Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Category: Education Page 1 of 15

Four composite images from the post show eight “New Year Dragon” works of art, four each by featured fantasy artists Theresa Mather, Rachael Mayo, David Lee Pancake, and Randal Spangler, plus a total of eight book covers – four coloring books for adults by Rachael Mayo and four children’s books by Randal Spangler, all with a dragon theme.

My New Year Dragon Project

In February I devoted two blog posts and 16 different social media posts to a “New Year Dragon Project” display of dragon-themed artwork. When I discovered that this Chinese New Year’s animal was the Dragon, I immediately thought about all the amazing artists I know, who paint or sculpt – and indeed, specialize – in dragons. But for the sake of my sanity I settled on only four, whom I know well enough to anticipate they’d be willing to work with me on this project.

New Year Dragon Ladies

I decided to focus the first blog post of the Project on my two New Year Dragon Ladies I asked each to share four pieces and permission to reproduce them on social media and this blog post. All artwork is © by the artist, as noted on the imagery.

This is a square image with the eight artworks featured in this article arranged around a middle where it says, “NEW YEAR DRAGONS by Theresa Mather and Rachael Mayo.” Clockwise from top center the artworks are: “ “Chasing Wisdom,” “Celestial Dance,” “Heart of the Storm,” and “The Astronomer,” all by Mather. “Opal Paradigm, “Emerald Unity,” “Deep Rising 11,” and “Dragon Dance 6,” by Mayo.
Here’s the artwork celebrated in my “New Year Dragon Ladies” post. All artwork is © Theresa Mather or © Rachael Mayo, as noted on the individual compositions.

Practically the very first person I thought of for my New Year Dragon Project was Theresa Mather. I have rarely gone into a science fiction convention art show in the last two decades without a chance to see her latest work.

It also wasn’t hard to decide that Rachael Mayo would be my other featured New Year Dragon Lady. She may classify herself as an amateur at sf art shows, but she is an amateur in the most honorable sense of the word, a master who does the work for the love of it more than to make a living. She knows her craft through and through.

New Year Dragon Gentlemen

I conceived the two posts of the New Year Dragon Project to be a sort of “progressive art show.” The New Year Dragon Gentlemen post provided the second half. The “rest of the story,” if you will.

These posts were considerably longer on art than on words, but when the pictures are worth a thousand each, there should be little more to say. I hope you’ll enjoy these gorgeous pieces!

This is a square image with the eight artworks featured in Jan’s blog post arranged around a middle where it says, “NEW YEAR DRAGONS by David Lee Pancake and Randal Spangler.” Clockwise from upper left, the artworks are: “Eldar’s Secret,” by Spangler; “S’mine” and “Scrapper,” by Pancake; “The Literate Dragon,” by Spangler; “Solstice,” by Pancake; “A Gathering of Dragons” and “Devouring a Good Book,” by Spangler; and “Stormwind,” by Pancake.
Here’s the artwork celebrated in my “New Year Dragon Gentlemen” post. All artwork is © David Lee Pancake or © Randal Spangler, as noted on the individual compositions.

I’ve enjoyed David Lee Pancake’s wonderful resin sculptures for more than a decade. I love his artistry, his originality (check out his Vent Dragons for one notable example!), and his willingness to “go there.” I’m pleased for a chance to bring some of his work more attention. I hope you’ll be intrigued, and explore his website more fully.

And there was never any universe in which Randal Spangler would not have been one of my choices for New Year Dragon Gentlemen. He’s one of my husband’s closest friends. And over the years he and I have not only been friends but also business partners on several ventures. He’s the next-best-thing to family. Give yourself a little while to peruse his extensive galleries, and I think you’ll find his completely different, far more playful take on dragons has an enduring appeal.

This square design shows the covers of Randal Spangler’s four books (current count in Feb. 2024) on a variegated background. Clockwise from upper left: “Counting With the Draglings,” the newest title; “The Draglings Coloring Book,” “The Draglings Bedtime Story,” and “D is for Draglings.” All artwork is © by Randal Spangler. Covers are courtesy of Spangler’s website and (in the case of the coloring book) Amazon.
Please reference the links in the text below for purchasing information.

Books by New Year Dragon Project Artists

We normally don’t think of artists as also being authors (yes, that’s me talking, the exception that illustrates the rule). Two of our New Year Dragon Project artists also push against that expectation, although in less “text-dense” ways.

As I note in the linked blog posts, both Rachael Mayo and Randal Spangler also have books to their name. Rachel has created four coloring books for adults, working with Kaleidoscopia. Randy has a coloring book, but also a growing line of children’s books. He just produced a third children’s title, which is now available through his website.

This square image shows the covers of Rachael Mayo’s four dragon and fantasy art coloring books, each featuring 52 images and designed to be used by people of all ages. They are: Top row L-R, “Dragon Adventure” and “Dragon Adventure 2.” Second row, L-R, “Dragon Adventures 3, Dragons and Friends,” and “Dragon Adventures 4, Fantasy Drawings to Color.” All were published by Kaleidoscopia Coloring books, and all are available on Amazon. All artwork © Rachael Mayo.
Rachael’s four (to date: 2/28/24) coloring books are full of her wonderful art. Follow the links from her Amazon Author Page to find links to more information of purchase.

What did you think of the New Year Dragon Project?

These two posts were considerably longer on art than on words. But when the pictures are worth a thousand each, there should be little more to say. I hope you enjoy these gorgeous pieces!

And please leave me comments.

Do you like this “progressive art show” idea? Would you like to see more artists profiled on my blog posts in this way, perhaps as a “curated just for Artdog Adventures” kind of group show?

About the Author

I’m Jan S. Gephardt, and I’ve been writing this blog since 2009. Since I don’t want to let it die of neglect, even though I’m now too busy to write lots of individual posts. 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 for Weird Sisters Publishing. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s the best I can do for 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 Theresa Mather, Rachael Mayo, David Lee Pancake, and Randal Spangler, who provided all the artwork used in this digest post, the two longer “Weird Blog” posts, and the social media posts that were coordinated with this project. All of the artwork in this post is © by the artist listed in each copyright notice. See links in the text above for the book cover sources.

"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.

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” — Brian Tracy

Gratitude isn’t only for one day

By Jan S. Gephardt

Here in the United States, we recently celebrated Thanksgiving. As I noted in my last post, it’s supposed to be a time to reflect upon the blessings in our lives and be grateful. My purpose today is to make the point that gratitude isn’t only for one day a year. It’s better understood as a lifestyle.

It’s my lived experience that when one looks at the world with gratefulness, it’s easier to see the blessings that fill our lives. Even when our lives are hard. Maybe especially when they’re hard. And yes, this marks me as an optimist by nature.

I recognize that pessimists have an important place in the grand scheme of things. They do seem naturally better-suited for some essential roles in society. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily fun or easy to go through life as one. And it doesn’t mean that the pessimists in the world don’t need us optimists around. If they’ll accept it, we can give them necessary balance when they start going totally sour on everything (as is their natural bent).

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.” — George Bernard Shaw
Balance in life and human society requires both! (Many thanks to Quotefancy).

Are We Wise Enough to See It?

An important part of bringing that balance into one’s perspective is a key awareness. NO human is a totally “self-made” person. That “self-made” poppycock is a self-aggrandizing fallacy. It flies in the face of human nature because we are a social species. Our primary survival mechanism is gathering into interdependent groups. All of us, no matter how independent-minded and  contrary, must depend on others in many ways and for many things.

Maybe our families bestowed riches, education, and advantage on us. Or maybe they did just the opposite. Whatever our history and personal level of success, we all have received favor and grace somewhere along the line from someone. From society’s basic infrastructure, if nothing else! If we are wise enough, we recognize that.

And if we recognize it, honesty demands that we be grateful for it. Gratitude isn’t a show of weakness – it’s an acknowledgement that our species’ greatest survival skill is active in our lives. That’s why I contend that gratitude isn’t only for one day (for instance, Thanksgiving. Or perhaps the day after Christmas. Or some moment when we can’t escape the obligation to write a thank-you note). Gratitude isn’t only for one season. It isn’t only for one year, or any other finite period. Properly understood, it’s perpetual.

"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough” — Oprah Winfrey
Maybe not a law of nature, but certainly a law of human psychology. (Courtesy of Wow4u).

Seven Days of Gratitude

Back in 2017 I wrote a series of seven blog posts in a row. I posted one right after another on seven successive days. They were my response to a self-challenge to think about the things I was most grateful for. Now, as I just pointed out, if gratitude isn’t only for one day – and it isn’t only for seven.

But that exercise provided a learning experience. Several patterns of thought emerged. Had I pushed the experiment further, I’m sure I would have discovered more. But even though I clearly had lots more time to write blog posts back then, there were limits.

What themes did I choose for my Seven Days of Gratitude? They covered quite a range, from the personal to the broadly institutional. Considering them from that perspective, let’s take a quick look. Are these things you would have chosen?

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” — Brian Tracy
Don’t just take my word for it. The lives of the grateful are richer in every way. (Thanks again, Quotefancy!)

Gratitude for Personal Things

As I said, some of the things I was (and am) thankful for were personal. Take for instance my family (that was Day Two’s topic). Cliché, much? Yes, “I’m grateful for my family” is basic elementary-school essay fodder, but that doesn’t rob it of validity for many of us. Some people’s families are real-life horror shows, but most of us regard our near kin more kindly. How do you feel about yours?

Another important point of gratitude for me was the companion animals in my life. In genuine ways they also are family. Pack is Family, after all! Even though I didn’t bring them up as a topic till Day Six, they are an active force that makes my life better. This blog is so pet-friendly, that won’t surprise you. Since pet-related posts often get more traffic, if you’re reading this post you probably feel much the same!

One “gratitude topic” that isn’t in the lineup of “usual suspect” clichés was another deeply personal one. I expressed gratitude for my callings. That is, for the things I do well and that give my life meaning and purpose. I believe that each of us comes into the world with a unique suite of abilities and predispositions. When we find ways to develop and express those “best things” in our lives, everyone in our lives benefits in some way. It is a supremely satisfying “fit,” even when it’s also a lot of work. What are your callings? How do you express them?

This montage consists of three quote-images. The one on the left says, “Gratitude: Today be thankful and think how rich you are. Your family is priceless. Your health is wealth. Your time is gold.” – One Bite Wisdom. The middle one reads, “I am thankful for my pets because they complete my family.” – Anonymous. The one on the right says, “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” – Leo Buscaglia.
How do these things work in your life? Do you see them as blessings? (See credits below).

Gratitude for Broader-Based Gifts: Food Security

Gratitude isn’t only for one day, and it isn’t only for one “level” of blessings. When I looked beyond my personal existence, I found yet more things to be grateful for. I’m privileged to be able to claim some of them. Take food security, for instance!

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported in September that more than one in five Americans has experienced food insecurity this year. One in five! In the country that is the richest nation in the world! And speaking of “in the world,” we’ve got a global food crisis on our hands. So, if food insecurity is not one of your clear and pressing worries, you have a very great deal to be thankful for!

Those of us blessed with food security should lift up a hearty “thank you!” And then why not look into Charity Navigator’s excellent guide to giving opportunities that fight hunger? But for a few twists of fate, we could be among those on the “hungry” side of the line!

“Before you eat food or drink water, look at what you’re about to eat or drink and feel love and gratitude. Make sure your conversations are positive when you are sitting down to a meal.” — Rhonda Byrne
An excellent place to start! But don’t stop there. (Quotefancy comes through for me again!).

Yet more Societal Gifts: Peace

Number Three on my 2017 list was Peace. Yes, we’ve all seen the clichés and memes about “whirled peas” and beauty pageant candidates claiming they’re all in for world peace. But gratitude isn’t only for one day, and it isn’t only for my small part of the world. Anytime we feel blasé about peace, we need to remember what’s actually going on in the world.

What would Somali farmers say about peace in their part of the world? How would Palestinian or Syrian children (whether refugees or not) feel, if they could grow up in peaceful neighborhoods? Or schoolgirls in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Pakistan, or Afghanistan? How would Rohingya refugees feel about the ability to live quietly in peace? Or, of course, the Ukrainian people spending this winter huddling in what’s left of their cold, dark homes?

And let us not forget violence in our own country. The murder rate in my hometown of Kansas City is nothing short of blood-drenched, although (for now) my little neighborhood is relatively quiet. We “only” hear gunfire once in a while (last night, for example), and usually a fair number of blocks away. No, I don’t take peace for granted at all, and neither should anybody! You bet I’m grateful!

“My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and absolute freedom – freedom from violence and falsehood, no matter how the last two manifest themselves.” — Anton Chekhov
Freedom from violence makes all our dreams more possible. (What would I do without you, Quotefancy?)

But Wait! There’s More!

The last two items on my “Grateful” list deserve at least one separate blog post, so I’ll mention them only as a preview of future (and a reminder of past) posts. Kind of an “alpha and omega” for my thank-you roundup, the very first item on my list was freedom of religion, a topic I’ve already written about several times, including in my 2020 series on the First Amendment, and in a 2019 post about violence against places of worship.

The “omega,” but far from the least important on my list? Gratitude for the arts. I’m a writer and artist. My career history includes work as an art and writing teacher, a graphic designer, a journalist, and an art agent, among other arts-related work. I come from an artistic family (for one, my sister and publishing partner is the Director of Concert Operations for The Dallas Winds, as followers of this blog may recall).

My whole LIFE has been about, and suffused with, the arts. They have not only sustained me as the source of my most meaningful work, however. The amazing thing about the arts is that they can touch any human life with a near-miraculous gift of grace. They have lifted our spirits in times of dire darkness, helped us find meaning, and opened untold wonder for untold numbers of people. So I’d be pretty darned ungrateful to leave them off of my list!

The quote on the left says, "Religious freedom should work two ways: we should be free to practice the religion of our choice, but we must also be free from having someone else's religion practiced on us." — John Irving. The one on the right says, "Art gives its vision to beauty not always recognized. And it surrenders freely -- whatever power it possesses to every sincere soul that seeks it. But above all else--it presents us with the gift of ourselves." — Aberjhani
Gratitude for these blessings brings richness and joy to our lives. (Double thanks to PictureQuotes; see credits below).

So, then. That’s my list. And while gratitude isn’t only for one day, it also isn’t only for one person’s list. What’s on yours? Can you find seven things to be grateful for? Share in the comments if you wish. But more important by far is to recognize them. Cherish them. And do your best to spread the gratitude you feel into the world around you.

IMAGE CREDITS

And now for more gratitude! First of all WOW, Quotefancy! This blog post wouldn’t be the same without my access to your trove of image-quotes. See the individual credit lines in the captions for the four different, but highly appropriate, quotations from this resource. Thank you very much! I also owe a double debt of gratitude to PictureQuotes for the two images used in the final montage. They provided both John Irving’s words on religious freedom and those of Aberjhani on art.

To the rest of my image sources, I also am grateful to you! Many thanks to Wow4u, for the Oprah Winfrey quote-image. And three hearty “thank you!” shout-outs to One Bite Wisdom on Pinterest, Quotesgram, and Biblereasons. I loved being able to find the component quotes that I used to build the three-part personal gratitude montage. I appreciate all of you!

"A vote is a prayer about the kind of world we want to live in." - Rev. Raphael Warnock

It’s Important to Vote

By Jan S. Gephardt

In Kansas and Missouri, we’re holding a primary election next week. And every time there’s a primary, some people question whether or not it’s important to vote in it. I’ve blogged about Primary Elections in other years. Longtime readers of my “Artdog Adventures” blog know very well that I feel it’s important to vote.

I realize some of my readers don’t live in the United States, and many others live in states hold their primaries earlier or later in the year than now. I was talking about this with my sister recently. She agrees with me on the importance of voting, although for her the primaries are so last March (she’s a Texan, as longtime blog-followers well know).

But in my neighborhood, the primaries are looming (August 2). It’s important to vote because elections are always a potential turning point of some sort. And that’s where life is informing my art rather a lot, recently.

“So long as I do not firmly and Irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact – I can only submit to the edict of others.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Image courtesy of Medium).

Life, Art, and Science Fiction

I’ve already blogged some about politics on Rana Station. Rana is the fictional, far-future space-station home of the XK9s and their favorite humans, the setting of my novels. Readers of my stories may recall mentions of elections for Premier that were held while the XK9s and their partners were still on Chayko. POV characters Pam and Charlie voted absentee, and talked with their XK9s about the elections. It’s unspoken but clear that both think it’s important to vote.

There are political undercurrents throughout the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. On Rana, Boroughs are sort of a cross between a city and a state or province, politically. Readers saw the local Borough Council in a special session during What’s Bred in the Bone. In the second novel, A Bone to Pick, Ranan politics received less focus. But that realm returns in a big way –on a national level – in the third novel, Bone of Contention. As it happens, I’m writing some of that part now.

Of course, politics in science fiction is nothing new. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, recently.

"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.
(See credits below).

Eroding Rights

Women who pay attention know our rights and freedoms are always under attack. Cases in point: horrifying recent stories about Mongolian schools that require “virginity checks.” Patriarchal cultures use force to suppress education for girls. Invading armies use rape as a means of terrorizing civilians. All across the world our freedom and bodily autonomy are at continual risk, and they always have been.

Even before the United States Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health verdict that made it official, we in the USA saw the warning signs if we were paying attention. Remember “pussyhats” and the Women’s March on Washington in 2017?

As a science fiction reader and writer, I’m aware of many dystopian “futures.” It’s a time-honored science fiction tradition to base dystopias on contemporary trends taken to extremes.

And in nearly any dystopia ordinary people are powerless. They have no agency, no autonomy. Goes without saying they have no vote.

The cover of the book “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a page from a graphic novel adaptation of the book, and a background photo from the television show based on the book.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has been adapted into a graphic novel and a television show. (See credits below).

Tales and Parables

One science fiction story that has resonated deeply with women – and in the wake of Dobbs feels even more relevant – is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. In this dystopia, first released in 1985. Starting production in 2016 (imagine that), a television series by the same name, based on the novel, has been renewed for season after season.

But the science fiction that’s resonating most deeply for me this week is Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. I’ve been re-acquainting myself with it. I remember when it first came out in 1994. Back then, I was a mother with young children and little time. I had difficulty reading it, probably because I wasn’t ready to contemplate a world like the one it depicted.

Now, in 2022 (the book starts in 2024, in a world both unfortunately like, but also different from our current situation), I’m finding the parallels interesting. Butler’s world, in fact, feels like an oddly familiar place. For one thing, there’s more than a small echo of the assumption I grew up with, that it was only a matter of time before disaster hit. At the age of Butler’s main character Lauren, I tried to learn canning and gardening, assuming I’d need such survival skills after the coming nuclear apocalypse. But there are other parallels, too.

Two book covers, one for the original novel by Octavia E. Butler, the other for a Hugo-winning graphic novel adaptation.
Octavia E. Butler’s book Parable of the Sower has been adapted into a graphic novel and optioned for a film. (See credits below).

A Different Apocalypse, But it “Rhymes”

The kind of apocalypse Californian Lauren Olamina faces in Parable of the Sower didn’t start with a bomb blast. Some reviewers call the novel “post-apocalyptic,” but that’s not correct. The slow-rolling apocalypse Lauren and her neighborhood face is protracted and actively ongoing. There is nothing “post” about it.

Its origin lies in steadily-chipped-away rights, a process that has disabled all government protections for ordinary people. This has led to savage economic disparity and inflamed racial division. Of course, those dynamics further cripple government. The power and importance of voting has been reduced to choices between bad and worse impotent politicians. But you can only vote if you can make it through the mean streets to the polls in one piece.

By the time of the novel, all the last safety nets of civilization have been stripped away. This dysfunctional dynamic empowers the rise of business behemoths that capitalize on the power vacuum to further entrench their own advantage. No surprise, there’s a massive and growing unhoused and dispossessed population that’s increasingly desperate and lawless.

"A vote is a prayer about the kind of world we want to live in." - Rev. Raphael Warnock
(See credits below).

The Antidote? It’s Important to Vote! (While we still can)

Does any of this sound familiar? If not in exact mirroring, it certainly takes little effort to recognize parallel dangers in contemporary gerrymandering and false claims of vote fraud that threaten to actually do the real thing. If it’s okay to declare that corporate “free speech” (AKA money) is protected, and that some people have no right to bodily autonomy, how far from slow-rolling apocalypse are we, truly?

All of this brings me back to the importance of voting. We’re not yet in full-blown apocalypse. We won’t be (barring unforeseen disasters) in 2024. But we’ve been flirting with it for longer than many people have noticed. And if more of us don’t wake up to the serious issues that threaten our freedom and our democracy, we’ll wander blindly into it.

Our rights are increasingly on the line. Our best defense is our vote, and here the advice is “use it or lose it.” That’s why it’s important to vote. Every time. In every election. Vote.

IMAGE CREDITS

The quote-image for Dr. King’s view of the importance of the vote came from Medium. The background for the quote from Jan is Nebula 2, ©2021 by Chaz Kemp, first published in the blog post “Looking for Hope.” Design by Jan.

Jan also assembled the two montage images built around two of the books mentioned in the post. The Handmaid’s Tale montage Includes several images. The cover for Margaret Atwood’s novel is courtesy of ThriftBooks. A page from a graphic novel adaptation by Renee Nault comes via Maclean’s. And a still from the television adaptation of the book is courtesy of Woman & Home.

The montage for Parable of the Sower features the cover of Octavia E. Butler’s book, courtesy of the North Carolina State University Libraries. Butler’s book also has been adapted by Damian Duffy into a graphic novel illustrated by John Jennings. No TV show yet, however it’s been optioned for a movie.

Jan first assembled the final quote-image in this post from a tweet by the Rev. Raphael Warnock (now US Senator Warnock) in November 2020. The background photo is originally from the Baltimore Sun, taken at the Maryland primary election, June 2, 2020 by the multitalented Karl Merton Ferron. Deepest appreciation to all of them!

A rocket lifts off for a Space Force mission in 2020.

Space Force!

By G. S. Norwood

Every year, for our July 4 concert, the Dallas Winds plays a medley of armed service anthems as a salute to veterans. This year, as I listened during rehearsal, I realized something was missing. As the music swelled around us, I leaned over to my boss and asked, “What about the Space Force?”

My question got a laugh, but it made me wonder: What about the Space Force? Was it a real branch of the military? Did it even have an anthem? I decided to find out.

A classic space battle image of Star Wars space ships in a confrontation.
Images like this iconic Star Wars confrontation leaped to mind. (See credits below).

Is the Space Force Some Kind of Joke?

On March 13, 2018, then-president Trump announced that “space is a war-fighting domain,” and he intended to establish a new branch of the armed services: the Space Force. He made it sound like the idea was just something he thought of one day, and he repeated the name so often it began to sound like a joke. Late Night host Stephen Colbert called it, “The president’s boldest idea that he got from a Buzz Lightyear Happy Meal toy.”

Those of us who grew up at nearly any time since 1967, when the original Star Trek hit the airwaves, immediately got onboard. We focused on images of Captain Kirk and—I dunno, Luke Skywalker? Commander Peter Quincy Taggart?—zipping through the black void in X-wings and TIE fighters to battle the evil . . . Aliens? Russians? Chinese? That part wasn’t really clear, but we knew it could be epic, even if it sounded silly.

A rocket lifts off for a Space Force mission in 2020.
A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the AEHF-6 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile System’s Center lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 on March 26, 2020. (See credits below).

A Little History

But the truth is, former president Trump didn’t just dream up the Space Force one day while he was shaving. The idea for the Space Force was born back in the middle of the twentieth century, even before the Russians launched the first artificial Earth satellite. The United States Army, and later the United States Air Force actively discussed the strategic importance of space from 1945 through the 1950s. When Sputnik went up on October 4, 1957, the race to control Earth’s orbital space began in earnest.

Military tacticians will tell you that whoever controls the high ground has the advantage in battle. Space is the ultimate high ground for our planet. Our national defense system relies, in part, on intercontinental missiles, and our whole, world-wide communications system relies on satellites. Your phone, your car’s radio, and your GPS navigation system depend on uninterrupted space-based communications capabilities. Any hostile force that can disrupt those capabilities would put the United States at a serious strategic disadvantage.

Once you understand that, the Space Force begins to make a whole lot of sense.

US Space Force logo on left and the Star Trek emblem on right.
BBC cutline from 2020: “The newly unveiled logo for US Space Force appears to have boldly gone where Star Trek went before.” (BBC).

Things Get Real

Then one day the government announced that they had a logo for the Space Force. It looked suspiciously like Starfleet’s logo. But never mind that. Had the former president really just waved his tiny little hands and created a whole new branch of military service? Surely, with our do-nothing Congress, there ought to have been an epic debate over the creation of a new armed service. How did I miss that?

Turned out, after decades of quiet discussion about the need for the Space Force, some PR genius at the Pentagon probably just caught the former president’s attention. Perhaps a power point presentation with images of epic space battles, mixed with some John Williams music? However it was done, it convinced the former president to champion the idea of the Space Force, claiming it as his own. The expense was quickly folded into the 2019 Defense Authorization Funding Bill. This annual not-much-to-argue-about spending measure funds the entire military budget with bipartisan support. And, hey, presto! Just like that, we had the Space Force.

In addition to information on COVID-19, the United States Space Force’s website landing page offers links for Leadership, Photos, Videos, a Fact Sheet, FAQs, and USSF Locations.
Get past the snickering and take another look. The U.S. Space Force actually has a lot going on. (USSF).

Today’s Space Force

So yes, there is a Space Force. It currently has around 10,000 members, but they are distinctly earth-bound desk jockeys, monitoring our nation’s orbital assets for signs of trouble. Collectively, members of the Space Force are called Guardians, following the tradition in the Air Force of referring to personnel as “guardians of the high frontier.” (No bio-engineered raccoons need apply.) Their ranks mirror the Air Force, with Specialists, Command Master Sergeants, and the Chief of Space Operations.

The Space Force Anthem

And they do have an anthem. It’s called The Invincible Eagle. John Philip Sousa wrote it in 1901 for the Pan-American Exposition, held in Buffalo, New York.

Is a very traditional, somewhat fusty turn-of-the-last-century march the right anthem to lead our Guardians to infinity and beyond? A choral group called Voices of Freedom thinks not. They have written their own anthem for the Space Force. You can decide for yourself if it strikes the right note.

Or perhaps you will side with a conductor I know, who said, “They should just go with the Main Title Theme.” Whatever the Space Force choses, it’s clearly time for us to update that medley of armed service anthems we perform every year.

Backed by a huge US flag and surrounded by a burst of streamers and projected stars and fireworks in red white and blue, the Dallas Winds performs on the stage of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, TX.
The Dallas Winds performs their annual Star-Spangled Spectacular concert, possibly in 2018. (See credits below).

One More Question

While I enjoyed educating myself about the United States Space Force, and understand the serious nature of their mission, I still struggle with the snark. I want those X-Wings and TIE Fighters. I wonder if the Specialist uniforms will turn out to have red shirts. And I have one more burning question:

What kind of camo do Space Force Guardians wear?

IMAGE CREDITS

As ever, we owe many thanks to a lot of people for the illustrations in today’s post. Let’s start by thanking “CCA School Gurgaon,” source for a visualization of an iconic TIE Fighter-versus-X-Wing conflict. It comes with a product description that doesn’t credit an artist or explain a lot. But, whatever it is, it can be yours for only $43.99.

Air Force Magazine published the rocket-launch photo with its editorial about Space Force, “Seize the High Ground.” It shows a ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the AEHF-6 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile System’s Center as it lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 on March 26, 2020. Air Force Magazine credits the photo to United Launch Alliance, which is a company that builds rockets to the buyers’ specs.

GEEK-OUT ALERT: ULA has a “build your own rocket” interactive feature that doesn’t seem to require any pre-payment guarantees. For the right person, just supply the imagination and they’ll tell you what they can build for you. Bonus: feel your eyes bug out at the price tag!

Getting Real

Both Weird Sisters Publishing and Artdog Studio have our roots deeply embedded in science fiction. So we, too, instantly saw the parallels between the logos of the USSF and Starfleet Command. The BBC similarly had no compunction about going there, when it came to a logo comparison image. Even so, they acknowledged the importance of a Space Force. See the article here.

On a more serious note, check out how much information you can find on the U.S. Space Force’s official website. There’s even a place where you, too, can sign up to become a Guardian. Have you got the Right Stuff?

And finally, Art & Seek published the Dallas Winds concert photo with an article previewing the Dallas Winds 4th of July concert in 2019. You also can access a YouTube video of the Dallas Winds performing The Star-Spangled Banner on this page. Photo by Sean Deuby, via Art and Seek. Sean Deuby takes photos in the Dallas area (scroll down on this site to see his atmospheric image from SMU), but he doesn’t seem to have a website or social media for his work.

Once again, many thanks to all of these folks! We couldn’t have created this post without you!

“In general, the more dysfunctional the family the more inappropriate their response to disclosure. Never expect a sane response from an insane system.” ― Renee Fredrickson, Repressed Memories: A Journey to Recovery from Sexual Abuse

Inequality Lies at the Root

By Jan S. Gephardt

When you get right down to it, inequality lies at the root of Women’s History Month. Imagine if there were no historic, male-centric preponderance of lopsided favoritism. In that case, all months would be equally devoted to the historic achievements of both men and women. But there’s not. So, here we are.

Certainly, the same could be said for Black History Month, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. (Of course “all lives matter,” but there’s no enduring legacy of systemic brutality against white men. Only the stubbornly obtuse would argue otherwise). But that’s the thing. Inequality lies at the root of nearly every social ill. Inequality of access to health care. Of access to housing. Or education, or healthy food. It goes on and on.

All of these are undeserved inequities. That is, for the most part the people who suffer from them did nothing to deserve them. Oh, right. How dared they be born in a particular time, place, and social position! Very negligent of them! But of all the inequalities that surround us, perhaps the most foundational – and probably the oldest – is gender inequality.

Feminism isn’t about hating men. It’s about challenging the absurd gender distinctions that boys and girl learn from childhood and carry into their adult lives.” – Robert Webb

Gender Inequality Lies at the Root of All Inequality

When you can discriminate against your own mother without a second thought or the slightest qualm, that’s a special kind of low. When you can demean your daughters and turn your lifemate into a chattel, you’re beneath reprehensible.

No, I’m not talking only about men. We humans – all of us – have collectively been buying into some version of this arrangement for millennia. If anything, that only makes it more horrifying, not less. And once you’ve crossed that very basic, intimate line? Heck, what’s going too far, after that? Skin color? Spoken accent? Different religious tradition? Pick whatever you feel like hating, and do your worst! There’s a saying that common sense is not so common. In human history, it seems common decency has been all too rare, as well.

This pernicious insistence on a hierarchy of superiority and inferiority within our own families creates a powerful unconscious bias. It dictates many aspects of how we see the world and relate to others. And as a result it enforces a host of other arbitrary rules. “Boys are blue and girls are pink” is only the beginning.

Two Quotes-in-Point

This post was inspired two quotes I paired up and shared on this blog in 2017. Here they are (one re-envisioned a bit):

“We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons . . . but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” – Gloria Steinem
“Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots cause it’s okay to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading cause you think being a girl is degrading.” – Madonna Ciccone

I didn’t say much about either quote when I first posted them (I didn’t have Yoast SEO critiquing me with red frowny-faces back then, for one thing). But it seems to me that considerably more could and should be said on the topic of the messages our families and our society send.

I’ve been both a teacher and a mom. Granted, that was a while ago (my kids are millennials). But with that background, I can attest that parents can’t control all – or even most – of the messages kids receive. Sorry, fundamentalist home-schoolers and cranky conservative legislators. It’s a losing game. No matter how draconian you are, you ultimately lose this battle.

In a society like ours, messages come through. They penetrate, in spite of everything a person tries to do to control them. The trick is teaching our kids how to evaluate what comes through. Preferably, we’ll do that in a way that doesn’t distort their thinking in even more dysfunctional ways than society already has adopted.

What are we Teaching Our Kids?

There’s a humongous battle going on right now in the United States, about what we’re teaching our kids these days. First, a moment of perspective: there have always been people (especially, but not exclusively, conservatives) getting their panties in a twist over what we’re teaching our kids these days (in whichever century “these days” are).

Back when my kids were in school, I remember how another mother worried about whether our children were being taught that “it’s okay for somebody to have two daddies.” She was outraged to discover the idea didn’t outrage me. And it’s a story that truly should be a remnant from another era. But lately it’s back again, along with deeply corrosive controversies about children’s sports competitions.

It’s pretty easy to see how inequality lies at the root of this thinking. People who self-identify within the LGBTQIA+ community have never been in a numerical majority. This inequality of influence made them easy to oppress. And yet we have evidence that there have never stopped being LGBTQIA+ people at any point in history. This inconvenient fact argues that they are a naturally-occurring phenomenon. Therefore, “born that way.” And therefore not a “lifestyle choice” that could be taught.

"The pain associated with the social stigma of being LGBTQ, of living in a culture that, for the most part, is homophobic and heterosexist, is traumatic." - Craig Sloane, psychotherapist and clinical social worker

What does it Mean to be . . . Whoever You Are?

The LGBTQIA+ community has nearly always alarmed and infuriated others who buy into the historic distortion. Because, put simply, they subvert it. A person who’s built their whole worldview on two genders, one of which is “superior” to the other, doesn’t know what to do with other expressions sexuality (or asexuality).

Except, maybe hate it.

What does it mean to be yourself? Whatever it means to be your true, authentic, full, rich, realized self, it’s the epic task of every individual to continue being it, all the time. All our lives until we die, we’re still becoming who we are in this moment.

Who are you? One of the books recently popular with book-banners is titled All Boys Aren’t Blue. And it’s true. Boys – yes, and girls – can be “any color” their heart dictates. But can they express that self safely? If it’s not safe for boys to be raised “more like our daughters,” then everyone suffers. The distortion persists, and thereby warps everything.

“In general, the more dysfunctional the family the more inappropriate their response to disclosure. Never expect a sane response from an insane system.”
― Renee Fredrickson, Repressed Memories: A Journey to Recovery from Sexual Abuse

Rooting out the Root

People speak of toxic masculinity, and that’s certainly one facet of our dysfunction. My stubbornly feminist son has wrestled with the concept. With the ways it’s presented, argued, and too often discounted. But he’s not the only one who’s found toxic masculinity, in itself, presents an incomplete picture of the problem.

This is where we come back to that basic, fundamental point I made above. Because when gender inequality lies at the root of all inequality it’s got to be our bottom-line “first focus.” And it pretty much never has been. But I think everything will remain out of joint to one extent or another until we fix this first problem. Because the rupture within our selves, our homes, and our families ripples outward.

When our most intimate primary relationships are disfigured, that disfigures who we are in our core and distorts everything we perceive. When our perceptions are distorted, our understanding of the world is twisted. A twisted understanding of the world warps our interactions with others and contorts all of our interactions. No lasting good can take root until the root of the problem is dealt with.

It behooves us to start digging.

IMAGE CREDITS

The first image in this post, with the quote from Robert Webb, is my own (Jan’s) design. I first published it in 2018 on my Artdog Adventures blog under the title, “Challenging Absurd Distinctions.” Find details about the image’s origins there. Likewise, the Gloria Steinem and Madonna Ciccone quotes were first published in 2017 under the title “Double Standards and Our Kids.” The photo of Gloria Steinem that I added to the original quote is courtesy of Biography.com.

The Craig Sloane quote (drawn from the source article) about the social stigma felt by LGBTQ individuals comes thanks to Healthline and their excellent article about substance abuse in that community. The quote about the “insane” system that develops within dysfunctional families is from Goodreads. I re-envisioned the quote with help from “yuliiahurzhos” and 123rf. Many thanks to all of my sources!

"Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity." - Robert Alan Aurthur

See Diversity as a Strength

The Future We Want” Series – Part 1

By Jan S. Gephardt

I want a future in which we see diversity as a strength. Yeah, right, you might well scoff. Jan, have you noticed the hate crime statistics, lately? That’s not where we’re headed!

But what if it could be?

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about using science fiction as a way to envision a more positive future. Today, in the first of three planned posts, I’d like to delve a little deeper into that idea. In future posts I plan to talk about the environment and human rights. Today, let’s explore ways that science fiction writers can help readers see diversity as a strength.

We’re losing biodiversity globally at an alarming rate, and we need a cornucopia of different plants and animals, for the planet’s health and our own. – Diane Ackerman
When we see diversity as a strength, we better understand what’s at stake. (LATESTLY).

Diversity is a Mark of a Vibrant Community

Scientists have long since discovered that biodiversity improves the stability and resiliency of an ecosystem. Similarly, sociologists and historians attest that civilizations have thrived most brilliantly when cultural diversity increased. Whether cultural mixing arises via trade, conquest, or cataclysm-driven migration, throughout history the result is predictable. Cultural cross-pollination fosters innovation and new ideas.

The cultural and genetic mixing generated by the ancient Roman Empire created a legacy that endures to this day. Poorly-conceived though they were, the medieval Crusades led to the European Renaissance. Trade routes such as the Silk Road in Asia and Trans-Saharan routes in Africa stimulated vibrant cities and civilizations. I blogged about another fruitful period of Japanese/European cross-cultural exchange a few years ago, in “A Tale of Hokusai and Cézanne.

A great case in point is Medieval Cordoba, where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived in relative peace. Its leaders could see diversity as a strength. They kept their subjects free from religious persecution, and created arguably the greatest city in Europe at the time.

"Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity." - Robert Alan Aurthur
Cultural tensions are inevitable, but we must not let them destroy the creative synergy of cultural exchange. (See Credits below).

How Can Science Fiction Help us See Diversity as a Strength?

Why – other than the fact that I write science fiction – do I see sf as a vehicle to foster a brighter future? Wouldn’t it be better to go on a lecture tour like Al Gore with his “inconvenient” slideshow? Well, there’s a place for that kind of presentation.

But as advertisers long ago figured out, the very best way to make an idea compelling is to embody it in a good story. I touched on this a few years ago when I blogged about the influence of science fiction on environmental awareness.

But I’m not the only one who sees sf this way. That bastion of liberal arts, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has recently offered a class on contemporary science fiction. The course uses 21st Century science fiction novels (see the illustration below) to help students see the world in a different way. These books provide a starting place for discussions that grapple with problems and questions we’ll confront in the future.

The government of China agrees with me in this, too. It has begun to view science fiction as an avenue for the use of “cultural soft power. Not only did it win a Worldcon bid (Chengdu, 2023), but it has begun to promote science fiction stories of which it approves (political critique is a whole different story). It’s also a growing player in the global movie industry.

I’d rather not let the government of the Peoples Republic of China envision our future for us, thanks. If you agree, seek a range of different voices—and see diversity as a strength!

Covers for “The Fifth Season” by N. K. Jemisin, Apex Magazine, featuring “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” by Rebecca Roanhorse, “The City & The City” by China Miéville, and “Annihilation” by Jeff Vandermeer float above a photo of the MIT Media Lab Building.
These books spark discussions about the future, at MIT. (See Credits below).

Can You Envision A Diverse and Harmonious Future?

A lot of people can’t. In our current political climate, unfortunately, anti-Semitism, anti-Asian hate, and the ever-popular urge to oppress Black people are enjoying an apparent groundswell of enthusiasm.

This is happening alongside a steady, depressing drumbeat of homophobia, trans-phobia, and anti-immigrant measures against Muslims and people from anywhere in Latin America. We have armed militias of people abroad in the land who seriously want to re-enact The Turner Diaries in real life.

If ever there was a moment to promote a new vision, one that can see diversity as a strength, surely today gives us that moment. Dystopian science fiction has long depicted “worst-case scenarios,” and they genuinely do have a role to play. But how about some more positive visions to function as an antidote to the poison?

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” - Stephen R. Covey.
We have an uphill climb to convince some people this is true. (TextAppeal).

Creating a More Positive Vision

In teaching and parenting, “catch ‘em being good” is a sound approach. If a child/student receives positive reinforcement, this offers a better foundation for going forward than always just being told “no” or “don’t.”

Kids are feeling their way along, trying to figure out how to “be” in the world. Positive reinforcement offers a map, a goal, a sense of what is desired. Negative reinforcement only tells them what not to do. How efficiently do you think you could get to a destination if you had a map that onlytold you where not to go?

That’s why I think we need positive future visions, as well as dystopian takes. Can we please stop fictitiously killing the earth and our fellow beings all the time? It’s good to be able to foresee that “this trend could lead to a bad outcome.” But in my opinion it helps more to see that “this really might be a good way to move forward.”

A collection of “dead end,” “road ends,” and “road closed” signs.
Negative messages help little when you’re searching for a way forward. (See Credits below).

A Vision for a Way Forward

I certainly can’t claim to be the only science fiction author who ever thought of this. I read a review just the other day for Central Station by Lavie Tidhar that you might enjoy. And Forbes recently published a whole list of sf novels with positive climate-change explorations. Moreover, multiculture-positive thought experiments seem to be the direction N.K. Jemisin is headed in her Great Cities project, if The City We Became is any guide.

What I want to do with my XK9 novels, in part, is give readers a glimpse, a way to see diversity as a strength in action. What would a society/culture/polyculture look like, if it could truly be mostly free of racial animus? If religious intolerance was mostly absent, and near-universally frowned upon? If the society was mostly without homophobia, trans-phobia, or a backlash against any other individual expression of identity? (I say “mostly” and “nearly,” because humans are humans).

It’s fun to explore those ideas in my XK9 novels. I hope my readers enjoy it, too. And I’d like to see more authors ask how they can inform a more positive view of possible futures. Especially those that see diversity as a strength.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to “LATESTLY” for the quote-image featuring the words of Diane Ackerman, and to TextAppeal, for the quote-image featuring the words of Stephen R. Covey. The other quote-image, featuring the words of Robert Alan Aurthur, was assembled by Jan S. Gephardt, with help from a Wikimedia image. It shows a detail of the Almoravid Minbar, commissioned by Ali Bin Yusuf Bin Tashfin al-Murabiti in 1137 for his great mosque in Marrakesh. Photo by By إيان – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia.

The two photo montages also were conceived and assembled by Jan S. Gephardt. The montage inspired by the MIT science fiction literature class is composed from a photo of the MIT Media Lab Building from Dezeen, three book covers, and a magazine cover. Books: The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin (thank you, Target). The City & The City, by China Miéville (thank you, Penguin Random House). Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer (thank you, LA Times, FSG Originals, and illustrator Eric Nyquist). Apex Magazine’s cover features Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™, by Rebecca Roanhorse.

The montage of the map hemmed in by “Do Not Enter,” “Road Closed,” “Road Ends,” and “Dead End” signs includes a map of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. I chose it for its map-folds and size, not to express any opinion of those lovely states. It comes courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Road signs come from a variety of sources. Driving Tests provided a “Do Not Enter” sign and a “Dead End” sign. Two “Road Closed” signs came from the City of Prairie Village, KS, while Angela Carmona uploaded the third, rather dramatic one to Pinterest. Also via Pinterest, I’m grateful to Todd Gordon and Kevin Barnett for the two “Road Ends” signs. Many thanks to all!

You have to create your own path and I’m up to the challenge. –Octavia Spencer

What do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

By G. S. Norwood

In the previous blog post, I wrote about my career in the arts. That started me thinking about all the bad career advice I got along the way—back when I was still trying to answer that age-old question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Back then, in the Stone Age, little White American girls had two basic career choices beyond wife and mother. We could be a teacher or a nurse. Little Black girls were told they could be maids. Of course, even then, women performed a much wider variety of jobs, but society’s imagination offered us very limited options.

The newspaper’s Help Wanted section included columns titled “Jobs for Men” and “Jobs for Women.” Woe betide any women who aspired to a job meant for a man. I am, thankfully, a bit too young to remember similar columns designated for men and women of color.

A teacher, a couple of nurses, and a Black maid offer a glimpse of career paths for young women in the 1950s and 1960s.
“What do You Want to be When You Grow Up?” The well-meaning elders who advised the author had a limited view of young women’s career options. (credits below).

The Stereotypes Persist

Even today, in the stories we tell ourselves in film, the stereotypes persist. At 12:47 minutes into this 2016 interview for Vanity Fair, Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer spoke about how hard it was for her to find roles that offered any kind of variety.

“Right after I did The Help—it was barely in the can—I was all excited about the possibilities that were to come,” Spencer said. “And 90% of the roles were, ‘We have this great role for you,’ and it was a maid. ‘We have this wonderful role!’ and it was a maid.” And I was, ‘You know, I just played the best damn maid role written. I don’t have a problem with playing a maid again, but it has to top this one.’ And none of them did.”

Fortunately for all of us, Spencer got proactive about finding better roles, and followed the success of The Help by playing the strongly maternal Wanda Johnson in Fruitvale Station and mathematician/computer pioneer Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures.

You have to create your own path and I’m up to the challenge. –Octavia Spencer
Octavia Spencer passed up a lot of stereotyped roles to follow her dream. (Inspiring Quotes).

Be a Stripper

Young people are guided into careers in ways that are shaped by their family history and by the cultural norms of their time. When I was in high school, a new wave of feminism was just taking hold in America, although it hadn’t penetrated too far into my corner of Missouri. As seniors, about to enter our post high school careers, we were all given an aptitude test that was meant to identify jobs we might be suited for. I don’t know what that test was called, or what range of careers it included, but I do remember the ideal career it identified for me: Stripper.

I’m going to be generous and assume that a) the test was referring to someone who takes paint off industrial surfaces using solvents, or perhaps connects pieces of film into a continuous reel. And b) the test was primarily geared toward suggesting blue-collar skilled trades in traditionally male fields.

Editorial note from Jan, who worked in a print shop around the time G. got that test result: In the printing industry at that time, a “stripper” prepared photographic negatives to make photo-offset lithography plates to go on printing presses. It was a decent blue-collar job until the advent of desktop publishing a couple of decades later.

I don’t think “Stripper” was the test’s nod to my being female, with an interest in the arts. But where were the teachers and nurses? The college professors and directors of concert operations?

Adolescent test-takers in a classroom, circa 1978.
Bad career advice for creative people also may come from standardized aptitude tests. (credits below).

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

I profoundly hope that particular aptitude test is no longer on the market. But career options continue to be limited by society’s expectations. Not so very long ago nearly every college bound adult was told to go into computing, because that’s where the employment growth and competitive salaries could be found. Never mind that some of us have no aptitude at all for that kind of work.

A better approach, I think, is to guide people toward careers that use the talents and abilities they naturally have. As job seekers, we tend to believe that jobs have to be hard and involve ‘work.’ But the truth is, the best careers are built on the skills and interests we have had all along. The stuff we’d do for fun, for free. We discount our talents because those things come easily to us. We forget that they don’t come easily to everyone else and are therefore valued by the people who can’t do that stuff.

One standardized test I recommend to young people now is Clifton Strengths, developed by the management consulting company, Gallup, Inc. It helps you identify your own individual talents and suggests careers where you can use them.

My auntie who brought me up all my life, all the time she was saying, ‘The guitar is all right as a hobby, John, but you’ll never make a living at it.’ So I got that on a plaque for her and sent it to her in the house I bought her. —John Lennon
John’s aunt lived to see what spectacularly bad career advice she’d given in reply to “What do You Want to be When You Grow Up?” (credits below).

Aim Low?

Your parents love you. They want you to have a steady income and secure employment. Maybe that’s why parents so often tell their children to curb their aspirations, as Mimi Smith told her nephew and future Beatle John Lennon. It’s safer than shooting for the stars.

Or, as novelist Deborah Crombie’s mother used to tell her, “If you go to secretarial school, you’ll always have a job.”

She wasn’t exactly wrong. What she should have said was, “Typing is a skill that’s highly portable, and can be used in many fields.” And that, I think, is the key to finding your career bliss. Have a lot of useful skills in your toolbox. Typing, coding, generating new ideas, balancing books, and listening empathetically are all useful in a wide range of careers. Even stripping.

End credits list visual effects artists for “Avengers: Endgame.”
It takes literally hundreds of creative people to make a movie. (credits below).

Your Job Hasn’t Been Invented Yet

But the truth is, your ideal job might not have been invented yet. I advise students whose parents don’t think they can make a living in the arts to take the folks to any Marvel movie. Sit through all the closing credits. Hundreds of names will scroll by—all of them people with jobs in the arts. Perhaps more importantly, many of those people have jobs that weren’t even invented when the adults who advised them last considered the job market.

When you combine your unique talents with the skills in your toolbox and the needs you see emerging in the world around you, you may invent a whole new answer to that age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

IMAGE CREDITS

We have a lot of people to thank for the pictures in this post. Photos for the “Women’s Work” montage and the John Lennon quote were selected and arranged by Jan S. Gephardt. All three of the vintage photos for the “Women’s Work” montage have backstories worth sharing!

WOMEN’S WORK

Virginia Woodard is the tired teacher in her classroom. This was the end of her first day of teaching in 1960 at Mission View Elementary School in Tucson, AZ. The school still serves students today. Dan Tortorell photographed her for the Tucson Citizen. According to the information on Tucson.com, “She told the reporter she almost decided to turn back after getting within a block of the school.” For perspective, 1960-61 was also Jan’s first grade year.

The photo of the two unidentified nurses, taken by Gordon A. Larkin, dates to 1954. We used a detail. Scrubs Magazine identifies it as Photograph 825 from the Mount Saint Vincent University Archives.

Jan found the 1960s-era photo of an unidentified Black maid and White child on Bettye Kearse’s excellent post, “Mammy Warriors: An Homage to Black Maids.” It’s written from the perspective of a Black woman whose ancestors included slaves. She critiques the persistent stereotype and pushes back with a blast of reality.

CAREER ADVICE

The Octavia Spencer quote-image came from a compilation of the Oscar-winner’s wit and wisdom on “Inspiring Quotes.”

The classroom full of adolescent test-takers shows students taking a standardized test circa 1978 at Cook Jr. High. At least the decade is right, even if these kids are a little younger than G. was when her test results advised her to be a “stripper.” Lawrence Cook Middle School (current name) remains an active school in Santa Rosa, CA. Many thanks to the Santa Rosa-based Press Democrat for the photo!

Take a look at an (unidentified) 1970s-era print shop stripper in action. It’s the second photo down on this page of photos by Dan Wybrant. That guy looks a lot more like the print-shop strippers Jan knew, than her sister ever did.

ENTERTAINERS EXTRAORDINAIRE

Jan illustrated the widely-available John Lennon quote with a detail from a photo by Andrew Maclear and Redferns. It was captioned, “John Lennon of The Beatles performs with The Dirty Mac on the set of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus.’” She found the photo on Cheatsheet.com.

For a case-in-point for G.’s argument that a Marvel movie requires hundreds of (gainfully employed) arts workers, see this post on Polygon. It explains what the VFX (visual effects) artists did to create Avengers: Endgame. If you read it, you’ll also see where Jan found the screen-capture from the movie’s end credits.

The research was fun, and we thank all of our sources.

An illustration depicts white, spiky coronaviruses as snowflakes in a wintry landscape with evergreen trees.

It’s Okay to Feel What We Feel

By Jan S. Gephardt

Around my neck of the woods, it’s the season of “holiday cheer.” But frankly, I’m not seeing a whole bunch of bright, sparkly people out and about, having a real good time. That may partly be because (when I go out at all) I tend to hang out with people smart enough to wear masks. I can’t see their smiles, if they are smiling. If they are, that’s nice. But if they aren’t, that’s all right, too. It’s okay to feel what we feel.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “A Season of Small Bright Spots.” I sought out hopeful stories because I am by nature a hopeful, and generally optimistic, person. I thought that in the midst of “the COVID-19 winter” (I was assuming there would only be one), finding reasons to stay hopeful was a good idea. It still is. And there are still reasons for hope.

But as we crank up for a second COVID-19 winter, I also want to say that it’s okay to feel what we feel. If you’re “merry and bright,” that’s awesome! Congratulations, and don’t let anybody cast aspersions on your joy!

Truth is, however, a lot of us are having trouble getting there, this year. Me included.

An illustration depicts white, spiky coronaviruses as snowflakes in a wintry landscape with evergreen trees.
An uncredited illustration I found on Medpage Today and used in my December 2020 post “A Season of Small Bright Spots.”

Exhaustion

We can be forgiven for feeling exhausted. Especially those among us in the health care sector have carried far more than a fair share of the burdens that never seem to end. My husband worked in an extremely busy lab until his retirement earlier this year, and my daughter recently secured a certification in health care, so I am “closely adjacent” to that overburdened sector.

To the anti-vaccine holdouts across the USA let me just say: Y’all please get vaxxed and boosted so we can end this thing before it ends all of us. And thank you to everyone else who already did take those measures.

Of her job, ICU Housekeeper Andrea says, “One minute you are important enough. The next minute it is like, no you aren’t that important to get the proper equipment, but you are important enough to clean it for the next patient.”
Quote image from Brookings.

Heavy Burdens for All

I’m not sure how teachers continue to cope, either. Between the historically chronic under-resourcing of time, funding, and facilities, combined with the most bizarre teaching environment in living memory, I’m surprised there’s anyone left in the field. Except, kids need to learn and teachers need to teach. God bless you all.

A teacher from Durant, Oklahoma said, “After 33 years, I just retired. I was already frustrated so much regarding public education and the route it was going. Covid just pushed me over the top.” A teacher from Pauls Valley, Oklahoma said, “I’m seriously considering leaving after 21 years because I’m immunocompromised. My passion or my health? I’m struggling to decide if the risk is worth it.”
Both quotes are from an excellent article in the Tulsa World.

A deadly pestilence has spread everywhere, and it’s ravaging the immune-compromised (and the misinformed) among us to a catastrophic degree. Complications from the seemingly-endless pandemic have snarled our supply chains, spiked inflation, and exacerbated food insecurity.

The exhaustion spreads much farther, of course. Maybe you’re a front-line worker living in daily danger just so our grocery shelves stay stocked, our deliveries get made, or our community services keep working. But you don’t have to be one, to be exhausted. Every single one of us carries heavier burdens these days, and it’s okay to feel what we feel.

"Workers on the edge of poverty are essential to America’s prosperity, but their well-being is not treated as an integral part of the whole. Instead, the forgotten wage a daily struggle to keep themselves from falling over the cliff. It is time to be ashamed." - David K. Shipler
From AZ Quotes.

Fear and Division

Meanwhile, one of our major political parties in my country has been taken over by death-cultists, insurrectionists, and white supremacists. It used to be a party of community-oriented, business-centric, mostly-responsible old white men. Now it fields “public servants” like the ones in Missouri who are trying to kill as many school children as possible. That is for sure scary.

So are the unmasked (yes, pun intended) efforts to subvert voting rights and election integrity, in service of keeping a dwindling minority in power. So they can . . . force young women to have babies they can’t support, in the name of the party of . . .  personal liberty?

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.” - Hannah Arendt
Quote image courtesy of BukRate.

Oh, yes, and so they can provide a continuing drag on efforts to mitigate climate change. In case we weren’t beleaguered enough already, there is always the existential threat posed by climate-driven superstorms. No one can argue that this month’s historic tornadoes and recent hurricane seasons were “normal. Not scary enough? How about extreme drought and ever-longer wildfire seasons? We’ve now got those, too. “Thanks,” climate-change deniers.

"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
See credits below.

It’s okay to feel what we feel, because our fear is justified. We can’t allow fear to destroy us, but maybe it can motivate us to push harder for necessary changes.

Grief

God help us, we have plenty of reasons to grieve. As I write this, we’ve had 805,112 COVID deaths in the United States, per the CDC, and 5,384,178 from COVID worldwide, as reported by “Worldometers.” By the time you read this there will have been all too many more. Of course, COVID isn’t the only health issue out there that’s killing people.

Among all the other dangers in the world, we’re also murdering each other at an astonishing rate, especially in the United States, where it’s easier to buy a gun than it is to legally drive a car.

And let us not forget the frightful toll of famine throughout the world. Food insecurity is widespread in the USA, but we’re far from the worst-case scenario. We could be living (or struggling to) in The Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, South Sudan, Syria, and more.

More to Grieve than Deaths

Egregious as they are, all the unnecessary “extra” deaths aren’t the only losses to grieve. We could be fleeing widespread violence and climate disaster, only to be penned up in squalid COVID hotspots at an international border. Or subject to slavery, torture, and genocide in “re-education” camps, at the hands of other authoritarian governments, or in failed states.

We may be climate refugees who’ve had to flee our homes. Or we may have been priced out of homes in our communities. We may have lost our beloved small businesses and personal financial resources during the pandemic. Political tensions and other stresses may have torn our families apart. (Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too).

As long as poverty & hunger is prevalent in any continent or country, then the world at large is never safe.” – Oscar Auliq-Ice
Many thanks to QuotesLyfe.

It’s Okay to Feel What We Feel

Is it any surprise our children are struggling with mental health issues? If we’re honest, most of us are. So seriously. It’s okay to feel what we feel. In fact, stepping past denial and letting ourselves feel whatever we truly feel is the first step toward healing.

A reader new to this blog could be forgiven for having started to doubt my earlier claim that “I am by nature a hopeful, and generally optimistic, person.” This post has been pretty much of a downer. But we can’t successfully fight an enemy if we can’t name it, and we can’t overcome an evil if we can’t describe it. Given the misinformation abroad in the world and in our popular media, identifying the sources of our perils accurately is more of a problem than it should be.

We can’t help how we feel. Bug we can help what we do with how we feel. We must have the courage to face our situation, before we can do anything about it. It’s a vital first step. Only then can we can educate ourselves and start to build a stronger future out of the rubble all around us.

So, it’s okay to feel what we feel. In fact, it’s more than “okay.” It’s absolutely essential.

IMAGE CREDITS

I used the first illustration last year in my post “A Season of Small Bright Spots.” I found the uncredited illustration on Medpage Today. And it really bums me out that it’s appropriate again.

The quote image of Andrea the ICU Housekeeper is from the Brookings article, “Essential but Undervalued,” about the forgotten and underpaid front-line health care workers who keep hospitals running. I wanted to include both quotes from Oklahoma teachers. It was very hard to choose from among 20 insightful teacher-quotes in a Tulsa World article from July 2020. Many thanks to AZ Quotes, for the wisdom of David K. Shipler, and to BukRate for the timeless Hannah Arendt quote.

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 (I assembled the image-quote). And finally, I’m indebted to QuotesLyfe for the quote from poet, author, and founder of Icetratt Foundation for Social Investments, Oscar Auliq-Ice. Many thanks to all!

Brian and the cover of “Almost Perfect.”

Almost Perfect Except . . .

By Brian Katcher

Brian Katcher is a writer whom one of our usual bloggers, Jan S. Gephardt, met at the science fiction convention Archon 44 (He’s also spotlighted in Jan’s Authors of Archon 44 post). He told this story during a panel discussion in which they both participated. She asked him to share it with our audience, because it demonstrates an issue we also face. The Weird Blog and Artdog Adventures support diversity and representation. As a pair of older, middle-class white women Jan and G. at Weird Sisters Publishing understand an author can confront many challenges when they try to promote inclusivity and multicultural representation in their fiction “while white and straight.”

The Almost Perfect Story

Almost Perfect is the story of Logan, a cisgender boy, who recently had a bad breakup with his girlfriend. He then meets Sage, a new girl in his school, he thinks he’s met the person who’s going to help him move on. When he discovers she’s transgender, however, he is forced to rethink their entire relationship. Can they still be friends? Can they be…more? Almost Perfect won the 2011 Stonewall Book Award for Children’s Literature.

This book started out as a short story. I was looking to write a boy meets girl story that hadn’t been done a thousand times, and I hit upon the idea of writing about a heterosexual boy and a transgender girl. How would a relationship like that work? When I showed a draft to my writers’ group, they told me that I couldn’t do that in 80 pages. To make it into a novel or not to bother.

Brian Katcher received the 2011 Stonewall Book Award for Children's Literature.
In 2011 Brian accepted the Stonewall Book Award for Children’s Literature, for his book Almost Perfect. (Credits below).

Research and Early Responses

Well, transgenderism wasn’t a subject I’d given a lot of thought to, so I turned to the internet for research. I went to forums for transgender people and said that I was writing a book and needed information, both specific and general. Boy, did I get some great responses. And the more I heard, the more I wanted to tell this story. The overwhelming theme I got from older transgender people was the idea of having absolutely no one they could share this with, no one whom they could confine in, and having no idea where to turn or what to do.

I was overwhelmed with the response to the book. The ALA awarded me the Stonewall, I think because I was probably the second YA author to write about a trans character (After Julie Anne Peters’s Luna). Fan mail poured in. I heard from countless transgender people who thanked me for finally telling their story, and praising my research.

Covers for the books “Almost Perfect” and “Luna.”
Two of the earliest books about transgender youth written for young adults, both Almost Perfect and Luna broke new literary ground. (credits below).

Delayed Reaction

However, after a year or so, I started to get blowback. Sure, some of it came from transphobes (The Florida Tea Party tried to get it removed from school libraries), but most of it was from the LGBTQ community. Some of it was taking me to task for poor turns of phrase (I said ‘transgendered’ instead of the preferred ‘transgender’, or having Sage come out to Logan by saying ‘I’m a boy’).

Others didn’t feel that as a cisgender man, it was my place to tell a story like this. But the most overarching criticism was that the story was depressing. Sage is repeatedly used by Logan, assaulted by another man, and ultimately moves away, still trying to live the life she needs to. Why couldn’t she have a happy ending? Why would she fall for a jerk like Logan? Was I trying to say that transgender people are destined to be unhappy and will never find true love?

A snapshot of Brian Katcher near a body of water.
Here’s a more casual photo of Brian. (Brian Katcher).

Brian’s Self-Critique

While I did do my research beforehand, I really should have gotten some sensitivity readers to look at the finished product. There’s no excuse for that omission. While I feel I wrote Almost Perfect with the intention of educating people about how difficult it can be to be transgender, I failed in several respects.

Still, I’ve never once had a reviewer say they didn’t like Sage. More than one person told me the book gave them the courage to come out. And there are at least two women who chose ‘Sage’ as their new middle name. This is my book that gets the most requests for a sequel. Well, it’s the only book that gets requests for a sequel.

Covers for Brian Katcher’s books “Playing with Matches,” “Almost Perfect,” “Everyone Dies in the End,” “Deacon Locke Went to Prom,” and “The Improbable theory of Ana & Zak.” Also Brian’s picture.
If you read Jan’s post Authors of Amazon 44, you might remember this profile image. (Amazon; Brian’s website).

Pitfalls and the Creative Process

When you’re a boring old white straight guy like me, you get into a kind of Catch-22 situation. You don’t want to write yet another book about white, straight people, but is it your place to tell someone else’s story? My advice is to get sensitivity readers, both at the front and the back of the creative process. And be sure to thank them afterwards. If you feel good writing about people like yourself, no problem. And if you’d like to expand who you write about, the world needs diverse books.

But above all, be true to your own creative process. Find a character you and your readers can fall in love with. Remember, you’re never going to please everyone. But when those one star reviews come in, make sure they’re because of your hackneyed writing and unoriginal plots, and not because you misrepresented someone’s culture. And if someone has a problems with how you present someone, listen.

Brian and the cover of “Almost Perfect.”
Here are Brian and the cover of his book Almost Perfect. (Credits below).

IMAGES

Many thanks to Brian Katcher for the photo of him accepting his Stonewall Award, the cover image for Almost Perfect, and his author photo. Learn more about Brian at his website. Read his book reviews (and support the review website if you wish), at For Every Young Adult.

Many thanks to Books Bird for the Stonewall Award image, and to Amazon for the Luna cover image.

Page 1 of 15

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén