with the other colorful range of human and canine denizens in Coyote Run for Mad Dog Down the Road. This time it’s summer, and our favorite “Mad Girl” is struggling to make her way without younger sister Kenzie around to provide her accustomed guardrails. As ever, her neurodivergent quirks give her a one-of-a-kind viewpoint on priorities.

But once she’s locked on to the sad case of the torn-up “bait dog” tossed out like roadside trash by a dog-fighting operation, she’s found a new obsession for her whiteboards and indignation. She’ll also decry a new local guru’s adult, pajama-clad “summer campers” who set off fireworks in mid-July despite prime conditions for a bad fire season. And don’t even get her started on the new deputy.

Then a local fisherman dies in a suspicious boat explosion, and her new dog Vixen finds a grisly, inexplicable “clue” that doesn’t seem to fit. Soon she’s hip-deep in all the mysteries, and unwittingly setting herself up for the most dangerous night of her life. This is typically superb Acosta magic. I didn’t want to put it down.

“A book you finish reading is not the same book it was before you read it.” — David Mitchell
Thanks again, Quotefancy!

When We Read a Book We Complete It

As with all works of art, when we listen, view, and react to it, only then is the creative circle complete. And I would argue that part of reacting to it is writing a review, if possible. The ones I’ve written and shared in this blog post are around 180 to 250 words long, but if you can boil it down to one sentence, it still counts – as long as you share it.

I can think of a bunch more great books that are due a review from me. I hope to share some of them in future blog posts. I’d prefer to collect them in groups for which I can establish a theme, just as I’d say “unusual angles on contemporary mysteries” is how I’d group those in today’s post.

I hope today’s blog post has given you a lead on a couple of interesting series, and maybe also pricked your conscience (as it did mine!). Because if you’ve read this far, I bet you’re the kind of person who loves to read interesting books. And perhaps some of them are also due a review.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Katie Rose Guest Pryal and Erin Phillips, via Rebecca’s Write Inspirations for the visual thoughts on the value of a book review. I’m grateful to Goodreads for providing a prime forum for posting those all-important reviews, and also for providing the cover images for Sheila Lowe’s books. Many thanks to Quotefancy for the illustrated quotes by Cassandra Clare and David Mitchell. Thank you, Marta Acosta, for the cover images for your two books. And it wouldn’t do to ignore AZ Quotes, with gratitude for the excellent words from Fran Lebowitz. Thank you all! It would be a far less visually interesting post without those images!

“The shortest day—the longest darkness—takes place in a cold season when everything lies fallow. In the earliest ages, it was a time of privation, often of hunger, of death. A sort of nadir for the year.” – From “Berwyn’s Solstice Story,” in “A Bone to Pick” ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. The words appear against a black background. At lower left, a single red candle burns in a darkened environment sprinkled with small red holiday lights among a drift of sparkly red confetti.

Berwyn’s Solstice Story

By Jan S. Gephardt

I hope you’ll enjoy something a little different for today’s blog post, Berwyn’s Solstice Story. This post goes live on the exact day of the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere where this blog, Artdog Studio, and Weird Sisters Publishing are based. So it seemed an appropriate time to share it.

This excerpt comes near the end of A Bone to Pick, the second novel of my science fiction mystery XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. It is ©2021-22 by Jan S. Gephardt (aka: Me), so please don’t borrow it without attribution or claim it as your own work! Fair warning: I have edited it slightly from the book version in a few places. I did it to make a few references clearer and take out a couple of spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet.

The viewpoint character is the Trilogy’s protagonist, Rex Dieter-Nell. He is an XK9, an uplifted (human-level intelligence) police dog. He, his Pack of nine other XK9s, and their human (detective) partners live on a large space station in another star system from ours, several hundred years in the future. It’s their job to track down the mass murderers who blew up a ship that had been docked in their jurisdiction’s part of the Rana Station space docks.

XK9 Pack portrait “Head Shot” illustrations for Razor, Shady, and Rex – the three XK9s in this story. Artwork ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk.
I don’t (yet) have appropriate portraits to share of the three humans who play a part in this scene. The three XK9s in this sequence are (L-R): Razor, Shady, and Rex. Artwork ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

Setting the Scene

This excerpt takes place in the specialized clinic that fulfills the Pack members’ health care needs. At this point in the story, we’ve had some wounded in action. I can’t say more without giving spoilers, but I hope you’ll enjoy Berwyn’s Solstice Story:

The retreat room was small, narrow, and pretty much maxed out, once three humans and three XK9s had squeezed themselves inside. Humans Berwyn, Shiv, and Liz all smiled a greeting, while Razor wagged his tail.

“Rex. Shady. Wow,” Berwyn said. “Would you like to observe the Solstice with us?”

“We came to wait with you,” Rex said.

“Then please join us. I was explaining to the others . . . What do you know about Solstice?”

“It is an astronomical phenomenon observable on many planets,” Rex said. “If there are seasonal variations in the length of daylight and darkness, then the longest and shortest days are solstices, and the days which are divided equally between darkness and light are equinoxes.”

Berwyn’s smile held a trace of sadness. “You sound like Cinnamon, when I first explained it to her.”

“We all attended the same planetary astronomy class,” Shady said.

“Well, let me tell you about the way my Family observes the Solstice.” He gestured toward a low table in the center of the room. Someone had placed a lighted, mostly-burned candle on it, next to a tall, new, unburned one.

Both appeared to be the same brownish-dark-gray tone to Rex. Humans probably saw them as one of the colors XK9s couldn’t distinguish, such as red or green. Between them, a small case pad ticked a silent countdown.

“The shortest day—the longest darkness—takes place in a cold season when everything lies fallow. In the earliest ages, it was a time of privation, often of hunger, of death. A sort of nadir for the year.” – From “Berwyn’s Solstice Story,” in “A Bone to Pick” ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. The words appear against a black background. At lower left, a single red candle burns in a darkened environment sprinkled with small red holiday lights  among a drift of sparkly red confetti.
Candle image is courtesy of Paula Onysko’s blog post “Light a Candle Ritual for Winter Solstice.” Words & design are ©2021-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Berwyn’s Solstice Story

“My Family follows an ancient tradition that observed these variations on Mother Earth and found spiritual meaning in them. The shortest day—the longest darkness—takes place in a cold season there, when everything lies fallow. In the earliest ages, it was a time of privation, often of hunger, of death. A sort of nadir for the year.” Berwyn stared at the flickering candle flame for a moment. “This year, I’ve been able to very personally relate.”

“Oh, man, I hear you!” Liz’s eyes brimmed with tears. She reached over to squeeze Berwyn’s shoulder. Shiv clasped Berwyn’s hand. He did not speak, but he looked almost as haggard as Berwyn and Liz.

Rex’s throat tightened. Having almost lost his partner Charlie just a few weeks ago, he thought he understood some of what they must feel. Shady nuzzled him.

“But at the end of every ‘longest dark,’ the light begins to return,” Berwyn said. “It starts at that very moment when darkness and cold seem to conquer the world. The light comes back. The warmth begins to grow. New hope rises up, and the faith that things will get better.”

He looked at Liz, Razor and Rex. “We will heal and grow stronger.”

He met Shady’s eyes. “We will rise again to new heights.”

He turned to Shiv. “Unexpected new things may . . . may dare to take root.” The fearful hope in both men’s faces and scent factors filled Rex’s heart with empathic, joyful yearning and set Shady’s tail to thumping.

Berwyn drew in a breath. “Oh. It’s already later than I thought. In my Family, it’s our tradition to extinguish the old year’s candle at 23:50, which is .… now.” He blew out the candle.

“We extinguish the old year’s candle . . . Our tradition is to banish distractions, sit in silence, and let our minds find a centering peace.” – From “Berwyn’s Solstice Story,” in “A Bone to Pick” ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. Smoke from a blown-out red candle at lower left drifts upward and to the right on a black background.
Candle photo by Vit Krajicek/123rf. Words & design are ©2021-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Darkness

The Retreat room went pitch dark.

“Our tradition is to banish distractions, sit in silence, and let our minds find a centering peace.”

No one answered. Six hearts beat quietly, although at different rhythms. Six presences breathed in and out. Rex noted that more than one ran a breathing pattern of the sort he’d learned from Charlie. Liz shifted in her seat. An itch prickled along his right shoulder blade. He lifted a hind paw to scratch it, then refrained. Stilled himself. The itch burned a moment or two longer, then died.

They abided in silence.

Gradually, their breathing fell into a common rhythm. Their heartbeats slowly synchronized, too. The humans couldn’t consciously hear it, but somehow they also attuned.

A deep calmness and peace fell over Rex. A sense of oneness with his companions, and of resting after strife. He abided in the moment, content.

Soft bells chimed. They grew louder, a building carillon. They crescendoed into joyous, triumphant peals. The bells seemed to say, Darkness is banished. Light will prevail. Things will get better! Rejoice!

The sound broke over him, balm for his heart. Light and hope for his mind and spirit.

A scratch and a flare of flame. Sharp bite of burning struck his nose. Berwyn lit the new candle, then touched his case pad. The bells faded out. “Nadir has passed. The light is returning.”

On a black background, the words read: “It starts at that very moment when darkness and cold seem to conquer the world. The light comes back. The warmth begins to grow. New hope rises up, and the faith that things will get better.” – From “Berwyn’s Solstice Story,” in A Bone to Pick ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. At right, a tall new red taper candle burns in darkness.
The taper candle image is courtesy of Stone Candles. The words & design are ©2021-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Nadir has Passed

“The light is returning,” Shiv murmured.

Berwyn straightened. “The light is returning, indeed.” He sat back with a sigh and a smile. “Thank you. Thank you, all of you. I thought I’d be doing this alone.” His dark eyes glistened with excess moisture.

Shiv shook his head. Gave Berwyn’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Not alone. Not tonight.”

“I know I needed to be here,” Liz said. “Thank you. Thank you for sharing this with us.”

Razor dipped his head. “Very much. That was amazing.”

Berwyn’s gaze swept the room. “Solstice blessings abound.”

I sincerely hope you enjoyed Berwyn’s Solstice Story. If it has sparked your interest in learning more about the series, click this link. For more about A Bone to Pick, click the link in the title.

If you’d like to read more short fiction about the XK9s and their people, you might enjoy a FREE subscription to my monthly Newsletter. Signing up for the Newsletter also scores you a FREE ebook copy of my prequel novella, The Other Side of Fear. In case you’re wondering – no, the Trilogy’s not done yet, and yes – I’m writing as fast as I can! Bone of Contention is scheduled for publication in September 2023.

Two visualizations of “A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt: at left the ebook cover is shown on a tablet. At right “A Bone to Pick” is visualized as a fat trade paperback. Below the two pictures a line of type reads: “Cover art ©2020 by Jody A. Lee.
This story is an excerpt ©2021-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt from her novel A Bone to Pick. It’s the second book of the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The cover artwork is ©2020 by Jody A. Lee.

IMAGE CREDITS

I have a lot of people to thank for the images in this post. First of all to my dear friend and frequent illustration source, Lucy A. Synk, I want to lift up a hearty “thank you!” If you’d like to see more of her amazing artwork, check out her website and her Facebook page!

Likewise, I want to thank another longtime friend, Jody A. Lee, who does such a stellar job on the cover art for the “Bones” Trilogy. That’s her work on A Bone to Pick. You also might enjoy her website, Facebook page, and (while there’s still a Twitter) her Twitter feed.

The other sources are considerably more varied. I’ve credited them in the cutlines under the pictures, but here’s a rundown, for the record. Much gratitude to Paula Onysko’s blog post “Light a Candle Ritual for Winter Solstice,” for the candle photo used in the first candle picture with the opening quote from Berwyn’s Solstice Story. You also might enjoy reading Paula’s suggestions for a different kind of solstice candle ritual.

Deepest thanks to Vit Krajicek and 123rf for the evocative photo of the smoke from the blown-out candle in the second from that sequence. And I also thank Stone Candles for their photo of one of their beautiful red taper candles, used in the third candle-with-quote image. I deeply appreciate all!

The sisters in their childhood, and their books published through Weird Sisters Publishing.

Not a Blog Post

By Jan S. Gephardt and G. S. Norwood

Fair warning: This is not a blog post. G. and Jan are both dealing with health issues. This is beyond writing a blog post about taking a sick day (besides, Jan already did that). Neither one of us is feeling energetic enough to create a complete, well-rounded blog post this week. Since both of us have lifetimes of experience in deadline-driven careers, this is a hard thing to admit.

But sorry. This is not a blog post. We have been a lot more “on the ball” on past occasions, however. So instead of offering a new post, we thought we’d offer kind of a smorgasbord of some favorite past posts.

The first two stories in G. S. Norwood’s “Deep Ellum” series are “Deep Ellum Pawn” and “Deep Ellum Blues.”
Artwork ©2019 and 2020 by Chaz Kemp. (Courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing).

Not A Blog Post, but Several

First, how about spending some quality time with pets, through some of our favorite past blog posts from G? If you’re familiar with the work of G.S. Norwood, you know her dry wit and her keen observer’s eye.

She has brought those qualities to her ongoing urban fiction series, the Deep Ellum Stories. These, not incidentally, include a range of wonderful animals, including Tidbit and Morsel, Ms. Eddy’s feline siblings who are considerably more than they seem. Then there’s Ace, the reformed Hell Hound, and even Fred, the back-yard mosasaur.

Read more about them in G’s novelettes Deep Ellum Pawn and its follow-up, Deep Ellum Blues. And stay tuned for G’s upcoming story, Death in Deep Ellum (set to be finished after she gets well). Meanwhile, even while this is technically not a blog post, we hope you enjoy this trio of G’s blog post “pet-classics.”

L-R: Fictional Tidbit meets real-life Scrap.
G’s cats in art and life L-R: Ms. Eddy’s cat Tidbit, as envisioned ©2019 by Chaz Kemp, and Tidbit’s real-life inspiration, G’s cat Scrap, complete with her trademark curly tail. (The Weird Blog).

Cats in Space?

G. S. Norwood examines the roles of dogs and cats in Weird Sisters Publishing’s fiction, and makes the case that there will be cats in space. We hope you’ll enjoy her post Cats in Space?

Because – can we talk? – if we humans actually do take to the stars, we won’t want to leave our companion animals behind. Science fiction is full of cats, dogs, and other critters who’ve voyaged with us in our fictional forays into the Final Frontier. If art mirrors life, there will be canine and feline spacefarers traveling with us.

Meanwhile, we think you’ll enjoy this post.

At left, Gift as a sickly kitten in a shelter. At right, G. with her sleek, healthy grown cat, Gift.
In just one year, the scrawny, snotty-nosed little calico G. found in the shelter underwent a remarkable transformation. But she still likes to cuddle. (Photos from G. S. Norwood’s private collection).

The Universe Gives Me a Cat

Urban fantasy writer G. S. Norwood, open to everyday magic in reality, says sometimes “the Universe gives me a cat,” when she heeds intuition. What do you do, when the Universe has decided to give you a cat? Here’s G’s story.

Dog trainer Cesar Millan is fond of saying “You don’t always get the dog you want, but you get the dog you need.” We think that definitely goes for cats, too! Did G. get the cat she (didn’t know she) needed? Decide for yourself.

The members of the Texas Pack.
Clockwise from the top: “Sheriff” Zoe, a rather “wolfy” Chess on the prowl, and Kata with all-black Tam in G’s back yard. (The Weird Blog).

The Texas Pack

The Norwood household not only includes cats. It has a full cast of canine characters, too. G.S. Norwood introduces readers to The Texas Pack, her four border collies who each have distinct personalities, and who have informed her fiction.

Do you recognize any of the personality types she profiles in her blog post? Perhaps you’ve known dogs or other companion animals with similar approaches to life. Whether they’re interacting with humans or with each other, their personalities shine through.

Covers for the three XK9 books in print as of this post.
Prequel novella The Other Side of Fear, with Books One and Two of the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy: What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick. Cover art ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk, and ©2019 and 2020 respectively, by Jody A. Lee. (Courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing).

A Blog Post Series for Dog Lovers

Science fiction writer Jan S. Gephardt has done a different take on blog posts about pets – specifically dogs – and their unexpected capabilities. Even if this is not a blog post, if you’re in the mood for one, why not give these a try? Her series on canine cognition outlined some of the research she did for her science fictional universe. As veteran sf readers know, the “science” in science fiction means that writers ground their stories in actual, real-world scientific ideas.

Jan’s stories feature a pack of uplifted police dogs called XK9s. They help uphold the rule of law on Rana Station, their adopted space station home. Written as adventure mystery stories, they also offer glimpses of the sometimes-humorous ways in which truly sapient dogs might interact with the human world.

Hundreds of people have enjoyed her XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, a series of books which has earned some excellent niche rankings. The first two are available now from a variety of booksellers worldwide, as either ebooks or paperbacks. The third book in the Trilogy is set for release in 2023. Some may prefer to take a “test drive” with her prequel novella, The Other Side of Fear. It’s also available widely for sale as an ebook or paperback. Or get it FREE as an ebook if you sign up for Jan’s feature-packed monthly newsletter!

An illustration showing “social gazing” patterns of dog and humans.
A Finnish study demonstrated similarities between domestic dogs’ and humans’ “social gazing” behavior. (Artdog Adventures Blog).

Dog Cognition: How Much Does Your Dog Understand?

How much does your dog understand? A lot, actually, and on a more sophisticated level than many people think. “The Artdog” begins a new series on the research that convinced her dogs could someday be uplifted to be sapient beings.

Dogs may even be likelier candidates for future uplift than primates or cetaceans, for several excellent reasons. And seriously! What pet-parent wouldn’t love to know what their companion is trying to communicate sometimes? If only they could tell us in words! Turns out, maybe someday they can.

Chocolate Labrador “Fernie” responds to written commands.
Can a dog read? “Reading Dog” Fernie (here with his human, Nik Gardner) inspires elementary students at Headmaster Gardner’s UK primary school to learn to read. (Artdog Adventures Blog).

Dogs: Verbal Virtuosos?

Dogs as verbal virtuosos? When it comes to canine cognition, researchers are finding that dogs are real verbal virtuosos who know word meanings and can combine meaningful phrases. Alert readers of Jan’s novels might also recognize where she got the names for a couple of XK9s, after reading this blog post!

Jan wasn’t just anthropomorphizing (well, some – but not entirely!) when she gave the XK9s the ability to read and compose verbal replies. Until they get prosthetic thumbs, the ability to physically write won’t be in their, um, grasp. But they wield words (sometimes in several languages) pretty doggone well. And here’s her justification for thinking they someday really could!

Three dogs hug their humans.
MRI studies of brain patterns suggest these dogs aren’t just going through the motions. (Artdog Adventures Blog).

Could it be Love?

Could it be love? We’ve long worried that we’re anthropomorphizing when we say our dogs love us. But more and more studies reveal the answer to “could it be love?” is YES!

Unfortunately, the video at the end of the blog post Could it be Love seems to no longer be available, but we hope you have seen similar behaviors in dogs (sorry – Jan had no energy to spare looking up a new video, but if you have time to go down a YouTube rabbit hole, we bet you can have fun finding more!).

Do the XK9s love their human partners? Absolutely! Pack is Family for XK9s, and their humans – including a few “extended Pack members” – are included in that circle.

Not a Blog Post, but we Hope You’ve enjoyed it

We hope you have fun reading through this “not a blog post” full of blog posts. We’re hoping and planning for one of us to be back in the saddle with new content for next week.

IMAGE CREDITS

We’ve pulled our images this week from the Weird Sisters Website and from the blog posts featured in this “not a blog post” article. Follow the links to the blog posts for full information on our image sources.

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.

“The Future is not something we enter. The Future is something we create.” – Unattributed.

Looking for Hope

By Jan S. Gephardt

Sometimes it seems that looking for hope in an era of climate change can seem like a fool’s errand.

Climate change is already upon us. This is not news to anyone who’s been paying attention. Remember those horrifying outcomes the climate scientists warned us about in the 1990s? They’re here. Happening now. The mega-storms, the super-wildfires, the changing weather patterns. Rising sea levels? Mass extinctions? Melting polar ice caps? Yup. All happening now.

Congratulations, climate-deniers! You, um “won”? The oil companies’ disinformation campaigns, combined with ghastly leadership deficits and rich nations’ widespread unwillingness to inconvenience themselves, have wrought the predicted result. So, now what? Is it “Game Over” for us now?

Weather disruptions these days come from ever-more intense tornadoes, hurricanes and typhoons, intense snowstorms, drought and wildfire.
Looking for hope seems hopeless sometimes. Clockwise from top left, the aftermath of a tornado in New Jersey, Hurricane Irma in the Bahamas, wildfire in California, and the aftermath of Typhoon Rai in the Philippines. At center, a heavy snow in Scotland. (See Credits below).

What Have We Done?

Well, we’re not dead yet (not if you can read this post), so we can keep looking for hope. If the goal was to avoid catastrophes, though, we can kiss that one goodbye, We screwed that up bad. Catastrophes are everywhere.

The United States offers a global microcosm. The deep south is the New Tornado Alley. Kansas wishes you all the best of luck, and advises you to build storm shelters. California is a near-year-round Burn Zone. Miami Beach and the Florida Keys are barely treading water (at least until the next King Tide), and the Pacific Northwest is still recovering from Death-Valley-like heat last summer. Oh, and . . . how many bomb cyclones have you Northeasterners weathered, in recent years?

If the goal is to avoid making it even worse, well, that, we still can do. But we need the will, the urgency, and the vision. Looking for hope in an era of climate change is hard, but it’s not impossible.

"People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! You are failing us." - Greta Thunberg, to the United Nations Climate Action Summit, 2019
Greta Thunberg at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019. (See Credits below).

What Can We Do?

First of all, we can stop kidding ourselves. Politicians and pundits who consider climate to be “one of many issues,” and mostly important to a small group of “green nuts,” are deluded. Anyone who doesn’t care about climate change at this point hasn’t been hit hard enough yet. Give it enough time and apathy, and it’ll be their turn soon enough.

Thanks all the same, I’d rather take a different path. And I know I’m not alone. I’m still looking for hope in an era of climate change. I fully realize that I could never in three lifetimes of stringent measures offset the deleterious effects of one poorly-managed feedlot or gas pipeline. But what a defeatist attitude, to decide that if I can’t solve it all, I won’t even bother. Get real!

No, I’ll do what I can – and one thing I can do is educate myself and then speak up. I can demand that polluters and outsized greenhouse gas-emitters be forced to change their ways. That wasteful habits be shunned and more eco-appropriate methods be rewarded.

And I can collaborate on a more hopeful vision. Looking for hope in an era of climate change only seems stupid and pointless to people who can’t see any way forward. How do I know this? Because I’ve already seen something like it before.

Photos from earlier decades show many drawbacks to pollution.
On a background of Bavarian trees killed by acid rain, the images include one of the many fires on the Cuyahoga River, this one in 1952; warning signs on roads in Times Beach, MO; shattered, thin-shelled duck and osprey eggs due to DDT; a lake killed by acid rain, and metal barrels strewn across Love Canal, back when it was a hazardous waste dumping site. (See Credits below).

Looking for Hope – Again

I think it’s important to consider what negative views of the future do to people – especially to young people. I remember growing up during the Cold War, and the heavy certainty that nuclear Armageddon wasn’t a matter of if, but when. That makes looking for hope harder. It skews a person’s view of the future and what’s possible, believe me. It was only after I’d been an adult for while that I truly started believing we might not blow ourselves up after all.

Instead, it seemed we would choke ourselves to death on pollution. Do you remember the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire? How about the “dead” lakes of Europe, the Adirondacks, and Ontario, killed by acid rain in the 1960s through the 1980s? The fish kills, the lakes too dirty to swim in or eat fish from? The years when we thought bald eagles, ospreys, falcons, and other bird species were doomed to extinction? Do you remember Love Canal and Times Beach? I do (especially Times Beach, MO, which was near my in-laws’ home).

I remember living in a Kansas City where after a few years of residence doctors routinely expected our lung X-rays to show clouding. Where we could park our car outside overnight and the next day it would be covered in a fine layer of tacky, oily pollution. Where, when the wind came in from a certain direction the whole area would stink. All this, even though I lived in a “good” neighborhood, by the redliners standards. How bad must it have been in poorer neighborhoods of color?

Organizational logos for many global climate action agencies and groups.
Many organizations and agencies have been formed to address climate change around the globe since the 1970s. Here are just a few. (See Credits Below).

What Changed?

People started to notice, be outraged, and speak up. The Environmental Protection Agency and other, more global initiatives came into being because people saw a need, not because the government had something against Big Business. We also should recall that the EPA was created during the Nixon Administration. By Republicans. And although Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act, a bipartisan vote overrode it. Yes, it was a very different world.

The EPA has always been vilified by some groups. But, backed by strong legislation such as the clean water and clean air acts and the endangered species act, it staved off many disasters. It created some unintended consequences, granted. But Love Canal-style cleanup sites come around far less often now. My neighborhood doesn’t ever stink, my lungs are clear, and the primary everyday hazards to my car come from birds and tree sap, not oily, nasty pollution.

Anyone who tries to claim that pollution standards aren’t necessary, or that we’ve learned better now so we can ease up on restrictions ignores reality. They’re either lying, or don’t choose to remember history. Self-interested humans and profit-driven companies will cut corners and costs, unless some greater power forces them to clean up their act and keep it clean.

“We are the first generation to be able to end poverty, and the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to uphold our moral and historical responsibilities.” – Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
What he said. (World Economic Forum).

Looking for Hope in an Era of Climate Change

Remember that point I made above, “consider what negative views of the future do to people – especially to young people”? It’s equally true in reverse. What if enough of us around the world could come together and throw our whole-hearted efforts into combatting climate change? We could still mitigate some aspects, and perhaps reach a new balance. But crucial to any such effort is a powerful vision of the positive outcomes we still can create.

Powerful, big-money-driven lobbying groups, twisted ideologies of denial, and short-term political concerns remain. They’ll keep short-circuiting the ever-more-more pervasive ongoing threats from continued climate change, if we don’t push back. And we can, we must push back.

But we won’t, if we don’t believe that positive change can still happen. That’s why we desperately need stories and popular media that offer visions of positive outcomes after appropriate effort.

"The job of speculative and science fiction is to envision future outcomes in accessible ways. It’s what we sf writers do: we create engaging thought-experiments about how things might be." – Jan S. Gephardt.
Consider this a pull-quote. (Nebula 2 background artwork ©2021 by Chaz Kemp).

Can Science Fiction Save the Planet?

No literary genre can create the changes that are needed. But the job of speculative and science fiction is to envision future outcomes in accessible ways. It’s what we sf writers do: we create engaging thought-experiments about how things might be.

And it is historical fact that science fiction has shaped, and continues to shape, the world we live in today. I’ve already written about environmentally-focused science fiction on the “Artdog Adventures” blog, as well as sf writers’ perhaps-lamentable tendency to envision ways we might destroy the Earth.

Dystopian stories envision how things can go terribly wrong, before their protagonists win their way to freedom and security (or tragically fail to do so). And Lord knows, we’re currently living in an environmental dystopia. But how about more hopeful future-environment stories? They’re available, too! Forbes recently published an excellent list, but it’s not exhaustive. And there’s definitely room for more.

“The Future is not something we enter. The Future is something we create.” – Unattributed.
Consider your actions and attitudes carefully. You’re creating tomorrow, right now. (See Credits below).

A Vision of Hope for the Future We Want

We can envision the future we want, if we have the will and the imagination. We can take a proactive approach to finding better visions, as well. If we readers seek out more science fiction that ends well for the environment, we’ll get it. We need to ask for such books at bookstores of all kinds. Run online searches for them, ask for them in author forums. If we seek them persistently, publishers large and small will answer a perceived market need.

As a society, many of us are looking for hope in an era of climate change. We need fresh and positive visions to guide us. And we who write science fiction can offer a historically-proven place to start looking.

IMAGE CREDITS

The first montage was composed from many sources. Sincerest thanks to NY1 and the uncredited AP photographer for the New Jersey tornado damage photo, to ABC News for the photo of Hurricane Irma, and to ABC 7, for the uncredited wildfire photo. Thanks also to the San Diego Union Tribune and photographer Jay Labra, AP, for the photo of destruction left in Talisay, Cebu, Philippines after Typhoon Rai, and to The Guardian for the photo of snow in Tomintoul, Moray, Scotland, by photographer Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images. The stormy background is “Storm at Sea,” by plus69 via 123rf. Jan S. Gephardt assembled and designed the montage.

Deepest appreciation to Greta Thunberg for her iconic and straight-to the-heart words, to Wikipedia for making them available, and to the AP via the Los Angeles Times for the photo of Greta at the UN. Jan S. Gephardt assembled the quote-image for her blog post “It’s Okay to Feel What We Feel.”

Environmental Destruction of Yore

Many thanks to the sources of the photos used in the montage of climate destruction from the mid-20th Century. They include Wikimedia and an unidentified German photographer, for the background photo of acid-ran-killed trees in Bavaria, and to Ohio History Central for the photo of a 1952 fire on the Cuyahoga River, from the Cleveland Press Collection at Cleveland State Library. The photo of the DDT-damaged mallard duck eggs in the upper left of the montage is courtesy of the “Rachel Carson” blog from the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, while the photos of similarly-damaged osprey eggs at bottom center and far right came from the “Osprey Tales” blog.

The photo of the gross-looking acid-rain-killed lake at the top is the header for Interesting Engineering’s article, “What Acid Rain is, and Ways to Restore the Damage it Causes.” (photographer unattributed). IDR Environmental Services provided the photo of Love Canal in the early days, when it was openly used as a hazardous waste dump by Hooker Chemical Company. It illustrates Part Two of a series on “America’s Hazardous Waste History,” by Dawn DeVroom.

The color photo of the Times Beach “Dioxin” road was taken by legendary St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer and Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Famer Robert LaRouche. The black-and-white photo is a 1982 photo by James A. Finley/AP, provided by Legends of America in their article “Ill-Fated Times Beach, Missouri.” Jan S. Gephardt assembled and designed the montage.

Environmental Agencies of the Globe

This montage shows logos and headers from a small fraction of the many governmental and non-governmental agencies and organizations from around the world that have developed since the 1970s to combat climate change. They include the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (courtesy of EurOcean), United Nations Climate Change Global Climate Action, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Others whose logos are represented are the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (courtesy of PAHO, the Pan American Health Organization), The African Climate Foundation, and the Climate Action Network of Southeast Asia (CANSEA). Many thanks to all, and good luck with your varied missions! Montage by Jan S. Gephardt.

A Collection of Quote-Images

Deepest thanks to the World Economic Forum, which provided the Ban Ki-moon quote-image as part of an excellent collection. This image also was featured in an earlier Artdog Adventures post as an Artdog Quote of the Week (contrasted with one from the disgraced, twice-impeached 45th US President, in 2017), but I thought it fit so well I’d use it again.

The background artwork for my pull-quote on the job of speculative and science fiction is Nebula 2, © 2021 by Chaz Kemp.

I’m sorry to say that QuotesHunter (my original source for the “Something We Create” quote-image) doesn’t seem to be around anymore, but you can still find this image on my Artdog Adventures posts “Creating Well” and “The Future we Want, and How to Get There.” It’s something of an emblem for this “The Future We Want” series.

The Future is not something we enter. The Future is something we create. –unattributed.

The Future we Want

By Jan S. Gephardt

The header quote-image has been a consistent favorite (among my most-clicked-on images) since I first published it in January 2018. For a science fiction writer, “the future is something we create” has a double meaning, of course (I’ll get back to that in a bit). But if we’re creating our future through our collective choices and actions, what kind of future are we making? Consider the view from where you stand today. Is it truly the future we want?

Wait! Doesn’t COVID prove we’re not in control? That we’re at the mercy of random events? Certainly, out-of-the-blue events lurch into our lives. It’s inevitable. Everyone’s future comes packed with forces and events beyond our control.

Throughout time (and probably space, too), unexpected adversity has popped up to complicate things. We’re not responsible for what happens to us or how we feel about it. But we are responsible for what we do in reaction. Therein lies the test of our character.

The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do. –John W. Holt, Jr.
Our reactions to adversity define the quality of our character. (See credits below).

The Future we Want for Ourselves

It helps to have a clear vision of what you want. As most dancers, martial artists, and other athletes will agree, if you envision doing something – and how you will do it – it helps you perform difficult plays or moves.

But when we apply that principle to life, we need to be careful what we wish for. I’ve known people who envisioned success in the form of tangible items. In my experience, that rarely ends well. You can envision driving a luxurious car or living in a gorgeous house, but how will that help you get there? As a result of that vision, will you do anything to get money?

My sister did an excellent job of explaining a better way to follow a guiding vision in the last two posts. Here are links to her How Did I Get Here? and What do You Want to be When You Grow Up? In her case, the guiding vision was “I want to work in the arts!” and she gave great illustrations of how that worked for her. I don’t need to cover that ground again.

Do something today that your future self will thank you for. – Sean Patrick Flanery
It took a while to find this quote properly attributed to its originator. (See credits below).

The Future we Want for Our World

Today, I’m more concerned with our collective view of the future. It’s a question that has popped up in my life, in one form or another, rather persistently in the last few days. Recent polling seems clear: if you asked a random collection of Americans if we’re headed in a good direction they’d say “NO!”

But are we, to paraphrase the common paraphrase of Mahatma Gandhi, being the change we want to see? What needs to change, and what can we do, individually and collectively, to make that change happen? Ideas vary. But if you’re into New Year’s resolutions, how about resolving to think of people who disagree with us not as morons or buffoons, but as generally not that different from us. Maybe with some peculiar ideas, but not horrible people. Where are the points of commonality? Only from a place of connection can people begin to listen to each other.

Heck, if everyone made a New Year’s resolution (and then stuck to it) to only leave comments online that they’d be willing to say to the other person’s face in real life, we’d be well ahead.

If we all do one random act of kindness daily, we just might set the world in the right direction. -Martin Kornfeld
Here’s a good way to start “being the change.” (See credits below).

Envisioning The Future We Want Through Science Fiction

I’ve written before on this blog about ways that science fiction and speculative fiction has occasionally shaped public understanding. When authors explore complex or unusual ideas in compelling stories, they make them more relatable. The “Robot” novels of Isaac Asimov offer just one example.

Many of the most famous and influential science fiction novels or movies are thought experiments about how a new idea or trend or invention might change things if taken to a certain extrapolated level. Often, as in The Handmaid’s Tale, things are taken to an extreme that makes the point hard to overlook.

Unfortunately, all too often the impulse to explore an idea in an extreme version distorts things. The author must downplay or ignore safeguards in the real world, many times without much (or any) explanation of why that safeguard failed in their story’s universe.

Book covers for Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the “Robot Trilogy” of Isaac Asimov, “The Caves of Steel,” “The Naked Sun,” and “The Robots of Dawn.”
Visionary science fiction books from earlier decades. (See credits below).

The Two Novels That Inspired this Post

I normally have several books going at once, but rarely two novels at the same time. More often it’s one novel or anthology (for both pleasure and to keep up with the field) at a time. There usually are at least two nonfiction books for research on different topics. And there also is normally at least one book on the craft of writing.

However, this time (for complex reasons) I’m reading two different science fiction novels in parallel. I’ve only just begun them, so I can’t in fairness say anything yet about my sense of the stories. One is the military sf novel Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. The other is more “general sf”: The Sol Majestic, by Ferrett Steinmetz.

Neither is a newly-published book. Ninefox Gambit is Book One of a trilogy. It’s set in a larger universe of stories that range from novels to short fiction to games, and more. As far as I can tell, The Sol Majestic is a standalone. Both were published by established publishers. But wow! Are they ever different.

Book covers for “Ninefox Gambit” and “The Sol Majestic.”
Jan started these novels at roughly the same time. The comparison inspired this post. (See credits below).

Worldview and Approach

Neither universe seems like a very good place to live, but the tone of each world is quite different. We’ll see where they go from here, but the two setups lead me to believe they’ll open out into very different experiences.

My point in mentioning them is to say that opening oneself to new views and ideas can change how we look at the world we live in now. The stories we choose to consume shape our worldview in ways that range from subtle to profound. When we read wildly different books, set in wildly different places and worldviews, we grow more mentally flexible.

The opposite is also true, however. If we only ever tell ourselves one kind of story, over and over and over, it distorts us. What kind of stories should we not get too comfortable with? I’d suggest that too total a diet of conspiracy theories, myths about the Lost Cause, or even science fiction stories that are always predicated on “we destroyed Earth, so we have to find someplace new” might become a problem.

Does it help us create the future we want? That’s a question we probably should ask, especially if we get really, thoroughly dialed-in on any particular worldview or philosophy, to the exclusion of everything else.

Whenever you read a book or have a conversation, the experience causes physical changes in your brain. --George Johnson
What you read and what you discuss really does make a difference. (See credits below).

IMAGE CREDITS:

I’m sorry to say that QuotesHunter (my original source) doesn’t seem to be around anymore, but you can still find the header image on my Artdog Adventures post “Creating Well.” I found the words for the quote from John W. Holt, Jr. on Quote Master, but the quote-image format wasn’t right for this blog. So I made my own, using a stormy background by plus69 on 123rf.

Many, many thanks to Quotespedia, for the often-unattributed Sean Patrick Flanery quote and the nice image to go with it. We also want to thank “Sheila Pennies of Time” on Pinterest for the “random act of kindness” quote-image with the quote by the mysterious Martin Kornfeld (I can find his quote many places, but nothing about the man himself). I can’t find a source beyond that Pinterest page. I first posted it as an “Artdog Quote of the Week” in 2017. For this post, I have adjusted the format to take up less vertical space without losing any of the picture.

I took the photo of my three copies of the Isaac Asimov “Robot” books (The cover art for The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are both by Stephen Youll. Cover design for The Robots of Dawn is by Kiyoshi Kanai.) The cover image for The Handmaid’s Tale is courtesy of Bookshop. We’re grateful for the cover images for Ninefox Gambit and The Sol Majestic, both from Goodreads. And finally, Quotefancy came through for us with the George Johnson quote about changes to our brains (check out his appearance on The Colbert Report). Many thanks to all!

Covers for G. S. Norwood's novellas, "Deep Ellum Pawn" and "Deep Ellum Blues."

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue: An excerpt

By G. S. Norwood, abetted by Jan S. Gephardt

00-HEADER-TWO-DEEP-ELLUM-COVERS

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Deep Ellum Blues’ publication, and some of our readers want to know. Will the Deep Ellum stories continue?

To that, we’re happy to answer an emphatic yes. Ms. Eddy’s adventures aren’t nearly over yet. But when’s the next story coming? Well, that’s a little harder to say. Death in Deep Ellum, the working title for the third story, is a murder mystery. It’s required some theological thinking and some careful interweaving of the plot elements, while G. also works on several other exciting fiction projects.

Oh, yes, and her job. Concerts are starting up again, and the grant proposals never did let up. So G.’s a busy lady in her day job, too.

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue

But yes. Rest assured. The Deep Ellum stories continue! To prove it, this post includes a first look at Death in Deep Ellum’s opening. But before that, a quick look at how we got here.

In the first story, Deep Ellum Pawn, we met Ms. Eddy Weekes, proprietor of Deep Ellum Pawn. Her shop is always there when you need it, and she rocks the most epic storage room and garden-with-water feature that you may ever have encountered.

“The Golden Fiddle is back. The Hell Hounds are Ms. Eddy’s problem now.”
The e-edition of Deep Ellum Pawn in a visualization from Book Brush. Cover artwork © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.

Deep Ellum Pawn Description

The Golden Fiddle is back. Can Ms. Eddy break its curse this time?

What’s a pawnshop owner to do? The cursed Golden Fiddle keeps coming back to Deep Ellum Pawn, the shop where Ms. Eddy Weekes stands guard over the historic Dallas, Texas, neighborhood of Deep Ellum. Each time the fiddle shows up, it leaves a swath of broken dreams and shattered lives, with a pack of fearsome Hell Hounds hot on its trail.

Music, magic, and legends intertwine in Deep Ellum, and things long buried have a way of coming back ‘round again. Only Ms. Eddy can end the fiddle’s curse, but first she must learn its secrets.

Will she have the tools she needs to fend off the Hell Hounds and get to the heart of the Golden Fiddle, before an ancient evil brings the darkness back to Deep Ellum forever?

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue with Deep Ellum Blues

We published Deep Ellum Pawn in November 2019, preceded by three successive blog posts with excerpts and a release-day announcement. People enjoyed it, so G. got to work on a second. You might also enjoy another post with some of the story’s background, and another one on the making of the cover.

We rolled out Deep Ellum Blues not quite a year later, again with a series of blog posts. They included an excerpt, an interview of G. by internationally-bestselling mystery novelist Deborah Crombie, and a look at the making of the cover. We also posted a Setlist with YouTube videos of Mudcat’s songs (scroll down), and a release notice. And we followed its release with a post by G. about the famous song Deep Ellum Blues.

“Mudcat Randall is flirting with disaster. Can Ms. Eddy break through, or will an old and tragic story make Deep Ellum sing a new kind of blues?”
The e-edition of Deep Ellum Blues in a visualization from Book Brush. Cover artwork © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Deep Ellum Blues Description

Free will is a rule she doesn’t break.

As the genius loci of Deep Ellum, Ms. Eddy Weekes is a hands-off goddess who won’t micro-manage human affairs. She’d rather sit on the sidelines and enjoy the show. Her motto? “People have the right to make their own hideous, life-altering mistakes.”

But there’s something different about the young blues musician Mudcat Randall.

Maybe if her old friend Waylon hadn’t called him to her attention, she’d have let things be. Maybe if she hadn’t glimpsed something special in his music . . . But Mudcat is flirting with disaster. Eddy’s old adversary wants him to sign a tempting management contract, and there are deadly strings attached.

When a third force enters the fray, everything Mudcat has ever prayed for is suddenly on the line, and Eddy knows the game is rigged against him. Can Eddy break through to the headstrong musician? Or will an old and tragic story make Deep Ellum sing a new kind of blues?

Coming Next: Death in Deep Ellum

We promised you an excerpt. Here’s a glimpse of the current draft’s opening.

Chapter One: Prayer of the Dying

There is no prayer like the prayer of the dying.

As the genius loci of Deep Ellum, the historically Black, funky, happenin’ heart of Dallas, Texas, I hear those prayers, whether the people praying live here or just come to hang out for a while. Think of me as the neighborhood’s resident goddess. You can call me Ms. Eddy Weekes.

I heard Perkins’ prayer just after dark on a scorching summer evening. Perkins was an alcoholic, and a member in good standing of the homeless population that still drifts through Deep Ellum despite all the developers’ efforts to gentrify. I’d kept my eye on him for the past couple of years, but I hadn’t anticipated any sudden downturn in his condition.

Ms. Eddy, a detail from Chaz Kemp’s Deep Ellum Pawn cover.
Ms. Eddy, ©2019 by Chaz Kemp.

When he called, I was with him in an instant. I found him curled on his side by a back-alley dumpster off Elm Street. He’d been shot three times in the gut, and blood was everywhere.

“I’m here, Perkins. I heard you. I can fix this,” I said. The day’s heat radiated up from the crumbling asphalt as I dropped to the ground, but Perkins’ skin was already going cold, his dark skin going gray.

He rolled onto his back, his head on my knees, and I put my arms around his shoulders, trying with all my will to knit his shattered intestines back together.

“It’s my time, Miz Eddy. Don’t worry ‘bout me. It’s my time.”

His voice was a thin thread, only sustained by the force of my will. He had called out to me in need. I had to know what he wanted me to do.

“What happened?”

“I’ze jus’ here, and he come up out of nowhere. Shot me. Didn’t say a thing. Then he’s gone.” Perkins bucked a little against my legs, racked by a cough, a shiver, or some spasm of pain.

“What can I do, Perkins? How can I help?”

“I don. Wanna go. To the bad place. I bin. A drunk. But I ain’t. Bin bad.” His breath was coming in short gasps now.

“You won’t go to the bad place,” I promised. I could see his soul starting to spin out and away from his body, so I reeled it in, holding it close. “What else?”

Perkins made a supreme effort. He used his very last breath to ask one more thing of me.

“Get that son of a bitch.”

He sagged in my arms as I drew together the last tattered fragments of his soul, winding it into a tight ball. Holding it in my heart, as well as my hands, I said aloud, “Nathan Allen Perkins, I see you. I see you in your entirety. I see your heart. I see your mind. I see your soul. You are worthy. You will be missed. You will be remembered. You are safe in my hands, and free to move forward without fear.”

Then I tucked his soul into a pocket of time and space not even my old foe, Nick, could hack into. I sent the little pocket to the store room of my pawn shop, where Perkins’ soul could rest until I delivered it on up to the next level.

That done, I paused a moment to absorb the loss of a man I had liked. I’d given Perkins sandwiches from the shop down the street. He’d kept an eye out for Morsel, my wandering cat. We had shared gossip, and the news of the neighborhood. Perkins’ belief in me had fed my being just as surely as my sandwiches had fed his. I am far too old to trade in human relationships but, as far as it was possible, Perkins had been my friend. I would miss him.

So I took the moment to mourn. Something vital was now gone from Deep Ellum, and I felt the loss.

A detail from one of Chaz Kemp’s working drawings of Ms. Eddy.
Ms. Eddy, ©2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Then I pulled my phone out of my back pocket and called 9-1-1.

It would only take the cops a few minutes to get here.

In those few minutes, I took a look around the alley. I wasn’t interested in the three brass shell casings I spotted at the corner where Crowdus Street intersected with the alley that ran behind a rag-tag assortment of take-out restaurants. I didn’t much care about the view from the youth hostel that loomed above me, or the rusty, reeking dumpster that must have all but hidden Perkins unless someone was looking for him. I saw the bottle he’d been nursing, smelled the rotgut that had spilled from it.

And, faintly, under the garbage, the booze and the blood, I smelled something else entirely. As I rose from the pavement to stand guard over my friend’s body, I caught just the barest trace of brimstone. Somehow, in some way I could not yet see, Nick had had a hand in this.

I would help the police, if I could, to find the man who pulled the trigger, but Perkins had asked me for more than mere human justice. He’d asked me to “get that son of a bitch.” That meant I was going to have to track down the Devil himself.

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue

We hope you’re looking forward to Death in Deep Ellum as much as we are. And we’ll keep you posted on progress!

IMAGE CREDITS:

The covers for Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues are ©2019 and 2020, respectively, by Chaz Kemp. The character developments for Ms. Eddy are also ©2019 and 2020, respectively, by Chaz Kemp. Many thanks!

A hot, hazy Dallas skyline

My Summer Getaway

By G. S. Norwood

Well. I finally did it. I made it safely through months of writing major grant proposals. Organized three far-from run-of-the-mill concerts. Took on some new job responsibilities, on top of the two full-time jobs I’m doing already. And I survived. Now, my friends and readers, it’s time for my summer getaway.

I’m looking for a place that will allow me to relax. Spend some quality time looking at outstanding scenery. And be much, much cooler than Dallas, both in temperature and in vibe.

Not that I will actually get away. Between a resurgent coronavirus and the high cost of pet sitters, this year’s vacation is definitely going to be a staycation. Still, I’ve discovered a way to escape to a summer getaway destination without leaving my favorite chair.

Reading. Yep, that’s right. I’ll trade the 100-degree-plus heat of Texas for some prime summer getaway locations through the magic of books. Thanks to the recommendations of friends, family connections, and one stroke of good luck, I plan to immerse myself in several mystery and science fiction series set in places much cooler than Dallas. What more could I ask of a vacation?

Nantucket is Nice

Brant Point Lighthouse by Brian Thoeie.
The Brant Point Light during a gorgeous Nantucket sunset (Insider’s Guide to Nantucket/Brian Thoeie).
Cover of “Death in the Off Season,” by Francine Mathews.
Death in the Off Season (Francine Mathews).

Francine Mathews launched her career as a mystery writer with a series of books about Meredith “Merry” Folger, a detective on the small police force that keeps Nantucket Island safe for the year-rounders as well as the tourists. Starting with Death in the Off Season, Mathews reveals the private face of Nantucket the summer people rarely see.

The island teems with cobblestone streets, cranberry bogs, fishing boats, and homes that pass down through old island families, generation after generation. Mathews makes all of it come alive. You can feel the sea breezes and all but taste the salty air. There are six books so far in the Merry Folger series. More than enough to last through as long a vacation as you choose to take. Or to create a quick summer getaway no matter what time of year it is.

How about the UK?

The Isle of Skye's main town, Portree, and Constable country: Flatford in Suffolk.
Colorful Portree is the biggest town on the Isle of Skye, and Flatford in Suffolk is the onetime home of the artist John Constable. (Planet Ware/Global Grasshopper).
Cover of “A Dream of Death,” by Connie Berry
A Dream of Death
(Connie Berry/Amazon)

I stumbled onto Connie Berry’s Kate Hamilton mysteries by happy chance. Berry has just released the third book in the series, and was featured on my (other) favorite blog, Jungle Red Writers. She offered a copy of her new book to one blog commenter chosen at random. Lucky me! I got the book! Along with a tasty bonus of shortbread and tea bags, plus two very nice bookmarks. (And you know how I feel about bookmarks.)

While awaiting the arrival of book #3, The Art of Betrayal in the mail, I did the only civilized thing: bought books #1, A Dream of Death and #2, A Legacy of Murder on my Kindle. I wound up “chain reading” them. No sooner had I finished the first, but I picked up the second. By the time I was done with that, book #3 was right there, ready to start. After two weeks, I felt like I’d had a lovely (although somewhat murderous) summer getaway in Scotland and Suffolk, and only had one question: Where’s book #4?

Escape to the Wilds of British Columbia

A lake in British Columbia with rugged mountains in the background.
A gorgeous view from Yoho National Park in British Columbia. (Planet Ware/Lana Law)
Cover of “A Killer in King’s Cove,” by Iona Whishaw
A Killer in King’s Cove.
(Iona Whishaw).

British Columbia might be suffering through an epic heatwave at the moment, but in 1947 the climate there was darn near perfect. At least, if you believe author Iona Whishaw. In her Lane Winslow mysteries, Wishaw paints the Kootenay region of British Columbia as a hotbed of English ex-pats, Russian refugees, Soviet spies, and weary veterans, still recovering from the trials of World War I and the more recent World War II.

Into this paradise comes Lane Winslow, a young woman who grew up in Latvia and Scotland, speaks numerous languages, including Russian and French, and just wants to get away from it all. Lane spent the war working for British Intelligence, parachuting into France to help the Resistance, and learning many life-or-death skills along the way. Smart, funny, independent, and always curious, Lane’s character is based on Wishaw’s own mother. She’s just the kind of heroine I like to hang out with for a long summer getaway.

There are eight books so far in the Lane Winslow series. Whether you read them end-to-end as I did, or parcel them out like bites of candy from your big birthday chocolate box, don’t miss them!

The Ultimate Out of This World Summer Getaway

XK9 Rex takes a ride through an exurb of Orangeboro.
Motoring in Orangeboro is particularly thrilling with the windows down. (Weird Sisters Publishing/Jody A. Lee).

Of course, the weather is always perfect on Rana Station, the setting for my sister, Jan S. Gephardt’s book What’s Bred in the Bone, as well as the upcoming A Bone to Pick. Yes, I have read them both. Multiple times, as it happens. And I plan to read A Bone to Pick at least once more, when the final edition comes out September 15.

Rana Station, as it turns out, is the ultimate summer getaway. It’s chock full of interesting characters, unusual cultural customs, aliens, dogs, alien dogs . . . And crime. There’s lots for Jan’s XK9s to sniff out and understand as they explore their new home and examine new ideas about their very nature.

Covers for Books # 1 and #2 in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy.
The cover art for Jan S. Gephardt’s What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick are ©2019 and 2020, respectively, by Jody A. Lee.

And this is the perfect time to dip into the first of the series, What’s Bred in the Bone. Both the books are longer than average—about four volumes if we count pages like we’d count dog years. By the time you finish What’s Bred in the Bone—then go back and savor some of the best parts—it will be time to dive right into A Bone to Pick! That will make your summer getaway last right on through the fall!

What books, characters, or universes do you turn to, when you need a summer getaway? Please share some of your favorites in a comment!

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Dallas Magazine and Getty Images for the view of a sweltering Dallas, TX skyline. We appreciate the Insider’s Guide to Nantucket and photographer Brian Thoeie (for whom we could find no online profile) for the gorgeous sunset photo of the Brant Point Light. The cover for Death in the Off Season, by Francine Mathews, is courtesy of Mathews’ website. We appreciate it!

We’re indebted to Planet Ware for the photo of Portree, on the Isle of Skye, and to Global Grasshopper, for the iconic shot of Flatford, Suffolk (no photographer credits for either image). The Flatford view was immortalized in John Constable’s groundbreaking painting The Hay Wain. The cover of A Dream of Death, first of the Kate Hamilton Mystery Series, is courtesy of Amazon. Many thanks to all!

Planet Ware strikes again, this time with a photo from Yoho National Park in British Columbia by Lana Law. Thank you! We also want to thank Iona Whishaw’s website for the cover of A Killer in King’s Cove, the first book in the Lane Winslow Mystery Series.

Finally, the “tourist image” of motoring through exurban Orangeboro on Rana Station is a detail from Jody A. Lee’s cover painting for A Bone to Pick, second in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy of science fiction mystery novels. That cover is © 2020 by Jody A. Lee. Her cover painting for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. Please reblog or re-post these images with a link back to this post and an attribution to Jody A. Lee and Weird Sisters Publishing. We appreciate it!

Page 1 of 49

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén