Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Category: Artdog Recommended Reading Page 1 of 2

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

Recent Posts on The Weird Blog

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

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

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

Recent Book Reviews

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

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

Three Nonfiction Book Reviews

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

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

A Post Full of Page-Turners

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

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

A Month of Book Reviews – Next up, Artists!

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

About the Author

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS

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

Two hall costumes and a display-model T.A.R.D.I.S. from “Dr. Who.”

The Best and Worst Time

By Jan S. Gephardt

I’ll spare you the Charles Dickens opening line, but DemiCon 33 Weekend really was the best and worst time I’ve had at a convention in ages. Regular followers of this blog have already figured out that I came home from it with a bad cold.

No, it wasn’t classic “con crud.” That’s some new thing you contract at a convention, when you encounter something your immune system can’t fight (possibly because you partied for several nights in a row). I came to DemiCon 33 with a scratchy throat, desperately hoping it would go away. It didn’t. Among other things, that really cut into the partying (like, ended it before it began).

I stayed masked, did my best to socially distance, and I washed my hands a lot. Since my son Tyrell Gephardt and I were teamed up for all our panels, I “let” Ty do most of the talking (for once – like I had a choice!). And I hope to God I didn’t become a vector of con crud to anyone else! It really was the worst I remember feeling at a science fiction convention, ever. But when you’re that far from home and you’re part of the program, you do your best.

Demicon 33’s welcome table.
The welcome table by the front door offered new arrivals information about DemiCon 33 and some of its features, as well as free face masks and hand sanitizer. (5/6/22 photo by author).

DemiCon 33 Was the “Best Time” Part

It’s really a pity and a waste that I was sick, because DemiCon 33 itself was awesome. The con committee did everything they could to welcome people back to con-going safely. Everybody seemed really happy to be there (that I saw), and they were all very warm and welcoming. A longtime friend gave me a tin of mints when I ran out of throat lozenges.

I took pictures in the hallways before they got really full. That was partly out of respect for people’s privacy, and partly because I tried to avoid crowds (or at least stay distant from them). I wasn’t coughing too much (and I was masked) at Opening Ceremonies, but after that I kept a lower profile. Don’t imagine from my photos that no one came, however. They did, and many of them were absolutely fabulous in their hall costumes.

But at a convention where one of the first people I met was a young person handing out “In Science We Trust” badge ribbons, people were (mostly) taking sensible precautions. Part of what makes this year a contrast of the best and worst time is that we’re all really lonely for a good “fhannish” get-together with each other, but we know we have to be careful.

Two hall costumes and a display-model T.A.R.D.I.S. from “Dr. Who.”
Fender Jack (AKA Corey) and Spencer the Klingon model their costumes outside the Missouri Room on the lower level of the convention hotel. Upstairs, a mock-up of Dr. Who’s T.A.R.D.I.S. stood by the front door across from the welcome table at DemiCon 33. (5/6-7/22 photos by author).

The Art Show

The DemiCon Art Show had a new crew at the helm, bringing the operation more fully into the 21st century via electronic record-keeping. They overcame tech glitches at the beginning. But I’m sure they fought for most of the weekend with the hotel’s less-than-stellar Internet service. Why do convention hotels so rarely provide good Internet?

The overall quality of the artwork I saw was outstanding. One of the best, in my opinion, was the wearable art piece called Dandy Lion. I didn’t get to the Masquerade, so I don’t know if it was entered there, but it’s a genuine piece of artwork all on its own.

I saw new work from longtime art show favorites Sarah Clemens and Theresa Mather, and I was impressed by the excellent craftsmanship and creative range of “Random Fandom.My own display was small compared to some in the past, but I’ve been busy with a lot of non-paper-sculpture work (writing, blogging and working on Weird Sisters Publishing  projects) during the Pandemic.

Jan’s DemiCon 33 paper sculpture display and a closer view of the mini-3D maps on the display table.
My paper sculpture display was small compared to some in the past that took up several panels, but I recently discovered that the mini-3D maps display much better lying flat, so I was glad for the corner of the table. (5/6/22 photos by author).

The Best and Worst of Panel Experiences

Ty and I were Team Gephardt at our panels – they scheduled us together for all three, and that was it. Just us. I had the best and worst time there, too. Best, because Ty is fun to partner with on a panel. He’s witty, well-spoken, and knowledgeable. Plus, we had excellent, (relatively) large, and very interactive audiences. That always makes it more fun.

But it was the worst, because the longer into the convention we went, the less voice and energy I had. I could croak a few thoughts, but Ty carried them, especially on Saturday. We were prepared, however. From the time we’d received our schedule, we’d been thinking about our topics. Then we put our heads together to find common themes, suggest possible lines of discussion, and make notes we could share in common.

Topics ran a pretty wide gamut. On Friday night, when I still had something of a voice, we led a very well-read and engaged audience in an “If This, then What?” set of adventures in alternate history. By Saturday, when it was time for “Smoke and Mirrors Steampunk,” I could still talk, as long as I kept it short (a great trial, to be sure!). And I had begun to sound like a foghorn. It’s a good thing Ty knows his Steampunk. Someday we’ll have to do a joint blog post on the sticky ethical wickets this subgenre presents, and its clouded future.

Photos of Jan at ConQuesT in Kansas City (in 1985 and 2012), plus at Archon 43 (2019).
I’ve been going to conventions for quite a while, and participating in panels almost as long. But I don’t think I’ve ever been completely unable to participate on a panel or reading before. (See credits and panelist identifications below).

As Saturday Waned, So did my Voice

I got a respite for my voice – and a chance to do one of my favorite “con things,” attend another author’s reading – after the Steampunk panel. Adam Stemple writes in an amazing range of genres, including horror, literary fiction, and heroic fantasy. Adam set up his three books on How to Write Fantasy Novels, then read completely other things: The Boy from Buanfar, Werewolf Elegy, and a great piece of character development from Galloch, second in the Mika Barehand Trilogy. Wonderful, funny, engaging stuff. Highly recommended!

By Saturday evening’s “What are an Artist’s Rights Online?” panel, I could say only about one word to every four to ten of Ty’s. But we had a good, sound outline, resources at need, and he is well-versed on many nuances of this topic. The audience was a little smaller, but they were interested and had great questions, which I’m happy to say that Ty answered very well.

Finally it was time for my long-anticipated reading. A straight hour of nothing but XK9s and me. I was doomed! Except, I wasn’t. It was the worst and best of times at a reading. Worst, because I could barely speak. Best, because good ol’ Ty came to my rescue yet again. He did an outstanding cold reading of What’s Bred in the Bone Chapter One, “A Walk in the Park.” If you’d like to see what he read, click here or on the Chapter title.

Adam Stemple reads at DemiCon 33.
Author and writing guru Adam Stemple read from several of his works, while displaying his How to Write Fantasy Novels series. (5/7/22 photo by author).

Yes it was the best and worst of times at a convention for me. But Demicon 33 itself was 100% awesome!

IMAGE CREDITS

I (Jan S. Gephardt) took all the photos used in this post, except those noted below. They were taken during DemiCon 33, May 6-7, 2022. Where people are shown, they gave me permission before I clicked the shutter. I particularly wish to thank Fender Jack (AKA Corey) and Spencer the Klingon for allowing me to photograph their costumes, and Adam Stemple for allowing me to photograph him during his excellent reading.

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

In the 2012 photo that’s me on the left. Tracy S. Morris sits in the middle with her book Bride of Tranquility. At the right is fellow Kansas City writer, artist, and longtime sf fan Sherri Dean.

Finally, I owe Tyrell Gephardt thanks for photo of me at Archon 43 in 2019, preparing to do a reading. And most of all, I owe him an unending thank you for all he did to make the best and worst time I ever had at a DemiCon an overall positive memory!

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

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue: An excerpt

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

00-HEADER-TWO-DEEP-ELLUM-COVERS

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

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

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

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue

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

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

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

Deep Ellum Pawn Description

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

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

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

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

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue with Deep Ellum Blues

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

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

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

Deep Ellum Blues Description

Free will is a rule she doesn’t break.

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

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

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

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

Coming Next: Death in Deep Ellum

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

Chapter One: Prayer of the Dying

There is no prayer like the prayer of the dying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Get that son of a bitch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue

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

IMAGE CREDITS:

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

A hot, hazy Dallas skyline

My Summer Getaway

By G. S. Norwood

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

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

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

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

Nantucket is Nice

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

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

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

How about the UK?

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

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

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

Escape to the Wilds of British Columbia

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

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

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

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

The Ultimate Out of This World Summer Getaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS

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

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

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

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

The cover of the “We Dare: No Man’s Land” Anthology from Chris Kennedy Publishing.

Strong Female Protagonists

By Jan S. Gephardt

What’s your first thought, when you see or read the phrase Strong Female Protagonists? What memorable characters come to mind? Do you smile at the idea of finally seeing more strong women in leading roles? Do you grind your teeth a bitt, at the fact that Strong Male Protagonists aren’t pointed out?

You can search for “Strong Female Protagonist” in several genres on Amazon. There are BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) categories for “FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Women Sleuths,” and “FICTION / Women.” But you probably won’t be astonished to learn that no parallel Categories for “FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Men Sleuths,” or “FICTION / Men,” exist. Not unless you want to count “FICTION / Animals,” which I don’t.

And seriously: “Strong Female Protagonist” is doubly redundant. If your protagonist (male or female) is a wimpy pushover all the way through to the end, why would we want to read about her/him/them?

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien, Brie Larson as Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel, and Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2.
Three strong female protagonists from cinema. (Credits below).

You-Hoo! Half of the Human Population, Here!

I’m reminded of the time when I asked one of my elder family members, “We have Mothers Day and Fathers Day, but when is Childrens Day?”

My relative laughed. “Every day is Childrens Day!”

My child-self found this answer less than satisfying, as you can imagine. And I feel a similar irritation with singling out female protagonists as somehow “unusual,” despite the fact that biologically female persons are only narrowly in the minority among the humans on the planet. (In 2020, there were estimated to be 101.69 male humans for every 100 females in the world. The reverse—more females than males—was the norm until about 1957).

But these categories exist because, as in so many other realms, male protagonists have been a default setting. More than that, really. There was an active mindset among the editors who chose what to publish. They selected for male (cis, white, straight) “heroes.”

This quote from Drew Gilpin Faust says, “I’m not the woman president of Harvard, I’m the president of Harvard.”
Eliminate the excess qualifier. (World Economic Forum).

Strong Female Protagonists

Very early in my writing career I was told “girls will read books with boy protagonists, but boys don’t want to read books about girls.” Therefore, write about boys if you want to sell better, was the bottom line. By that reasoning, girls didn’t have much choice, did they?

I started thinking about strong female protagonists most recently while reading We Dare: No Man’s Land: An Anthology of Strong Female Leads, edited by Jamie Ibson and Chris Kennedy. This is their third “We Dare” title. The others are An Anthology of Augmented Humanity, and An Anthology of the Apocalypse. The focus in all three is the subgenre Military Science Fiction.

On the whole, I enjoyed it. As in any anthology, some stories are stronger than others. Many had good moments. My personal favorites are Leaving Paradise, by Griffin Barber, None Left Behind, by Jonathan P. Brazee, and Ragged Old Golem, by Rachel Aukes.

And the best line I’ve read in months came from The Relentless, by Melissa Olthoff: “If you can’t have fun being a space pirate, what are you even doing with your life?”

The cover of the “We Dare: No Man’s Land” Anthology from Chris Kennedy Publishing.
This anthology inspired this blog post (Chris Kennedy Publishing).

Define “Strong”

Unfortunately, in some of the We Dare: No Man’s Land stories, the strong in “strong female protagonist” got a little twisted. Yes, I know most military science fiction leans toward the dystopic (read more about the appeal of dystopian stories). But in a few stories “strong” seemed more equated with kill ratio, ruthlessness, or “not dealing with trauma in a healthy manner” than it did with what I think of as strength.

Strong, to me, does not mean being so emotionally brittle you can’t have friends or trust anyone. It also doesn’t necessarily mean having the ability and willingness to mow one’s way through legions of enemies. Especially not when other approaches (involving less mayhem but more thinking) might also yield success.

This quote from writer C. Joybell C says, “The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have hand on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.”
Here’s one way to look at female strength (Quotemaster).

Finding the Strength

There’s a reason why less-violent and less-physical characteristics don’t always register immediately as strong, and it has its roots in sexism. If you think of “male” and “female” traits, the gentler, kinder, more peaceable and nurturing traits are all lumped on the “female” side, along with “weak,” “soft,” and “emotional.”

“Strong,” on the other hand, is assumed to be a “male” trait. With that as the subconscious and conscious bias, a strong female protagonist is starting from a disadvantage by appearing to be an oxymoron, right out of the box.

Writers and readers also may mistakenly think she must have traditionally “male” characteristics to be “strong.” As if stuffing your feelings, smashing things, and killing people are any variety of “strong.” Toxic masculinity is also toxic for men.

This quote from writer Ernest Hemingway says, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
Everyone faces challenges, regardless of gender/identity (ItsWorthQuoting on Twitter).

Resiliency as Strength

I think a better way to look for true strength is to ask for a resilient protagonist. Sure, they need to be tough in the face of life’s outrageous fortunes. But to me the most important kind of strength isn’t so much in a person’s muscles as in their mind and their character. Are they strong, as in loyal to their word? Are they strong, as in steady and trustworthy? And are they strong enough to admit they can’t always handle everything without help?

Ursula Po, Gracie Medicine Crow, and Cassius were my favorite strong female protagonists from the third We Dare anthology. Well, Gracie was already a favorite, since I’m a fan of Jonathan Brazee’s Nebula-finalist novella, Weaponized Math (starring Gracie). Also of his Navy of Humankind: Wasp Squadron series, and his character Beth Dalisay.

Book covers for “Weaponized Math,” “Navy of Humankind: Wasp Squadron Book One, Fire Ant,” “Barrayar,” and “The Flowers of Vashnoi.”
Here are the covers of some books mentioned in this post (credits below).

Favorite Strong Female Protagonists

Branching out from military sf (not really my wheelhouse), my first thought is Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan (Shards of Honor, Barrayar, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen). But then I realize that pretty much any woman who is a protagonist in a Lois McMaster Bujold novel. Ista of Chalion (Paladin of Souls) and Ekaterin Vorkosigan (Komarr, A Civil Campaign, The Flowers of Vashnoi) also leap to mind.

A speculative fantasy protagonist in a “warrior woman” vein, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Maggie Hoskie, kicks butt, kills monsters, and hates to admit she has a soft spot for some of her friends and allies. Find her in Roanhorse’s Sixth World books, Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts.

Book covers for “Paladin of Souls,” “Trail of Lightning,” “Storm of Locusts,” and “My Soul to Keep.”
Here are the covers of some books mentioned in this post (credits below).

Beyond “Spec-Fic”

Dystopian fiction does inescapably imply a certain level of trauma. Overcoming it and emerging on the other side is the classic story arc, especially in dystopian fiction. And the subgenre is full of strong female protagonists—including a few who don’t rack up a bunch of kills. An example who leaps to mind is Miranda Clarke, the strong female protagonist of Lynette M. Burrows’ My Soul to Keep. Miranda can defend herself, but she’s not cutting notches in her gun stock.

Leaping to yet another genre I’ve learned to love, I also should mention Margaret Mizushima’s Mattie Cobb (The Timber Creek K-9 mystery series) and Meg Jennings (along with her talented posse) in Sara Driscoll’s FBI K-9 mysteries. And just about any of Diane Kelly’s protagonists, although many of them would question that “strong” characterization at the start of the story.

I could go on and on, but I’ll offer just one more: Ms. Eddy Weekes, proprietor of Deep Ellum Pawn (and so much more) in G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Series. Perhaps in a future post G. will offer her own thoughts on Strong Female Protagonists. Who are some of yours? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section!

Book covers for “Killing Trail” (Timber Creek K-9), “Lone Wolf” (FBI K-9), “Paw Enforcement,” and “Deep Ellum Pawn.”
Here are the covers of some books mentioned in this post (credits below).

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to IndieWire for the photo of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien. We’re grateful to The Guardian for the photo of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. And we thank Marvel Cinematic Database for the photo of Brie Larson as Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel.

We deeply appreciate the World Economic Forum for the quote from Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University. Humble gratitude to Quotemaster for the C. Joybell C quote, And we thank ItsWorthQuoting on Twitter for the Ernest Hemingway quote. The We Dare: No Man’s Land cover is courtesy of Chris Kennedy Publishing.

Many thanks to Jonathan Brazee’s website for the cover images for Weaponized Math and Fire Ant. We have Barnes & Noble to thank for the Barrayar cover. We’re grateful to Amazon for the covers for The Flowers of Vashnoi, Paladin of Souls, and Paw Enforcement. Lynette M. Burrows’ website provided the cover image for My Soul to Keep.

Our thanks go out to Simon and Schuster for the covers of Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts. Margaret Mizushima’s website provided the cover for Killing Trail, first in the Timber Creek K-9 series. The Lone Wolf cover (first of the FBI K-9 series) is from the website of Jen J. Danna and Sarah Driscoll. And Weird Sisters Publishing provided the cover art (© 2019 by Chaz Kemp) for Deep Ellum Pawn.

The covers for Deep Ellum Pawn, Deep Ellum Blues, and a portrait of G. S. Norwood and her dog Kata, by Chaz Kemp.

Why I Admire G. S. Norwood

Please indulge me while I explain why I admire G. S. Norwood. Her new story releases today. Deep Ellum Blues provides a marvelous addition to her growing “Deep Ellum” stories collection. Read our post on The Weird Blog, and consider buying her stories!

Full disclosure: if you’re new to “Artdog Adventures” you may not know that G. is my sister. She and I co-founded the fledgling small press Weird Sisters Publising LLC.

The cover for “Deep Ellum Blues”
Deep Ellum Blues cover art © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Making Deep Ellum Blues happen

The ebook goes live via Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited today. I recognize that some of my readers resist buying anything from Amazon. Yeah, I get it. However, KU (via both page-reads and sales) offers better ways to maximize income from short fiction such as G.’s individual “Deep Ellum” stories.

Never fear. Once the fourth planned “Deep Ellum” story releases, we mean to collect all of them into one combined volume, and publish that collection “wide.” Both ebook and a print version, available everywhere. And, since G. has a BFA in theater and is a masterful dramatic reader, excellent audio options await in the future.

Others also Admire G. S. Norwood

Other authors also offer an appreciation of G. S. Norwood. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough read the two finished “Deep Ellum” novelettes and told us they’re “some of the best stories I’ve ever read!”

Author Bradley Denton (whose musical alter ego is “Bland Lemon Denton”) wrote in more depth. He said, “G.S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Blues takes the classic notion of “a deal with the Devil” and joyfully twists it sideways into a story that celebrates integrity, dedication, and artistry.

“The Blues have long been said to have more than a passing acquaintance with demonic power, and the tale of Mudcat Randall (and the immortal Miss Eddy’s concern for his fate) stems from that tradition. But Deep Ellum Blues reaches beyond the old stories to reveal that the true power of the Blues is rooted not in darkness and damnation, but in redemption and light.

“And along the way, it pays tribute to all the great artists whose songs have always, in truth, made the same point. Somewhere, Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker are smiling.”

The frustrating years

I take special joy in helping G. bring her stories to new and expanding audiences. That’s because I admire G. S. Norwood’s writing. Only her critique partners knew what a great writer she is until last November. We published Deep Ellum Pawn, the first of the “Deep Ellum” stories, around her birthday.

Like me, she spent a goodly chunk of the 1980s and 1990s balancing other work, writing when she could, and attempting to get traditionally published. Her supportive writer-husband Warren C. Norwood began making more money in the late ’90s. At his urging, she quit to give writing a full-time try. She finished several novels, but none of them sold.

I loved her books, and many editors did, too–but one thing or another always held them back. They would be hard to market. Her romances didn’t quite fit the formula they were looking for (at the time, romance novels dominated much of the market).

I always figured they didn’t sell because romance was the wrong niche. But what did I know? Her writing career seemed to end when Warren died. It was devastating, wrenching, and it forced her to find full-time work again.

The cover for Deep Ellum Pawn
Deep Ellum Pawn cover art © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.

A new opportunity

More than a decade later, we’re selling her stories in a different way. She wrote the first draft of Deep Ellum Pawn in 2017. Then as far as I know she put it in a drawer and didn’t look at it again till after I fumbled and bumbled What’s Bred in the Bone into print.

In between her demanding concert and behind-the-scenes schedule with The Dallas Winds (she’s Head of Concert Operations), she refined it into something we could publish. We really lucked out finding Chaz Kemp to do her covers.

That first story didn’t exactly turn into a bestseller. But there’s something awesome about being a published author. Especially with a story people out there in the world actually like and buy. Yes, indeed. Time to take another stab at a writing career!

A growing body of work

She definitely couldn’t yet give up her day job! But she’s been working on a delightful first-in-an-intended-series mystery novel (working title: “Sunshine and Ray”). She paused it to write Deep Ellum Blues, and then developed concepts for two more “Deep Ellum” stories.

Covid-19 lockdown put a serious crimp in the concert schedule. But it’s given G. more time to write. To my delight, she recently dusted off one of those “not-to-formula” romances and gave it an overhaul. I just got a polished new update of the last novel she finished before Warren’s death in 2005.

What’s next?

The novel, Wrong Way Riley, tells the story of a young woman determined to live her own life, despite intense pressure to be something she’s not. This book is no longer trying to be a romance novel (although the main character does enjoy one steamy romance), and it’s all the stronger for it.

If you’ve read G.’s “Deep Ellum” stories, you’ve noticed a strong music theme. Riley stays true to that trend. It’s deeply steeped in Texas folk music (we might get more setlists).

The covers for Deep Ellum Pawn, Deep Ellum Blues, and a portrait of G. S. Norwood and her dog Kata, by Chaz Kemp.
All artwork is © by Chaz Kemp. Be courteous. Re-post or reblog with an attribution and link back to this post and Chaz Kemp.

More will admire G. S. Norwood in the future

All of this means the fun and the discovery has only just begun. Much as I admire G. S. Norwood I could only offer a glimpse of what she has in store next.

She finished several other “failed romances” back in the 1990s. Those wonderful stories–and the “Route 66 novel” she hasn’t yet finished–deserve to be updated and read and loved.

My little sister has a powerful voice. I can’t wait to help her reveal it.

4-book Aces High, Jokers Wild pubishing.

For the characters

I’ve heard it said that people pick up the first book of a series for the plot, but they stay with the series for the characters. This is true in spades (sorry: pun intended), when it comes to the “Aces High, Jokers Wild” series by O. E. Tearmann.

Book Four is Aces and
Eights. Available now.
(Photo courtesy of Amazon.)

If you’re already a fan of this series, I have excellent news! The fourth book, Aces and Eightsis now available in e-book format (here’s hoping a paperback and audio version are released soon!).

If you’re not already a fan of this series, I have even MORE excellent news! There is a wonderful series awaiting your discovery–and it’s now four books long! (plus a Christmas-themed novelette, After Hours Game, that ideally should be read between Books 2 and 3).

If you’re not reading the XK9 books, why not these?

Dystopian warm fuzzies?

Personally, I tend to steer clear of fictional dystopias, although I have a dear friend, Lynette M. Burrows, who writes a great dystopian series. (Scroll down her homepage for a list of great dystopian novels, if you love to read them).

The Hands We're Given  (Book One) was a tour de force introduction to this world. (Image courtesy of Goodreads.)
The Hands We’re Given  (Book One) was 
a tour de force introduction to this world.
(Image courtesy of Goodreads.)

But I made an exception for the “Aces High, Jokers Wild” books–and I’m very glad I did. The people in these books are all their own kind of special. Talented, broken. Abused by the brutality of the world in which they live. But they rise above. They pull together. And, bit by bit, the oddballs and misfits of Base 1407, AKA The Wildcards, triumph. They use their unique talents and diverse strengths to succeed where more conventional approaches fail.

I love these people so much, I will gladly read anything Tearmann writes about them. Strictly for the characters, this series has become an “insta-buy” for me. 

I love them because they’re smart. They’re perceptive–about their situation, and about each other. They love first, and while they may quarrel about details, their love is unconditional. Put to the most severe tests, they stay true to themselves and their team.

If you haven’t discovered this series, you’re in for a treat (Image courtesy of the Aces High Jokers Wild website).

The world they inhabit

Raise the Stakes leads the Wildcards
into newrealms of possibility, and sees a promising new turn in the fight against the Corps. (Photo courtesyof Goodreads).
Call the Bluff, Book Two,
is a bit shorter, but every
bit as riveting. New dangers threaten,
and cherished lives are endangered.
(Photo courtesy of Amazon.)

Tearmann has done some interesting world-building in these books. The Unites States of America that we know has been overrun and subsumed. In this world, seven corporations rule much of North America, each with its own territory, its own rules, and its own moral code. Codes which are imposed on the subject-citizens, although the “Corps” themselves follow an amoral code of self-interest and absolute control to the greatest extent possible.

Climate change has wreaked its havoc on the world, and most of the formerly-verdant plains states are now desolate near-deserts. Only the areas farmed by AgCo, with its patented, genetically engineered food crops that can’t reproduce on their own (no seeds but those controlled by AgCorp will grow) feeds the nation.

The Co-Wy Grid (contemporary Colorado and Wyoming, where the Wildcards of Base 1407 stay on the run) is a patchwork of danger and sanctuary, respite and conflict. For the past 60-some years, the Democratic State Force (on the Co-Wy Grid they’re informally known as the “Dusters”) has sought to restore democracy.

The LGBTQ angle

Raise the Stakes leads the Wildcards
into newrealms of possibility, and sees a promising new turn in the fight against the Corps. (Photo courtesy of Goodreads).
Raise the Stakes leads the
Wildcards into new
realms of possibility, and
sees a promising new turn
in the fight against
the Corps. (Photo courtesy
of Goodreads).

If you’re not normally a reader of LGBTQ fiction, this series may take you by surprise. As with everything they do, the Wildcards don’t particularly adhere to conventional gender norms.

That starts with the protagonist of the very first book, Commander Aidan Headly (born Andrea), who gradually transitions into his true self over the course of several volumes.

The books include a fair number of rather graphic sexual interactions. They may or may not be your “cup of tea,” but as I noted in my review of the first book, I’ve never read a book in which such scenes were more essential to the plot, or more appropriately used to express character growth.

If you’re willing to roll with it and let your hair down, these scenes are pleasantly steamy no matter what your orientation. After all, love is love. And it’s masterfully handled here.

For the characters

But there’s also a lot of plot between the steamy sex scenes

Do you like suspense? Join Kevin and his team when they go on the Grid. Do you enjoy sticking it to “the man” and triumphing over the machine-like inhumanity of large corporate entities? Then Tweak and her unique talents are your sweet spot. She’ll have you cackling with glee.

Do you love the drama of bringing a traumatized human being into an accepting space, then helping him or her understand they are finally, finally safe? (Or as safe as it’s possible to be, in this world.) Then you will love these books.

Buy them. Read them. Do it for the characters. You will not regret it.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Amazon for the cover images for Call the Bluff and Aces and EightsThanks to Goodreads for the cover images for The Hands We’re Given and Raise the Stakes. And many thanks to O. E. Tearmann’s website for the four-book series image. I appreciate all of you!

This is the header for Capricon 40. Its bright, tropical colors and lettering reflect this year's theme "The Tropics of Capricon."

Detectives in the Wild

The Capricon Project – Detectives in the Wild

My first panel at Capricon  40 was one of the three I’m scheduled to moderate, “Detectives in the Wild.” In it we explored the many ways that mystery stories show up in speculative fiction.

"Detectives in the Wild" panelists, L-R: Jan S. Gephardt (Moderator), Deirdre Murphy, Mark H. Huston, and Clifford Royal Johns. (photo by a kindly audience member who didn't share his name).
“Detectives in the Wild” panelists, L-R: Jan S. Gephardt (Moderator), Deirdre MurphyMark H. Huston, and Clifford Royal Johns. (photo by a kindly audience member who didn’t share his name).

Deirdre MurphyMark Huston, and Clifford Royal Johns joined me as co-panelists. All of us have written, or are writing, speculative fiction mysteries. Just between the four of us, we covered the mystery sub-categories of CoziesAmateur SleuthDetective, and Police Procedural.

L-R: Jan S. Gephardt's What's Bred in the Bone and soon-to-be-released The Other Side of Fear feature crime-solving, super-smart police dogs. Mark H. Huston's Up-Time Pride and Down-Time Prejudice takes an alternate-history look at Austen. And Clifford Royal Johns' Walking Shadow explores the implications of a memory-erasing procedure. Unfortunately, Deirdre Murphy's book, Murder and Sea Monsters, isn't out yet. (See below for full image credits for these covers).
L-R: Jan S. Gephardt‘s What’s Bred in the Bone and soon-to-be-released The Other Side of Fear feature crime-solving, super-smart police dogs. Mark H. Huston‘s Up-Time Pride and Down-Time Prejudice takes an alternate-history look at Austen. And Clifford Royal Johns‘ Walking Shadow explores the implications of a memory-erasing procedure. Unfortunately, Deirdre Murphy’s book, Murder and Sea Monsters, isn’t out yet. (See below for full image credits for these covers).

The panel’s description made it seem as if mysteries in the speculative genres that range outside of urban fantasy are hard to find. But between us and the audience, we came up with a bunch. We quickly found ourselves sub-categorizing them, too.

Alternate History 

“Detectives in the Wild” aren’t hard to find in the alternate history genre. It’s so flexible, it can encompass any number of co-genres. Our panel’s alternate history point-person Mark Huston gave us an excellent overview. 

Mark writes in Eric Flint’s 1632 Universe.  Here are just a few of the recommended alternative history mystery novels we came up with.

Randall Garrett, Georg Huff and Paula Goodlett, Julie McElwain, and Michael Chabon all have entries in this category. Garrett and McElwain each created a series after publishing their series-openers shown here. (See below for full image credits).
Randall GarrettGeorg Huff and Paula Goodlett, Julie McElwain, and Michael Chabon all have entries in this category. Garrett and McElwain each created a series after publishing their series-openers shown here. (See below for full image credits).

Noir 

No discussion of mysteries would be complete without the Noir Mystery category. For some people, it’s the first kind of mystery they think about when they hear “mystery fiction.” The Noir sub-genre has its own tropes and unique characteristics

These often extend into speculative fiction categories in distinctive ways. We included stories with the feel and general optics of traditional Noir, but which the authors have played for laughs or to make a different point. Here are some of the Noir-style novels we touched on.

Some panel- and audience-recommended recommended examples of Noir-style mysteries in speculative fiction. Authors are Richard K. Morgan, Jonathan Lethem, David Carrico, and Glen Cook. (See below for full credits).
Some panel- and audience-recommended recommended examples of Noir-style mysteries in speculative fiction. Authors are Richard K. MorganJonathan LethemDavid Carrico, and Glen Cook. (See below for full credits).

Paranormal

Yes, we know we weren’t supposed to get into urban fantasy. But the line between it and paranormal stories is blurry. We kept coming up with so many good ones! With our active, engaged audience, we shared ideas about books that are well worth reading. Many in this line-up are the first books in enduring and well-loved series.

Lee Killough's Garreth Mikaelian, Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse, Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, and Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden all anchor satisfying series. These are covers for the first book in each. (See below for full credits).
Lee Killough’s Garreth MikaelianCharlaine Harris’Sookie StackhouseLaurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, and Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden all anchor satisfying series. These are covers for the first book in each. (See below for full credits).

Robots and AIs

Speculative fiction’s detectives aren’t always human. The unusual capabilities of extrapolated and imagined artificial intelligences–whether they’re in the form of androids, robots, or other things–have made these creations a favorite for speculative fiction writers, especially since Isaac Asimov’s classic team of R. Daneel Olivaw and Elijah Baley. Panelists and audience came up with several highly-recommended titles and series.

From left to right, these covers represent the Isaac Asimov classic The Caves of Steel, A. Lee Martinez's The Automatic Detective (with distinctly Noir-ish cover art to reflect the adventures of Mack Megaton, an investigative robot), Guy Haley's Reality 36 (a cyborg and an AI team up as investigators), and Donna Andrews' cozy mystery You've Got Murder, the debut outing for Turing Hopper ("a computer with the heart of Miss Marple"),
From left to right, these covers represent the Isaac Asimov classic The Caves of Steel, A. Lee Martinez‘s The Automatic Detective (with distinctly Noir-ish cover art to reflect the adventures of Mack Megaton, an investigative robot), Guy Haley’Reality 36 (a cyborg and an AI team up as investigators), and Donna Andrews‘ cozy mystery You’ve Got Murderthe debut outing for Turing Hopper (“a computer with the heart of Miss Marple”),

General Science Fiction

But not all science fiction mysteries fall into easy categories. That’s the nature of the genre–it’s grounded in the unexpected. We couldn’t complete our survey of “Detectives in the Wild” without talking about some that defy confinement in traditional mystery categories.

These covers represent some of the unique places science fiction can go with a mystery. Lee Killough's The Doppelgänger Gambit explores the nature of a "perfect alibi" in a world where one's digital privacy has reached a new dimension. Kristine Kathryn Rusch explores questions of justice in a world where the presence of aliens changes the rules, in The Disappeared (first in the Retrieval Artist Series). Mur Lafferty's Six Wakes is the ultimate closed-room mystery in which seven crew members of a starship awaken to discover their previous bodies were murdered--by one of them. But they don't remember who is the murderer. And in Arkady Martine's "interstellar mystery" A Memory Called Empire, an ambassador must discover who killed her predecessor (everyone swears it was an accident) before she meets a similar fate.
These covers represent some of the unique places science fiction can go with a mystery. Lee Killough‘s The Doppelgänger Gambit explores the nature of a “perfect alibi” in a world where one’s digital privacy has reached a new dimension. Kristine Kathryn Rusch explores questions of justice in a world where the presence of aliens changes the rules, in The Disappeared (first in the Retrieval Artist Series). Mur Lafferty‘s Six Wakes is the ultimate closed-room mystery in which seven crew members of a starship awaken to discover their previous bodies were murdered–by one of them. But they don’t remember who is the murderer. And in Arkady Martine‘s “interstellar mystery” A Memory Called Empirean ambassador must discover who killed her predecessor (everyone swears it was an accident) before she meets a similar fate.

I’m sorry I couldn’t transport all of my readers into the panel room itself. This little overview has only scratched the surface of our discussion. I have to give a lot of credit to the breadth and depth of our panelists’ knowledge–and also to our stellar audience. It took all of us to create what was for me a fun and informative panel. I hope they enjoyed “Detectives in the Wild” as much as I did.

IMAGE CREDITS:

First of all, many, many thanks to the kind gentleman from the audience who volunteered to take our picture for me. He didn’t identify himself, but he has my deep gratitude! 

The images of our book covers come from varied sources. The cover art for Jan S. Gephardt’s What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. Cover art for Jan’s forthcoming novella The Other Side of Fear (watch for it in late March 2020!) is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk

The cover image for Mark H. Huston’s Up-Time Pride and Down-Time Prejudice is courtesy of Amazon. Many thanks to Goodreads for Clifford Royal Johns’ Walking Shadow cover image. Unfortunately, Deirdre Murphy’s Murder and Sea Monsters isn’t yet available online.

ALTERNATE HISTORY and NOIR Covers:

Many thanks to Goodreads, for the cover of Randall Garrett’s Murder and Magicthe first Lord Darcy book. I also wish to thank Ring of Fire Press for the cover image for A Holmes for the Czar. Many thanks to Goodreads again, for the cover image for Julie McElwain’s A Murder in TimeFinally, thank you to Abe Books, for Michael Chabon’s cover image from The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

I’m grateful to Book Depository, for the Altered Carbon cover art on Richard K. Morgan‘s book. Many thanks to Wikimedia for the first edition cover for Jonathan Lethem‘s Gun, with Occasional Music. Gratitude and thanks to Amazon for the Magdeburg Noir cover image, from David Carrico of Ring of Fire. NoteCarrico has showed up previously on Jan’s Artdog Adventures blog. Last but not least for the Noir section, I am indebted to Abe Books for a good image of cover art for Glen Cook‘s Sweet Silver Bluesfirst of the Garrett Files series.


PARANORMAL, ROBOT/AI and GENERAL SF Covers:

Many thanks to Amazon for the cover of Lee Killough‘s Blood Huntand to Goodreads for the cover images of Charlaine Harris‘s Dead Until DarkLaurel K. Hamilton‘s Guilty Pleasuresand Jim Butcher‘s Storm Front. 

I’m grateful to Amazon for the cover of Isaac Asimov‘s The Caves of Steel, and to Goodreads for cover images for A. Lee Martinez‘s The Automatic Detective, Guy Haley‘s Reality 36and Donna Andrews‘ You’ve got Murder

Finally, many thanks to Amazon, for the covers of Lee Killough‘s The Doppelgänger Gambitand Mur Lafferty‘s Six WakesI’m grateful to Goodreads for the cover of Kristine Kathryn Rusch‘s The Disappearedand to NPR (nice interview there, too!) for the cover of Arkady Martine‘s A Memory Called EmpireI literally couldn’t have created this post without y’all! Thank you!

Reading outside the Western World

How “worldly” is your reading?

This post started as a panel at Westercon 71/ Myths and Legends Con 6. It was presented on Saturday, July 7, 2018, by panelists Olivia WylieStant Litore, and Amalie Howard.

From L-R: Amalie HowardStant Litore, and Olivia Wylie at their Saturday Westercon/MALCon panel.

They discussed the lively and fascinating world literary scene, and the diverse literary works that are becoming more and more widely available in English. During the panel, Wylie announced that she was compiling a list of the books, stories, and resources mentioned during the panel discussion.

She has kept her word. Better yet, she has agreed to let me share her list on here on my blog. Links within the list are those provided by Olivia Wylie. Cover artwork and other imagery chosen to illustrate the list on this post, as well as links embedded outside the list, have been my choices.

Resources

Here’s a second collection of reading opportunities, from among the marvelous options on this list. They are, L-R: Dream Keeper, by Morrie RuvinskyLabyrinth Lost, by Zoraida CórdovaMulengro, by Charles de LintThe Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker; and The Marrow Thieves, by Cherie Dimaline.
Yet a fourth collection of covers, and we still haven’t exhausted the list! L-R: Arresting God in Kathmandu, by Samrat UpadhyayMemories of Sun, ed. by Jane Kurtz; Wavemen, by Robin and Cory Childs & associatesThe Roads of the Roma, ed. by Ian Hancock, Siobhan Dowd, and Rajko Djurićand Nyota’s Tyrannosaur, by Stant Litore.

For The Kiddos

The Desert Is My Mother/El Desierto Es Mi Madre-Pat Mora

Yes, I did have a hard time narrowing it down. Here are young peoples’ book covers for: All the Colors of the Earth, by Sheila HamanakaMing Lo Moves the Mountain, by Arnold Lobel (bilingual English and Hmong); The Story of Noodles, by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by YongSheng XuanAru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi; The Desert is my Mother, by Pat Mora, illustrated by Daniel Lechon (bilingual English and Spanish)and The Serpent’s Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta

As panelist Amalie Howard put it, “Diversity isn’t a ‘trend.’ It’s a reflection of the world as it is.” This list is truly a trove of wonders that traverse the world as it is–and as it might be, given a rich imagination and a world of fantastic possibilities.

I hope you’ll explore it for untold riches! And if you have additional suggestions, please offer them in the Comments section! We’ll all be the richer for it!

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS and IMAGES: First of all, MANY, many, many thanks to Olivia Wylie, for compiling this list, and also to Stant Litore and Amalie Howard, for their suggestions for it and participation in a fascinating panel discussion.

The photograph of the panelists at Westercon 71/MALCon 6 was taken by Jan S. Gephardt, with permission. If you wish to reblog or repost it, please credit Jan as the photographer, and identify (ideally with hyperlinks to their websites!) AmalieStant, and Olivia, plus please include a link back to this post, as well. Thanks!

The logos representing some of the websites in the “Resources” list are those of Escape PodPodCastleNative Realities Press, and Singing Bones, for all of which, I thank them!

For the five covers in Book Collection One, I owe many thanks to Amazon: Lagoon, by Nnedi OkoraforAmericanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieIs’Nana The Were-Spider, by Greg Anderson Elysee, illustrations by Walter Ostlie; and Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi; and to  Marcellus Jackson, via Djele’s DeviantART page, for the Steamfunk! cover.

For the five covers in Book Collection Two, I once again owe thanks to Amazon, for Dream Keeper, by Morrie RuvinskyLabyrinth Lost, by Zoraida CórdovaMulengro, by Charles de LintThe Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Weckerand The Marrow Thieves, by Cherie Dimaline.

For the third set of book covers I’d like to thank Penguin/Random House, for the cover for Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed, as well as Amazon for these covers: Want, by Cindy PonThe Sea is Ours, ed. by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng The Mistress of Spices, by Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni; and  The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson.

For the fourth set of book covers, I’d like to thank Moko Press for the cover of Wavemen, by Robin and Cory Childs & associates; and Stant Litore for the cover art for Nyota’s TyrannosaurMany thanks to Amazon, for these covers: Arresting God in Kathmandu, by Samrat UpadhyayMemories of Sun, ed. by Jane Kurtz; and The Roads of the Roma, ed. by Ian Hancock, Siobhan Dowd, and Rajko Djurić

Certainly not least, I am grateful to Amazon, once again, for all the covers in the Youth Collection: All the Colors of the Earth, by Sheila HamanakaMing Lo Moves the Mountain, by Arnold LobelThe Story of Noodles, by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by YongSheng XuanAru Shah and the End of Timeby Roshani ChokshiThe Desert is my Mother, by Pat Mora, illustrated by Daniel Lechonand The Serpent’s Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta

My deepest gratitude goes out to all resources named!

Found on Twitter

Jennifer Foehner Wells

Back in ancient days before the Tweeter-in-Chief became a thing and I became more focused on boosting my productivity, I could beguile hours at a time on Facebook and Twitter. I made some great discoveries during that time period, including the marvelous Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkyelbows), who writes and illustrates children’s fiction, creates delightful cartoons about the writing life, and turns doodles, found objects and table detritus into fanciful visions.

Patrick Weekes

I also discovered sf authors for older-than-children, especially Jennifer Foehner Wells, who’s become one of my all-time favorites (and a great inspiration), right up there with Lois McMaster Bujold and Louise Penny, as well as another Indie, Zen Di Pietrowhose space opera series I’m not done reading yet (reviews to come at a future date).

During the same period, I discovered Patrick Weekes, a fantasy author whose unique takes on magic systems and morality within what looks like high fantasy world kept me reading and chuckling (He also happens to be the lead writer for the Dragon Age game).

Since my theme this month is catching up on my reviews, I thought I’d dedicate this post to reviewing books by two of my “Twitter finds,” Wells and Weekes.

I’ve already reviewed two of Wells’ booksFluency and Remanence. I figure it’s now time for a couple more, along with Weekes’ Rogues of the Republic TrilogyYou know if they’re featured on my blog, I think they’re worth reading. Now let me tell you why.

The Confluence Series continues

Darcy Eberhardt’s story ended up being rebranded as Book Three of the Confluence Series (with two different Galen Dara covers), but whichever title you read it under, it’s quite a ride.
JaneAlanBrai, and the rest of the Speroancora crew are back for another adventure in Valence (with a Stephan Martiniere cover)–in which Zara, an interesting new voice, also chimes in for Book Four.

Turning the tables on The Most Dangerous Game

Inheritance (published earlier as The Druid Gene)

By Jennifer Foehner Wells

Here’s a new twist on the “abducted by aliens” idea, from an author whose entire “Confluence Series” deserves attention. Darcy Eberhardt is a second-year medical student who steals a break from studying for a test, to take an overnight camping trip with her boyfriend Adam. He’s determined to take her to a special place he’s found, so she can relax and rest.

It’s pretty special, all right. Unwittingly, Adam has led her to a place where a secret hidden for millennia in her genetic makeup can suddenly activate—and land them both squarely in the bulls-eye of an interstellar target.

Can Darcy learn to control and use her ancient gift—as well as all of her other aptitudes and capabilities—to forge new bonds with undreamed-of allies, and rescue both herself and Adam from the trap they’ve fallen into? Join her for a crash course in the myriad lifeforms of the “Confluence” universe (including a reunion for some Wells readers with Hain, protagonist of her novelette The Grove), as Darcy struggles to confront the most dangerous lifeform in her new, expanded world, and pass the hardest test of all.

A note on the covers: both The Druid Gene and Inheritance have covers by Galen Dara, whose distinctive style adorns much of Wells’ website, too.
A riveting space opera series, and a worthy new addition to the cast
 
The “Confluence” series continues to provide fascinating non-Terran worlds and cultures, and plenty of excitement, danger and suspense to keep me turning the pages. This book brings together our old friends, Jane Holloway, Alan Bergen, Ei’Brai the kuboderan, and the rest of the Speroancora crew, as well as their accumulating list of friends from an accumulating list of worlds.
Some of these friends realign themselves into new configurations in this episode. We also get relatively brief glimpses of Darcy and Hain, but even more striking is a parallel plotline that introduces a strong new character, Zara, along with some other very cool new characters and a whole lot of new complications.
All the while, our assorted friends do their part to support each others’ quests and keep the Swarm away from Earth. Relationships continue to evolve in realistic ways. Wells has written a worthy next chapter in this riveting space opera series, and has brought in a great new plotline. This is science fiction the way it OUGHT to be written! I already can’t wait for the next book.
A note on the cover: As with Fluency and RemanenceStephan Martiniere created the cover art for Valence. Wells has credited his covers as a factor in her early success. It’s a case in point for Indies: people DO often judge books by their covers. Invest wisely in a cover from a real professional!

The Rogues of the Republic Trilogy

Cover design and illustrations by Lili IbrahimDeron Bennett and Jason Blackburn do a remarkable job of keeping the look of Patrick Weekes‘ Rogues of the Republic series visually consistent (extremely important) despite the changing artistic hands for each book.
Will skill, grit and a large bag of magical tricks be enough?
Getting imprisoned for life on the impossible-to-escape crystals of the lapiscaela was not necessarily part of the plan.
But Loch, along with her band of rascals, rogues and magical miscreants are adaptable. Misdirection and sleight-of-hand might be pickpockets’ tools, but they know how to employ those techniques and a whole lot more to further their ends—which actually are more worthy than they’d ever want to admit. Now, if only the implacable Justicar Pyvic wasn’t so dedicated to tracking them down!
Soon it becomes clear that escaping from the lapiscaela was the easy part of their quest to regain a treasured artifact stolen from Loch’s family. Before it’s over she and her diverse companions (who include a shapeshifting unicorn, a talking magical warhammer, a disgraced mage, and a handful of others) will take on thugs, bullies, and power-mongering politicians, take a zombie for a stroll, and fight the Hunter Mirrkir, who is not mortal. But that’s just the warm-up.
Patrick Weekes brings to life a memorable cast of characters in a vivid fantasy world that is diverse, perverse, and consistently unlike others you may previously have explored.
May the best cheater win . . . 
How can a book of naughty elf-poetry keep the Republic and the Empire out of a war?
Former Scout, rogue, and daughter of an all-but-extinct noble house in her homeland, Loch doesn’t mind indulging in a little thievery, if that’s what it takes, and she has an intrepid band of friends and fellow miscreants to help her. This crew of sorcerers, sleight-of-hand artists, safecrackers, acrobats and others, as well as possibly the outcome of a high-stakes card game, may be all that stands between peace and mutually-assured destruction.
But there’s a lot of interference to run, between the golems, daemons, elves, dwarves, mercenaries . . . And did I mention the dragon?
A more unlikely lot of heroes you’d be hard-pressed to find, and they line up some unlikely allies, too—some of whom prove more trustworthy than others. Patrick Weekes once again brings all the seemingly-chaotic parts together for a fast-paced, adventure in which the dangers are high, but the cost of losing is even higher.
Beset on all sides in the hardest test yet

The Paladin Caper

Targeted where it hurts the most: their families!
The Ancients want to rise again, but they’ve been stymied by Loch and her band of “unusual suspects” twice, now. This time they’ll stop at nothing, and they have a head start. They’ve already infiltrated the highest ranks of the Republic. Their tentacles reach everywhere, and Loch’s group has no lack of mortal enemies with grudges too.
Not to mention enthralled elves and dwarves, golems galore, and a temple full of reanimated-but-dead priests among the obstacles. With the team scattered and hard-pressed, and the Glimmering Folk on the march, Loch would die to stop the Ancients.
Or has she, already?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Joe’s Geek Fest, for the head shot of Jennifer Foehner Wells (be sure to read Joe’s review while you’re at it!), and to Goodreads, for Patrick Weekes‘ head shot. Thanks are due to Amazon for ALL of the covers: The Druid GeneInheritanceValence, The Palace Job, The Prophecy Con, and The Paladin Caper. 

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