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The Author portraits of the indie women of science fiction featured in this blog post are Cheree Alsop, Amy DuBoff, Lindsay Buroker, Jennifer Foehner Wells, and M. D. Cooper.

Indie Women of Science Fiction

When G. and I planned out this month’s blog posts, I eagerly volunteered to write about indie women of science fiction. That was before I realized how few of us there are. Ironically, it was not that hard to find female sf writers among the traditionally published. I highlighted several of my favorites in the “First Impressions” post at the beginning of the month.

But until I actually looked beyond my two favorite indies, I hadn’t paid much attention to the “indie gender gap.” Here’s a challenge for you: run a search for independently-published science fiction, and see what you find.

Kirkus Reviews, for one, publishes annual lists of their top-reviewed books by category (they have a separate category for indie authors). I looked at their lists for 2018, 2019, and 2020, to discover with one exception (K. E. Lanning) that the sf titles were written by male authors, while fantasy and paranormal titles were split between men and women.

It’s even more lopsided on Amazon Top 100 lists in sf. Almost no Indie women of science fiction. But lucky for us, there are at least a few. And they are awesome! Here are five for your consideration:

Jennifer Foehner Wells

Jennifer Foehner Wells with her book covers: Fluency, Remanence, Inheritance, Valence, Vengeance, and the Confluence Codex 1.
Jennifer Foehner Wells and her Confluence Series (See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

For me, no list of indie women of sf would be complete without Jennifer Foehner Wells, AKA @Jenthulu” (her Twitter handle). I discovered her several years ago. Her first book, Fluency, turned me into a fan for life, and everything she’s published since has gone straight onto my “insta-buy” list.

As some faithful followers of my “Artdog Adventures” blog may recall, I’ve written about her books before. I’m delighted to do so again here. If you have not read this woman’s excellent Confluence Series, do yourself a favor. Remedy this egregious shortfall in your science fiction background, and start the series now!

Lindsay Buroker

Planet Killer, Home Front, and Layers of Force, with a photo of author Lindsay Buroker.
Lindsay Buroker with her “Star Kingdom” Series. (See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

I discovered Lindsay Buroker last year when her books started showing up in my “Also-Boughts.” That’s Amazon’s counter-marketing list under the idea of “people who liked your book also bought . . .” or “Products related to this item” on a book’s detail page.

I decided to read her novel Shockwave to see what I thought—then promptly ordered every other book in the Star Kingdom Series available at the time. Had to wait for the last two, after I caught up with the series-to-date. Indeed, I was so eager to get my hands on them I preordered the Kindle versions (I now have the full set in paperback, my preferred format). The prolific Buroker also writes fantasy series, and has well north of 70 books in her catalogue.

M. D. Cooper

M. D. Cooper and her Aeon 14 Orion War Series. (See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

When it comes to indie women of science fiction, M. D. Cooper is kind of a one-woman industry. She is the creator of the Aeon 14 Universe—in which a number of other authors sometimes co-write. She’s produced 161 works so far. Check in a week or two, and there might be more.

I regret to say that I had somehow not discovered her until I started writing this blog post. But from the “Look Inside” samples I’ve read (on Amazon), this woman knows how to write! I chose to highlight her Aeon 14 “Orion War” series because it’s one of her biggest, but small enough that you might be able to actually distinguish the book covers from each other.

Cooper doesn’t stop with series after series of books, however. She’s produced a music album (provided lots of input, but she’s not the composer), The Outsystem Original Score, and a trailer for the Aeon 14: Orion War series.

A. K. DuBoff

A. K. Duboff with Cadicle Series covers for Rumors of War, Web of Truth, Crossroads of Fate, Path of Justice, and Scions of Change.
A. K. Duboff and her Cadicle Series(See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

A. K. (Amy) DuBoff promotes herself as a “Space Opera Author” on her website, and has a Facebook group that dubs her “Queen of Space Opera.” Unlike many indies she belongs to both SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America), and IASFA (International Association of Science Science Fiction and Fantasy). Also unusual for an indie, she was a Nebula finalist in 2018 for the Andre Norton Award. She’s also a USA Today bestselling author.

I discovered her in the course of researching this blog post, so I can’t claim to have read any of her books yet. But the sample chapters in the “Look Inside” glimpse from Amazon look promising. Her “Serenity” duology is set in the “Aeon 14 Universe” created by M. D. Cooper, who is listed as a co-author. (Guess how I found DuBoff). But I chose to illustrate her original Cadicle Universe series, of which there are considerably more books.

She also has a book series trailer (with background music by my favorite contemporary composer, Thomas Bergersen of Two Steps from Hell. The excerpt is part of the composition Our Destiny.).

Cheree Alsop

Cheree Alsop with her “Girl from the Stars” series and a “Pirate from the Stars” novel. (See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

Like Buroker and DuBoff, Cheree Alsop writes both science fiction and fantasy. And, llike Cooper and DuBoff, I found her during my research for this post, then checked out her writing skills via the Amazon “Look Inside” opening glimpse feature. I’m looking forward to reading more!

In the illustration, I featured covers from her Girl from the Stars” series, which is her longest sf series. She also has written a similarly-titled sf novel, Pirate from the Stars: Renegade. According to her website, her newest science fiction is the Rise of the Gladiator” trilogy.

She is a member of the DFW Writers Workshop and the League of Utah Writers. Like M.D. Cooper, Cheree has a musical side—she is a former high school music teacher, and plays bass in a rock band appropriately called Alien Landslide.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my survey of five awesome indie women of science fiction. Please share your reflections on any of them (please keep it positive and relevant) in the Comments section below. Or, if you’d like to suggest other great indie women of science fiction whose work we should know and read, please add their names to the comments, too! Thanks.

IMAGE CREDITS for Indie Women of Science Fiction:

I have tons of acknowledgements to make, between all the author portraits and book covers! I myself assembled all of the photo montages. If you’re interested in a particular image within a montage, I’ve tried to help by dividing these image credits into subsections by author:

Jennifer Foehner Wells:

Many thanks to Goodreads for the photo of Wells. I am indebted to Amazon for the cover images of Fluency, Remanence, Inheritance, Valence, and Vengeance. Thanks also to Barnes & Noble for the Confluence Codex 1 cover.

Lindsay Buroker:

I need to thank Amazon and Lindsay Buroker’s Author Page for the photo of her in the Southwest USA with a happy Vizsla. Goodreads gets the kudos for the book covers this time. Many thanks for the following Star Kingdom covers: Shockwave, Ship of Ruin, Hero Code, Crossfire, Gate Quest, Planet Killer, Home Front, and Layers of Force.

M. D. Cooper:

This time around, Amazon gets almost all the hugs and kisses. M. D. Cooper’s official author portrait came from her Amazon Author Page. Amazon provided all the 13 book covers for the Orion War Series, too. Many, many thanks for: Destiny Lost, New Canaan, Orion Rising, The Scipio Alliance, and Attack on Thebes. Also for War on a Thousand Fronts, Precipice of Darkness, Airthan, Ascendancy, The Orion Front, Starfire, and Race Across Spacetime. The series wraps up with the two Return to Sol books, Attack at Dawn, and Star Rise. Finally, many thanks to YouTube and Creative Edge Studios for the Aeon 14: Orion War Trailer.

A. K. DuBoff:

Here’s another round of hoots and hollers for Amazon, the “home of choice” for a lot of these authors. The official portrait of Amy DuBoff is from her Amazon Author Page. Amazon also provided the cover images for her original Cadicle Series: Rumors of War, Web of Truth, Crossroads of Fate, Path of Justice, and Scions of Change. I also want to thank Amy DuBoff’s YouTube Channel for the Book Trailer – Cadicle: An Epic Space Opera Series.

Cheree Alsop:

Many thanks to Alsop’s website for the author portrait. I’ll wrap up with another round of thank-yous to Amazon for book covers from Alsop’s Girl from the Stars Series. This includes: Daybreak, Daylight, Day’s End, Day’s Journey, and Day’s Hunt. I filled in the hole at the bottom with a similarly-titled (so far) single book, The Pirate from the Stars: Renegade.

Kamala Devi Harris takes the oath of office to become the 49th Vice President of the United States on the Capital steps.

Why We Need to Represent

By G. S. Norwood

On his last full day in office, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that multiculturalism “is not who America is.” 

He is wrong, of course. America has always been a multicultural nation. Our music, literature, art, and beautifully varied forms of worship make that clear. They’re all informed by the people who stepped forward to represent their cultures. They shared their experiences of growing up African, Asian, Latinx, Native, gay, bi, or transgendered.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
(American Libraries Magazine/photo by Elena Seibert)

The day after Pompeo made his ridiculous statement, Justice Sonia Sotomayor—the first Latina on the Supreme Court—swore in Kamala Devi Harris as the 49th Vice President of the United States. As Vice President, Harris will represent a whole new realm of possibilities for Black women, Asian women, women who are the children of immigrants, and just simply WOMEN of any color or background.

A woman who has frequently been told it “wasn’t the right time” for her to reach for a new career achievement, Harris simply says, “I eat ‘no’ for breakfast.” 

Kamala Devi Harris takes the oath of office to become the 49th Vice President of the United States on the Capital steps.
(AFP, via WION)

What does it mean to represent?

Harris represents opportunities at the highest levels of government.  But, if you look around, you’ll see that it’s important for people to represent themselves and their cultures at every level of society and in every field of endeavor.

Take Omar Thomas, for instance.

Thomas is a contemporary American composer who writes for symphonic and wind ensembles.  Equally grounded in classical music and jazz, he has been lauded for bringing a fresh new voice to the stuffy and inbred symphony world.

Two photos of composer Omar Thomas
Omar Thomas (L-R © 2017 Omar Thomas Music; WASBE)

If you want to meditate on the holy spirit, listen to the first movement of Thomas’ work, Come Sunday.  If you want to stand up and dance, listen to Come Sunday’s second movement.  Thomas dedicated the work, “To all the black musicians in wind ensemble who were given opportunity after opportunity to celebrate everyone else’s music but our own – I see you and I am you. This one’s for the culture!”

Thomas is far from the first Black American composer, but his impact on classical music caused conductors to re-evaluate music by earlier Black composers. So, for instance, Col. Jason K. Fettig, who conducts the United States Marine Band, slid Black composer Adolphus Hailstork’s Fanfare on Amazing Grace in among the Sousa marches and patriotic standards at the Biden/Harris inaugural ceremony.

Photos show the US Marine band playing at the 2021 Biden-Harris Inauguration, and composer Adolphus Hailstork.
The US Marine Band played at the 2021 Inauguration. Col. Jason K. Fettig included music by Adolphus Hailstork in the performance. (L-R: USMC photo by Staff Sgt. Chase Baran via Daily Hampshire Gazette; Adolphus Hailstork photo courtesy of Africlassical).

Being the First

But what do you do if you are the first? 

In 2007, a skinny sixteen-year-old London-born Indian kid had a ferocious argument with his mother.  She wanted to take him to an open audition for a new teen drama on British TV.  He argued it was pointless because there were no brown faces like his on British TV. 

She dragged him to the audition anyway.  After that, there was at least one brown face on the telly: his face.

A year later he snagged the lead role in a little indie film everybody thought was going straight to video release. But the movie got great word-of-mouth buzz.  By the time he was eighteen, Slumdog Millionaire had ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. And Dev Patel’s brown face was plastered across busses and billboards all around the world.

A photo from the movie bears the title “Slumdog Millionaire.”
(MovieKoop)

Today, Patel has an ardent fan base throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia.  He has begun to break out of the exceptional Asian” roles. Now he turns up in what he calls “regular dude,” parts. You can catch him in TV shows like The Newsroom, and Modern Love. 

In 2018 he snagged the classically British role of David Copperfield, in Armando Iannucci’s new film, The Personal History of David Copperfield.

Dev Patel as David Copperfield
Dev Patel stars in the film The Personal History of David Copperfield. ©Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Searchlight Pictures (via the New York Times. Photo by Dean Rogers).

Perspective from Dev Patel

Patel is acutely aware of his responsibility to open the way for other non-White actors. “When you get to a place of privilege or success,” he says, “Make sure you send the elevator back down for your friends.”

Because, no matter what Mike Pompeo thinks, we are a multicultural nation. We are a multicultural world.

“We’re talking about humanity,” Patel says. “It’s a story about love. It’s a story about unification and diversity. There is room for stories like that.”

Gratitude for Those Who Represent

We should all be grateful for the Kamalas and Sonias, the Omars and the Devs, who step up to represent their realities.  And if you don’t see yourself represented?  Maybe it’s time you stepped up, too.

Dev Patel and Octavia Spencer share a laugh during their interview.
Dev Patel and Octavia Spencer talk about representing their communities with Variety. This delightful interview with two outstanding actors is available in both video and article format. (Art Streiber for Variety)

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to AFP and WION for the photo of Vice President Kamala Harris’ swearing-in. We appreciate American Libraries Magazine and photographer Elena Seibert for the photo of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. We also thank Omar Thomas Music and WASBE for the photos of Omar Thomas.

Many thanks—for their service, their music, and their photo—to the United States Marine Corps Band, and photographer Staff Sgt. Chase Baran. Also, thanks to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, for the photo of the USMC Band. We also thank Africlassical for the photo of Adolphus Hailstork.

We thank MovieKoop for the Slumdog Millionaire movie banner. Thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Searchlight Pictures, the New York Times, and photographer Dean Rogers for the photo of Dev Patel as David Copperfield. And finally, thanks to Variety, as well as to YouTube for the video, and to photographer Art Streiber for the photo, of Dev Patel and Octavia Spencer.

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.

A season of small bright spots

We’re back at the nadir of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), and looking for a few small bright spots.

This year, especially, those can be hard to find. Relative lacks of urgency from certain Senators notwithstanding, this winter will be a very deep nadir indeed.

People are out of work. People are hungry. They can’t pay their rent, and a national moratorium on evictions ends soon. Death tolls from Covid-19 have surged higher than a 9/11 every day.

Spiky white coronaviruses like snowflakes dot the sky of a snowy landscape in this uncredited illustration.
(Uncredited illustration/Medpage Today)

Political division and controversy haven’t taken a break, either. The Supreme Court only recently turned down an appeal–backed by 17 state attorneys-general and 106 Republican members of Congress–that sought to overturn a legally-conducted election and disenfranchise millions of US voters. Anti-maskers and a rising chorus of vaccine-resisters threaten to prolong the pandemic yet more.

And yet there are small bright spots

Amidst all the gloom and dire predictions, few could blame a person for feeling daunted. But small bright spots do pop up.

There’s the stray puppy who took a nap in a nativity scene, caused an online sensation when someone photographed her, and who in the end found a forever home.

The Black family in North Little Rock, Arkansas who received a racist note after they placed a Black Santa Claus in their outdoor Christmas display–but whose mostly-White neighbors, once they learned about this, put Black Santas in their yards, too, in solidarity.

Chris Kennedy’s yard sports a string of white lights, a large, multicolored sign that proclaims “JOY,” a Christmas tree, and an inflatable Black Santa Claus in the middle.
(Photo by Chris Kennedy, via the Washington Post.)

The “world’s loneliest elephant” finds a new home and a small herd (parade?) of elephant friends, thanks to a court order, international cooperation, a pop star, and a well-prepared animal rescue operation.

Hope in a time of darkness is what humans do

Love does (sometimes) still triumph. Kindness (sometimes) shines through, and we humans do (sometimes) rise to the moment to share good works, generous acts, and gentle treatment. After all, ‘Tis the season.

Last year I published a post about the many holidays that happen at this time of year. It’s no accident that they do, since they all originated in the Northern Hemisphere.

The candles of Christian Advent, the miraculous oil lamp and steadily-brightening menorah of Hanukkah, and the bonfires of Winter Solstice and Yule all bring small bright spots to life in the vast darkness of the year’s darkest days.

The illustrated quote from the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu says, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
(Design by Rocio Chavez, Your Sassy Self)

We say “where there’s life there’s hope,” and that certainly seems to hold true for healthy humans. We may say “bah, humbug!” We may indeed be pessimists as individuals (Yes, the world needs pessimists, too! They often make better leaders, more realistic managers, and outstanding comedians). But humankind evolved to band together and help each other. Cooperation is our species’ best tool for survival.

Passing the light

In many Christian candlelight services we celebrate “passing the light.” We’ve stood or sat or knelt, sang, prayed, and listened throughout the service. All while holding an unlit candle.

At the end of the service, all or most of the artificial lights go off. Then the ushers come down the aisle(s) to light the candle at the end of each row. The person next to the end lights their candle from the end candle. Then the person next to them takes the light. Then the next, then the next, until everyone’s candle burns bright, and the sanctuary is filled with their collective light.

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.
(Photo from Hotty Toddy, via Tien Skye’s inspirational post on Medium.)

Having participated in many such services, I can tell you it’s a powerful effect. I know other religious traditions and secular groups observe similar rituals. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. My point here is not to preach the Gospel, so much as suggest we can use this as a helpful metaphor.

Creating small bright spots

How can we, as individuals or “covid bubbles,” create small bright spots for others? You may feel as if you’ve been in solitary confinement since March (and yes, you kind of have been), but it’s still possible to reach out virtually, even while reaching out physically is still dangerous.

Any day is a good day for charitable giving or volunteering. You don’t have to wait for a designated “Day of Giving” to donate, if you’re able. Shelters for victims of domestic violence and food banks everywhere are experiencing record need. And there are many creative ways to volunteer while socially distancing. Seek out a local charitable organization, and ask how you can help.

Offer a lifeline to a small, locally-owned business. Weird Sisters Publishing officially endorses buying physical books through local independent booksellers whenever possible. Pick them up curbside (this usually saves on shipping, too!). Find one near you through Bookshop (if you don’t already have yours on speed-dial).

Order carryout or delivery from your favorite local restaurants as often as you can afford to. Local toy stores, game shops, gift shops, and small but wonderful boutique designers all probably sell gift certificates if you’re not sure about sizes, colors, or tastes. And all are desperate for customers right now.

The design says, “When you support handmade you are not just supporting a person, small business, our economy; You are purchasing a small part of an artist’s heart.”
(Design by Menchua, of Moms & Crafters.)

Small bright spots for freelancers

Become a Patreon sponsor for someone whose music, videos, artwork, podcasts, or other creative work has warmed your soul and kept you company over the long months of lockdown. Don’t forget Etsy for small creative businesses, either.

Find wonderful handmade goods through a group such as the Convention Artists Guild (out of the Denver area) on Facebook. They hold regular Virtual Art Shows, where you can buy all sorts of cool stuff. My sister’s posts of this week and two weeks ago on The Weird Blog feature some of her favorite local Texas artisans’ work. But wherever you live, local artists are doing amazing work. Seek them out!

Here’s a list of seven great ways to support small artists, from a guest post on this blog by the musician Losing Lara, that originally ran in 2018. Although we can’t go to live concerts right now, many musicians and other performers are using platforms such as Twitch, You Tube, and various others to stream their events.

However you choose to do it, I hope you find that the more you share small bright spots in the darkness, the brighter and warmer and more joyous your own life becomes.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Medpage Today, for the “Covid-19 Winter” illustration. I really appreciate Chris Kennedy and The Washington Post for the photo of the Kennedys’ holiday yard display. I love the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu “hope” quote, as realized by the designer Rocio Chavez (check out her blog and her Facebook page, for some real mood-elevators!). Find some more heartwarming content on Tien Skye’s inspirational Medium post, as well as the candlelight photo, which came from Hotty Toddy. Thank you both! Finally, many thanks to Menchua, of Moms & Crafters, for her “Handmade is Special” design. I think it’s pretty special, too, which is why I posted it once before on this blog, back in 2018.

Deborah Crombie interviews G. S. Norwood about her new story, “Deep Ellum Blues.”

Urban Fantasy: Let’s Get to the Root

Deborah Crombie interviews G. S. Norwood

Bestselling mystery writer Deborah Crombie loves to get to the root of an intriguing puzzle. A long-time friend and critique partner of G. S. Norwood, she watched Norwood’s new novelette, Deep Ellum Blues, take shape over many weeks. Now she has some questions.

The cover for “Deep Ellum Blues”
From Weird Sisters Publishing LLC, Artwork © 2020 by Chaz Kemp

G.’s Writing Roots

Debs: Have you always wanted to write? Your late husband (Warren C. Norwood) was a wonderful writer. Were you drawn to him because you wanted to write, or did he inspire you to write? Or both?

Gigi: I tried to write my first story when I was about 4, although I didn’t get very far. I sent Random House my first request for guidelines when I was ten. When I was a freshman in college one of my professors told me that I wrote well enough to consider a career as a professional writer, and that’s when the serious dreaming began. All that was a good decade before I met Warren.

To be honest, the day after I met Warren, I bought his first book and read a few chapters before I met up with him again. I had to make sure he was a good enough writer that I could respect him in the morning. Turned out, of course, he was, and I learned a lot about the craft and the business from him.

Get to the Root of one important influence: G. and Warren C. Norwood were married for more than two decades before his death. This collection shows four snapshots from their life together.
Get to the Root of one important influence: G. and Warren C. Norwood were married for more than two decades before his death. This collection shows four snapshots from their life together. From the personal collection of G. S. Norwood.

Debs: Your background is in the theater and performance. How does that influence your writing?

Gigi: Although I’ve spent most of my theatre years backstage, my real interest is in directing and writing. The great thing about directing is that it teaches you how to deconstruct the play, figuring out the structure of each scene, the pacing of the overall story arc, and the motivations of each character. Knowing how to analyze the way those parts go together has given me a tremendous cheat sheet when I want to create my own characters, plot, setting, mood, and action scenes.

Debs: You write urban fantasy, women’s fiction, and mystery. What ties all these genres together in your work?

Gigi: I tell stories. Each of the genres you mention has a different set of tools I can use to tell the story I want to tell. Should it be a straight-up mystery? Do I blend suspense with romance? Can I let stuff blow up in magical ways? I use whichever set of tools seems to fit the story best, and I am certainly not above using all of them at once if I need to. But if you get to the root, it’s just the way I think about the world. I’m a very practical woman who believes there are magical energies at work in our lives every day. When I put magic into a story, I’m just writing what I know.  

Two moods of Miz Eddy for two covers, as portrayed by Chaz Kemp.
Developmental images of Miz Eddy, L-R for Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues, ©2019 and ©2020 respectively, by Chaz Kemp.

Debs: Ms. Eddy, the protagonist in Deep Ellum Pawn and now Deep Ellum Blues, is such a fabulous and unique character. What was your inspiration for her?

Gigi: When I was a kid, I read a series of children’s fantasy novels by Lloyd Alexander called The Chronicles of Prydain. The inspiration for Alexander’s fantasy world was The Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh mythology and folklore that dates at least as far back as the 12th century. My fascination with those stories led me to read more deeply about folklore from many different lands and introduced me to a wide range of magical characters.

When I got the idea for Deep Ellum Pawn, I didn’t really know who or what Ms. Eddy was. I had her name, and I knew about the pawn shop, but the rest revealed itself to me, slowly, as I began to write the story. Once I had an idea of what she could do, I had to do more research to figure out what kind of magical being she might be. Once I found it, I realized, “Well of course that’s who she is!” I really enjoy introducing ancient, magical ways to understand the world into modern, urban settings.

The “Deep Ellum Pawn” cover side-by-side with the “Deep Ellum Blues” cover.
From Weird Sisters Publishing LLC, cover art for Deep Ellum Pawn © 2019 by Chaz Kemp. Cover art for Deep Ellum Blues © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Now We Get to the Root: The music

Debs: Guitars, and guitarists, are central to Deep Ellum Blues. What connected you to guitars? Who are some of your favorite guitarists?

Gigi: Guitars are the dominant instrument of popular music. Some of the most iconic American guitar players of the early 20th century performed in Deep Ellum, or recorded just down the street at 508 Park, the Warner Brothers film and recording distribution center for the Dallas area. So Mudcat Randall, one of the main characters in Deep Ellum Blues had to be a guitar player.

A pen-and-ink drawing of a Stratocaster electric guitar.
Artwork of Mudcat Randall’s tobacco burst Strat ©2020 by Jan S. Gephardt.

I’ve met a lot of guitar players over the years, particularly when I hung out regularly at Craig’s Music in Weatherford, Texas. I have a lot of respect for the working guitarists who used to fill the bars and dance halls with music, before the pandemic. People like Warren’s adopted brother, Gerald Ray, or Fort Worth blues guy, Dave Millsap, keep music alive on the local level, and teach it to the next generation of players.

Outstanding singers, songwriters, and guitar players like Guy Forsyth, down in Austin, or Kevin Welch, formerly of Nashville, feed the music industry from just below the radar. And then there are the more recognizable names among my guitar heroes, like Keb’ Mo and the always amazing Sonny Landreth. I have enough Sonny Landreth stories for a blog post all his own. If you play guitar—particularly slide guitar—and you don’t know who he is, just trust me. Go look him up and prepare to be amazed.

A pen-and-ink drawing of an acoustic resonator guitar from Gretsch.
Artwork of Mudcat Randall’s Gretsch resonator ©2020 by Jan S. Gephardt

Debs: Can you give us a playlist to listen to as we read?

Gigi: I actually put together a set list for Mudcat’s two nights at Sons of Hermann Hall in Deep Ellum, while I was writing the story. It will be published as part of the e-book, and we’ll probably post it on the Weird Sisters Publishing website. In the meantime, check out music by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keb’ Mo, and Sonny Landreth. That will get you started.

Rooted in the Crossroads

Debs: Deep Ellum is a character in itself. Tell us why this area and its history are so special?

Gigi: Crossroads and margins have always been magical places. The geographical location that is now Deep Ellum was once the shallow edge of the Western Interior Seaway. Later, before European settlers came to the area, several trails used by Native American people met and crossed there. As Dallas grew into a city, Deep Ellum was the neighborhood where people on the outskirts of White society—Black people, but also Hispanics, Germans, and Jews—built lives for themselves.

It was where people from the upper reaches of society went when they wanted to “slum it.” The streets were lined with pawn shops, private clubs, and theaters, as well as the barber shops and dry goods stores that served the people of the neighborhood. That’s prime territory for musicians and entertainers of all types.

Deep Ellum was then, and continues to be today, a place to go when you want to have a slightly edgy good time. The people who have built their businesses there always say there’s a special spirit about the place that gives Deep Ellum its unique vibe. Now we know who that is.

Get to the root of this interviewer: Deborah Crombie with the cover of her book “A Bitter Feast.”
Photo of Deborah Crombie from her website is by Steve Ullathorne. The cover photo for A Bitter Feast is from the detail page on Crombie’s website.

About our Guest Interviewer, Deborah Crombie

Internationally acclaimed author Deborah Crombie has seen her British police procedurals, featuring detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, climb into the top ten of the New York Times bestseller list. Her latest release, A Bitter Feast, is the eighteenth novel in the series.

This post is a re-blog from The Weird Blog. My sister’s story Deep Ellum Blues is set for release on September 30, 2020. I thought you might enjoy Deborah Crombie’s interview of G. S. Norwood.

Information card for Jan's reading

My first original video

What more auspicious day to post my first original video on my own YouTube channel, than on Star Wars Day

What’s my first original video about?

It’s a reading, of the kind I love to do–and attend–at science fiction conventions (Ah! Remember back when it was safe to hold science fiction conventions in person?). The video is about 27 minutes long. It features me, reading Chapter One of The Other Side of Fear.

Alongside a picture of the cover, this information card says, "Jan S. Gephardt reads Chapter 1, 'Planet-Bound,' from her novella 'The Other Side of Fear.' Story  © 2020 by Jan S. Gephardt. Cover artwork  © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk. Published by Weird Sisters Publishing LLC."
Here’s the information that accompanies my video reading.

I owe Virtual DemiCon, and the amazing Joe Struss, a lot of thanks. They premiered this video during their event

They also got me off my butt! I’ve known I probably should do a video reading for a long time, but it’s hard to get off “square one.” Especially when it’s your first foray into a new medium. They provided the needed motivation. Thanks very much! You guys are awesome.

While Virtual DemiCon is still available, please do yourself a favor! Check in, then take in as many of the events as still remain online!

This T-shirt design from Virtual DemiCon has a black background and neon-colored words that read, "Welcome to a world without heroes . . .", "CONTAMINATED," "Legions of DemiCon," and  "HA HA" to suggest an evil laugh.
Thank you to DemiCon for this image.

What makes Star Wars Day appropriate?

The original Star Wars movie made a huge impression on me when it came out in theaters in 1977. I may have lived in Kansas City for more than 40 years, but I didn’t move here till my marriage in 1978. So I managed to miss MidAmeriCon I in 1976, where there was a big display and all the stars came to talk about this movie they were making.

In 1977 I lived and taught in tiny Lockwood, MO. I’d watched and enjoyed Star Trek reruns on TV by then. My soon-to-be husband had turned me on to Frank Herbert’s Dune, and the librarians at the Ash Grove Library had by then gotten me intrigued in science fiction stories from Poul Anderson and Isaac Asimov.
But I had never seen anything like like that movie before

I paid the at-the-time-exorbitant price of $3.00 for a ticket multiple times to see it over and over again (No VHS, no Betamaxnot on my horizon till years later! No Blockbuster Video, and certainly no NetflixHulu, or Disney Plus, back in those ancient days!).

I didn’t go back again and again for the plot. I didn’t go to critique the space physics. No, I went to bask in the spectacle (Artist. Visual creature. I drank it in.)

And not long after that, I started writing my first science fiction novel. I still have the typescript somewhere–typed on a manual Underwood in the evenings, after I finished my lesson plans for the day. It’s horrifying dreck, but it’s the first novel-length fiction I ever actually finished.

A gray 1952 Underwood "Rhythm Touch" manual typewriter like the one I used. Many thanks to Machines of Loving Grace for this photo.
A 1952 Underwood “Rhythm Touch,” like the one I used. Many thanks to Machines of Loving Grace for this photo.

Does that make me a “Warrior,” not a “Trekkie”?

Well, no. As time went on, I came to enjoy lots of different science fiction stories, shows, and films. I love Star Trek, too. And–sorry, diehard “Warriors”–a lot of the Star Wars movies make little to no “real-world” sense (don’t get me started on things I find cringeworthy). 

But the visuals, the droids, other-world creatures, the exotic vistas, the sheer spectacle of the Star Wars moviesthose, I still enjoy. They attracted me in formative ways, during my early days of writing sf. And they bring a nostalgic smile to my lips to this day (well, some of them. Give me Darth Vader in a TIE fighter, but leave Jar-Jar in the closet where he belongs).

So my first original video–my own “mini movie”–that opens a glimpse of my science fictional world, is an appropriate thing to release on Star Wars Day. It’s not too long on spectacle. But I hope you enjoy it, nonetheless.

Here's the villainous Darth Vader in his iconic TIE fighter, hot on Luke Skywalker's tail.
Give me that quintessential villain Darth Vader in his TIE fighter! Many thanks ImgFlip.

IMAGE CREDITS

My video may be found on my YouTube channel.  I created the information card with the Cover for The Other Side of Fear,  plus copyright information, etc. Many thanks to Virtual DemiCon for the “CONTAMINATED” design, to Wikipedia, for the original 1977 Star Wars movie poster image, and to Machines of Loving Grace for the photo of the 1952 Underwood “Rhythm Touch” manual typewriter.  Many thanks also to ImgFlip, for the photo of Darth Vader in his TIE fighter.

Representation Matters

Representation and social transformation

The Artdog Quotes of the Week

How does representation play a role in social transformation? Last week’s Monday post explored stereotypes and the power of portrayal. Now let’s tackle social transformation.

Make no mistake. Society is always transforming. Social change happens, whether we want it to or not. And individually we can’t control how it changes. 

This quote from Ellen DeGeneres says, "Whenever people act like gay image in the media will influence kids to be gay, I want to remind them that gay children grew up with only straight people on television."
No, the creators of content can’t change basic facts of human existence. But we can affect how people think about those facts, for well or ill. (This quote-image featuring Ellen DeGeneres is courtesy of FCKH8 on Twitter).

One person’s efforts rarely provide a huge pivot point, unless that one person speaks for thousands, and society was ripe for the change. Case in point: #MeTooThat one was way overdue!

What kind of future do you want?

We can’t control the changes. But we can affect how things change. 

What kind of future do you want? As creative people, we make art that comments on how things are and how things could be. If you think a more broadly representative world would be more fair and interesting, reflect that in your art.

Subverting the stereotypes

If you think harmful stereotypes should be questioned, treat them like the clichés they are. Turn them inside out. Subvert them. Transform them into something fresh and unexpected and better

This quote from Rosie Perez reads, "I started calling people on their stuff. I'd say, 'listen, things have to change. How come I keep getting 50 million offers to play the crack ho?' And I challenged them on it, and initially, oh my God, the negative response was horrific."
It can take guts to “call people on their stuff” and challenge stereotypes. But artistic integrity demands it. (This quote-image from Rosie Perez is courtesy of The Huffington Post).

That’s just basic sound practice–but you’re also making a statement by the way you make the transformation. 

Please note that this approach requires awareness. Creative people fall into tropesclichés and stereotyped thinking when they don’t recognize them for what they are. We all have unconscious biases. But we owe it to ourselves, our work, and our fans to learn about them and challenge them.

Representation and social transformation

Wider and more diverse representation is essential to the social transformations that I would love to see come about. I have my own ways to portray that, particularly in the stories I write. 

This quote from Gina Rodriguez says, "I became an actor to change the way I grew up. The way I grew up, I never saw myself on the screen. I have two older sisters. One's an investment banker. The other one is a doctor, and I never saw us being played as investment bankers. And I realized how limiting that was for me. I would look at the screen and think, 'Well, there's no way I can do it, because I'm not there.'"
Artists need to seize the power of portrayal. (This quote-image from Gina Rodriguez is courtesy of The Huffington Post).

There are as many possible approaches as there are artists. Some, such as those in the Solarpunk movement, seek to portray the benefits of positive future change. 

Writers, artists, filmmakers and others with a more dystopic bent often dramatize how badly things can go wrong. Perhaps as a cautionary tale. Or because they’re pessimists. Or because conflict is inherent in a dystopic plotline.

Everyone takes an individual path, because each of us has our own unique voice. We must let the world hear our visions, presented from our own perspectives, in our own voices.

What values do you seek to embrace? What negative outcomes do you hope we avoid? 

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to  FCKH8 on Twitter and The Huffington Post for the quote-images in this post.

Representation Matters

The power of portrayal

What is the power of portrayal? Why is it important that we see ourselves in the pictures, the fiction, and the media that surround us? 

Because people define themselves in reaction to, and in relation to, what they perceive around them. All of us are suggestible, to one degree or another. We react to peer pressure, and to social norms.

The messages we send

This quote from Salma Hayek says, "It's hard. They go by stereotypes. sometimes it's hard to put me in a box. I am so many things . . . [but] in their head, I'm not quite the typical Latin woman, in many ways, or the typical Arab woman, or the typical American woman, so it's hard for them to pin me."
This quote-image from Salma Hayek is courtesy of The Huffington Post.

All creative people should consider the issue of representation. Our creative products, be they songs, visuals, stories, or other things, send messages. I’ve considered aspects of these in two recent posts, Who gets represented, and Owning our “own voices.”

Unfortunately, for many years the only messages our dominant media have been sending about diverse groups are tropes and stereotypes

This quote from Nate Parker says, "So few [roles for black men have] integrity. As a black man, you leave auditions not hoping you get the job but wondering how you explain it to your family if you do."
Many thanks to The Huffington Post for this quote-image from Nate Parker.

While all too many of the reasons for these arise from overt racism, I’m convinced that a lot of them come from a profound lack of awareness by creatives or gatekeepers, and falling back on unthinking clichés. I blogged about this a while back, too.

What kind of clichés am I talking about?

In this quote, Rita Moreno says, "I made movies for a long time when I was young and I always had to have an accent. But that wasn't the worst problem. If I played a Latina, I always had to be too sexy and too easy. I hated that."
Rita Moreno has been dealing with negative stereotypes for decades. It’s not a new problem. (Quote-image courtesy of The Huffington Post).

I mean the stock characters that always seem to come with an ethnic tag. The Muslim terrorist. For a long time (at least since 9/11) there’s hardly been any other kind in the US media. The undocumented Mexican. How about the inscrutable Asian? Or the hostile Indian (Native American). The list is seemingly endless, and it skews sharply negative.

Thank goodness, we’re becoming more aware that these are bad. No, I’m not just being “politically correct.” That’s a term invented by easily-frightened people who are afraid of losing their privilege, or at least their perceived “right” not to care how others feel. In an interconnected society like ours, lack of empathy is an insidious social poison.

This quote from Octavia Spencer says, "Little kids need to be able to turn on the TV and see real-world representations of themselves. Who cares if the lead is an Asian male? If this is the best actor for that role, why does the role have to be indicative of a person's ethnicity?"
Many thanks to The Huffington Post for this quote-image from Octavia Spencer.

Negative stereotypes and stock characters are bad because we tend to believe what we see. Even if we are confronted in our daily lives with examples to the contrary, repetition of a negative trope/message can interfere with our perceptions. And believing harmful things about others in our society weakens society as a whole.

The power of portrayal


It’s not “harmless,” just because it’s fiction
. On the contrary, we craft fiction for a powerful emotional impact. Negative messages are actually more harmful when when clothed in popular fiction, because of their intensity and reach.

The power of portrayal lies in its pervasive, persuasive impact. Children are more susceptible to harm from negative portrayals, because they are less sophisticated and more impressionable. But negative depictions harm all of us, no matter who we are or what groups we belong to. They tear at the fabric of society, and can devastate self-image.

Bottom line to creative people in all media: educate yourself, so you’re not caught unaware. Understand that you are more powerful than you may think. Respect the power of portrayals in your work.

In her quote, Sarah Kate Ellis says, "When the most repeated ending for a queer woman is violent death, producers must do better to question the reason for a character's demise and what they are really communicating to the audience."
Many thanks to GLAAD, for this quote-image from Sarah Kate Ellis.

IMAGE CREDITS: 

Many thanks to The Huffington Post, which published the features that provided two of these posts. They are “18 Times Black Actors Nailed Why We Need Representation in Film,” and its sidebar slide show (scroll to the bottom), “16 Times Latinos Were Brutally Honest about Hollywood’s Lack of Diversity.”  The quote-image from Sarah Kate Ellis is courtesy of GLAAD.

11 Empowering Goddesses

The Artdog Image of Interest

I found an infographic that seemed appropriate for rounding out my collection of Women’s History Month miscellania: a collection of Eleven Empowering Goddesses, from Invaluable’s “In Good Taste” blog. The article that goes along with it is quite informative, too.

Whether you choose to worship these deities or simply find them interesting, even inspiring symbols of some of the strengths found within women, I hope you’ll enjoy the infographic.

This is an infographic titled "ll Empowering Goddesses to invoke creativity and passion." The subtitle reads, "These inspiring goddesses reflect the power & perspective necessary to tackle any obstacle that shields you from creative achievements."
The following material includes pictures of each goddess with some information about her.
Saraswati, Hindu. Goddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom, and learning. Symbols and features: lotus or peacock, white sari, vina (musical instrument), crescent moon, four arms. Everyday Wisdom: Call up on her to free you of lethargy and ignorance, and restore a flow of wisdom within your career, artistic ventures, or daily life.
Hera, Greek. Goddess of: Marriage, life, and love, "Queen of the Gods." Symbols and features: scepter, diadem, pomegranate. Everyday wisdom: Overcome hardships and prove to yourself that you have the ability to take back control and tell your own story.
Seshat, Egyptian. Goddess of: wisdom, knowledge, and writing. Symbols and features: reed pen, palm stem, papyrus scroll, 7-pointed star, leopard skin robe. Everyday wisdom: Draw inspiration from Seshat when you're hitting a creative or writing block, as this patroness of writing pioneered many artistic endeavors.
Diana, Roman. Goddess of: the hunt, the moon, and nature. Symbols and features: bow and arrow, hunting dog, crescent moon. Everyday wisdom: Grasp strength from Diana's hunting spirit to advocate for your own dreams.
Hathor, Egyptian. Goddess of: joy, music, and motherhood. Symbols and features: sistrum (musical instrument), Ankh, horns and sun disk, blue lotus, cow. Everyday wisdom: rekindle your physical and psychological well-being and restore joy.
Kuan Yin (Guanyin), Buddhist. Goddess of: compassion. Symbols and features: white lotus, willow branch, vase, dove, book or scroll of prayers, rosary, sweet cakes. Everyday wisdom: Dedicated to relieving suffering in the world, Kuan Yin can embolden in times of fear. Draw confidence from her powers to step out of your comfort zone.
Freya (Freyja), Norse. Goddess of: Love and fertility. Symbols and features: Viking helmet, sword, cloak of falcon feathers. Everyday wisdom: Freya's fierceness and passion for education will inspire you to pursue your own passions in life, love, and the arts.
Athena, Greek. Goddess of: wisdm, courage, the arts, and skill. Symbols and features: owl, olive tree, snake, armor. Everyday wisdom: Call upon Athena to restore your poise and courage. As a lover of the arts, this important goddess can help you regain focus and utilize your surroundings to succeed.
Brigid, Celtic. Goddess of: fire, poetry, healing, childbirth, and unity. Symbols and features: fire, lambs, entwined serpents, St. Brigid's cross. Everyday wisdom: Brigid's healing capabilities may inspire you to express yourself through a creative outlet, especially poetry (her strong suit).
Inanna, Sumerian. Goddess of: love and procreation; "Queen of Heaven." Symbols and features: hook-shaped twisted knot of reeds, rosette, lions, doves. Everyday wisdom: Inanna's journey to the underworld was harrowing, but it parallels many everyday struggles. Call upon her courage and prowess to overcome barriers in your own life.
Nike, Greek. Goddess of: victory. Symbols and features: shield, wings, laurel wreath, palm branch. Everyday wisdom: Representing triumph and victory, Nike's strength will guide you to successfully execute even the loftiest of goals. At the bottom of the infographic is the sponsoring organization's name: Invaluable.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Invaluable’s “In Good Taste” blog, for this infographic.

Participating in the Arts

The Artdog Image of Interest

There are lots of ways to participate in the arts. What are your favorite ways?

The best way I know to activate one’s creativity is to actually do an art. You don’t have to actually be good or “go professional” to enjoy performing or making things.

Did you take arts classes in school? What interested you the most? Have you attended a live performance or art show in the past 12 months? Taken classes? Participated by doing?

What art forms are a regular part of your life today?

IMAGE: Many thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts, for the infographic on the ways that Americans participate in the arts.

Love, loss, and music for All Souls Day

The Artdog Images of Interest for All Souls Day

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Beers and Beans Blog article “Graveyard Musicians-Oaxaca, Mexico,” for the photo of the mariachis in a graveyard on the Days of the Dead; to the Genealogy Bank Blog’s “101 Genealogy Proverbs” for the Chinese proverb; to Quote Ambition, for the “Sympathy-Loss-Love” quote image; and to Amazon for the “papel picado” banner designs.

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