Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Category: Creative Life Page 1 of 55

The original of image was mostly gray on gray. In the center is the following square design: Next to the imagery of the Weird Sisters Publishing logo seen at an angle through shards of glass, the words say: “The Weird Blog, and all of the Weird Sisters Publishing website, is the casualty of a prolonged website crash this week. We have been struggling to get it back into service.” We updated it later, once the site was fixed. Now it says that, but there’s a new, bright yellow area where it says “WE’RE BACK!”

Weird Blog Woes

By Jan S. Gephardt

When I first wrote this post, I was dealing with Weird Blog Woes. The Weird Sisters Website (including The Weird Blog) had been knocked offline by a persistent software glitch and increasingly-long “repropagation” issues. Cutting to the chase: It was broken. We were (trying to) fix it.

UPDATE! It’s now FIXED! 

But while it was still broken, it was blog day. So, while reserving time to work on fixing the Weird Blog Woes, we thought perhaps you’d enjoy reading three great “fan favorite” posts of the past by G. S. Norwood—plus a BONUS!—via a website you actually might be able to access!

We hope to be back in the next two weeks with a new post on The Weird Blog! But in the meantime, please check these out—and don’t forget there’s a BONUS at the end!

The original of image was mostly gray on gray. In the center is the following square design: Next to the imagery of the Weird Sisters Publishing logo seen at an angle through shards of glass, the words say: “The Weird Blog, and all of the Weird Sisters Publishing website, is the casualty of a prolonged website crash this week. We have been struggling to get it back into service.” We updated it later, once the site was fixed. Now it says that, but there’s a new, bright yellow area where it says “WE’RE BACK!”
Design by Jan S. Gephardt.

Three Great Posts By G. S. Norwood–Plus a Bonus!

Let’s start our quest to fight off the Weird Blog woes with this wonderful post by G. S. Norwood, author of the “Deep Ellum Stories.” They’re normally available through our website. G. has a full-time job with The Dallas Winds, but she’s also an entertaining blogger.

At left, G. with her new kitten in October 2019. At right, comfortable adult Gift in G’s lap.
At left, Photo by Marcy Weiske Jordan. At right, G. with Gift on her lap. Both from G. S. Norwood’s private collection.

The Universe Gives Me a Cat

By G. S. Norwood

Sometimes the Universe gives me a cat.

I write urban fantasy, so I’m fairly open to the idea of magical energies at play in our mundane world. Still, I had no intention of adopting a cat in October of 2019. When my oldest cat, Scrap, died that July, I was comfortable with the idea of being reduced to a two-cat household. “If the Universe gives me a cat, I’ll have another cat. But I’m not going to go out looking,” I told myself. It became my mantra. Read more here.

Those Weird Blog woes are fading, right? Who doesn’t love a great cat story? Now let’s move on to another mood-lifter: Wildflowers!

Three scenic views of the stone buildings, water features, and native plantings of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
The buildings and plantings of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center reflect and honor the local native Texas climate. (See credits below).

Lady Bird and the Wildflowers

By G. S. Norwood

It’s March in Texas, and that means wildflowers—specifically bluebonnets. For the next two weeks, roadsides and fields will be covered with our beloved state flower, a hardy lupine that loves rocky soil and early spring sunshine.

Fields of bluebonnets cover the hills of the Texas Hill Country, often peppered with clumps of Indian Paintbrush. People take pictures of themselves, their sweethearts, their babies, and their pets in bluebonnet pastures. Senior citizens who take up painting as a post-retirement hobby love to paint bluebonnet-filled landscapes.

Why are there so many bluebonnets along Texas roadsides? Read more here.

Have you shaken off the Weird Blog woes by now? Perhaps you’d like some reading ideas “for the road (or the Wildflower Trail?). After all, this is posting in the summer, and summer is the quintessential season for “beach reads” and literary vacations. With that in mind, we hope you enjoy the following.

A hot, hazy Dallas skyline
Dallas has air pollution problems (Dallas Magazine/Getty Images).

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. Read more here.

You’ve made it to the BONUS! One of the very best ways we know to escape Weird Blog woes—or any others—is a trip to Deep Ellum, Texas. Specifically, the magical and amazing Deep Ellum Texas of G. S. Norwood’s Ms. Eddy Weekes, as featured in her Deep Ellum Stories. Here’s your introduction: a free read! Enjoy Chapter One of the first “Deep Ellum Story,” Deep Ellum Pawn.

On a gold-colored background, next to a 3D visualization of the cover on an e-rreader, the words say:
“A solid-gold fiddle, with one Hell of a string attached . . . 
“’I played with the Dallas Symphony.’
“’Uh-huh. And you were pretty good. Then some guy challenged you to a fiddling contest, which you won, and he gave you his fiddle as the prize.’ I rested my hand on the duct tape that covered the violin case. ‘This fiddle, which is made of solid gold.
“Heat, and a faint vibration, rose up from the case as if the instrument inside was alive.
“’It has no resonance. The strings screech like damned souls. And ever since you got it, you’ve had horrible nightmares about giant, slavering bloodhounds with eyes red as fire, tracking you down to carry your soul to Hell.’
“My gaze held his as the color leached from his face.
“Download for free, to read Chapter One of G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Pawn. 
“Book cover art ©2019 by Chaz Kemp.”
Download your copy here! Or read it now online! Cover art © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.

The Golden Fiddle

By G. S. Norwood

The guy on the other side of the counter was antsy, shifting from foot to foot, sniffing, taking quick swipes at his streaming nose with the cuff of his faded beige flannel shirt. His eyes, half-hidden by greasy blond bangs, darted from side to side, as if he was afraid Hell Hounds would appear at any moment, hot on his trail.

He probably was. And God knows, the Hounds wouldn’t have any trouble following his scent. He reeked of sweat, adrenaline, and old urine.

I looked from him to the battered violin case he’d dropped on the counter and shoved toward me. I was pretty sure what I’d find inside . . .

Download Chapter One for FREE here. Or read it now online.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to G. S. Norwood herself, for the photos of her and Gift, her cat. For the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center photos, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center provided their logo, as well as the photo of their stone entry building, which Jan found via Tour Texas, and the picture of the predominantly yellow plantings, which came via CBS Austin. Texas Highways provided the photo of the Center’s “Garden of Yes” designed for full-bodied fun by families with small children.

We’re indebted to Dallas Magazine and Getty Images for the view of a sweltering Dallas, TX skyline. And the “Download Chapter One of Deep Ellum Pawn” Banner was designed by Jan S. Gephardt. Cover art for the story is © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.

Weird Sisters Publishing: We have tales to tell. This picture shows covers for The XK9 Series, Deep Ellum Stories, and The Windhover Tetralogy.

Artdog Adventures is Going Weird!

Artdog Adventures Blog is moving! This blog will now merge with The Weird Blog on the Weird Sisters Publishing website. Please mosey on over there, to read my (and my sister’s) latest thoughts on books, art, publishing, and more!

Thank you for being a devoted follower. I hope this change doesn’t cause you too much inconvenience, and I look forward to seeing you in the future on The Weird Blog!

Weird Sisters Publishing: We have tales to tell. This picture shows covers for The XK9 Series, Deep Ellum Stories, and The Windhover Tetralogy.
At Weird Sisters Publishing we have a growing list of tales to tell.

Changes can be Good

This move allows us to optimize our blogs for better, more seamless content delivery without sacrificing so much of my writing time! Artdog Adventures has been a project of my heart since I started it in 2009. Moving away from the name–and from my own author website is difficult.

But I’ve taken on a lot of other jobs since I started the first versions of Artdog Adventures on Blogspot. I now have an author newsletter and a growing list of published and in-progress novels.

I’m also still making fine art fantasy paper sculpture–although I must admit I’m not making as much of it as I used to! But believe it or not, I’m working on a couple of new series that I hope will see the light of day pretty soon.

So please follow the Artdog’s ongoing Adventures over to The Weird Blog! There’s plenty more to come!

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

Going to ConQuesT

By Jan S. Gephardt

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

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

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

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

Things I’m Looking Forward To

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Dealers Table

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

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

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

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

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

The Art Show

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

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

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

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

Going to ConQuesT 54

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

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS

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

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

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

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

This is a predominantly dark gray image, featuring a drawing of an astronaut with wings against a dark sky with a yellow crescent moon. The words say “Starbase DemiCon: A New World. Des Moines Holiday Inn Northwest, 4800 Merle Hay Rd.

Demicon 34

By Jan S. Gephardt

It’s that time of year again: getting ready for “con” season, and specifically for DemiCon 34. Repeated blizzard events over several recent years have discouraged us from attending Capricon in February. This means DemiCon, an annual, early-May convention in Des Moines, Iowa, has become our “new normal” first science fiction convention of the summer season.

But for DemiCon 34, things will be a bit different from our usual. Some of the changes were planned, others not. Here’s hoping I’m in much better health and voice than I was last year! I’m also hoping that we have our typically pleasant DemiCon experience on the whole.

This is a predominantly dark gray image, featuring a drawing of an astronaut with wings against a dark sky with a yellow crescent moon. The words say “Starbase DemiCon: A New World. Des Moines Holiday Inn Northwest, 4800 Merle Hay Rd.
Courtesy of the DemiCon Facebook Page.

A Couple of DemiCon 34 Disappointments

Let’s get these out of the way, so I can go on to the much-more-fun stuff. Due to a snafu in communications, I won’t be doing a reading at DemiCon 34. Readings are one of my favorite forms of “giving out free samples,” so I’ll miss it! To partially compensate for that, you might enjoy My First Original Video, which was filmed for 2020’s Virtual DemiCon (DemiCon 31, “Contaminated”).

In that video my son Tyrell Gephardt filmed me reading the first chapter of The Other Side of Fear aloud. That’s the prequel novella to my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, which was released that year. It was as close as we could get to a live reading during the early months of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Perhaps you’d also like to read the “free sample” first chapter from one of my novels, What’s Bred in the Bone (XK9 “Bones” Trilogy  Book One) or A Bone to Pick (Book Two). Just follow the links to their Weird Sisters pages, where you’ll find them offered.

My other DemiCon 34 disappointment? There doesn’t seem to be an Art Show. I have a long history of bringing my paper sculpture to sf cons, and I’ve enjoyed showing (and selling) my artwork at DemiCon for many years. I also love hanging out with the artists who gather in greater numbers at conventions where they can show and sell their work!

This is a montage of some of the paper sculpture that Jan would have brought to DemiCon 34 if there had been an art show. The artworks are: Top Row, L-R: “Common Cliff Dragon – Male,” “Gemflower Outburst,” and “Love in the Storm.” On the next row, L-R: “Overcoming Complications,”  pair from the “Guardians” series in yellow top mats, “Protector” and “Defender;” and “White Clematis with Dragons.” The lower pair of “Guardians,” in green top mats, are “Fierce” and “Brave.”
Here’s some of the paper sculpture I would like to have shown at DemiCon this year. All artwork is © by Jan S. Gephardt.

Panels Planned!

But another one of the things I love to do at sf cons will definitely be happening at DemiCon 34: panels! I have started pulling together notes for the five panels on which I’m scheduled! The first, AI Meets SF, is scheduled for Friday, May 5 at 6:00 p.m. I’ve been on a number of panels that discussed science fictional stories about artificial intelligence. But this will be my first discussion primarily about the potential for AI to write science fiction.

On Saturday I’m set for two more, a back-to-back pair. Thank goodness, they’re in the same room! Starting at 2 p.m., the first addresses a topic very near to my heart, The Role of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Predicting and Shaping the Future. That one’s pretty self-explanatory, I think. The other also promises to be a meaty topic: Pandemics Through History and Their Effects on Literature.

Sunday wraps up with two more. And again, they’re scheduled back-to-back. The first starts at noon, which will be a stretch for me, especially on Sunday of the convention! The rooms are next door to each other, so that should help me make it to the second one on time. At noon we’ll discuss Gadgets in SF. This is where we’ll talk about ways writers can incorporate speculative tech into their stories without grinding the story to a halt while they deliver a data-dump to explain how it works. Then, at 1:00 p.m., we’ll discuss life forms we might encounter on the Final Frontier in Who Will We Meet in Space? Should be fun!

Photos of Jan at ConQuesT in Kansas City (in 1985 and 2012), plus at Archon 43 (2019).
Here’s a walk through the decades that Jan’s been going to sf cons. (See credits and panelist identifications below).

Our Biggest News for DemiCon 34

For the Gephardt household, the most important change at DemiCon 34will be our official presence in the Dealers Room. Not only will we have a Weird Sisters Publishing dealers table with all four of our books. We’ll also have a new member of the Gephardt clan at the con: my husband Pascal. My son Ty and I have traveled to sf cons for many years, while Pascal has always had obligations elsewhere.

But here’s the thing. Pascal is the lark among us night owls – the family’s Designated Morning Person. A lot of the Dealers Room schedule happens before 1:00 p.m., which means that someone has to be awake then to run it! Add to that the fact that he’s got years of experience traveling to art shows and Renaissance festivals with our friend Randal Spangler, and he was doomed to be drafted for this role!

Of course we’ll bring our own books: Mine are, as noted above, The Other Side of Fear, What’s Bred in the Bone, and A Bone to Pick. We’ll also have copies of my sister G. S. Norwood’s book Deep Ellum Duet, which includes both of her “Deep Ellum” novelettes, Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues. But wait! There’s more! Speaking of Randy, he’s among the “Kansas City Writer Friends” whose books we’ll be offering at our table. It’s a way to expand our range of offerings and give our friends access to a new market (not to mention we earn a commission while we’re at it).

Weird Sisters Publishing Presents Books by Jan S. Gephardt and G. S. Norwood, plus Books by Kansas City Writer Friends Lynette M. Burrows, M. C. Chambers, Dora Furlong, Karin Rita Gastreich, Randal Spangler.
All cover images are courtesy of the authors, their publishers, or Amazon.

Our Kansas City Writer Friends

The covers of books by our “Kansas City Writer Friends” in the illustration above represent books that we’ll offer at our table. By Lynette M. Burrows, we’ll bring dystopian alternate history sf novels from the Fellowship Dystopian Series. They are Fellowship, My Soul to Keep, and If I Should Die. By M. C. Chambers, we’ll have fantasy books Midsummer Storm (romance novelette) and Shapers’ Veil (novel). By Dora Furlong, a science fiction novella titled One of Our Own.

In addition we’ll have the Silver Web Trilogy fantasy novels by Karin Rita Gastreich. They are Eolyn, Sword of Shadows, and Daughter of Aithne. And, as noted above, from Randal Spangler we’ll have hardcover, full-color children’s books D is for Draglings written with Lauren K. Duncan, and The Draglings Bedtime Story. Not shown in the illustration (because I couldn’t make it fit), we’ll also offer The Draglings Coloring Book.

All in all, things definitely will be different at DemiCon 34. But then, change is the most constant thing about our lives. I’d love to see you at the convention. If you can’t make it, I plan to publish a follow-up after we get back so you’ll know how it went. And here’s hoping one thing that doesn’t change is having a fun and creative weekend at another year’s DemiCon!

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to the DemiCon Facebook Page for a good pic of their header. All of the artwork in the paper sculpture sampler is mine, shown in a montage I made, from photos I took. All of it is © by Jan S. Gephardt. If you should choose to repost it, please do so with a link back and attribution, if possible.

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

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

For the fourth illustration, I am indebted to the authors, their publishers, or Amazon, for the cover images of our Kansas City Writer Friends’s books (see their embedded links in the text of this post). The design is mine.

"Housing is absolutely essential to human flourishing. Without stable shelter, it all falls apart." - Matthew Desmond

Housing First

By Jan S. Gephardt

It’s called “Housing First,” and it’s a well-tested, successful, and cost-effective approach to the growing problem of unhoused people. It’s also humane and supportive – which may be why a lot of people have never heard of it. For a certain school of policy-making thought, I guess it just doesn’t punish poor people enough?

Whether you call them “homeless,” “persons experiencing homelessness,” or “unhoused persons” probably matters little in practical reality, although some would disagree. Poor people who can’t find a safe, secure place to sleep at night or keep their stuff from being stolen labor under a whole range of disadvantages. That’s a problem – both for the individuals who live each day in that dangerous situation, and for their communities.

"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” In the lower left-hand corner is the logo for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the words “United Nations Human Rights.”
Graphic treatment by the author. Logo courtesy of the United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Housing First

But how should we solve the problem? The traditional way, tested for centuries and failing for centuries, says if we do anything at all, we certainly should make them clean up their act before they “deserve” help. But if you accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the traditional view gets it exactly backwards. Also, it’s cruel, ineffective, and dehumanizing.

Article 25 (1) says, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” (my emphasis).

“Housing First” embodies that concept. And yes, strange as it might seem, the United States did ratify that agreement – although a lot of people in our assorted legislatures, a majority of dedicated capitalists, and a far-too-loud segment of the chattering class would like to conveniently forget that part.

The most recent “per 10,000 population” map I could find comes from Landgeist.com, published in 2021, reflecting 2020 data. It shows Washington DC as the highest density, with 93 unhoused per 10,000 people. The states with the highest density are New York (45/10,000), Hawaii (44), California (41) and Oregon (35). In the next tier are Washington State (30), Alaska (27), Massachusetts (26), and Nevada (22). In the 11-20 unhoused/10,000 range, are Colorado (17), New Mexico (16), Arizona (15), Montana and Minnesota (each with 14), Idaho and Florida (13), Nebraska, Delaware, and South Dakota (12), and Wyoming and Missouri (11). All of the other states are in the 4-10/10,000 category. NO state is without an unhoused population. Source: U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2020.
Many thanks to Landgeist.com, (Twitter @Landgeist Instagram @Land_geist).

How Big is the Problem?

Nearly every city of any size seems to have a growing number of unhoused persons. And no, that’s not your imagination. According to the 2022 Annual Homeless Assessment Report from HUD Public Affairs (the most recent one out, at this writing), there’s been an upward trend in this population since 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic made it worse, despite official moratoriums on evictions.

Not every place has the same levels of homelessness, though. Whatever your take on “Blue State” cities and their status as strongholds of “bleeding-heart liberals,” unhoused populations are generally higher there. That’s not because less liberal places are kinder – it’s because affordable housing is harder to find in vibrant, growing cities where real estate prices are highest.

Atlantic writer Jerusalem Demsas likens it to a game of “musical chairs” where there are more children than chairs. Or, in this case, more people than places to live. Those who can’t compete (read that “those not paid a living wage or even sometimes higher”) are literally left out in the cold. Creating more available, affordable housing is the obvious answer and it’s a basic tenet of the Housing First model. Still, cities and legislators resist.

“The biggest misconception about the homeless is that they got themselves in the mess — let them get themselves out. Many people think they are simply lazy. I urge those to make a friend at a local mission and find out how wrong these assumptions are.” — Ron Hall
Many thanks to GoodGoodGood and Ron Hall.

But What about Personal Responsibility?

Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about the rights and problems of our fellow human beings who are unhoused. If we are not ourselves among the working poor – or even if we are – it’s uncomfortable to think about. We’ve probably avoided making eye contact with panhandlers on the street. Stood so we’re upwind of a “street person” or “rough sleeper” who smells bad. Maybe even complained that they’re trashing our parks and street corners, or that they make us feel unsafe.

We also commonly wonder how they got themselves into this mess. Is it because they have PTSD and can’t hold a job? Because they’re alcoholics or addicted to some other drug? Because they’re lazy or can’t manage their money? Underlying all of these questions is the question of what is wrong with them? What character defect made them vulnerable to this? Why can’t they take personal responsibility?

We (all too self-righteously) often unconsciously accept the idea that “Well, clearly something must be wrong with them, because it hasn’t happened to me.” But that’s buying into the myth of the “undeserving poor.” We assign primary blame to the unhoused person, when all too often they ended up unhoused because they ran out of options. We never stop to wonder if maybe nothing is wrong with them, or if they really aren’t “degenerate,” but merely unlucky. We don’t do that, because doing that makes us feel way more unsafe than any “scary” homeless person’s presence could.

“Fear is dangerous. It creates an environment in which it’s acceptable to treat those experiencing poverty and homelessness with anger and hate. The first step to stopping this is to realize that this fear is unfounded and dangerous.” — Terence Lester
Many thanks to GoodGoodGood and Terence Lester.

Evolving Views on Addiction, Dysfunction, and Enabling

I now have a personal understanding of issues connected with addiction that I didn’t have fifteen years ago before a close family member went through that long, dark tunnel and unintentionally dragged the rest of us along. I’ve had an up-close-and-personal view of the state of addiction treatment and recovery during a period when the opioid crisis also dragged a lot of other families through their own long, dark tunnels.

Like many other wide-eyed, unprepared family members, I’ve been exhorted to apply “tough love.” I’ve been accused of “enabling dysfunction.” And most definitely criticized for not allowing my loved one to “hit bottom” so “recovery can begin.”

I’ve emerged from that experience with a currently-sober, functional, recovering family member (for which I’m thanking God, day-by-day). My family and I also have a lot of healing bruises and new (inward, spiritual) scars . . . And I know I now have a profound disgust for traditional, “one-size-fits-all,” “destroy ‘em to fix ‘em,” blame-based models of addiction treatment. People heal, recover, and grow, I’ve discovered, when they’re given realistic supports and autonomy-empowering options.

That’s why I see a lot of sense in the Housing First approach. It looks past the oppressive prejudice. Past the smelly clothes and scruffy appearance that lack of access to bathrooms and laundries guarantee. And past the trauma upon trauma that life on the streets inflicts endlessly. Instead, it focuses on the person. What does this person need? How can this person feel secure enough to look beyond the grinding daily struggle to survive, and find their unique way to thrive? How can this person, with all their challenges and strengths, be empowered to live their best life?

"Housing is absolutely essential to human flourishing. Without stable shelter, it all falls apart." - Matthew Desmond
Many thanks to BrainyQuotes and American sociologist Matthew Desmond.

The Many Challenges to Come

In the United States, Housing First is slowly beginning to gain ground, but it still is regarded as “experimental” and strange. It takes a while to bring people’s hearts and minds around. People still resist seeing new permanent housing for the formerly homeless as a better, more functional approach than bulldozing homeless encampments in the middle of the night. Especially if that new permanent housing is anywhere near their neighborhood.

Old-school ways of thinking and “cop culture,” which favor criminalization of the unhoused, will take a while to get rid of – even though they cost significantly more than Housing First. We’ll always have to push back against those who prefer to shove unhoused persons out of sight, rather than deal with them as human beings.

Ultimately, however, we can’t criminalize people out of existence. We cannot solve the problem just by wishing it didn’t exist. Unhoused persons will never find housing until it becomes available. Housing First offers a better way forward.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for the use of their logo and to Landgeist.com, (Twitter @Landgeist Instagram @Land_geist), for their map. I’m also grateful to GoodGoodGood.com, Ron Hall, and Terence Lester, as well as BrainyQuotes.com and American sociologist Matthew Desmond, for the illustrated quotations.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Not in My Neighborhood

By Jan S. Gephardt

“Not in my neighborhood!” I’m sure you’ve heard this characteristic cry of property owners almost everywhere. It’s a near-universal protective reflex when anything new or even potentially threatening appears on the horizon.

And there are times when it’s thoroughly justifiable. After all, the vast majority of us are persons of limited means. If we don’t protect and steward the value of things we own, who will? If our property value goes down too much, our home or other property can turn into more of a liability than an asset.

So, for example, if we don’t raise a stink a rumor that someone wants to install a landfill near our local school, we could be in trouble. Pretty soon there’ll be a stink on our kids and on our spring breezes. If we don’t make some noise about a “party house” where they blare loud music all night, we might lose our sleep and our hearing in the resulting din. And in either case, our neighborhood will suffer.

“We must do more to protect our neighborhoods and give integrity to our community plans.” – Alan Autry
Many thanks to AZ Quotes.

“Not in My Neighborhood” and Inequality

But “not in my neighborhood” isn’t always possible. That’s because what it actually means is “somewhere else.” So, for all too many of us, it’s okay if someone else’s neighborhood is trashed, just as long as ours isn’t? My country – indeed, my own home city – offers many cases in point, both from history and in the present.

That’s because the power to say “not in my neighborhood” doesn’t belong to everyone. No matter how “equal” we try to convince ourselves we are. It never has. In the United States, as I write this, dramatic economic inequality colors every aspect of our lives and the way we live. “Not in my neighborhood” currently finds some of its expression in gated communities. Some of it comes with gentrification. And it often finds expression that results in environmental injustices.

Historically, “not in my neighborhood” is the very heart and soul of redlining. That’s a now-illegal lending and real estate practiced that very successfully segregated our cities. Its legacy lingers today. But it’s a concept our kids are unlikely to learn if we live in certain states that have restricted academic freedom and the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

"If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighborhoods." -- Harvey Milk
Thanks again, AZ Quotes!

How “Not in My Neighborhood” can Cause Enduring Harm

Redlining by real estate developers such as J. C. Nichols in Kansas City created cascading results we still see today. By figuratively but quantifiably “walling off” parts of the metro area from each other, these practices guaranteed division. You can still see stark differences from one block to the next in my home town.

When they systematically invested money in some, while actively barring investment in others, they guaranteed harsh divisions between rich and poor areas. They chose to bless some with fertile ground to prosper, while they monetarily “salted the earth” in others to make sure they stayed poor. This not only impacted personal wealth – we also see it in schools, health outcomes, and many other compounding effects.

Income and racial disparities from redlining and similar practices left a mark. They made it possible for developers of the US interstate highway system to target Black and brown neighborhoods. Those “lower value” zones became the ones literally plowed under and paved over. The social chaos from that simple, cruel solution still haunts many cities today.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
Many thanks to QuoteFancy.

Righting Old Wrongs

The statutes that enabled redlining have since been declared illegal and unconstitutional, but the disparities persist. Johnson County, KS was the “favored land” in the Nichols vision – read that white and Christian only. No Jews need apply, and certainly no Black people back then. Our local officials and state legislators are still trying to eradicate all of the old, racist language from housing covenants. Legally, that’s been a lot harder than it should be.

Rectifying historic wrongs will take a lot more than erasing old language, however. The harder work is fighting persistent biases and historic patterns. In my town there’s a common understanding about which are the “good” or “safe” neighborhoods, and which are the “bad parts of town.” Cultural memory persists. To this day, some of my neighbors actively fear going into “the wrong parts of town.”

Unfortunately, avoidance doesn’t usually breed either an appetite to do something about it, or the individual means to do so. And heaven forbid we should suggest anything as radical as reparations! Most of those selfsame neighbors are still stuck in the “that was then, this is now” mindset of people afraid of losing their historic advantages.

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” — Nelson Mandela
Many thanks to GoodGoodGood!

How “Not in My Neighborhood” Creates a Toxic Stew

Those disadvantaged, redlined communities also have borne the brunt of environmental injustice. Because they are poor (as well as often poorly-educated, hungry, over-scheduled by juggling multiple low-wage jobs, and ill), they don’t wield a lot of clout in municipal decisions. The working poor are almost never at the table when zoning changes that impact them are made.

Thus, we have situations such as the one in Brownsville, Texas, where Native Americans (another historically restricted and dispossessed group) have been fighting to preserve their heritage in the face of environmental destruction. We have activists from a Black neighborhood in South Charleston, WV, struggling for decades to contain the pollution from a Union Carbide plant. Or poor neighbors in Catawba, SC, fighting pollution from a paper mill. And don’t forget residents of the Wilmington Neighborhood in Los Angeles, struggling with pollution from oil refineries.

Where does it stop? How do we change and improve? Environmental destruction impacts poor neighborhoods first, but as the residents of East Palestine, OH have discovered, pollution can happen anywhere, anytime, with no warning. You also can ask people in Washington County, KS about that. Those folks all can attest that “not in my neighborhood” only goes so far.

Environmental injustice is a tangible, intolerable example of exhibited moral laxity and minimal concern for healthy standards by corporations and political structures based on the race, ethnicity, and class of those being impacted.” – Bernice King
Thanks again to GoodGoodGood!

Reconsidering “Not in My Neighborhood”

This post has been long on problems and short on practical solutions. That’s partly because few of the difficulties I’ve highlighted are easy-to-fix issues. Hidden danger lurks in only focusing on the “low-hanging fruit” – the easy fixes. Simple-minded solutions to complex issues aren’t solutions at all. They just defer the inevitable (and possibly attempt to shift blame).

If we habitually look at life as a zero-sum game where someone must by definition be a “loser,” we’ve not only taken a morally bankrupt approach. We’ve also set ourselves up for later grief. I write science fiction about an imaginary place far from earth. But through it I often try to re-imagine how solutions to clear and present problems might be solved – and what those solutions might look like.

Here in the present, our neighborhood is increasingly connected to everyone else’s neighborhood. All-or-nothing “solutions” are not helpful at all. It takes creativity to look at complex problems in new ways. It takes ingenuity and determination to craft new, better answers to the problems born of inequity, pollution, and systemic injustice.

In the final analysis, “Not in My Neighborhood” doesn’t truly fix anything. Not unless it transforms into “Not in Anybody’s Neighborhood.”

IMAGE CREDITS

As noted in the cutlines under the illustrations, for this post I’m grateful to AZ Quotes, QuoteFancy, and the wonderful post full of “Quotes about Justice to Inspire Positive Change” from GoodGoodGood.

Clockwise from upper left: An arrangement of roses, hydrangeas, and tulips form a backdrop for the words “Valentine’s Day Special;” a heart-shaped box’s lid, which is printed with the words, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” is offset to show a glimpse of the chocolates inside; a jewelry marketer inserted a woman’s diamond-studded engagement and wedding ring into the petals of a red rose; and a restaurant offers a “2023 Valentine’s Dinner” special.

Valentines and Love

By Jan S. Gephardt

Valentines and love are pretty inextricably bound together in our contemporary culture. But that connection wasn’t always understood in the same way. This post is part of a series of looks at holidays that have periodically appeared on “Artdog Adventures” and “The Weird Blog.” It will go live the day after Valentine’s Day, so it seems like a good time to consider the holiday.

Contemporary practices bear little relation to the third-century saint recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Its origin may lie in a few lines of poetry by Geoffrey Chaucer. Others link the traditions to the Roman festival of Lupercalia or the troubadours of the late Middle Ages.

Troubadours sang songs about love. But many marriages among the upper classes of that period were matches made for political advantage. Marriages usually were arranged between powerful families when the girls, and often also the boys, were small children. If love had anything to do with it, it was a side benefit, developing later.

However (and however many times) it began, the February 14 date became linked in North European cultural imaginations with a celebration of mate-finding. Observations persisted and evolved through the unfolding centuries. Valentines and love became more firmly linked as time went on.

A colored etching made in 1870 envisioned a wedding by two young teens in the later Middle Ages. The bridegroom wears a fur-trimmed red tunic with a light colored cloak. The bride wears a light gray gown with a dark yellow cloak. Three brown-robed monks attend the ceremony (one officiating), while a crowd of others looks on.
A Victorian (1870) etching of a Medieval marriage in a stone cathedral between two, very young people. (See credits below).

What Kind of Love is This?

That Valentine’s Day ideal of marital love – or at least of couples’ love –became more firmly linked in the last three centuries or so. During the Victorian era the tradition of making poems and cards for a loved one (or “vinegar Valentines” designed as put-downs) flourished.

By the time I finished high school in 1972, Valentines and (always heterosexual) love had long since been permanently linked with romance and marriage. But meanwhile the institution of marriage went through a lot of turmoil and cultural change. At my high school in a small town, “catching a husband” by getting pregnant was still a thing. Until a Planned Parenthood came to a nearby city, girls had to ask their parents to get them a prescription if they wanted to use “The Pill.” I don’t know of anyone who had the guts to ask.

The linkage of love and marriage that we were fed by popular culture when I was growing up held that once you were married, you’d found your “happily ever after.” Marriage was supposedly the magic key to “legal sex” and a happy life. But the institution was far from a straightforward thing when, for many of us, the legal line between partner and property (or at least second-class citizenship) remained blurry.

And then several waves of our parents’ marriages started coming apart at the seams after the divorce laws changed. The economy changed, too, and within a decade more and more women were commonly expected to work outside the home.

Top: “open” and “closed” views of an 1863 Civil War Valentine. The tent’s flaps open to reveal a soldier composing a love letter while envisioning his beloved. Bottom: A German card from around 1900 opens into a 3-dimensional train. Photos from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, via the New York Times.
As a paper sculptor, I had a grand time looking at these early 3D Valentines. (See credits below).

Valentines and Love and Spending Money

I finished college, taught for a couple of years, and then married my longtime boyfriend. By then it had become the “new reality” that a middle-class family needed two incomes to make ends meet. The income from the “wife’s job” somewhat made up for the fact that all salaries were falling ever-farther behind the cost of living.

But now we needed an ever-growing number of appliances and gadgets to help make up for not having a full-time stay-at-home person to cook, clean, and supply child care. A woman couldn’t do all of that the way her mother had, and also work full-time (the husband, help with housework? What??). Working Americans became ever more voracious consumers of nearly everything, from ready-made clothing to microwave ovens. Corollary to that evolution, Valentines Day became ever more expensive. Our contemporary focus on buying expensive gifts for our loved one has roots planted firmly in the United States (you’re welcome, World).

It’s become one of our biggest shopping days. Valentine’s Day spending in the US hit $23.9 billion (yes, that’s billion-with-a-B) in 2022. Every year we see articles on how to have a heartfelt Valentine’s Day without spending lots of money, but for many of us, Valentines and love mean spending big bucks, whether we have them or not.

Clockwise from upper left: An arrangement of roses, hydrangeas, and tulips form a backdrop for the words “Valentine’s Day Special;” a heart-shaped box’s lid, which is printed with the words, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” is offset to show a glimpse of the chocolates inside; a jewelry marketer inserted a woman’s diamond-studded engagement and wedding ring into the petals of a red rose; and a restaurant offers a “2023 Valentine’s Dinner” special.
There are so many ways to spend money on Valentine’s Day! Here are four favorites. (See credits below).

Whose Love “Counts”?

Up till now, we’ve focused on North European and American ideas about Valentines and love that are pretty exclusively heterosexual (And middle-class. And white). But there are billions of people in this world, and Northern Hemisphere, white, middle-class heterosexuals make up only a tiny fraction of them. As Valentine’s Day has become more widely celebrated through the world, it has expanded well beyond its original expressions.

Singles who feel left out and demoralized by the holiday live among us. There’s a variety of healthy ways to cope with feelings of being left out, left behind, or erased on Valentine’s Day. Among them are celebrations of familial love, deep friendship, pet love, and more.

But there’s another whole rainbow of love in this world that in my opinion deserves equal treatment, both on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year. Included in their ranks are some of the most amazing, creative, wonderful people I know – and some of the most admirable examples of long-term commitment. Yet they aren’t feeling any love at all from certain conservative legislatures in my country (or from certain governments in others). I mean, of course, the whole range of what we call the LGBTQIA+ community. When we’re talking about Valentines and love, a narrow paradigm that’s stuck in Northern Hemisphere, white, middle-class, heterosexual love falls far too short.

On a black background, three symbolic couple outlines are colored with an underlay of the colors of the Pride Flag. The couple on the left is 2 women, the one in the middle is a man and a woman, and the one on the right is 2 men. Image from tenor.com.
If we’re going to celebrate love, let’s include all the love! (See credits below).

Love is More than Valentines

When all is said and done, Valentine’s Day is only one day. It’s an annual opportunity to think about and value all the love that’s in your life. A day to reach out and express your love for others. And to receive love from them as well.

Too much focus on how much you spend, what gift(s) you were (or were not) given, or how someone made you feel rejected, is a warning that your perspective needs work. But working on your perspective is a worthy use of your time on Valentine’s Day.

Because self-reflection is a form of self-care. Dare I say it, of self-love. And until your core self is secure in the knowledge that you are a person of value who deserves love (which you are, and you do), you can’t truly love anyone else. So start with healthy self-love – then look outward.

Otherwise, any external show of Valentines and love just rings hollow.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Wikipedia, for the 19th century visualization of the medieval wedding. A scan by Laura Valentine of the book Aunt Louisa’s Nursery Favourite yielded the engraving, created 1 January 1870.

Thanks also to my friend, the author Rob Chilson, who called my attention to the New York Times article that featured the 19th century Valentines. The article discusses a collection from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. It yielded the two 3D Valentine pictures.

I owe thanks to four different sources for the montage of ways to spend money on Valentine’s Day: Freshest Flowers of Haddon Heights, NJ for their “Valentine’s Day Special” graphic. Wilson Candies of Jeanette, PA, for the photo of their “Valentine’s Day” 8oz. Milk Chocolate Variety Heart Box. The Dallas Morning News for the photo from Blue Nile. It shows a Blue Nile Studio French Pavé Asscher-Cut diamond eternity ring in platinum with a Bella Vaughan for Blue Nile Grandeur Cushion Halo diamond engagement ring in platinum. And finally North Corner Haven restaurant in Lancaster, SC for their Valentine’s Dinner promo.

The “Love is Love” image is a screen-grab of an animated GIF available from Tenor. Thanks also to them!

“Stress overload makes us stupid. Solid research proves it. When we get overstressed, it creates a nasty chemical soup in our brains that makes it hard to pull out of the anxious depressive spiral.” — Gail Sheehy

Pushing The Envelope

By Jan S. Gephardt

For me, this past month has been one long (exhausting) experiment in pushing the envelope. You may know this phrase, which originated in the aeronautics field. It passed into more common usage after Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book The Right Stuff (about supersonic aeronautics and the early US space program) was made into a movie by the same name in 1983.

In aeronautics “the envelope” means the limits of an aircraft’s performance capability. Pushing past it is risky. But people (being humans) quickly generalized it to meanings beyond the aerodynamics field. So, no. I haven’t been out there test flying high-performance aircraft. The performance capability I’ve been testing is my own.

In my newsletter last month, I listed the major things I do for Weird Sisters Publishing, to help keep it moving forward and growing. “My job as Chief Cat-Herder and Manager of Weirdness for Weird Sisters Publishing boils down to Art Director, Copywriter, Production Manager, and Marketing Director,” I wrote. And as you might guess, when I try to embody all those roles I work a lot of long hours. Pushing the envelope becomes a way of life if I’m not careful!

In 1947 when this photo was taken, Chuck Yeager was a daring young test pilot. Here he stands next to the small, sleekly aerodynamic “Glamorous Glennis,” the Bell X-1 aircraft in which he broke the sound barrier – the first to do so and live to tell the tale.
In telling the story of Chuck Yeager (Pictured with his aircraft in 1947), Tom Wolfe popularized the expression, “pushing the envelope.” Photo from Bettmann/Getty Images, via WIRED Magazine.

Pushing the Envelope is Not a Good Lifestyle

Some of you will read that subhead and think “well, duh! Of course it isn’t!” Others may frown and think, “But I do that all the time!” Sad to say, “I do that all the time,” even though “Of course it isn’t!”

I suspect that working long hours and testing our performance capabilities – pushing our personal envelopes – is endemic to running a small business. I know I’m not alone when I end the day thinking, “I could have done more!” or “darn it, I didn’t finish it all!” Part of the reason I’m a “night owl” is that ever since I was a kid resisting bedtime, I’ve never wanted to stop when prudence demanded it. There’s always so much interesting stuff yet to do!

But recently I’ve rediscovered that when I’m so stressed out that my fingertips tingle, it is a very bad sign. It’s hard to see this fact in the moment, when I’m yawning my head off but still “in the flow.” But it’s actually more efficient – and I’m more effective – if I’ll stop, put it down, and go TF to bed! Or take a break. Or stop and refresh/reframe.

A little blond girl 6 to 8 years old hides under bed covers and reads a book at night by flashlight.
I didn’t only read under the covers after lights-out. More often my sister and I stayed up long after bedtime whispering to each other as we made up a collaborative story. Photo by “ocusfocus,” via 123rf.

In this Case I’m a Slow Learner

Every few years I have to re-learn this lesson. That isn’t just my guess or impression. I have hard evidence! Exhibit A? A blog post I wrote in 2020. Back then, I was juggling weekly posts on three different blogs (with different content) and trying to finish production on a publishing project.

Fast-forward to now. I’m trying to pre-schedule social media posts on four different outlets each week. Produce a bi-weekly blog. Consistently publish a monthly author newsletter. And also finish production on FIVE publishing projects. Oh, yes – and simultaneously write a new novel. On a deadline. Well, actually, they’re all on deadlines, aren’t they?

Sure. No pressure. Piece of cake, right?

“Stress overload makes us stupid. Solid research proves it. When we get overstressed, it creates a nasty chemical soup in our brains that makes it hard to pull out of the anxious depressive spiral.” — Gail Sheehy
Many thanks to More Famous Quotes for this observation from Gail Sheehy. It’s just as true now as it was when I first used it in 2020.

Continuous Improvement vs. Pushing the Envelope

I’ve gotten more efficient over time. I’ve developed much slicker systems for drafting and organizing each of those aforementioned functions. Each is a far smoother process than when I first started doing them. That’s because I frequently take time to reflect on what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and why I’m doing it. Basically, it’s my take on the business concept of continuous improvement. And it works pretty well for me.

But nothing can be improved forever. Eventually we hit the ceiling, the apex of what’s possible, working with the given limitations. We can expand our envelope, our capacity, our limit, only so far. Pushing the envelope beyond that carries guaranteed problems, plus ever-greater risks of disaster.

But unlike with Chuck Yeager’s “Glamorous Glennis,” the risks to a person running a small creative business don’t include physically exploding, breaking up, or falling out of the sky. Our risks from pushing the envelope of stress lie more in the realms of disaster to our health and relationships.

This rather complex stress-cycle illustration, like most, has no definite beginning or end. It models a process for a work project that already has begun and is now perceived to be in trouble. Stakeholders understandably express a need for more control. This places added pressure (stress) on the team and sends them into fight/flight defensive behaviors. Trust diminishes, relationships and communications suffer, and there’s less collaboration. This leads to less creativity and an ever-lower likelihood of a successful outcome for the project. Which makes the stakeholders feel a greater need for control, and a new cycle begins.
None of the stress-cycle graphics I could find online exactly mirrors what’s going on in my case, but I liked this one for the way it included “less time/inclination for ‘new’ relational activities.” I’ve needed to force myself to stop and relax for family Movie Nights and conversations with friends. Many thanks to Visible Dynamics for the chart.

What’s the Answer? Or is that “What are the Answers”?

I certainly don’t want to bring on disaster to my health and relationships. And thank God I’m not forced to make a toxic choice. If I can just pull my head up out of the cycle and get a broader perspective, I can find a better way forward.

The first step is realizing, “oops, I did it again.” What’s needed after that is (1) getting perspective and (2) yet more “continuous improvement” – but of a different sort. Instead of optimizing my systems for doing specific tasks, I need to re-center on my ultimate goals. Are all of the things I’m doing still central to my primary objectives?

I often find that some of them don’t yield the same benefits they once did. I can stop doing them, or maybe adjust their requirements and do them less often. Is filling out a checklist that I’ve consistently neglected for a while still helpful? Or was it once a learning scaffold that I no longer need? Maybe it’s now busywork. Have I found that a certain measurement gives no helpful information, so I can stop measuring that thing/aspect?

Business needs – like life itself – are always changing. Pushing the envelope can create a powerful momentum if it’s well-targeted. But every once in a while all of us have to stop, back up, and review what we’re doing.

It’s not pushing the envelope alone that yields success. It’s (briefly, and only when needed) pushing the right ones.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to my image sources for this post, as noted in the cutlines above. They are WIRED Magazine, ocusfocus,” via 123rf, More Famous Quotes, and Visible Dynamics. Y’all helped me make my point, and I appreciate it! 😊

3D-looking mockups of “Deep Ellum Duet” as both an ebook on a tablet and a slender trade paperback. Cover art © 2022 by Chaz Kemp.

Introducing Deep Ellum Duet

By Jan S. Gephardt

I’ve spent the last several days preparing a new book for its presale launch. Deep Ellum Duet is the answer to a lot of requests we’ve had since we published my sister G. S. Norwood’s first novelette in 2019. People want to buy them from a variety of booksellers, and many would prefer to buy a paperback. But until now, Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues were only available individually on Kindle.

There were several reasons for this. They made sense at the time we first published Deep Ellum Pawn. We at Weird Sisters Publishing were newer to the publishing game then (it was only our second title). And one novelette alone was not big enough to be practical in a print edition unless we wanted to make a slender booklet that wouldn’t be cost-effective.

We also were under the illusion that Kindle Unlimited would make a piece of short fiction easily available and that there was a tremendous demand. As it turned out, KU has no “magic formula,” especially since the novelette had a profit margin too small to justify paid advertising.

This banner shows a 3D mockup of “Deep Ellum Pawn” as an ebook. The words next to it say, “The Golden Fiddle is back. The Hell Hounds are Ms. Eddy’s problem now. Cover art copyright 2019 by Chaz Kemp.”
Cover art ©2019 by Chaz Kemp.

G.’s Writing Career

I’m excited to produce Deep Ellum Duet because it’s a new milestone for G: her first fiction publication in literal print. You see, one of my greater pleasures in recent years was bringing my sister’s first independently-written fiction, Deep Ellum Pawn, into publication. An odd combination of obstacles held up her fiction writing career for a long, frustrating time.

It’s certainly not because she can’t write! She’s earned her livelihood through one writing job after the next, from broadcast writing to several forms of journalism and newsletter or ad copy writing, through highly effective grant writing. No, G. always had the writing chops. Indeed, I’ve always thought she’s a better writer than I am.

But officially-acknowledged fiction publication has maddeningly eluded her until now. She co-wrote the Time Police #1 novel and collaborated with her late husband Warren C. Norwood on the outline for a 6-book series after Warren became seriously ill. Mel Odom wrote books 2-5 based on that outline (then the publisher went bankrupt and the series was never finished). But for contractual reasons, she wasn’t credited.

Here are the available covers for three “Time Police” novels by Warren C. Norwood (& associates). They are “Time Police #1 Vanished,” “Time Police #2 Trapped,” and “Time Police #3 Stranded.”
Covers courtesy of Goodreads.

G.’s Body of Fictional Work

During the 1990s, both she and Warren tried to break into the romance genre. She attracted a lot of editorial interest but never found a publisher. Her books made it into editorial meetings more than once. She almost sold one – but then the publisher decided to discontinue the line. Another got a lot of interest, but . . . no. It’s the story of many writers’ lives when they try to mesh their vision with that of a traditional publishing house.

Here at Weird Sisters, we’re determined that it’s only a matter of time before several of those “failed romances,” too, will become available. Because they’re wonderful. Especially if you read them as women’s fiction, rather than romance novels (see more below).

But Deep Ellum Pawn at last put G. in the “published fiction” column. It came after an adult lifetime of hanging out with top published writers, honing her skills, and writing book after book. While still holding down her day job as Director of Concert Operations for The Dallas Winds, she polished off a second novelette set in the series, which came out in 2020 as Deep Ellum Blues.

Next to a mockup of the cover as an ebook on a tablet, it says, “Deep Ellum Blues. G. S. Norwood. “Deep Ellum Blues” reaches beyond the old stories to reveal that the true power of the Blues is rooted not in darkness and damnation, but in redemption and light . . . Somewhere, Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker are smiling.” – Bradley Denton, author of “Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede.”Artwork ©2020-2021 by Chaz Kemp.
Artwork ©2020-2021 by Chaz Kemp.

The Deep Ellum Stories

A third short “Deep Ellum” work may be shaping into a novella but it’s not finished yet. This one is titled Death in Deep Ellum. It has been in the works since right after we published Deep Ellum Blues but unfortunately a range of issues beyond G.’s control have delayed it.

Meanwhile, we’ve collected several pages of rave reviews for the two already-published novelettes. These opinions come from both from “known” writers and discerning fans. If you follow Weird Sisters Publishing on Facebook, you know that even now, in recent months, Deep Ellum Pawn consistently pulls in Top 1K rankings on Amazon in the Occult Suspense category (and some others, too).

The Deep Ellum stories also were added by readers to the Goodreads Listopia’s “”Most Interesting World” List.

But we want to bring these stories to a much broader audience, in more formats. We have pulled out of Kindle Unlimited, although both novelettes are still available as standalone titles on Amazon (See our book pages for more details).

Two recent “Shout-Out” celebration images. L-R: The first says, “All through October, our author G. S. Norwood’s novelette “Deep Ellum Pawn” consistently ranked in Amazon USA’s Top 1K list in the “Occult Suspense” category! Urban Fantasy set in Dallas, TX.” The second says, “G.S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Pawn Hit Amazon USA’s Top 1K lists for Kindle Multiple times during December In the “Occult Suspense” Category! Congratulations, Ms. Norwood! Cover artwork ©2019 by Chaz Kemp.”
Montage designs from the last 2 months by Jan S. Gephardt. Cover art ©2019 by Chaz Kemp.

Where does Deep Ellum Duet Come in?

One novelette might be too short to make a bound, printed book. But two – especially including the extra “Set List” feature at the end of Deep Ellum Blues – definitely make a good small trade paperback. It’ll be about the size of my book The Other Side of Fear. This will be a new first for G: her first original fiction published in a print edition.

We’ve come to believe that restricting these novelettes to a single distributor (Amazon) and only one format (ebook) was holding them back. Enter Deep Ellum Duet. It’s a double-story edition that contains both of the Deep Ellum stories she’s finished so far. This title will officially go into wide release in ebook and trade paperback formats on March 14, 2023.

Today we’re proud to announce the start of pre-orders for the ebook version (unfortunately, Amazon is our only current outlet that enables pre-orders, and those only for ebooks). As soon as we can manage e-commerce from the Weird Sisters website, we’ll take pre-orders for the trade paperback version, fulfilled to addresses in the USA, UK, Canada, and Mexico.

Next to 3D-looking mockups of “Deep Ellum Duet” as both an ebook on a tablet and a slender trade paperback, is the quote from Nebula-Award winner Elizabeth Ann Scarborough: “Some of the best stories I’ve ever read!” Cover art © 2022 by Chaz Kemp.
Cover art ©2022 by Chaz Kemp.

What’s ahead?

Keep checking the links on the Weird Sisters Deep Ellum Duet page. We’ll update them as soon as more outlets open up. And The book will be available as close to worldwide as we can manage by March 14. You can also bet it’ll be prominently displayed on our dealers tables at conventions we attend throughout this year!

G.’s not done, however. She’s contemplating retirement in 2023, although it’ll be hard to part with her beloved Dallas Winds. But she’s got Death in Deep Ellum to finish! Not only that, but we’re in final edits for the first of her women’s fiction titles, Wrong Way Riley. It features plenty of good Texas music, as well as an engaging young woman who struggles to define herself as a person and an artist.

G. also has a wonderful mystery novel in progress, titled Ray and Sunshine. It stars a widowed, retired Texas police chief, a precocious little girl, and a delightful dog in the dynamite opener for a promising mystery series.

Yup, my awesome sister is just getting warmed up! Stay tuned.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Chaz Kemp for the wonderful “Deep Ellum” covers – he’s the artist behind all three. The cover paintings are © 2019-2023 by Chaz Kemp. We also gratefully acknowledge Goodreads for the three “Time Police” covers. All montages and “Shout-Out” designs are Jan S. Gephardt’s fault.

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

The Definition of “Dog”

By G. S. Norwood

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

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

My Mother’s Dog

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

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

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

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

The Definition of “Dog”

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

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

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

An Opening in the Pack

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

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

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

Harvey Needs Help

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

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

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

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

Harvey Goes Home

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

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

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

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

Slater Meets the World

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

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS

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

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

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

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