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This photo by Pascal Gephardt shows the Weird Sisters Publishing Dealers Table at DemiCon 34. Tyrell Gephardt stands behind the table. On the left-hand side, from top to bottom of the display, are copies of Dora Furlong’s “One of Our Own,” then Lynette M. Burrows’ “My Soul to Keep,” “If I Should Die,” and “Fellowship.” On the table level are Jan S. Gephardt’s “The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “A Bone to Pick.” In the middle of the table, we attached badge ribbons to bookmarks and business cards with information about the books the quotes come from. To get a badge ribbon, table visitors also had to take the attached information. On the right side of the table, from top to bottom, are Randal Spangler’s hardbound, fully illustrated children’s books, “D is for Draglings™” and “The Draglings™’ Bedtime Story.” On the next level are “The Draglings™ Coloring Book” and the three volumes of Karin Rita Gastreich’s “Silver Web Trilogy,” “Eolyn,” “Sword of Shadows,” and “Daughter of Aithne.” On the table level are G. S. Norwood’s “Deep Ellum Duet” and M. C. Chambers’ “Midsummer Storm” and “Shapers’ Veil.” Tablecloth design is “Nebula 2,”

My last DemiCon?

By Jan S. Gephardt

DemiCon 34 may have been my last DemiCon. I have a lot of great history with DemiCon as an institution, and as an eagerly-anticipated annual event. I’ve blogged about it in this space for the last several years, as veteran readers of this blog may recall.

It was the convention that primarily inspired my 2019 post “Why I go to SF Conventions.” For a profile of DemiCon at its recent best, take a look at my 2018 post, “My DemiCon 29 Experience.” I had a wonderful time there.

Even the Pandemic didn’t kill my love for DemiCon. Their patient, helpful Joe Struss helped me create “My First Original Video” for Virtual DemiCon in 2020. And they looked as if they were coming back strong in 2022, as reflected in my post “The Best and Worst Time.”

But DemiCon 34 may have been my last DemiCon. At least for a while.

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

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I figured we were off to another great start last fall, when I received an invitation to attend with a guest as a professional guest (this means the membership fee is waived because I’ll be “paying for it” by appearing on panels. It’s a normal-enough procedure, and I’m always happy to agree). I responded quickly to say quite truthfully that I was looking forward to it.

After that, however, crickets. (Okay, it was winter. But still). Finally in March I figured I’d better find out if they’d forgotten me. As it turned out, they kind of had. There’d been a reshuffling of the con committee in some way. My invitation and acceptance had gotten lost in that shuffle. But Amanda in Programming said of course I’d be welcome, and she’d find ways to fit me onto panels. No author reading, though.

Um, okay. Well, things could still work out. It didn’t have to be my last DemiCon. But unfortunate events and disappointments gradually accumulated.

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

Art Show?

I couldn’t find Art Show information online. Turns out it was on their website and they did (let the record show) have an Art Show. It was listed under “Venue” in dim type at the bottom of their index page. I found “Dealers Room” on that drop-down menu, but somehow my eyes kept skipping over “Art Show” (second down after “Anime Room”).

I guess I was always in too much of a hurry to search the fine print. And, perhaps because of the concom shakeup, I also never received a contact from the Art Show Director. Usually I get a cheery email a few months out, asking if I’ll be showing art again this year. That really would have saved me, this year.

So, I didn’t bring any art (thought, “what’s the point?” and we were tight on space). Then, to my dismay, I discovered there was an Art Show after all. I tried not to be too upset, but I never could quite bring myself to go inside and see what was there. I suppose it should be no big deal in the grand scheme. But I was crushed.

Granted, a mistake I made shouldn’t be used as a justification to make this my last DemiCon. But it was one more, particularly searing disappointment on the growing pile of them.

This photo by Pascal Gephardt shows the Weird Sisters Publishing Dealers Table at DemiCon 34. Tyrell Gephardt stands behind the table. On the left-hand side, from top to bottom of the display, are copies of Dora Furlong’s “One of Our Own,” then Lynette M. Burrows’ “My Soul to Keep,” “If I Should Die,” and “Fellowship.” On the table level are Jan S. Gephardt’s “The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “A Bone to Pick.” In the middle of the table, we attached badge ribbons to bookmarks and business cards with information about the books the quotes come from. To get a badge ribbon, table visitors also had to take the attached information. On the right side of the table, from top to bottom, are Randal Spangler’s hardbound, fully illustrated children’s books, “D is for Draglings™” and “The Draglings™’ Bedtime Story.” On the next level are “The Draglings™ Coloring Book” and the three volumes of Karin Rita Gastreich’s “Silver Web Trilogy,” “Eolyn,” “Sword of Shadows,” and “Daughter of Aithne.” On the table level are G. S. Norwood’s “Deep Ellum Duet” and M. C. Chambers’ “Midsummer Storm” and “Shapers’ Veil.” Tablecloth design is “Nebula 2,” ©2021 by Chaz Kemp.
Our son Tyrell Gephardt represents at the Weird Sisters Publishing Dealers Table on Friday 5/5/23. This shot gives a good view of about half of the Dealers Room, as well as the books we offered. Photo by Pascal Gephardt. Nebula 2 tablecloth design ©2021 by Chaz Kemp.

A Very Tight Squeeze

The Big Convention Experiment for this year is a quest to answer the question: Can Weird Sisters Publishing present a profitable Dealers Table at sf conventions? Didn’t have to be super-lucrative, but at least breaking even would be nice. We tried to vary our offerings (and increase the odds of selling things) by including the work of selected Kansas City Author Friends Dora Furlong, Lynette M. Burrows, Randal Spangler, Karin Rita Gastreich, and M. C. Chambers, as well as my books and my sister G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Duet. Happily, we did sell something from almost everyone. But did we break even? No.

Our first challenge was squeezing ourselves into the space. To say the Dealers Room was “cozy” . . . well, check out the photo above. There wasn’t room for our banner. In fact, it’s a good thing I’ve lost about 30 lbs. over the course of the past year (thank you, NOOM!), or I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze through to work the table.

Unfortunately, the aisle space was almost as constricted as the space behind the table. ADA compliance? Ouch! Not so much. The aisles were consistently congested each time I came in, but that doesn’t mean there was room for a lot of traffic. Yes, it was a small con. But as a semi-frequent visitor to the dealers rooms of many conventions, I can tell you I personally would have looked at the congestion and thought, “Nope.” Was that the experience that made me question whether this would be my last DemiCon? Well, no. Not by itself.

A helpful audience member took this photo before the “A.I. Meets SF” panel on Friday night. Left to right, panelists are Steven Southard, Jan S. Gephardt, and David Pedersen.
Taken before the “A.I. Meets SF” Panel on 5/5/23. L-R: Steven Southard, Jan S. Gephardt, and David J. Pedersen. Jan teamed up with one or the other of these men for all but one of her subsequent panels. Photo by Helpful Audience Member Number One, who remained anonymous.

The Best Bright Spot: My Panels

For me, the highlight of this convention was the panels. This is often true. For one, I love to talk about our genre(s), writing, art, and related topics. For another, I generally love working with the other panelists. Most are interesting, knowledgeable, and intelligent people, and would be so in any setting. A well-moderated, intelligent discussion with such people is a delight I relish.

Most of my panels teamed me up with either Steven Southard or David J. Pedersen. The “A.I. Meets SF” panel on Friday 5/5/23 included all three of us. I had a lovely time working with both of them. They’re bright, thoughtful men. I’d met and been on panels with David before, but a major high point of DemiCon 34 was meeting Steven. Our panel discussions were lots of fun, and we had large, intelligent, well-informed audiences. It was a mix of elements practically guaranteed to be both stimulating and fun.

I was on five panels. By the time we got to the final one on Sunday afternoon (where I joined Author Guest Rachel Aukes to discuss “Who Will We Meet in Space?”), I think everyone was exhausted. The audience barely outnumbered Rachel and me, and they seemed little disposed to talk much. But that somewhat “flat note” certainly wouldn’t have been enough, on its own, to make me ask, “Is this my last DemiCon?”

The first bedroom the “night persons” in the Gephardt contingent occupied had two inviting-looking beds with a built-in nightstand and wall sconces between them, with what looked like floor-to-ceiling glass doors and a small balcony facing west. In the photo, some of our luggage is stacked beside and between the beds.
Two queen beds and big, sunny windows provided a deceptively-inviting view. Photo by Jan S. Gephardt.

My Last DemiCon?

In my first book, What’s Bred in the Bone, there’s a chapter titled, “A Combined Weight of Awfulness.” I wouldn’t ascribe “awfulness” to my DemiCon 34 experience (with one exception). But disappointment after disappointment built up through the weekend. The convention committee seemed disorganized. There weren’t many panels that looked interesting to me, outside of the ones I was on. Readings by friends were mostly scheduled against my own panels, so I couldn’t attend them. I didn’t get many other networking opportunities.

But our discovery in one of our rooms would’ve sent us home immediately if we’d been there strictly as fans. A rash of distinctive red bumps rose on several sensitive square inches of my son’s skin. Then he found a rather distinctive little brown bug in his bed. And when you find one, you know there must be more. De-con efforts have continued since we got home, to make sure none infiltrated our luggage.

We had a dealer’s table. I’d made promises to be on panels. We’d bought a program book ad. So we accepted a change of rooms and stayed. But combined with all the other issues and disappointments, this was definitely the nadir of all my convention-going experiences in the more than three decades I’ve been going to conventions all over the country. So DemiCon 34 is likely to have been my last DemiCon. At least for a good long while.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to The DemiCon 34 Facebook Page for their Convention header. The artwork displayed in my “woulda” montage is © Jan S. Gephardt. Many thanks to Pascal for the Dealer’s Table photo and to Helpful Audience Member Number One, for the photo of the “A.I. Meets SF” panelists. I took that room pic myself.

Two Archon 45 headers.

An Archon to Enjoy

By Jan S. Gephardt

I’m a little over a week back from my last in-person science fiction convention. It truly was an Archon to enjoy. Archon 45 offered at least a little bit of everything I’ve come to love about sf “cons.”

This was, of course, far from my only Archon – and if you follow my blog, you know I’ve written about it in the past. You might enjoy some of my past posts about the Art, the Artists, the Writers, the Costumes, the anticipation, and my appreciation of their sensible Covid protocols last year. There were some great costumes this year, too, but I didn’t get very good pictures of any. For better photo coverage, take a look at Elizabeth Donald’s blog post, “Archon 45 is a smash!

Two Archon 45 headers.
Courtesy of Archon 45.

An Art Show to Enjoy

The Archon Art show is always a highlight for me. Not only do I always make a point of showing my artwork in the show, but I also enjoy looking at the strong showing of excellent art that usually shows up.

I reserved two panels, and I think I made a pretty decent showing. Sold a couple of pieces, which is an accomplishment (paper sculpture is hard to price at sf con levels). Cat Conrad was this year’s Artist Guest of Honor. It was fun to see him, and chit-chat a bit. He and I have been friendly acquaintances for a long time.

Many other “regulars” and favorites showed work, too. They added to the elements that made this an Archon to enjoy. Kansas City friends Rachael Mayo and Allison Stein came and brought their wonderful artwork (including gorgeous new 3D work by Rachael Mayo). St. Louis-area artists John E. Kauffman, Craig Skaggs, Brent Chumley, Mike Cole, and Eddie Wilson had Artists’ Alley booths, as well as an Art Show presence. Peri Charlifu, Arden Ellen Nixon, Theresa Mather, Sarah Clemens, and many more also had art in the show, so it added up to another great year of artwork at Archon.

Tyrell E. Gephardt and I both took photos of my Art Show display. I’m not sure whose shot this is. Artwork shown in the photo is ©2012-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt. The gallery of Cat Conrad’s artwork is a screen-grab of 9 publicly shared images on his website. His artwork is © by Cat Conrad.
Cat Conrad’s artwork is a screen-grab of publicly shared images on his website, © Cat Conrad. Jan S. Gephardt’s paper sculpture is ©2012-2022.

An Art Display to Especially Appreciate

But of all the artists in the show, I have to say I really thought Lucy A. Synk brought an unusually wonderful display. And that’s not just because about two-thirds of her panels featured artwork I commissioned.

it’s because there was an unusual quantity of gorgeous original oil, acrylic, and mixed-media paintings, and because several were impressively big. The show-stopper had to be her magnificent Oak Park Halloween painting, which I once blogged about. She also brought some of her mixed-media planetscapes, including the one that won an award at Chicon 8.

Of the “Rana Station” art, in addition to Jogging in Gaudí Park, First Responder, and Hildie, she also brought several “XK9 Portraits.” An all-around outstanding display! But don’t just take my word for it. She won Best of Show, Best Pro Artist, and tied with other artists for Fan’s Choice in the voting at Archon.

This is Lucy’s Archon 45 display, featuring two panels of “Rana Station” art (illustrations commissioned by Weird Sisters Publishing, LLC), and one of assorted other fantasy and science fiction artwork.
All of the artwork on Lucy A. Synk’s panels is ©2019-2022 by Lucy A. Synk.

Panels and Fellow Panelists

For me, a highlight of any science fiction convention is attending panels. In that way, too, it was an Archon to enjoy. I had a fun and lively group of artists, both in the audience (including Rachael Mayo, the ultimate word on dragons) and on the panel for “Do People Still Like Dragons?Brent Chumley, Allison Stein, and Lucy A. Synk officially joined me on the panel. It was mostly about the current state of the art market for fantasy & sf artists. But we quickly established that yes, people do still not just like, but love dragons. They are in no danger of going away.

I got to be the moderator for all of the panels I was on, which I very much enjoy. I like being able to make sure that the audience is involved and able to ask questions. And after a career in teaching I know how to balance out the speakers so everyone gets a turn.

Maintaining balance (and keeping the conversation mostly in English laymen could understand) was my primary challenge for the “Current and Future A.I.” panel! My co-panelists, Bryce Meyer and Jack Glassman are experts in the field, whom I’ve had the pleasure of moderating before. Both are brilliant  – and very enthusiastic. They love above all else to talk about their field. But they’re also respectful, and they take a cue pretty well.

L-R: Matthew Munro, Jan S. Gephardt, and Rhiannon Gonzalez, on the “Cartoons” panel at Archon 45.
Photo ©2022 by Tyrell E. Gephardt.

A Great Note-Taker for a Co-Panelist

The downside of being the moderator is that it’s very difficult to take notes. We had a wide-ranging conversation at the panel titled, “Children’s Cartoons and the Adult Viewer.” My family and I have enjoyed a number of these shows, such as Inside Job, Lower Decks, Centaurworld, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and The Owl House. My co-panelists were Nick Butcher, Rhiannon Gonzalez, and Matthew Edward Munro. They brought ideas and reactions about a range of other shows. So did several well-versed audience members. The conversation included straight-up Anime shows and game tie-ins, as well – but unfortunately I can’t tell you their titles.

As the moderator I also couldn’t take notes on “Best Indie Authors of Science Fiction & Fantasy,” either. But fortunately, I didn’t have to! Co-panelist and the other author on the panel, Rachel Neumeier not only took great notes, she turned them into a blog post! For my list, I drew heavily on a post I’d written last year, “Indie Women of Science Fiction.” You’ll see that list included in Rachel’s post, but my write-up expands a bit more on each author, so both might interest you.

I don’t believe Rachel mentioned Jerry Boyd, however. He’s the creator of the “Bob and Nikki” series (now up to 28 titles) Two of our fellow panelists, Cheryl Medley and Linda Wyatt were not writers, but avid readers, who like to specialize in Indie writers for several reasons. Cheryl wore a “Bob’s Saucer Repair” T-shirt (the title of “Bob & Nikki Book 1”) to the panel, but did complain that Jerry had failed to put his name on it anywhere!

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

My Reading

I always like to do a reading at science fiction conventions I attend – and I also love to go to readings, as anyone who’s followed my blog for a while can attest. Over the years I’ve written about authors’ readings at DemiCon, ConQuesT, several at SoonerCon, at Worldcons, the NASFiC SpikeCon, FenCon, and of course, at Archon. Having a chance to share my work with fans was guaranteed to help make this an Archon to enjoy!

This year, however, I didn’t have much advance-time to publicize my reading at the convention itself. It was set for the very first night on the con. So I used social media beforehand, to alert people. It must’ve worked! Most of the people who came were there for my reading. I was originally set to read with D. A. Roberts and Elizabeth Donald, but Roberts had to cancel his attendance.

I had therefore planned to read a slightly longer selection (essentially Chapter Two of Bone of Contention – I’d read Chapter One last year, and several of my listeners were there last year, too). But we ran into technical difficulties that made us run late, and I didn’t have time to read all of mine. I plan to serialize it, plus the next several chapters after that, for my Newsletter subscribers in coming months, however (in case you’re curious).

Elizabeth was able to read all of hers, though! It was a wonderful short story called “Sisyphus,” from her Setting Suns anthology.

L-R: Aaron Hollingsworth and Jan S. Gephardt at the “Hollingsworth & Weird” dealers table, and a clearer view of the Weird Sisters Publishing banner.
Photo of Aaron Hollingsworth and Jan S. Gephardt by Tyrell E. Gephardt.

Hollingsworth and Weird in the Dealers Room

I wrote quite a bit in my post just before Archon this year about my pre-con publicity, my special banner and table-cover, and my plans for sharing a dealers table with Aaron Hollingsworth. Most of those plans worked out pretty well.

I especially liked the chance to share Chapter One of my book What’s Bred in the Bone with prospective readers via a QR Code. A surprising number of people took a postcard, planning to read Chapter One that night and, if they liked it, come back the next day. Imagine my delight when they actually came back the next day to buy books! That definitely made it an Archon to enjoy!

I had a new toy, this time, a Square Terminal. It made things a whole lot easier. And it even prints out a paper receipt! I think exactly one person asked for one, but still! It has Weird Sisters Publishing’s logo on it and everything. Pretty nifty.

It says “Choose Your Next Great Read,” and shows e-reader visualizations of “Sample Chapter One of What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “Sample Chapter One of A Bone to Pick.” The left-hand QR code takes readers to the free download for Chapter One of “What’s Bred in the Bone,” while the QR code on the right leads to the free download for Chapter One of “A Bone to Pick.”
The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick is ©2019-2020 by Jody A. Lee.

An Archon to Enjoy – And I’m Already Looking Forward to the Next!

My Archon experience was good enough (and made enough money for me) to decide that Weird Sisters Publishing will have a dealers table from now on. Next spring, when the conventions start up again, I’ll actually have more titles (though people will have to wait a bit longer for Bone of Contention).

We plan to sell my sister’s two Deep Ellum stories as a single printed book, titled Deep Ellum Duo. We’ll also have print editions of the four novels in my late brother-in-law Warren Norwood’s Windhover Tetralogy. We’ll release all of these books this winter, so stand by for further updates on that!

All in all, as you probably have gathered, it was totally an Archon to enjoy. I’m already looking forward to next year!

IMAGE CREDITS

Some of the photos and illustrations I’ve used here have also turned up in other posts or on social media. Anything not credited is a photo or montage of photos that I took and assembled. I assembled the other montages, too, but the images in them have several sources.

Both Archon 45 headers are courtesy of Archon 45. Tyrell E. Gephardt and I both took photos of my Art Show display. I’m not sure whose shot this is. Artwork shown in the photo is ©2016-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt. The gallery of Cat Conrad’s artwork is a screen-grab of publicly shared images on his website. His artwork is © by Cat Conrad.

All of the artwork on Lucy A. Synk’s panels is ©2019-2022 by Lucy A. Synk. I took the photos with her permission (indeed, her cooperation). I’m using them here with her permission.

The photos of me at the Cartoons panel and with Aaron Hollingsworth at the Hollingsworth & Weird dealers table are both ©2022 by Tyrell E. Gephardt. I’m using them here with his permission.

The images of the “Indie Women of Science Fiction” are courtesy of the authors’ websites or social media, via my blog post. This montage was originally published (with full credits) on The Weird Blog and the two “Artdog Adventures” blogs. The artwork on the book covers with the QR codes in the last picture is ©2019 and 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

L-R: Aaron Hollingsworth at a recent book-signing; the Weird Sisters Publishing banner for the dealers room table, and Jan with Weird Sisters books at Archon 44.

Packing up for Archon

By Jan S. Gephardt

This week I’m packing up for Archon 45. I’m set to depart on Thursday, and I have a very full weekend planned. If this blog post is a little shorter than some, it’s because this week, of all weeks, time is of the essence. In addition to all of the “necessary maintenance” stuff there is to do on any given week, packing up for Archon tops the priorities!

It’s a broad-spectrum effort. If you’ve followed this blog for the last several months you’ve been a secondary witness to a recent change in my approach to conventions. In May, for ConQuesT 53, I decided to Try Something New. I dipped my toe into the idea of spending part of my time at a dealers table, and it worked out better than I expected.

L-R: Karin R. Gastreich at her end of our table; M. C. Chambers and Jan S. Gephardt, also at our table.
We weren’t far from the Art Show – you can see it behind Karin R. Gastreich (L). At another time, M. C. Chambers and I posed for a photo. (See credits below).

Testing My Hypothesis

When it came time for the next convention, SoonerCon (#30 this year, in Oklahoma City, OK), I decided to test that hypothesis some more. Had my initial experience been a fluke? I had A Very Busy SoonerCon, and discovered that, no – it wasn’t just a one-off. That was a good experience, too. Nothing of that sort worked out for me with Chicon 8, the Worldcon in Chicago. Indeed, I actually ended up not going (“too expensive” headed a list of reasons), more focused more on Using My Time Well in other pursuits. Thus, I couldn’t test it further.

Until now.

I am packing up for Archon with some new equipment: A custom-made table cover (its design is based on a nebula image I licensed from Chaz Kemp, and I think it looks wonderful) and a 71-inch-tall banner to back up my end of yet another dealers table. This time we’re calling it Hollingsworth & Weird – once again, I’m depending on a trusted partner (who’s also a “morning person”) to make sure the table is staffed as much of the time as possible.

L-R: Aaron Hollingsworth at a recent book-signing; the Weird Sisters Publishing banner for the dealers room table, and Jan with Weird Sisters books at Archon 44.
As I’m packing up for Archon 45, I have lots of plans for this convention! (See credits below).

Introducing the Hollingsworth Part of Hollingsworth & Weird

In this case my intrepid partner is a Kansas City-area science fantasy writer, Aaron Hollingsworth. He’s worked with me before, and I know him as a trustworthy go-getter with a strong work ethic. He normally stakes out a place in the dealers room at the conventions he attends. He tells me he prefers to interact with readers individually, face-to-face, rather than participate in panels.

You might enjoy his literarily-witty novels and novellas, such as The Broken Bards of Paris, The Broken Brides of Europe, and The Apothecary of Mantua. He’s also the author of numerous role-playing game supplements for D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder, most under the series names Shattered Skies and Porphyria.

Aaron Hollingsworth’s author-bio illustration, with 6 of his titles: the books “The Apothecary of Mantua” and “The Broken Brides of Europe,” and four of the RPG guides he has written.
Aaron Hollingsworth and some of the books he has written. (See credits below).

Let us not Forget the Weird Part

I’ll be there to represent Weird Sisters Publishing. We’re in the process of preparing my late brother-in-law Warren C. Norwood’s  vintage series, The Windhover Tetralogy for re-issue in new e- and paperback editions. But they won’t be ready till this winter. My sister G. S. Norwood has a couple of wonderful novelettes available as the Deep Ellum Stories – but they’re short works currently in e-editions only.

Thus, when I’m packing up for Archon this year, the only physical books I’ll have available to sell are still my three XK9 stories: the prequel novella The Other Side of Fear and XK9 “Bones” Trilogy Books One and Two, What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick. This is the same lineup I’ve successfully taken to the other conventions this season.

Unfortunately, it’s a fairly small pile of books. In my opinion, it’s still too small to justify taking up a whole table, plus covering the membership and time of a dedicated “morning person” to run it. I’m eager to fill out the Trilogy next year with Bone of Contention, and to start offering Warren’s books. But I’m also very pleased that in the meantime I could find a tablemate who’s as reliable and proactive as Aaron!

Weird Sisters Publishing: We have tales to tell. This picture shows covers for The XK9 Series, Deep Ellum Stories, and The Windhover Tetralogy.
We have a growing list of tales to tell . . . but not all are in print yet! (The Other Side of Fear cover is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk. The other two XK9 covers are ©2019 and 2020 by Jody A. Lee. The background nebula (also used for the dealers table cover) and all the rest of the covers are ©2019-2021 by Chaz Kemp).

And Speaking of Bone of Contention . . . My Reading!

I normally request to have my reading scheduled later in the day on Saturday, or even on Sunday of the convention. That gives me a good part of the weekend to promote it. But that doesn’t always happen. At Archon 45 it’s scheduled at 7 p.m. on Friday night. That makes it my first scheduled Programming item. No chances to promote it on panels before that! So I’ll have to rely on social media to alert people to it, and hope enough notice it to bring some listeners in!

Depending on who shows up and what they prefer, I have a number of options. There are a couple of scenes from Bone of Contention that I could share (I read an early version of Chapter One last time). I also have fun scenes from a couple of short stories I wrote as exclusives for my Newsletter subscribers (each month I offer them a free downloadable story or XK9-related project).

Which Shall I Choose?

Which story would you choose, if you attended my reading? Use the Comments section of this post if you’d like to weigh in with opinions. Can’t attend the reading, but you’re interested in one or more of these? Subscribe to my Newsletter!

The banner shows a 3D mockup of the story’s cover on an e-reader, an empty park bench, and the words, “Shady couldn’t see the entity on the bench in Glen Haven Park, but she could clearly smell it.”
Design and e-book text © 2021-22 Jan S. Gephardt (with help from 123rf and BookBrush). Shady portrait ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk.
Alongside a visualization of the story as an ebook, the words say: Happy New Year! In a “target-rich environment” of marks and johns, Charlie’s after grifters, pimps . . . and his crooked partner. Can he survive to greet the New Year?
Jan created this banner with a little help from her friends at BookBrush and 123rf. Story © 2021 by Jan S. Gephardt.
The banner shows a 3D mockup of the story’s cover on an e-reader, plus the headline, “What else could possibly go wrong?” Under that, it says, “Left to sift through a jumble of reeking, noisome trash for possible evidence, Officer Pamela Gómez and rookie Detective Balchu Nowicki strive to stay professional. They do their work well, despite the stench and the complexity of the site. But then their day gets worse . . . “ There’s also the credit line: “Cover artwork ©2022 by Chaz Kemp.”
Anywhere but Sixth Level Artwork ©2022 by Chaz Kemp. Story is ©2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Packing up for Archon, I Added Another Idea to Test: QR Codes!

As partial compensation for fact that the early reading has truncated some of my publicity efforts, I’m also trying a different “test project.” We’ll see if it turns out to be a good idea or not. You may have noticed that QR codes, those funny-looking splotchy square or circular patches, have started turning up in more and more locations. Some people find them irritating or inscrutable, but more and more of us have started using our smartphones to scan them for a fast link to a web page or other online material.

Earlier this year, Weird Sisters Publishing created downloadable versions of Chapter One for each of my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy novels that’s available so far. But it only just recently dawned on me as I started packing up for Archon that I could create QR codes to take people to those “free samples” even more quickly and easily (I know: Well, duh! Right??). So I generated a QR code for the downloadable first chapter of What’s Bred in the Bone and added it to the label on my postcards that I give out at the convention.

It says “Choose Your Next Great Read,” and shows e-reader visualizations of “Sample Chapter One of What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “Sample Chapter One of A Bone to Pick.” The left-hand QR code takes readers to the free download for Chapter One of “What’s Bred in the Bone,” while the QR code on the right leads to the free download for Chapter One of “A Bone to Pick.”
The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick is ©2019-2020 by Jody A. Lee. Scan the QR codes to go to the sample chapters, or click on the links in the titles. QR codes were generated via QR Code Generator.

But Wait! There’s Also Art!

Yes, I’m also bringing my paper sculpture to Archon 45. Lucy A. Synk will be there too, with most of her “Welcome to Rana Station” display from Worldcon (other than the artwork she sold there). You’ll probably see lots more about the Archon 45 Art Show in one or more future posts on this blog.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to see highlights from past Archon Art Shows, you might enjoy my blog posts Artwork at Archon 43 and Artists at Archon 44.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish packing for Archon 45!

IMAGE CREDITS

Unless otherwise stated, all of the photography and graphic design in this blog post was created by Jan S. Gephardt. In the first picture, Deb Branson, my intrepid proofreader, took the photo of M. C. Chambers and Jan at their ConQuesT 53 table.

In the second picture, that’s Aaron Hollingsworth at a book-signing. It was held at Readers World in Sedalia, MO on August 13, 2022. Jan accessed it via Aaron’s public Facebook page. The photo of Jan with Weird Sisters books at Archon 44 by Tyrell E. Gephardt.

In the third montage, Jan got Aaron’s Author photo from his website, and acquired his book covers for The Apothecary of Mantua and The Broken Brides of Europe from Amazon. She represented his RPG titles with a screen-capture of four listings on that page of his website.

The fourth montage is lifted from the Weird Sisters website. It features the work of Lucy A. Synk, Jody A. Lee, and Chaz Kemp. The rest are graphics originally designed for Jan’s Newsletter (Sign up for it here!). See the credits in their cutlines with copyright notices and links to the sources’ websites.

A baby in an Ewok costume stares at a couple of robed Jawas, Spider-Man strolls by, and a senior officer of the Royal Manticoran Navy strides toward the camera, while Lone Starr and Barf hurry past on the other side of the hallway.

A Kaleidoscope of Cosplay

By Jan S. Gephardt

I had so much fun at SoonerCon 30 – not the least of which came from the kaleidoscope of cosplay that I encountered everywhere. I had many lovely moments at this science fiction convention. But the cosplay was in a class of its own. The sheer, rich, visual diversity of these costumes provided a weekend of riches, just by themselves.

Even more than most of the other “cons” I attend (short for the admittedly-unwieldy term “science fiction convention”), SoonerCon is part literary con, part media/comics con, and part Anime con. It’s the latter two aspects that really focus on cosplay, or “costume play.”

Left-to-right, the passers-by included a woman in pink lace, a Goth lady, a pair of Jawas with glowing eyes, and a wizard in a cloak.
The people-watching at SoonerCon 30 was awesome! (all photos by author).

Costumes and Science Fiction: a Natural Match

The first science fiction cons (dating back to at least the 1930s) were literary cons, old-style fan-run conventions focused on written books, then later also the artwork that illustrated those books and the “fanzines” that connected often-isolated sf fans. Media conventions celebrate science fiction TV shows and movies, plus podcasts, music, and all manner of streaming media. Comics? Give you one guess. And then there’s the amazing and beautiful world of Anime, which originated in Japan, but quickly took the rest of the world by storm.

Every con has at least some costumed attendees, even if it doesn’t offer SoonerCon’s richly-varied kaleidoscope of cosplay. Costumes have been a beloved aspect of them since the dawn of sf cons. Compared to what walks in the door at the average science fiction convention today, those early costumes look amateurish, but they were pretty much always there. It’s like Halloween for kids of all ages, any time of the year. Indeed, many fans love Halloween more than any other holiday, including Christmas!

A baby in an Ewok costume stares at a couple of robed Jawas, Spider-Man strolls by, and a senior officer of the Royal Manticoran Navy strides toward the camera, while Lone Starr and Barf hurry past on the other side of the hallway.
The passing parade never stopped, and the kaleidoscope of cosplay seemed endless. (all photos by author).

Taking Their Costumes Seriously

By this point in their evolution, there are some amazingly skilled costumers in our midst. More than you might think make a part-time or full-time living, creating costumes of all varieties. Some costumers specialize in Anime, some in American comic and superhero characters. Some focus on creatures, in the form of everything from a small puppet to carry on one’s arm or wear, to full-body suits. Furry fandom is a whole other, amazing category of its own.

Some costumers specialize in Star Wars, Star Trek, and other media characters, and some focus on Steampunk or other niche categories (I’ve found more Steampunk at DemiCon than SoonerCon, however). Some costumers specialize so narrowly that they mainly make hats, masks, or high-quality corsets. The professionals have serious skills, but there also are gifted amateurs or semi-pros who can give them a run for their money!

Led by R2D2 and a gonk droid, a parade of Imperial officers and citizens of the Star Wars universe pass by Jan’s table.
The “Star Wars” was strong with these cosplayers. (photos by author).

Solid Support for SoonerCon’s Kaleidoscope of Cosplay

One enduring feature of SoonerCon has been the presence of Bernina of Oklahoma City. This year they were a Patron Sponsor of the convention. They had a big space in the Exhibitors Hall, where they showcased their machines, helped mend “wounded” costumes, and if you had a long enough string of badge ribbons, they’d even stitch them together for you. They helped offer a high-dollar sewing machine for the Masquerade Contest prize, and a simpler model for the Children’s Costume Contest.

It probably won’t surprise you that the ingenious costumers of science fiction fandom also have branched into other allied fields. You can’t create convincing aliens from any of the “Star” universes, for example, without skillful use of makeup and often-sophisticated prosthetics. And accessories (including weapons) makes up one of the most exuberant sub-categories at the con.

Sewing machines and science-fiction-themed quilts line the back wall of the Bernina Center in the SoonerCon Exhibition Hall.
The Bernina Center in the Exhibition Hall. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt).

Accessories and Gizmos

There’s no match for a good blaster at your side (or other “ray gun,” complete with lights and sound effects). Unless maybe it’s your own light saber. Yes, we had light sabers for all ages at SoonerCon, too. A few weeks ago, you read about my friend Zac Zacarola, his dealers room table for Ziggy’s West, and his “Wall of Doom.” Weapons at conventions must be peace-bonded. But many fans cherish their swords, knives, battle-axes, throwing stars, Bat’leths, and other weapons. They often display them proudly in their homes.

Perhaps most astounding of all are the mechanized creations, be they animatronics or robots. One man at SoonerCon wore an astounding Iron Man suit with a faceplate that lifted up and a glowing “arc reactor” on the breastplate. There are R2D2 Builders Club members and chapters all over the world. We have one in Kansas City, and there’s another in Oklahoma City. Norman, where SoonerCon is held, is the third-largest city in Oklahoma, but it’s also in the Oklahoma City metro area. So of course, we had one at SoonerCon.

Left-to-Right, the Ziggy’s West “Wall of Doom” in progress; Iron Man; R2D2 and a gonk droid.
The Ziggy’s West “Wall of Doom went up Thursday night. The Iron Man suit had a glowing “arc reactor,” and a faceplate that went up and down. R2D2 and the gonk droid led the “Star Wars” parade. (See credits below).

Imagination and Playfulness are Key

Whatever they specialize in, the costumers who created the kaleidoscope of cosplay at SoonerCon have two things in common. They take crafting an eye-popping costume very seriously. And they don’t always take themselves seriously. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be so good at playing. And one running theme throughout the convention was having fun. Among the Gaming Events, one could choose Muggle Quidditch, LARPing (Live Action Role Playing), and Nerf Wars, among other things. Style points for playing in a (durable) costume.

Folks in hall costumes often didn’t hesitate to deliver a speech in character, perform a skit, or just ad lib through their encounters. They staged impromptu parades. Throughout the convention center cosplayers banded together for group photos or posed for photographers who wanted to capture their individual costumes. With a kaleidoscope of cosplay all around them, it’s easy to see why everyone had their cameras out.

At left, Darth Vader stares up at the first floor balcony of the Embassy Suites and shakes his fist at Obi-Wan Kenobi, who shouts, “It’s over, Anakin! I have the high ground!” in a meme published by the SoonerCon Cosplay Facebook Group. At right, Kenneth Moore Jr. turned his mobility device into a dragon!
A “showdown” in the Atrium of the hotel, and a real-life dragonrider (Kenneth Moore, Jr.) offer examples of the creative fun with costumes at SoonerCon. (See credits below).

IMAGE CREDITS

Jan took most of the photos in this post, and made all of the montages. She’s also deeply grateful to Tyrell E. Gephardt and his Canon camera for others. Ty spent a lot of his weekend taking individual shots of cosplayers, as well as candid hallway shots and general convention pictures.

One of Ty’s photos, the pic of the Ziggy’s West “Wall of Doom” going up, anchors one end of the post’s 5th image. Next (L-R) comes the photo of the Iron Man costume, by Brian Hook, courtesy of the SoonerCon Cosplay Facebook Group. Jan took the photo at far right (R2D2 & the gonk droid).

For the sixth and final image of this post, we owe massive thanks to the SoonerCon Cosplay Group. They published the “high ground” meme, by Warguts, Inc. They also provided a forum for Ariel Mayumi Wolf’s photo of Kenneth Moore, Jr., riding his “dragon.”

Many thanks to all!

ConQuesT 53, Memorial Day Weekend 2022, Sheraton Crown Center, Kansas City, MO.

Pack Up and Do It Again

By Jan S. Gephardt

It’s time to pack up and do it again. When we have two sf conventions in one month, it’s something of an endurance run. My son Tyrell Gephardt and I just start getting sorted out and rested up (in my case this month also healed up), and it’s time to do it again.

As I noted last week, Demicon 33 was a good convention for me – but it also took a toll. Now it’s time to prepare for ConQuesT 53, my home “con.” I would hate to miss it, even though they expect it to be a low-turnout year.

Attending ConQuesT means I need to pack up and do it again, after it feels as if I just got home. But there’s a new wrinkle this time around. I’m doing the usual things – art show and some programming. But I’m also launching into (for me) an uncharted new adventure: a dealer’s table.

ConQuesT 53, Memorial Day Weekend 2022, Sheraton Crown Center, Kansas City, MO.
(Header Image courtesy of ConQuesT).

A Dealers Table? ME?

Yes, I recognize that many Indie authors make much or most of their income from dealers’ tables at conventions. It’s a marketing choice that can, and sometimes does, keep the con-going trip in profit-making territory. I respect that. But personally, I’ve always had several problems with this approach.

Most dealers rooms open by 9 or 10 a.m. But my circadian cycle is firmly skewed to the “Graveyard Shift.” Wrenching myself out of bed to be on time to open would mess up my sleep cycle and leave me a “sleep zombie” for at least a week afterward. I know this because I’ve tried it. It’s not pretty.

If you’re running a table, it’s important to always be there (as much as possible!) while the dealers room is open. This means if you’re going to connect with colleagues, network, be on panels, or visit other people’s panels or readings, you either do it at your table, arrange for someone to cover for you, do it after the dealers room closes, or you don’t do it. Your table is both your base, and your anchor.

And there is a lot of stuff to haul. I’m an older lady who walks with a cane for stability. There was a day when I could bend, lift, and haul stuff pretty well – but that was several decades ago. Nowadays, I have to be strategic about how I haul boxes of books. Hand trucks and my athletic son are my friends, but I can’t always assume they’ll be available.

Tables of displays from artists, crafters, Indie authors, and gaming suppliers in the DemiCon33 Dealers Room.
The Dealers Room at DemiCon 33. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt).

A Little Help From Friends

When I first started bringing my book (singular) to sf cons back in 2019, I often could find a general bookseller in the dealers room who’d work out a consignment deal with me. But since the pandemic’s ebb (let’s hope it’s actually waning!), it’s hard to find general booksellers running dealers’ tables at sf cons.

Ty observed at DemiCon 33 that most of the folks in the Dealers Room were Indie authors selling their own books, artists, jewelers, artisans, or other craftsfolk with a specific line of products, or stores selling gaming gear. That was my observation at Archon 44 last fall, too.

But this is my “home convention,” and I know a lot of other writers in the area who really don’t have enough books (and other resources) to justify having a whole dealer’s table of their own. Three of us have banded together and decided to see if teamwork and our collected works can make a table worth the effort. So, we’ll give it a try, and see how it works. One of us has already said she can cover mornings (blessings upon her!), so at least that worry is alleviated.

But when I pack up and do it again this time, I’ll have considerably more to pack than usual.

A box full of books and other Dealers Room supplies, with covers for Jan’s three books, “The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “A Bone to Pick.”
I’m packing up my dealer’s table supplies. (See credits below).

Meet my Table-Mates

For this dealer’s table adventure, I’ve paired up with a couple of wonderful writers I met in local fandom and critique groups. From working with them in writers’ groups, I know they write good stuff. I’m proud to be associated with them, even if I am the “odd science fiction writer” in the mix.

M. C. Chambers

I first met Mary through KaCSFFS, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, about which I’ve blogged in the past. She just looked like an interesting person from the get-go. We talked and discovered we have many things in common (including our birthday). I invited her to join my then-current writers’ group, and we’ve been friends ever since. Her work includes a bunch of wonderful short stories, several of which have won awards, and the fantasy novel Shapers’ Veil. She’s also the mother of five boys (“Mother of Heroes”), a flutist, and a variable print programmer.

Karin Rita Gastreich

I met Karin in a different writers’ group, and I’ve recently had the privilege of beta-reading her latest (really wonderful) novel, which I don’t believe is available yet. She’s also written multiple short stories and won several awards. But she’s best known as a writer for her woman-centered fantasy Silver Web Trilogy. All this, and writing is not even her “day job.” In the rest of her life, Dr. Karin Gastreich, ecologist and author, serves as Chair of the School of Natural and Applied Sciences at Avila University in south Kansas City.

M. C. Chambers’ Author photo and the cover for her novel “Shapers’ Veil,” with the three-cover collection of the “Silver Web Trilogy” and Karin Rita Gastreich’s Author photo.
My table-mates have written some cool stuff! (See credits below).

Pack Up and Do it Again: Art Show

It wouldn’t seem like I really was at a convention if I didn’t have anything at the Art Show. Moreover, ConQuesT historically has an outstanding art show, especially for a convention of its size. I don’t just say that because I was the Art Show Director for three years (a decade ago). People have long come to this show to buy art, and the artwork comes in from all over. It’s now run by the highly competent and awesome Mikah McCullough, who is a way better Art Show Director than I ever was!

I’m bringing essentially the same pieces to ConQuesT that I brought to DemiCon. That’s possible, because the work I sold in Iowa was part of a multiple-original edition. Not all of my paper sculpture artwork consists of multiple-originals, however. Some are one-of-a-kind. And Mikah has arranged for me to glom onto the end of a table for my Ranan mini-maps , so they’ll be displayed to their best advantage.

Jan’s paper sculpture on display at the DemiCon 33 Art Show.
My artwork at DemiCon 33. The display won’t look much different at ConQuesT 53. (photos by the author/artist).

Fewer Panels than Usual

I missed a key communication with ConQuesT Programming somewhere along the line, so I’m only on two panels this time. Considering my dealers table commitment, this is probably just as well. But this programming schedule is unusually light for me.

On Friday night, I’ll pair up with my friend Kathy Hinkle for a feature we’ve repeated the last several times we’ve had an in-person ConQuesT: SF & F Name that Tune (or Show). Kathy and I both love the music of science fiction and fantasy media. We’ll draw from our respective deep libraries of music we’ve collected, play selected cuts, and see how quickly our audience can name them. In past years it’s been a lot of fun.

Then on Sunday afternoon (after Art Show check-out, but before Closing Ceremonies), I’ll moderate a panel called Curiouser and Curiouser (on which my table-mate Mary is a panelist), about how protagonists’ curiosities can get them into trouble – and bring readers along for an interesting quest. Much to my disappointment, there are no author readings at ConQuesT 53. This is because when they had them they weren’t well-attended, and they’re restricted in the number of programming rooms available. I understand, but I’m still disappointed.

Time to Pack Up

And now it’s time to end this post and get back to work preparing for ConQuesT. Especially with this one, when I’m getting ready to pack up and do it again, it turns out I have a lot to pack!

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to ConQuesT 53 for their website’s header, and to my son Tyrell Gephardt for the photo of the DemiCon 33 Dealers Room. I took the photos of my dealer’s table preparations and my DemiCon33 Art Show display. I’m grateful to M.C. Chambers and Karin Rita Gastreich for their author photos, and to Amazon for the photos of Shapers’ Veil and the Silver Web Trilogy. Grateful appreciations to all!

Three scenic views of the stone buildings, water features, and native plantings of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Lady Bird and the Wildflowers

By G. S. Norwood

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

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

Why are there so many bluebonnets along Texas roadsides? We all credit Lady Bird Johnson and her advocacy of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. But should we? It’s Women’s History Month, so let’s take a closer look.

Two photos of bluebonnet meadows at sunset.
A beautiful Texas sunset provides just the right colors to complement a gorgeous bluebonnet vista. (See credits below).

Lady Bird Johnson

Claudia Alta Taylor was born in the tiny east Texas town of Karnack in 1912, and soon gained the nickname Lady Bird. In 1934 the quiet, diminutive Lady Bird married the very tall, very loud, very ambitious Lyndon Baines Johnson, and a new political power couple was born.

Johnson ruled the United States Senate years before he was named John F. Kennedy’s Vice President. When Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963, Johnson was sworn in as President on the plane back to D. C. and Lady Bird became the First Lady of the land.

Elegant, glamorous Jacqueline Kennedy was a hard act to follow when it came to setting the style for the rest of the country, so Lady Bird didn’t bother. Instead, she turned her energy toward something no prior First Lady—including the outspoken Eleanor Roosevelt—had done. She went back to the House and Senate, where Lyndon had wielded so much power, and directly lobbied for the passage of legislation she cared deeply about.

Five black-and-white photos from LBJ’s term as president give a glimpse Lady Bird’s active involvement with government.
Clockwise from top left: The signing of the Highway Beautification Act. LBJ hands Lady Bird one of the signing pens. Lady Bird addresses a conference in May 1965 before the bill was passed. She and Lyndon work with staff on a project in the Oval Office. Lady Bird on the phone at home with Lyndon. (See credits below).

The Highway Beautification Act

As an only child, growing up in rural Texas, Lady Bird had come to love the natural beauty of her native state. On the campaign trail for her husband, she began to see civilization encroaching on that natural beauty in the form of junkyards, billboards, and other roadside eyesores. Prior legislation that set loose, industry-policed guidelines for highway development, was set to expire in 1965. Lady Bird led the campaign for a more complete and permanent solution.

The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 pushed roadside development back 660 feet from the edge of the road on U.S. and Interstate highways. It mandated fences to hide junkyards and other ugly roadside businesses; set limits on the size and type of billboards allowed along highways; and urged the use of native plants at the highway’s edge. D. C. powerbrokers called it “Lady Bird’s Bill.” Once it passed, Lady Bird became a doggedly persistent advocate for wildflowers and native plants—along the highways, and anywhere else they could be grown in the name of beauty and utility.

Two photos illustrate examples of the visual clutter that used to line US highways and obstruct travelers’ ability to see anything else. Two more photos illustrate contemporary roadsides with wildflowers and more open vistas.
The contrast isn’t always this extreme, but it’s easy to see how profoundly “Lady Bird’s Bill” changed the view once it became law. (See credits below).

Lady Bird and the Wildflowers

The Texas Department of Transportation—TxDOT to those of us who know and love it—has been using wildflowers along roadsides for more than 100 years. In 1917, when the policy was to completely clear all roadsides as new roads were built, TxDOT officials noticed that wildflowers and other native plants were the first to reestablish themselves in the cleared areas. These plants helped stabilize the soil, reduce erosion, and provide habitat for wildlife. They also required less mowing and watering than other plants, reducing costs. In 1937, after TxDOT hired its first landscape architect, promoting wildflower growth along roadsides became department policy.

Today TxDOT nurtures more than 5,000 species of wildflowers and native grasses along Texas roadways. The department buys and sows 30,000 pounds of wildflower seeds every year. Roadside mowing is prohibited in areas where wildflowers grow, until after the flowers go to seed.

Perhaps Lady Bird’s love of roadside wildflowers grew out of her familiarity with the results of TxDOT’s policy. She certainly would have seen many Texas roads as she and Lyndon campaigned across the state. Maybe her love of bluebonnets spurred her to work so hard for the Highway Beautification Act. Wherever that initial seed came from, it continued to flower after Lady Bird and Lyndon left Washington and returned to Texas.

Two photos show the multiple species and colors of Texas wildflowers.
Texas wildflowers aren’t only about bluebonnets. TxDOT nurtures more than 5,000 species of wildflowers and native grasses along Texas roadways. (See credits below).

The Wildflower Center

Once back on native soil, Lady Bird teamed up with her friend, the actress Helen Hayes, to create the National Wildflower Research Center, headquartered in Austin. “The founding of the National Wildflower Research Center was my way of repaying some of the debt for the delight and sustenance Nature has given me all my life,” Lady Bird said.

While research was important, many people wanted to see wildflowers in garden settings, learn more about how to use them in their own landscape plans, and to simply have a place where they could enjoy a natural setting surrounded by native plants. The research center acquired more land and renamed itself in honor of its founder and greatest cheerleader.

Today, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center sits on 237 acres of land just outside Austin. Not only is it the official botanic garden of Texas. It has become part of the University of Texas-Austin, allowing the important research on creating sustainable ecosystems with native plants to continue. Open to the public, it allows tourists, garden enthusiasts, and scientists to happily wander the botanic gardens and snap up bluebonnet earrings, books on creating home gardens, and other souvenirs.

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

Just do it!

Has all of this made you hungry for a taste of the great outdoors? There are lots of ways you can enjoy Lady Bird’s beloved wildflowers. TxDOT has a wonderful online brochure with pictures of dozens of native Texas wildflowers you can scroll through. The Wildflower Center is open to the public, but you must purchase tickets in advance.

Better yet, here in Texas, there are many chapters of the Native Plant Society of Texas. Every spring and fall, during planting season, local chapters host native plant sales, so you can bring the wildflower beauty home to your own garden. Native plants aren’t just a Texas thing, though. Other states and nations have native plant advocates too. Find them online or go to your nearest garden center to see if they sell native plants.

Texas offers lots of bluebonnet trails that allow you to take a weekend drive through stunning landscape, and maybe take a few of those bluebonnet pictures yourself. Best of all, you can plant some natives in your garden for the birds and the bees. Enjoy the easy care of plants that evolved for your climate, annual rainfall, and critters. And thank Lady Bird Johnson for raising our awareness of the importance of cultivating native plants in our gardens and in our lives.

Pictures of two-lane roads that run past wildflowers that grow in a colorful carpet all the way up to the roads’ edge.
Bluebonnet trails carry cars full of people through flowery vistas. (See credits below).

IMAGE CREDITS

Weirdness Manager/Art Director Jan S. Gephardt (who assembled and designed all of the montages)  didn’t think one photo would be enough for any of these illustrations, so we have lots of people to thank this week!

Wonderful Wildflowers

The gorgeous bluebonnet vistas come from Dallas Culture Map (the one where the sun shows) and American Legend Homes (cloudier sunset). Many thanks to both! The wildflower “porn” continues near the end of the post. In the montage of two, multi-species, multicolored meadows, one came from Pixels and Ellie Teramoto (bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush). Thanks for the the multi-species close-up to Southern Botanical.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center provided their logo. They’re also the ultimate source of the photo of their stone entry building. Jan found that via Tour Texas. She found the picture of the predominantly yellow plantings (also from the Center) via CBS Austin. Texas Highways provided the photo of the Center’s “Garden of Yes.” It’s designed for full-bodied fun by families with small children.

Finally, the bluebonnet trails photos come from Southlake Style (upper left) and 101 Highland Lakes and photographer Mark Stracke (lower right). The Comanche Chief News provided the photo in the background. Many thanks to all!

History in the Making

The photos for the “Lady Bird Politics” collection came from a variety of sources. The full-table photo of the signing of the Highway Beautification Act came from Scenic America. LBJ handing one of the signing pens to Lady Bird came from Texas Highways.

Jan was delighted to find the photo of Lady Bird addressing the White House Conference on Natural Beauty May 25, 1965, via FreightWaves. In the Oval Office photo by Yoichi Okamoto comes from the LBJ Library via Vanity Fair. It shows L-R: Juanita Roberts, Lady Bird, Lyndon, Charles Maguire, and Larry Temple. A New York Times review of Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight provided the White House photo of Lady Bird on the phone.

For the “Before the Highway Beautification Act” photos, we thank Scenic America for the photo of a sign-cluttered commercial strip in Texas. Thanks also to the Colorado Virtual Library for a scene from Missouri. That one looks hauntingly familiar to the Weird Sisters. The somewhat idealized “After the Highway Beautification Act” photos came from two other sources. Stokely Outdoor provided the photo with mountains in the background. New Jersey Conservation gave us the rest stop with wildflowers.

Charitable giving opportunities abound.

Giving of Ourselves

By Jan S. Gephardt

Sometimes the best way to beat supply-chain issues is by giving of ourselves. If that sounds so sweetly altruistic you can’t even stand it, please hold on. Don’t give me an eye-roll just yet!

Last week I wrote about solving supply-chain issues for holiday gift-giving by focusing on locally-available goods. And especially those bought from small, locally-owned businesses. But the smallest, most local resource at our disposal is right here in our own homes, inside our own skins. It’s us.

And there are all kinds of ways to give of ourselves that don’t involve huge sacrifices of time, labor, and money. Actually, giving of ourselves in the ways I have in mind often are fun to do. And many are cheaper than buying more traditional stuff. So hear me out.

Handmade fiber art from G. S. Norwood: crochet, quilt, and knitting.
My sister G. S. Norwood gets crafty in several fiber art media: L-R, my daughter’s terrier Anika approves of her crochet project (on my bed); a “Log Cabin” quilt she created more than a decade ago; the beginning of a cable-knit project from 2020. (Photos by Jan S. Gephardt; G. S. Norwood).

Our Crafty Side

Many of us do not believe we are creative or artistic, but don’t sell this one short. There are many ways to create cool stuff without having to be Picasso or Mozart. Last year my sister wrote about her needlework and gardening, along with other “lockdown pastimes” people developed. The post is Get Crafty! (exclusively on The Weird Blog).

Perhaps you, too, have honed some skills during lockdowns. I’m not only talking about knitted booties or crocheted afghans, either. Do you know great recipes to share? Print up a little collection of them to slip into a holiday card. Suddenly, you have a nice little gift! It’s practical and tasty, too! Not to mention economical.

Four examples of hand-decorated wrapping paper.
How to make hand-decorated wrapping paper? at left, Marian Parsons used stencils (top) and stamping. At right, Morgan Levine made simple prints using a pencil eraser (top) and a wine cork (see credits below).

Giving of Ourselves by Adding Flair to the Delivery

Maybe we have a gift package, but we want to give it with extra style. Giving of ourselves by adding personal touches requires some imagination. And maybe a little paint or fabric, etc. Back in 2016 I ran a series of four blog posts about crafty wrapping strategies.

One post offered Five Slick Tips to Make Our Own Wrapping Paper. None of them required artistic talent, though a good eye for color and design helps. Stencils and stamping strategies meant no drawing skill required, though you will need craft paint, possibly glue, construction paper, and a few other household items.

Fabric of the Imagination and Repurposed Wraps offered clever on-site recycling suggestions for old boxes, tins, fabric, ribbon, and much, much more. While Does Your Gift Wrap do Impressions? suggested some themes one could explore.

Stage play, kids at a zoo, and historic steam engine.
A stage play, trip to a zoo, or a ride on a narrow-gauge train are only a few ways to give and share experiences. (See credits below).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by Giving Experiences

A less homemade “giving of ourselves” approach is to give our loved ones well-chosen experiences. Perhaps they’re excursions to enjoy together, such as a zoo or amusement park trip with a child. Sometimes the greatest gift is spending time with someone you love.

But even if you’re separated by vast distances, there may ways to place someone’s wished-for concert tickets in their hand. Or to give them an admission pass to a place you know they want to go. In an age when we can buy tickets online, tickets to practically anything – anywhere – can be had. Concerts, plays, restaurants, parks, zoos and aquariums, nature centers, and museums are within reach practically everywhere. We just need to keep the recipients’ tastes and preferences foremost in mind!

Respite care and yard work photos.
L-R: Offering help with caregiving, joining a yard crew team (this is Madrona Group Real Estate’s team, center), or helping a neighbor rake her leaves are all great ways to give of ourselves. (See credits below).

Giving of Ourselves through Our Service

While we’re talking about spending time with those we love, I’d be remiss if I said nothing about gifts of service. Giving of ourselves in service to someone else’s need is a profound – and often profoundly pleasant – thing to do.

Giving of ourselves through individual services, such as babysitting, pet-sitting, or offers of respite for caregivers can make a huge difference for someone in need of help. We may have someone on our list who needs this kind of help.

Do you know someone whose leaves you could rake? Perhaps an elderly or sick neighbor whose drive or walk you could shovel when it snows? Letters or groceries delivered to their door, gutters cleaned out, a ride to an appointment . . . We may never know how deeply they appreciate it, until years later. When it’s our turn to be on the receiving end.

Charitable giving opportunities abound.
There are many ways to give to charity. Boxing Day and Giving Tuesday offer special opportunities. But whenever you give, I suggest Charity Navigator as a good guide. (See credits below).

Giving of Ourselves through Donations

Volunteering through agencies or organizations is another way that giving of ourselves can help others and benefit our community. And as I noted in my post “The Value of Volunteering,” making a difference in someone else’s life is a satisfaction few other pleasures can match. We should start early with teaching our kids this joy, too.

Some of us may have people on our lists who “have everything,” but who might be touched and honored if you dedicate a donation of gifts or services in their name.

Donations don’t always have to be of money, although that’s often the first thing we think of. And it’s certainly true that money is always the right size, the right color, and the right flavor. We don’t have to wait for special days such as Giving Tuesday or Boxing Day, although we may be able to compound our gift through matching funds on such days. We also might consider setting up a monthly gift for a special cause that we or an honoree on our gift list would really love to support .

Household donations, a child hair-donor, and a blood donor.
There are ways to give of ourselves that literally cost nothing—but some might just save a life. (See credits below).

Giving Literally of Ourselves

Donations in kind are also often greatly appreciated by recipients who need them, and the holidays are a time when many of us do most of our charitable giving. Donate gently-used clothing or housewares and toys to thrift stores that support charitable organizations. Donate food to food pantries (give them things you would like to eat, or choose from a list of most-needed items). Also consider paper goods, and other household necessities. Diapers and feminine hygiene products are always needed!

While we’re giving of ourselves, don’t forget we can donate blood (through the Red Cross or a local blood bank) or other tissue and literally save someone’s life. Those with long hair like me can ask our hairdressers to help us donate some of our hair. And, each time we renew our driver’s license, we can make sure we’re registered as an organ donor! Once we’re done using them, parts of our bodies can make a world of difference for someone else. What better way to say “goodbye with love”?

A word cloud of “Thank You” in many languages.
No matter how you say it, “Thank you” is a message all of us appreciate, but we hear it too seldom. (Image by “dizanna” via 123rf).

Giving of Ourselves Through Gratitude

Even for someone who’s not normally much of a writer, there are two kinds of writing that any literate person can do. First, we can write (and tell and show) the people we love how very much they mean to us. We should tell them what we love about them. And tell them why we think they’re special. Second, we can write sincere “thank yous” when they do something for us or give us something.

In this hurry-up world, people don’t get thanked enough. We should try to remember to thank the harried sales clerk who helps us find what we’re looking for. And thank a person who does a thoughtful thing for us.

We should thank the front-line workers who stock our groceries, deliver our mail and packages, or pick up our trash. Once again, I’ve written blog posts that may be helpful. Take a look at “Three Creative Ways to Thank a Veteran,” “Three Great Ways to Thank First Responders (Plus a Suggestion),” and “Another Way to Thank a First Responder.”

The Opportunities are Endless

Giving of ourselves is far more than just a simple strategy to beat the supply chain issues of the moment. This kind of giving can become our joyous offering to the world. We must find the ways that work best for us. There’s a special niche for which each of us is uniquely best-suited. And when we find it, it’s fun and rewarding to make giving of ourselves a lifelong habit.

IMAGES

Many thanks to G. S. Norwood, for the images in the first montage (originally published in her blog post “Get Crafty!”). Likewise, the full image credits for the second montage can be found in Jan’sFive Slick Tips” post on creative giftwraps. The ones in the montage are courtesy of designers Marian Parsons and Morgan Levine, who is now a celebrated ceramics artist. All montages in this post were collected and assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.

Photos for the “Giving Experiences” montage came from far and wide. Many thanks to “What’s on Stage” (London) for the Johan Persson photo from the production of Some Like it Hip Hop. We’re grateful to the Ft. Wayne, IN Children’s Zoo, via Vet Street, for the pic of kids with one of their giraffes. And the great photo of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge’s steam engine (with actors to add flair) comes from Nick Gonzales and the Durango Herald of Durango, CO.

Deepest appreciation to Visiting Angels, Darts, and Upworthy, for the “Yard Chores and Caregiving” photos. For the “Charitable Donations” montage, we thank Giving Tuesday, the BBC and Getty Images, Charity Navigator, and Checkbox Accounting. Finally, for the “Literally of Ourselves” montage, we thank Love to Know (in-kind donations), The FDA (donating blood), and “Still Playing School” for the three-part image of “E” donating her ponytail. And the “Thank You Word Cloud” comes from “dizanna” via 123rf.

Shoppers in a crowded store and a massive Amazon fulfillment facility.

Beating Supply Chain Issues

By Jan S. Gephardt

We’ve been hearing a lot about supply chain issues, and the resulting problem of inflation (due to the market forces of high demand and lower supplies—no, it’s not the infrastructure bill). Deals aren’t as good, this year, we hear. Shop early, and don’t wait for deals, we’re told. Supply chain issues are messing things up, and there could be worse to come!

Be scared! Be angry! These messages come through loud and clear. The economy is going to hell, and we’re all gonna die. Or so some would have you think (mostly so you’ll give them money).

I don’t believe it has to be that bad. And you don’t have to receive that word, either. We can beat supply chain issues and have a lovely Christmas/Holiday season, if we keep our priorities straight. In this post I plan to focus on smaller-scale, creative and adaptive things we can do to beat supply chain issues in sustainable ways.

Four images of backed-up shipping lanes off the coast of California.
Back in February 2021, the Coast Guard documented a growing backup of cargo ships outside California ports (Freight Waves/US Coast Guard).

We Can’t Whip Inflation and Supply Chain Issues with a Closed Mind

If you have a fixed idea of What Christmas Has To Be, and it’s built around the newest, coolest, hottest toys, electronics, and fashions, I can’t help you. Is hitting the Black Friday, Cyber Monday (or, for that matter, the After Christmas) sales your idea of a good time? Do you seek out the very most rock-bottom prices for trendy items that are on “everyone’s” must-have list? Well, then, for you I’ve got nothin’.

If you (or the people on your gift list) will only be satisfied with those hot new, influencer-endorsed, “must-have” things, this post is not for you. You live in a different reality from where I’m centered.

But if you’re willing to open your mind and be flexible, to focus on the fun, the personalized, and the unique, then read on.

Shoppers in a crowded store and a massive Amazon fulfillment facility.
A lot of people will be fighting through crowds or fueling a massive wave of shipped packages this year in an effort to get ahead of supply chain issues (iStock/Sculpies; Amazon).

“Buy Local” is a Survival Tactic—For Us and Our Communities!

You’ve heard the mantra “buy local” a gazillion times by now, and there are good reasons why—even if the local shops are a bit more expensive. Local shops (even local franchisees, although they often aren’t able to be as flexible) are invested in the community. Larger concerns are not, and they actually can’t be.

I’m old enough to have seen some “big box”-type stores rise and fall. Remember K-Mart?They still exist!—but not around Kansas City. Do you remember Borders Books? They were fun while they lasted. But when things went sour and the business model changed, they cut their losses and closed local outlets.

Never mind if they’d run local stores out of business and now they were the only sources. I’ve lived in rural communities where that was literally the case. But their corporate offices didn’t care.

That was then. Now it’s the online stores that grab ever-greater percentages of buyers. Maybe you don’t worry about the possibility that you’re perpetuating inhumane workplaces. Maybe you can ignore underpaid, stressed-out warehouse or factory workers, who have to meet ever-higher quotas at an ever-faster pace.

Shipping from overseas adds a significant carbon load to the environment. Shipping from online outlets can drive up the price of your bargain. And ultimately, everybody’s fuel prices, too. What’s the carbon footprint, even if it’s “free” shipping?

A different view of a very busy Amazon fulfillment facility, and a Foxconn factory with suicide nets.
At left, Prime Day 2021 at an Amazon warehouse in North Carolina. At right, do you remember the Foxconn suicide nets from 2010? It’s clear that extreme pressure in factories and fulfillment centers can still be a problem. (NBC News / Rachel Jessen / Bloomberg via Getty Images file; Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by Buying Local and Staying Open-Minded

If you shop from a list of pre-determined items, your track is rigidly set. The only issue becomes “what’s the lowest price?” Maybe you also shop for quality or value-for-the-money. Maybe you shop for “can-I-get-it-by-X date?” But if that’s your strategy, then serendipity is not your friend, and neither are supply chain issues. You may have to wrap a box that contains a picture of the “someday my box will come” item.

I have often made excellent gift-finds by walking into a local store and looking around. I once bought half my Christmas presents at Kieran’s Hardware Store in Lockwood, Missouri (there’s still a hardware store there, but it doesn’t seem to have Kieran’s name on it). One of my students, who clerked there part-time, offered great help. We had a fun and creative experience. Most of those gifts were a major hit with their recipients, too.

A quaint row of small shops in Kansas City, MO.
A block full of small, mostly local shops in the Kansas City Brookside neighborhood (First Washington Realty).

Local Gems

I bet your area has such stores, if you seek them out. Places like Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas They know their stock, they gift-wrap for free, and they’re experienced “book matchmakers.”

Places like the R&R Center in St. Clair, Missouri, which is on its fourth generation of owners from the same family. It is way more varied and essential than just another Ace Hardware Store.

Or places like Brookside Toy and Science in Kansas City, Missouri, a shop I’ve depended on for a couple of decades’ worth of great Angel Tree toy finds. Their knowledgeable staffers are amazing!

Storefronts of Rainy Day Books, R&R Center, and Brookside Toy & Science.
L-R, The proprietors of Rainy Day Books outside their store, R&R Ace Hardware, and Brookside Toy & Science’s storefront. (Rainy Day Books; Google/Laura Montgomery; Google/Brookside Toy & Science).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by “Shopping Local” for Food

If you’ve followed this blog for very long, you know that both my sister and I have strong feelings about supporting local businesses, especially artists. My sister’s posts “Setting the Table” and “A Necessary Indulgence” on The Weird Blog offer glimpses of how she treasures small craftspersons. There were strong elements of this aesthetic in her recent post “A Birthday Indulgence,” too.

But artisanal efforts don’t only happen in the realms of art and fine crafts (we’ll revisit those disciplines later in this post). The most delectable artisan crafts create food.

The season for farmers’ markets may have passed, but that doesn’t by any means show that all the local food-oriented businesses have closed. Very much to the contrary! Just look at “the two Kansas Cities.”

Some KCK Connections

Here in my neck of the woods, we have Bichelmeyer Meats, another longtime-local (70+ years), family-owned shop (pronounce it “BICK-el-my-er”). They’re located across the state line and the Kaw/Kansas River, in Kansas City, Kansas.

This old-style butcher shop supplies locally-reared, grass-fed meat that’s never gone anywhere near a feedlot or a meat-packing plant. They also offer a selection of outstanding house-made sausages and their own, competition-tested barbecue sauce. It’s Kansas City. Of course they have barbecue sauce! They also do their best to be affordable, even for folks on a tight budget. Does your area have such a gem, too?

You might not have exactly the same ethnic mix in your area, so the specialty foods will vary. But I bet you have delicious and unique offerings! Strawberry Hill Baking Co. has operated in Kansas City, Kansas for more than 100 years, and their Povitica (pronounced “po-va-teet-sa”) has become pretty famous. It’s an originally-Slavic treat that all of us can enjoy!

Sausages, the Bichelmeyer’s logo, four kinds of Povitica and the Strawberry Hill logo.
Along with locally-sourced, grass-fed meats, Bichelmeyer offers house-made sausages. And Strawberry Hill Baking Company makes Povitica in a dizzying array of flavors. (Bichelmeyer Meats; Strawberry Hill Baking Co).

But wait! There’s Chocolate!

Kansas City, Missouri has deep roots in chocolate candy-making. We’re the original home of Russell Stover Candies. But if that’s too “mainstream” for you, we have a deep “chocolate culture” here.

Annedore’s Fine Chocolates is within walking distance from my house—yet, alas, nowhere near far enough to walk off the calories! André’s Confiserie Suisse (which shares a building but is technically next door to the local Swiss Consulate) is about an equal distance from my father’s South Plaza condo. And we can’t forget Christopher Elbow, with a shop downtown! Each has their own approach, and each has been judged as world-class.

Yes, the chocolate is strong with Kansas City! What is your home town’s specialty food?

Annedore’s, Christopher Elbow, and André—all Kansas City chocolatiers.
Kansas City’s world-class chocolatiers Annedore’s (top) , Christopher Elbow (center), and André’s present a divine approach-approach-approach conflict! (Annedore’s Fine Chocolates; Christopher Elbow Chocolates; André’s Confiserie Suisse).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by Shopping Local Artisans, Artists and Crafters

If you’re onboard with the philosophy of shopping locally and creatively, you probably already have scoped out local art fairs, festivals, and craft shows. This time of year, they often pop up in malls and convention centers. Earlier in the season, they might have been outdoor street fairs. We recently had such a gathering in our River Market district.

But even if there’s no show this week/weekend, that doesn’t mean there’s no art to be found. Here in the Kansas City area we have any number of wonderful creators with their own studios. Check out Genevieve Flynn (jewelry) or Susan F. Hill Design (fiber art). For paper-based art, consider Angie Pickman’s Rural Pearl Studio (wonderful cut-paper art; technically in Lawrence, KS), and my longtime friend Randal Spangler (fantasy art originals, prints, and more).

If you’re aware of a local artist, they’re probably planning a holiday open house. Ask to be put on their mailing list, so you’ll know when it’s happening!

And don’t forget local artist groups and associations. They’re probably having holiday sales, too. For example, the KC Clay Guild has its 39th Annual Holiday Pottery Sale and Studio Tour this coming weekend. The Weavers Guild of Greater Kansas City already participated in the Creative Hand Show and Sale for this year, but Creative Hand has a great list of artists and their websites. You can bet than most of them would be willing to sell you cool stuff.

Offerings from the holiday shows for “Creative Hand” and the KC Clay Guild.
Holiday sales offer quite a range of interesting objects and wearables. (Creative Hand; KC Clay Guild).

Options for Beating Supply Chain Issues are all Around Us

Thinking outside the commercial run of average stuff may be an adjustment, but it’s worth the effort. We just have to look for local options, and keep an open mind. I hope this overview gets the ideas flowing (I do plan to suggest more ideas in an upcoming post). Our own supply chains will be that much more resilient when we “shop local,” and our communities will be, too.

I’d love it if this post gives my local favorites a boost (Go, Kansas City Metro!). But it’s also true that there are local treasures wherever you live. If you already love local gems in your area and want to give them a shout-out, please mention them in a comment below!

THANKS!

First of all, thank you, just in general, to all the local businesses I’ve highlighted in this post. I’m proud of you for persisting in the face of price-undercutting by “big box” and online competitors, COVID lockdowns, market crashes, inflation, tight job markets, and all the other challenges you’ve faced—sometimes for decades and across generations. You’re part of why I love my hometown.

Second, I deeply appreciate the sources of all the photos and logos used in this post. Please note that all images are credited in the cutlines. All montages, except the 4-photo collection from the US Coast Guard via Freight Waves at the top of this post, were assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.

Two nice fountain pens, an Esterbrook Estie and a Stipula Adagio, with Jill Danahey’s painting, “Winter Persimmons.”

A Birthday Indulgence

By G. S. Norwood

By now you all know that I am a self-indulgent woman. I’ve blogged about how I value little rewards to myself for a job well done, or just for a laugh. But birthdays? Birthdays are an indulgence class all their own. Because I live alone, I can be really extravagant when it comes to a birthday indulgence.

In past years I have given myself pens and paintings. One year I famously gave myself a cat. Or was it Gift who gave herself a person that year? Sometimes it’s hard to tell with that girl.

Keyboard Kitty: In 2019, the Universe gave me a cat for my birthday.
Gift is one of my all-time favorite birthday indulgences. (G. S. Norwood).

Place Markers and Promises

One thing I enjoy is jewelry, particularly lovely rings. I have given myself more than a few for my birthday, including one made by a contemporary Native American artist, and one that looks like traditional Native American work, but was actually made by a friend’s husband.

For me, these rings are place markers. I wear them to remember a specific time I wanted to celebrate by giving myself this precious gift. The contemporary ring marked the birthday that officially made me older than Warren ever got to be. For me, it is a symbol of survival.

Traditional Ring; Contemporary Ring: Two of the many nice bits of jewelry I’ve given myself for my birthday.
The traditional ring on the left. The contemporary ring on the right. (G. S. Norwood).

The Symbol of a Vow

The traditional ring has an even stranger story.

I spotted it in a photo of work my friend’s husband was taking to an art fair. Since I wouldn’t be able to attend that weekend, I figured the ring was as good as gone. Something that lovely would surely sell fast.

When the weekend was over, I asked if he’d sold the ring. He hadn’t. He offered to send it to me on approval. If I liked it, I’d send him a check in return. The ring arrived a few days later, and I liked it even more “in person” than I had in the photo. But the only finger it fit was the ring finger of my left hand, where I no longer wore my wedding band.

I decided, if I was going to wear the ring on that particular finger, it should symbolize a promise I made to myself. Now when I look at the ring, I am reminded of my vow to be strong, to be brave, and to take control of my future instead of drifting along, cowed by all the challenges of life. When I wear it, it is much more than a birthday indulgence. It is the symbol of my vow.

Decorative ceiling beam and wall bricks.
Architectural details in Santa Fe, New Mexico: At a shopping plaza, and the Lensic Theatre. (G. S. Norwood).

Getting Out of Town

Sometimes I give myself an experience for my birthday, rather than a self-indulgent thing. Like the time I gave myself a weekend in Santa Fe, New Mexico. That one started out as a way to keep myself honest.

You see, there was this piccolo audition. I work for the Dallas Winds. From time to time a musician will retire and create an opening in the core Winds ensemble. We fill those openings by holding blind auditions.  They can last all day and be a real beating, even when you’re not the musician behind the curtain with your career on the line. When the Winds decided to hold piccolo auditions, they discussed a variety of dates, one of which was my birthday. I told them I could work any date but that one. I planned to be out of town that weekend, I said.

In my world, “out of town” can simply mean “not in Dallas.” Since I live in a little town about 30 miles north of Dallas, any time I go home I’m technically “out of town.” But this was my birthday. So when the Audition Gods decided my birthday weekend was the best possible time for piccolo auditions, I decided to get out of town for real.

The Santa Fe Plaza and two historic Santa Fe buildings, the hotel and the cathedral.
One birthday I treated myself to Santa Fe, staying in La Fonda, around the corner from St. Francis Cathedral and not far from the Plaza. (G. S. Norwood).

A Trip to Santa Fe

But where could I go that would require minimal travel time and offer an affordable adventure? I chose Santa Fe. The flight was only an hour to Albuquerque. From there I’d have the modest adventure of driving another hour into the mountains to Santa Fe. Oooo! That meant a rental car! I love rental cars. And a hotel? I booked myself into La Fonda, one of the coolest historic hotels I’ve ever stayed in.

I only had a couple of days there, but I loved every minute. I spent my birthday morning touring the art galleries along Canyon Road. In the afternoon I walked the Plaza, and logged some quality time just sitting on my private balcony, watching the crows that lived around the Loretto Chapel.

View of Santa Fe and Loretto Chapel.
The Loretto Chapel, as seen from my balcony. (G. S. Norwood).

I connected with a friend I had only known online. We met up the next morning for breakfast and several hours of amazing, wide-ranging conversation. I found an interesting bookstore and a lovely restaurant. I walked all over, then drove even farther, going back to Albuquerque via the back roads to see even more new stuff.

By the time I got home to Dallas, I was replete with new experiences and memories that I cherish to this day. Plus, no involvement in the piccolo auditions, and an unsullied reputation for honesty. Talk about a birthday indulgence!

Views from historic Cerillos, New Mexico.
I took the back road, called the Turquoise Trail, down to Albuquerque. (G. S. Norwood).

A Birthday Indulgence

As my birthday approached this year, I began to think about a new birthday indulgence. I wouldn’t be able to travel. Aside from the ongoing pandemic, I have a trip planned for later that will use up all my dog-sitting resources. I have all the pens and books any sane woman could want, and I haven’t seen any fresh artwork that needs to find a home on my walls. I could invest in a bit more renovation—I need tile in my den, and there’s a closet that could be rebuilt. None of these ideas grabbed me.

The one idea I kept returning to was a gas log for my fireplace. I love a good fire, but I hate hauling wood and shoveling ashes. After last February’s deep freeze, I thought it might be prudent to get something for my house that could give off heat even when the electricity is out for an extended time. I searched online, found a local dealer, and gave him a visit. He had a style I liked, at a price within my budget. And yet . . . Somehow, I kept holding off.

Two nice fountain pens, an Esterbrook Estie and a Stipula Adagio, with Jill Danahey’s painting, “Winter Persimmons.”
The same old indulgences didn’t appeal this birthday. (G. S. Norwood; Winter Persimmons is © by Jill Danahey).

Somebody Needs to be an Adult

And then, one morning, I opened the door of my clothes dryer to find it had died mid-cycle, and was no longer responding to my commands, pleas, or prayers. While I am old enough to remember clotheslines, I don’t have one in my back yard, and I don’t really fancy going back to the days of lugging heavy baskets of wet sheets outdoors to pin up in the breeze.

I went online and did my research. Turned out the kind of dryer I wanted cost . . . just about exactly the same as that set of gas logs I’d been eyeing. Clearly somebody in my household needed to step up to be an adult. That “somebody” was me, of course, because you can’t count on cats or border collies at moments like this.

So there it is, folks. This year I have chosen to indulge myself in warm, fluffy sheets and towels with that fresh-out-of-the-dryer smell. I have named my new indulgence Emily, for no good reason beyond the fact that it seemed a good match for Arthur, the washing machine. Emily is a champ at getting things dry.

It might not be the kind of decadently indulgent birthday present I usually give myself, but I am satisfied with my choice. Well done! Happy birthday to me!

The author’s new clothes dryer, next to her washing machine.
Emily and Arthur—together at last. Happy Birthday! (G. S. Norwood).

IMAGES:

All photos were taken by G. S. Norwood. Winter Persimmons is © by Jill Danahey. In case you’re curious, the fountain pens are an Esterbrook Estie and a Stipula Adagio.

the logo for Archon science fiction convention

Because Archon’s Doing it Right

By Jan S. Gephardt

I am happy to report that I’m going to Archon 44 after all. Why? Because—and only because—Archon’s doing it right.

The Email That Changed Everything

At left, a vaccination map of the US, shows Missouri’s vaccination rate is less than 55%, and Illinois is less than 70%. At right, the most current chart available at publication time shows that on Sept. 20, 2021, there were 207,974 new COVID-19 cases in the USA.
The vaccination map at left is by Josh Renaud, courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The chart at right is from The New York Times, via Google.

You may recall that a few weeks ago, I very reluctantly decided to withdraw from this year’s FenCon, a Texas science fiction convention that my son and I have come to love. I had been watching the COVID-19 trends in the St. Louis area and growing more and more convinced I’d have to do the same with Archon. But then I got the Email That Changed Everything.

“The Archon Chairs have decided to require vaccination OR a negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours,” the email said. “Documentation is required for both. . . There are no exceptions to this policy.” This is such an unusual and—sadly—BRAVE position to take in this part of the country that I actually gasped.

Archon 44 Co-chairs Alan DeVaughn and Scott Corwin are boldly going where many regional convention chairs have feared to go. And while they’re at it, they’re going “all the way.”

The state of Illinois has mandated masks for indoor public spaces for anyone older than 2 years old,” they wrote. “The mask must cover your nose and mouth, unless you are eating or drinking. If you are asked to put your mask on by an Archon staff / committee member and choose not to comply, you will be asked to leave. There are no exceptions to this policy.”

At left, protesters hold up signs with slogans opposing vaccine requirements. At right, protesters from a different group hold up signs with anti-mask slogans.
At left, protesters demonstrate against vaccine mandates (photo by John Lamparski, via The Atlantic). At right, anti-mask protesters in Kalispell, MT (courtesy of the Flathead Beacon).

Archon’s doing it right.

Yes, Archon’s doing it right, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I plan to honor their commitment to follow both science and good sense in the best way I know how: by coming with my books, my artwork, and my work ethic. I’m scheduled for nine events and panels—and I plan to show up for all of them as well-prepared as I can possibly be.

I’m also going to do everything in my power to promote their event—for example, on this and my other blogs, and on every social media platform where I have a presence. Because Archon’s doing it right, they have earned my heartfelt gratitude and loyalty.

If anyone reading this was on the fence and wavering about coming to Archon, please make this policy your deciding vote for going!

Oh, and a word to the wise: book your hotel reservations (use the link on their homepage to get the convention rate) as soon as possible. Historically, they fill up fast!

This montage shows views from Archon 42 and 42, held in 2018 and 2019. Above are two art panels. Below, two views of the Gateway Center, one in sunshine and the other in rain.
Top L, artists Brent Chumley, Rachael Mayo, and Allison Stein discuss creating fantasy creatures in 2019. Top R, Rachael Mayo and several attendees discuss art materials at a 2018 panel. Below, R-L, we had much sunnier weather at the Gateway Center in 2019 than 2018. (All photos by Jan S. Gephardt).

I Have History with Archon

As I noted in the article on my Events Calendar, Archon has been around for a while.

The “44” in Archon 44 means this annual convention has been around for a while. G., Warren, Pascal and I all went to earlier Archons when we were just starting in fandom. And a few years ago, Ty and I started going to them again. If you follow my blog, you might remember posts I’ve written about hall costumes at Archon 42 and 43, and the Art Show.

It’s a well-established convention, run by people who generally know what they’re doing and find excellent ways to make it a good weekend for attendees.

After years in the funky, rambling, since-demolished Henry VIII Hotel in St. Louis proper, the convention has found an excellent new home in the Gateway Convention Center and DoubleTree Hotel in Collinsville, IL.

Throughout my career, I’ve had some great moments, and met some wonderful people at Archon.

Photos from the “writing side” of Archons 42 and 43, held in 2018 and 2019. These photos show a variety of people engaged in panel discussions, readings, and demonstrations.
At left, EMT Kevin Hammel conducts a highly informative 2019 presentation on gunshot wounds, for writers who want to get it right. Top center, a 2018 panel on Diversity in SF, which included, L-R, Jennifer Stolzer, Kathleen Kayembe, Camille Faye, and Debbie Manber Kupfer (M). Top far right: I prepare for my reading in 2019. Below center L-R: Donna J. W. Munro, Marella Sands, and Christine Nobbe chat with the audience before their readings in 2018. Below R, Jennifer Lynn discusses Shamans, Druids, and Wise Women in a 2019 presentation. Photos by Jan S. Gephardt, with the exception of one (guess which) by Tyrell Gephardt.

But that was then. What about Now?

ecause Archon’s doing it right, I’ll have an opportunity to show off my new book (readers who’ve followed this blog in recent weeks probably noticed I have one) sooner than next February (looking at you, Capricon 42). And I’ll get to display my artwork in an in-person display for the first time in almost 2 years.

“A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt, envisioned as an ebook on the left and as a trade paperback on the right.
Jan’s new book A Bone to Pick became widely available in a variety of formats after Release Day, September 15, 2021. Cover artwork © 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

I’m scheduled for an autograph session on Friday, a reading on Sunday, and seven panels (several of which I’m moderating). I love doing those things, because they give me opportunities to have great conversations with other panelists and audience members. I get to meet creative, interesting new people (and so can you, if you’ll join us at Archon). And I also get to re-acquaint myself with people I haven’t seen for a while.

I’ll come equipped with an expanded collection of S.W.A.G., badge ribbons and bookmarks for all (or—if that last order doesn’t arrive in time, at least most) of the books and stories Weird Sisters Publishing has produced so far. If you’re a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, and you tell me so at Archon, I’ll even have an exclusive-offer “I’m a Member of the Pack” badge ribbon for you.

Here’s Jan at her Autograph table, surrounded by S.W.A.G.
Jan at her Capricon 40 autograph table (photo by Tyrell Gephardt).

Introducing “Stripped ‘Scripts”

Also because Archon’s doing it right, my son Tyrell will have a first opportunity to present his new service to authors, called “Stripped ‘Scripts.” Through it, he’ll bring his skills as a developmental editor to a new audience.

What’s a developmental editor, and why would a writer need one? In the movie industry they’re sometimes called “script doctors.” While that name gets applied to services from high level plot-revision to hands-on rewriting, the idea is basically that when a plot or a manuscript has gone off the rails, dead-ended somewhere, or developed another kind of structural dysfunction, all hope may not be lost.

A good developmental editor can look it over and offer an analysis. They’ll often have a better idea of what’s wrong and how to turn it into a structurally sound story than an author who’s “written themself into a corner” and run out of ideas. I’ll freely admit that my stories have benefitted from Ty’s “big picture” view. I also appreciate his fresh takes on cultural adjustments to varied technical innovations, and his martial-arts expertise.

Here’s a photo of Ty, along with his business card for Stripped ‘Scripts
Photo and developmental editing business card design are both courtesy of Tyrell Gephardt.

Because Archon’s Doing it Right, We can Relax and Have a Great Con

I know I’m not the only science fiction fan who has missed going to conventions. I’ve blogged elsewhere about why I love science fiction conventions. Not rubbing shoulders with other writers and the fans who keep us afloat has been disappointing, but necessary during the pandemic.

But although it seems as if it’s taking forever, it’s now in our power to make this fourth wave the last one. It’ll be a bit longer, no thanks to the purveyors of an unprecedented flood of misinformation. But we can do it. Spread the word. Speak up in support of those who are doing it right. Kindly (if possible) help to educate those who are sincerely confused.

Science, technology, and government services (sometimes government really isn’t the problem!) have given us the tools we need. They’ve placed research, growing understanding of this virus, and three phenomenally effective vaccines within our grasp. We’re the taxpayers who’ve underwritten much of this historic work. We now have the right and privilege to avail ourselves of these new tools and understandings.

And because Archon’s doing it right, we now can do it at a science fiction convention!

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Archon’s Facebook Page, for the logo header image. The map showing vaccination rates in the United States was created by Josh Renaud for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The chart of COVID-19 cases in the United States is regularly updated by The New York Times, accessed 9/21/2021 via Google.

The montage images from Archon 42 and 43 are all by Jan S. Gephardt except for one, taken by Tyrell E. Gephardt (of Jan’s reading). Ty also took the one of Jan at her Capricon 40 autograph table. Moreover, he provided the photo of himself, along with the image of his “Stripped ‘Scripts” business card.

Many thanks to all!

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