Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

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

Weird Blog Woes

By Jan S. Gephardt

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

UPDATE! It’s now FIXED! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Universe Gives Me a Cat

By G. S. Norwood

Sometimes the Universe gives me a cat.

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

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

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

Lady Bird and the Wildflowers

By G. S. Norwood

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

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

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

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

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

My Summer Getaway

By G. S. Norwood

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

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

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

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

The Golden Fiddle

By G. S. Norwood

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

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

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS

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

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

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

Artdog Adventures is Going Weird!

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

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

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

Changes can be Good

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

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

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

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

“There is no better distraction in this world than losing oneself in books for awhile.” — Cassandra Clare Thank you, Quotefancy.

Due a Review

By Jan S. Gephardt

I’ve been reading some very enjoyable books recently. They really are due a review. I’m an Indie author myself. Co-publishing out of a micro-press I run with my sister counts as “indie,” trust me. Thus, I know how vitally important reviews are. But frankly, reviews are important to all writers, whether indie or traditionally published.

Every single review posted by an individual reader tells the world that this author wrote a book someone felt moved to write about. It’s “social proof” that YES! Somebody out there not only read this book, but wanted to tell the world something about it. It’s the absolute, A-Number-One, hands-down, best gift you can give an author whose work you enjoy.

Reviews have the power to move algorithms, those arcane formulations that dictate which books turn up first in the recommendations a reader searching for new books sees. They also can provide an author with authentic voices to quote in their marketing efforts. Do you write reviews? Do you give star-ratings when you finish a book? If you do, God bless you!

This image is created from two square-shaped images. The one on the left features a drone’s-eye-view of an old-fashioned black manual typewriter on a white background. The words say, “Your words are as important to an author as an author’s words are to you. Please leave a review. Katieroseguestpryal.com.” on the left is a predominantly black design with white, gold and tan dots around the edges. In the middle it says, “Feed an author LEAVE A REVIEW it takes five minutes and helps more than you can IMAGINE. ErinPhillips.me.”
Many thanks for these images to Katie Rose Guest Pryal and Erin Phillips, via Rebecca’s Write Inspirations.

A Lengthening List of Books that are Due a Review!

I “preach the gospel” of review-writing, but all too often I vow, “I’ve got to write a review for this! . . . Um, just as soon as I can.” And then “as soon as” stretches on for way too long. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “Justice delayed is justice denied”? Well, that goes for book reviews, too.

I realized recently that I’ve accumulated a rather long list of books I deeply enjoyed, that are still due a review. In the interest of making good on some of those mental promises – and also amplifying their reach a bit more by sharing them here, I thought I’d collect four in this blog post.

When I do finally get around to writing reviews, I customarily write them using the online forms provided by Amazon or Goodreads, and make sure I post to both. If one is writing a review anyway, why not extend the book’s visibility as much as you can? Another good thing to do, while we’re on Goodreads, is add a book to one of their Listopia lists. Not sure how to do that? They publish a guide.

The cover for “Poison Pen,” Book One at left, is a predominantly blue view of an almost implausibly empty street in Los Angeles, with strong one-point perspective that pulls the eye in. From top to bottom, the words say, “’Dynamite’ – Starred review – Publisher’s Weekly Sheila Lowe. Poison Pen, a Claudia Rose Novel.” At right, the two-tone cover in greenish gray and brown also shows an empty road in one-point perspective, this time in the Nevada desert. From top to bottom, the words say, “Top Ten List, Independent Mystery Booksellers Assoc. Sheila Lowe Written in Blood A Claudia Rose Novel.”
Many thanks to Goodreads for these cover images.

Sheila Lowe’s “Forensic Handwriting” Mystery Series

Let’s start with the “Forensic Handwriting” (also called the “Claudia Rose Novels”) mystery series by Sheila Lowe. I saw this author mentioned in the acknowledgements of a recent Margaret Mizushima novel, Standing Dead (Timber Creek # 8), and I was intrigued with a forensic handwriting angle for a mystery novel. That’s what led me to look it up. I’m glad I did.

Longer-term readers of this blog might remember I have featured work by Margaret Mizushima before. Back in 2021 I included her Timber Creek K9 series in my post on K9 Mysteries. I recommended the series back then, and I still do. It just keeps getting better! Speaking of which, Margaret also is due a review (actually, several) from me! But first let’s turn to Claudia Rose.

Twists, Turns, Smoke, and Mirrors With a Heart-Pounding Finish

Poison Pen, Book One of the “Forensic Handwriting” mystery series, opens with an interesting situation and kept me engaged all the way through till the end. It’s extremely well-written, and paced to keep readers turning pages. Claudia Rose has a unique approach to the world and makes an engaging protagonist. Her friends and frenemies also come across as three-dimensional, sympathetic, and distinctly quirky people.

Author Shelia Lowe deftly balances character strengths and weaknesses and offers us a lively array of suspects and questionable motives. Set in LA and focused mostly on the high-stakes, high-glamour, highly competitive world of the almost-famous who orbit the Hollywood scene, this book evokes a richly textured world as colorful and quirky as the cast of characters.

Lowe has us double-and triple guessing about “What is real?” and “Who can we trust?” But make no mistake, the twists, turns, smoke, and mirrors lead us into a heart-pounding final sequence that’s hard to put down–and delivers a deeply satisfying finish.

“There is no better distraction in this world than losing oneself in books for awhile.” — Cassandra Clare
Thank you, Quotefancy.

The Action Never Lets up and the Pages Demand to be Turned

Once I find a series I enjoy, I tend to follow it for a while. There’s a special delight in returning to a world and a group of characters I liked, to see what they’re up to now. In Written in Blood, Claudia Rose faces new challenges and a new set of enemies, while trying to navigate a relationship we saw begin in the first book. In this one, we spend less time navigating the desperate glamour of second-tier Hollywood than we did in the previous novel. Instead, we tighten our focus to an exclusive Los Angeles school for troubled rich girls. But if anything, the stakes are even higher.

One note: This book was published in 2008, and I kept noticing little time-warps: teenagers went to malls, back then. Marijuana laws in California have radically changed. Technology back then was different, too. As with many long-running series, little “period” things crop up. That said, it didn’t spoil my fun one bit.

Once again, Claudia’s skill with forensic handwriting helps her navigate the treacherous rip-tides of “Who is lying?” and “What is this person’s potential to harm others?” But even she isn’t infallible. The action never lets up and the pages demand to be turned–all the way to the breathtaking finish.

Covers for the first two books in the Coyote Run series. At left is a predominantly blue and green cover of a young woman and a Belgian Malinois dog looking across a northern California landscape. From top to bottom it says: “Coyote Run Book One. “Acosta’s talent is staggering.” – RT Magazine. The Dog Thief. Marta Acosta.” The second, mostly green cover shows the young woman and a German Shorthaired Pointer gazing into the woods. From top to bottom, it reads: “Coyote Run Book Two. Mad Dog Down the Road. Marta Acosta.”
Thanks for these cover images, Marta Acosta!

Marta Acosta’s Coyote Run Books

My sister G. S. Norwood recommended the first book in this series. She knew I’d enjoy the focus and analysis of dog behavior, which is quite important in my own XK9 science fiction mystery novels.

About a third of the way into the first book, The Dog Thief, I felt certain my daughter would enjoy it, too – so I bought her a copy for her birthday. And clearly, this is another that’s due a review! If you like unusual perspectives, love dogs, and appreciate a good mystery, you might enjoy this series, too.

A Unique Protagonist Keeps Us Engaged All the Way

Dog rehabilitator Maddie Whitney appealed to me from moment she told a woman to take off her scarf because it scared the animals. It’s clear from the very first page that Maddie has a markedly different perspective on life. I enjoyed simply inhabiting the world as she sees it. But Marta Acosta’s fast-paced mystery The Dog Thief also is peopled by many other interesting characters and challenges.

Maddie’s neurodivergent quirks and issues plunge us into a fascinating way of interfacing with the world. As we inhabit Maddie’s point of view via the brilliant evocation Acosta sustains throughout, we grow in understanding. We get why she likes dogs better than people, and how some of her behaviors make perfect sense to her – even as we understand why others react as they do.

She’s facing a lot of stress, even before she finds the dead woman in her neighbor’s field. Money issues threaten the Whitney Canine Rehabilitation Center, and she’s heartbroken over a recent breakup. Even more misunderstood in her Northern California hometown of Coyote Run than some of the hard-luck dogs she champions, she hangs in there. She’s true to herself. And in her own unique way she bridges divides, finds new love in an unlikely place, and outsmarts a desperate killer who’s hiding in plain sight.

"To lose yourself in a book is the desire of the bookworm. I mean to be taken. That is my desire."  — Fran Lebowitz
Thank you, AZ Quotes!

A One-of-a-Kind Viewpoint and more Acosta Magic

Maddie’s back, along with the other colorful range of human and canine denizens in Coyote Run for Mad Dog Down the Road. This time it’s summer, and our favorite “Mad Girl” is struggling to make her way without younger sister Kenzie around to provide her accustomed guardrails. As ever, her neurodivergent quirks give her a one-of-a-kind viewpoint on priorities.

But once she’s locked on to the sad case of the torn-up “bait dog” tossed out like roadside trash by a dog-fighting operation, she’s found a new obsession for her whiteboards and indignation. She’ll also decry a new local guru’s adult, pajama-clad “summer campers” who set off fireworks in mid-July despite prime conditions for a bad fire season. And don’t even get her started on the new deputy.

Then a local fisherman dies in a suspicious boat explosion, and her new dog Vixen finds a grisly, inexplicable “clue” that doesn’t seem to fit. Soon she’s hip-deep in all the mysteries, and unwittingly setting herself up for the most dangerous night of her life. This is typically superb Acosta magic. I didn’t want to put it down.

“A book you finish reading is not the same book it was before you read it.” — David Mitchell
Thanks again, Quotefancy!

When We Read a Book We Complete It

As with all works of art, when we listen, view, and react to it, only then is the creative circle complete. And I would argue that part of reacting to it is writing a review, if possible. The ones I’ve written and shared in this blog post are around 180 to 250 words long, but if you can boil it down to one sentence, it still counts – as long as you share it.

I can think of a bunch more great books that are due a review from me. I hope to share some of them in future blog posts. I’d prefer to collect them in groups for which I can establish a theme, just as I’d say “unusual angles on contemporary mysteries” is how I’d group those in today’s post.

I hope today’s blog post has given you a lead on a couple of interesting series, and maybe also pricked your conscience (as it did mine!). Because if you’ve read this far, I bet you’re the kind of person who loves to read interesting books. And perhaps some of them are also due a review.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Katie Rose Guest Pryal and Erin Phillips, via Rebecca’s Write Inspirations for the visual thoughts on the value of a book review. I’m grateful to Goodreads for providing a prime forum for posting those all-important reviews, and also for providing the cover images for Sheila Lowe’s books. Many thanks to Quotefancy for the illustrated quotes by Cassandra Clare and David Mitchell. Thank you, Marta Acosta, for the cover images for your two books. And it wouldn’t do to ignore AZ Quotes, with gratitude for the excellent words from Fran Lebowitz. Thank you all! It would be a far less visually interesting post without those images!

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

Pushing The Envelope

By Jan S. Gephardt

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

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

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

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

Pushing the Envelope is Not a Good Lifestyle

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

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

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

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

In this Case I’m a Slow Learner

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

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

Sure. No pressure. Piece of cake, right?

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

Continuous Improvement vs. Pushing the Envelope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS

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

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

Introducing Deep Ellum Duet

By Jan S. Gephardt

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

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

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

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

G.’s Writing Career

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

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

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

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

G.’s Body of Fictional Work

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

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

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

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

The Deep Ellum Stories

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

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

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

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

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

Where does Deep Ellum Duet Come in?

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

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

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

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

What’s ahead?

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

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

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS

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

Lucy A. Synk’s painting “Hildie Gallagher at Work.”

Portraying Hildie

By Jan S. Gephardt

Portraying Hildie Gallagher has been a rewarding collaboration Lucy A. Synk and I tackled this year. Each winter since 2019, my artist friend and I have combined our visions to create illustrations showing aspects of my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The books comprise a science fiction mystery series about a pack of extremely intelligent police dogs who live with their humans on Rana Habitat Space Station.

Last week’s post addressed the considerations that go into visualizing a character in general, a process all fiction writers tackle in one way or another. I ended that post with a look at this winter’s two finished paintings. Winter in the Northern Hemisphere may mostly be over, but my 2022 collaboration with Lucy isn’t. I have two paintings portraying Hildie that I plan to talk about – one this week and one next week. Lucy and I also have more works-in-progress, so stay tuned for additional future blog posts later this summer (or get advance views even sooner with a subscription to my newsletter).

Lucy A. Synk’s painting “Hildie Gallagher at Work.”
Hildie Gallagher at Work, 2022 (Painting is © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

Who is Hildie Gallagher?

If you haven’t (yet) read my novels, or if you’ve only just started them, you may be wondering who this Hildie person is. Her name doesn’t come up in the book descriptions, so what’s the point in portraying Hildie? Those book descriptions necessarily focus on the Trilogy’s protagonist, XK9 Pack Leader Rex Dieter-Nell (he’ the big black dog on my book covers). The descriptions mention Charlie, Rex’s human partner, but only in passing. And they barely hint at the rest of their world.

But the ten XK9 members of Rex’s “Orangeboro Pack” all have human partners. Charlie may speak ruefully about being Rex’s “on-call opposable thumbs,” but in truth the humans play important roles in their XK9 partners’ lives. Moreover, these humans and XK9s live embedded in a complex society on Rana Station. They all have families and friends. As any society would, this matrix of associations deeply affects how they live, the work they do, and the influence they are able to gain.

Three Portraits of Rex, a large black dog who looks like a wolf or German Shepherd.
Rex Dieter-Nell, ©2019 and 2020 by Jody A. Lee for the first two book covers in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, and ©2020 Lucy A. Synk. (See complete credits below).

Hildie Gallagher is one of that matrix of associations who becomes very important in the stories. It’s probably not much of a spoiler to say she’s introduced as Charlie’s old friend and becomes his current “love interest.” But she’s much more than just a pretty face or “arm candy.” Indeed, she’d be deeply insulted anybody might think that.

Considering our Options

So, then, how did we decide on portraying Hildie first, out of all the possibilities? Lucy and I finished a long series of XK9 portraits in 2020-2021 (To be clear: she painted, with considerable skill and sophistication. I kibbitzed, and also funded the effort). But that meant twenty different paintings of dogs. After all of those dogs, Lucy – a confirmed animal lover, but at heart a “cat person,” was ready to paint something else!

Head-and shoulders portraits of the ten Orangeboro Pack members.
Top row L-R: Razor, Elle, Crystal, Petunia, and Cinnamon. Bottom Row L-R: Scout, Victor, Tuxedo, Shady, and Rex. (All paintings are ©2020-21 by Lucy A. Synk).

Fortunately, there are lots of other options for things and people to paint on Rana Station. Not only are there humans, there’s also a large population of ozzirikkians. Ozzirikkians are a non-terrestrial species of Ranan citizens, without whom the station couldn’t have been funded and built.

Moreover, there’s a small resident population of Farricainan AIs. They are autonomous, highly intelligent, cybernetic entities. The XK9s become acquainted with one of these entities named Dr. SCISCO-3750, a local professor. The Farricainan AIs use android “focal objects” to interact more comfortably with “corporeal entities.” More comfortably for the humans and XK9s, that is.

We have plans to create paintings of both one of Dr. SCISCO’s androids and at least one ozzirikkian (we’ll possibly start with Vice Premier Kizzitikti Zhokittik) in the future. But portraying either of them presented multiple, time-consuming challenges. A much more obvious next step was to portray some of the humans. We decided to create paired portraits, at least for the main characters. One would show the person in work clothes. The other would portray them in a civilian context. But we immediately ran into problems there, too.

The Uniforms of Law Enforcement on Rana

We are still working on exactly how the uniforms and other official garb of the Orangeboro Police Department and the Station Bureau of Investigation look. In this particular fictional future human bodies have not changed much. But fashions, fabrics, and customs inevitably must have. Lucy correctly points out that in a painting, science fictional elements such as costumes have to read as science fictional.

A collection of ideas for science fictional clothing.
We have a wealth of ideas to use in developing the official law enforcement uniforms on Rana Station. This is a tiny sample. (See credits below).

For instance, will men still wear ties in the Twenty-Fourth-And-A-Half Century? More to the point, will police detectives wear them? Lucy doubts it. I’m still considering the matter, based on all the various permutations of “cloth around the neck” that history has seen. Constructive, on-topic comments are welcome if you’d like to weigh in, in the comments section below!

Other clothing options, such as embedded LEDs and shape-shifting fabrics may be flashy and “futuristic-looking.” But in a society where nearly every family is engaged in agriculture, durability and practicality are likely to prevail. Can those qualities mesh well with any of the futuristic fashions we’ve seen in entertainment media?

With no firm, final decisions yet hammered out about uniforms for Ranan officers, we also weren’t ready for portraits of most of my main characters. Especially for Charlie, who makes several appearances during the Trilogy wearing his OPD dress blues, we needed to know what OPD uniforms look like! Similarly, major characters Pam Gómez, Chief Klein, and Elaine Adeyeme pretty much all needed to be portrayed in uniform or some kind of regulation garb. In the winter of 2021-22, we weren’t ready to pull the trigger on those yet, either.

Portraying Hildie at Work

But portraying Hildie presented none of those challenges. I hate to call her the “low-hanging fruit,” but her work outfit – a universally-practical jumpsuit not unlike those worn by contemporary astronauts – presented far fewer challenges. Finding reference photos for that outfit was not going to be a problem! So we started with her.

As it is for many of us, Hildie’s job is a really important part of her identity. It’s also important in the stories of the Trilogy. She’s a paramedic with Orangeboro’s Emergency Rescue Team at the Hub. Assigned to the Rescue Runner Triumph, she was part of Charlie’s old team, when he drove a MERS-V (Multi-use Emergency Response Space-Vehicle) at the dawn of his career. Hildie’s a specialist in microgravity-based emergency medicine – a demanding and very challenging specialty.

A collection of resource images.
Rock-climbing shoes, paramedic patches and pouches, and NASA astronaut flight suits all factored into our development of the painting. (See credits below).

Consider fluid dynamics in microgravity, and then recall that human bodies are big bags filled with fluid that tend to leak alarmingly when injured. That’ll give you some of the more obvious difficulties a paramedic in microgravity would have to confront and counteract. Our first glimpse of Hildie, in What’s Bred in the Bone, is in action, on the job, saving lives. Specifically, saving Charlie’s life!

Building From Things We Know

Some visual things were clear from the books: Safety Services employees wear blue jumpsuits. Hildie’s uniform includes chevrons on the sleeve. And she has long, dark hair, which she wears tied back at work. Lucy based her jumpsuit on those used by NASA (as had I, when writing about them). We based the patches and insignia on similar items in current international use. It seemed needlessly confusing to come up with a whole new system of symbols that contemporary viewers might find hard to interpret.

We did go around and around some on her emergency medical equipment pouches. For aesthetic reasons, Lucy wanted to show her wearing a backpack. And contemporary, terrestrial paramedics do use backpacks. But when I envisioned the practical realities of trying to access a backpack in microgravity, in potentially a narrow work area somewhat like the Jeffries Tubes of Star Trek, it seemed awkward at best and utterly impractical, especially for a solo paramedic, at worst. When seconds saved can save a life, you don’t want to have to fight with your gear.

Lucy, however, wasn’t real enthusiastic about portraying Hildie with bulky, 21st -Century-style belt pouches around her middle. She wanted something more sleek, compact, and perhaps futuristic-looking. And maybe not something bright red, in the painting’s color scheme. So we negotiated ourselves to a compromise.

Sketch variations test various ideas for the “Hildie at Work” composition.
Between mid-January and mid-February 2022 we tested a lot of ideas. (Artwork ©2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

Lucy’s Ingenuity

Once we’d figured out a set of packs we both could live with, there was still the matter of Hildie’s surroundings in the painting. Here’s where Lucy’s ingenuity and spirit of innovation truly became valuable. She drew on her experience making dioramas for natural history museums, and assembled an array of “found objects” to provide long shapes and textures that she could use to create the dramatic perspective.

Once that had been glued together, she used the last of a can of silver spray paint from her studio. It transformed her impromptu background into a credible simulation of a maintenance passageway. Then she positioned her lights and photographed her posable wooden mannequin in the environment she’d created.

Take a look at the early sketch at the left corner of the illustration below. We went through a world of possibilities and variations for the decision-making on this piece. But the early sketch shows that Lucy’s overall composition concept actually didn’t change much. The idea of portraying Hildie floating in microgravity, making her way through a maintenance passageway toward a patient, never really changed.

The making of a painting: Lucy started with a sketch of her idea, then began to build a diorama to help her visualize it better. She shared photos of her diorama process on her Facebook page: collecting cardboard scraps and “dead ballpoint pen” parts, affixing them to their curved cardboard backing, spray-painting them silver-gray, then posing and lighting the diorama background with a poseable wooden mannequin standing in for Hildie.
An early sketch, and the steps to make and use a diorama background. (Art, diorama, and photos © 2022 by Lucy A. Synk).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this examination of the illustration work that Lucy and I have combined our visions to create. I’m proud and pleased with Lucy’s oil painting of Hildie Gallagher at Work. Next week’s post will explore the more complex process of portraying Hildie in a completely different setting and costume.

IMAGE CREDITS

The vast majority of the imagery in this post is © 2020-2022 by Lucy A. Synk. However, I also have a handful of other sources to thank as well. They include most notably Jody A. Lee. whose two images of Rex, ©2019 and 2020, are details from the book covers for What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick. The detail of Shiva Shimon in a helmet and body armor (in the science fictional clothing collection) also is © 2019 and a detail pulled from the cover of What’s Bred in the Bone.

The other imagery from the science fictional clothing collection, moving clockwise from Shiv in the upper left, includes the following. A pair of highly improbable police uniforms from Daz3D. Genuine Leather Jacket’s design for Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds Leather Trench Coat, discovered via Pinterest (Lucy: note the necktie). Artist Lian Li’s “Shura Hitmen LawBreakers Concept Art” (Whoops! Another tie), also found on Pinterest. A production photo of Lieutenant Anastasia “Dee” Dualla from Battlestar Galactica, via Justin Grays. A page of futuristic fashion designs by gary jamroz-palma on Behance, found via Pinterest. And a police-ish-looking uniform which I also found on Pinterest but was unable to source beyond that.

The montage of resource images includes several pieces of a Google Image Search for “Paramedic Patches,” scattered throughout. The rock-climbing shoe collection at upper left is from “Rock And Ice’s” review of the recommended climbing shoes. The AP photo of the unidentified ISS crew came from a story on Sky News. And I found the red paramedic’s fanny pack on Amazon. Many thanks to all! The montages were created by Jan S. Gephardt.

"The job of speculative and science fiction is to envision future outcomes in accessible ways. It’s what we sf writers do: we create engaging thought-experiments about how things might be." – Jan S. Gephardt.

Equal civil rights for all

The Future We Want – Part 3

By Jan S. Gephardt

Now here’s a radical thought: a country where equal civil rights for all is a reality. Do we have any such place in the world today? I can’t say for sure, but I do know one thing. The United States is currently no such place.

Yes, I know Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence said it’s “self-evident” that “all men are created equal.” But even he and his fellow rich, white, male, slave-owning revolutionaries didn’t mean that literally.

I have been hearing a wide variety of exceptions and variations on this quote all my life, mostly to point out ways it’s not true or fudge the “rule,” rather than to seriously embrace the idea that it actually, like ever happens. Because, of course, we realize it doesn’t.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." - Thomas Jefferson
(Courtesy of Quote Thee).

Equal, with Rights?

The rest of the “all men are created equal” thought immediately links equality to rights: “that they [the “all men” who are equal] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” But, to quote another popular phrase, “The devil is in the details.” Certainly, Thomas Jefferson didn’t think “all men are created equal” meant all of humanity. Considering how he treated Sally Hemings, he certainly didn’t mean either women or slaves.

Nor did the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights clearly establish just exactly what “unalienable Rights” the Creator (or, more practically, the government) might have endowed upon them. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” is a bit too vague and sweeping to be helpful in a court of law. It certainly can’t, and never did, guarantee equal civil rights for all.

I spent four weeks in July 2020 discussing the First Amendment alone, and how difficult it is to nail down specifics. If you’d like to see those posts, they start with “Freedom of Religion: Is the First Amendment an Aspiration?” (July 2, 2020) and run through “The Importance of Freedom of the Press” (July 29, 2020). But the quest for equal civil rights for all goes beyond the First Amendment.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”
Chief Joseph: “The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it.”
Harvey Milk: “All men are created equal. No matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about.”
(See credits below).

Equality and Equity

It would be easy and convenient if equality and equity were the same thing, achievable by simple weights and measures. But they’re not. Equality means everyone gets exactly the same treatment, or pay, or goods, or whatever. And in some cases that’s exactly the right approach.

Two people do the exact same job for a company? They should be paid equally – even if one is a woman or a member of a minority. That’s not to say that if one does extra work s/he shouldn’t be paid a bonus. But again, each should get an equal chance to earn that bonus. That’s simple fairness.

Sometimes it’s that easy, but most of the time It’s not. To echo Napoleon the Pig in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, it becomes a problem when “some animals are more equal than others.” When the goal is actual, genuine equal civil rights for all? Oh, that’s never been easy! In fact, lately it seems to be growing harder and harder to secure.

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." - George Orwell
(Courtesy of Magical Quote).

A Tale of Two Little Girls

Here’s another equality/equity hypothetical situation. Say there are two smart little girls. One lives in a nice suburb, goes to an expensive science camp in the summer, and has a grandma in another city who likes to take her to the theatre and kids’ museums whenever she visits. She is well-traveled, well-fed, in excellent health, and her education never lacks for enrichment.

The other kid grew up in a series of shabby, drafty apartments, in between stints of living in the family car. She’s always hungry. She lives in a dangerous part of town, where people sometimes find dead bodies on the street or in their yards. Her mom works two jobs and can’t stay home with her much, so her auntie keeps an eye on her, along with her three cousins, whom the auntie favors. They never go out because Auntie’s immigration status is “iffy.”

Do these two little girls, of equivalent intelligence, both have an equal chance to do well in school? Of course not. That’s where the question of equity comes in. The first little girl has all kinds of advantages the second one can’t access without extra help from the school and the community. Help she may or may not (probably won’t) get, depending on where she lives and what the State Legislature’s priorities are And, as we all know, these priorities are rarely in the best interest of smart little girls in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

In the “reality” section, the differences in resources are extreme between three kids looking over a fence at a baseball game. One stands on a whole pile of boxes, one can see over, standing on one box, and the littlest one is standing in a hole. Can’t see over at all. In the “Equality” section each kid stands on a box. The tall kid can easily see over, the middle kid is unchanged, and the little one stands on his box but still can’t see over. In the “Equity” section, the tall kid didn’t need his box. He can still see over. The middle kid is unchanged. He can see over, too. The smallest one now stands on two boxes, and can see over the fence! In the ”Liberation” section, all can see, without the aid of boxes, because there is no fence.
(See credits below).

What’s the End Goal?

The reality in which we live is far different from any abstract ideal of equality. And even equality needs adjustments in how resources are distributed, to provide true equity. The cartoon above offers a fourth state, “Liberation,” which deserves consideration as well. But, for today, let’s just focus on equal civil rights for all. And let’s define “equal civil rights for all” as equitable access to opportunities, equal protection under the law, and an equal say in how we are governed.

I’ve talked about equity and equality above. This series, “The Future We Want” focuses on not only what kind of future we want to live in, but how science fiction can help us form a vision of that future. A vision is essential, if we’re to achieve almost any goal. But what do we see around us? Certainly not equal civil rights for all! We must apply a large dose of imagination for that.

"The job of speculative and science fiction is to envision future outcomes in accessible ways. It’s what we sf writers do: we create engaging thought-experiments about how things might be." – Jan S. Gephardt.
(See credits below).

What Would Equal Civil Rights for All Look Like?

Equitable access to opportunities implies no glass ceilings, no systemic racism, and no history of apartheid and genocide – or appropriate reparations made, to recognize such a history. There’d be no antisemitism, no Islamophobia, or any other religious or ethnic bias. It would allow no gender, sexuality, identity, or age bias. (I’m already imagining the groans about political correctness, but wait! There’s more).

This hypothetical system also would accommodate for differently-abled candidates. We’d ideally be able to work out a system much like the “blind auditions widely adopted by symphony orchestras and other, similar venues. What system could we use? Mm. Good question. But I’d welcome ideas in the Comments, about how to achieve more equitable access to opportunities for everyone.

Equal protection under the law would yield racially proportionate rates of conviction and incarceration – something we’ve never had in the United States. It would end the need for Black parents to give their children “The Talk” about what to do when they are (inevitably, no matter what they do) stopped by police. It would end the criminalization of poverty and the routine abuses to persons experiencing houselessness. And it would mean public defenders’ offices were as well-funded and prestigious as prosecutors’ offices.

“I've always been driven by the concept of equal justice under the law, but only the rich can pay great sums of money for legal assistance and that puts them at an advantage over the poor.” -Samuel Dash
(Courtesy of Moonsling).

How about the Civil Rights the Civil Rights Movement Fought for?

An equal say in how we are governed would mean no gerrymandering (this a bitter issue with me right now, living as I do in the proposed-to-be divided Kansas Third District). It would mean that it would never be illegal to offer water and a sandwich to would-be voters standing in line for hours. It also would mean that no voters would have to stand in line for hours!

That there’d be widely-available mail-in balloting. That there’d be more than one drop-box for ballots in enormous districts such as Harris County, TX. And that all election officials would act in strictly nonpartisan manner.

An equal say in how we are governed would – in the United States – mean changes in the Senate (it’s extraordinarily undemocratic). Also, probably the abolition of the Electoral College (a system which routinely renders my Kansas-based vote for President irrelevant every four years). Both of these institutions were compromises designed to keep smaller states and minority populations from being drowned out by the influence of larger states. Neither “fix” is improving equity today in the way the Founders hoped.

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

Science Fiction and Equal Civil Rights for All

We need to see imagined worlds where it is possible to reach for, and maybe even achieve, more equal civil rights for all. In my opinion, one of the very best ways to do that is to create compelling, interesting stories about the future that show people what this concept would look like, feel like, and be like. Speculative and science fiction writers, this is our moment! Some of you may want to wallow in dystopia, but please! Offer us hope as well!

I care a great deal about equity and equality. It is one of the major themes that informs my science fiction. I designed Rana Station, the setting for most of my XK9 stories, as a place where all-too-fallible humans (and a couple of other species) try to create a place that helps all residents reach their full potential. But developing a vision for our world will need more than one small indie press, and more than one little-known writer advocating for better visions of the future.

It will need many more of us. It will need leaders in the field to stand up and say “this is worth writing about!” (thank you Neal Stephenson and Kim Stanley Robinson, for two examples of writers who are). Science fiction has changed the real world in many ways already. It’s time for us to do it again. And a good place to start is creating a vision of equal civil rights for all.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Quote Thee for the Thomas Jefferson quote-image (originally from IZQuotes, but that page wouldn’t function for me). I also appreciate AZQuotes for the Harvey Milk quote; Quotesgram for the one from Elizabeth Cady Stanton; and BrainyQuote for the one from Chief Joseph (Montage by Jan S. Gephardt). And I’m grateful to Magical Quote for the Orwell “All animals” quote-image.

Angus Maguire created the “Reality-Equality-Equity-Liberation” image for Interaction Institute for Social Change, which holds the copyright and granted permission to use the image. I appreciate all! I created the “The Job of speculative and science fiction” image with some help from Chaz Kemp’s licensed Nebula 2 artwork, © 2021 by Chaz Kemp. This image was first used for my “Looking for Hope” post.

I’m grateful to Moonsling for the quote-image about equal protection under the law from Samuel Dash. I first assembled the quote from a tweet by the Rev. Raphael Warnock (now US Senator Warnock) in November 2020. It’s now reformatted slightly and discovered that the background photo is originally from the Baltimore Sun, taken at the Maryland primary election, June 2, 2020 by the multitalented Karl Merton Ferron. Deepest appreciation to all of them!

Brian and the cover of “Almost Perfect.”

Almost Perfect Except . . .

By Brian Katcher

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

The Almost Perfect Story

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

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

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

Research and Early Responses

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

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

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

Delayed Reaction

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

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

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

Brian’s Self-Critique

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

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

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

Pitfalls and the Creative Process

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

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

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

IMAGES

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

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

Jan S. Gephardt at Archon 44, with signs advertising Weird Sisters Publishing titles.

Authors of Archon 44

By Jan S. Gephardt

Last week I wrote about the artists. Now it’s time to write about the authors of Archon 44. Followers of this blog know that I recently attended Archon 44. As the “44” at the end indicates, this is a science fiction convention with a long history in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Their most recent venue is the Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville, IL.

My focus at conventions is mostly split between artists and authors. I had a shiny new book to promote, of course, with A Bone to Pick. Stranger to realize: because of Covid, The Other Side of Fear was also “new” at Archon 44. I’m happy to say I sold several of each!

Covers of “The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “A Bone to Pick.”
Jan’s XK9 books in story-chronology order, L-R: The Other Side of Fear, cover ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk; What’s Bred in the Bone, cover ©2019 by Jody A. Lee; and A Bone to Pick, cover ©2020 by Jody A. Lee. (Weird Sisters Publishing LLC).

As an old-school, fan-run regional science fiction convention, the Archon folks offer a full range of “phannish” diversions. There were a vigorous gaming presence, plus many filkers (sf/fantasy music composers and performers), filmmakers, podcasters, and others, along with the artists and authors of Archon 44. The hall costumes came out in force, as usual (See my 2018 and 2019 posts about them).

Panel Discussions with the Authors of Archon 44

Making sure I’m ready for my own scheduled panels (as well as the Art Show) is my top priority at any convention I attend. As I see it, panels are part of the reason people come. That means we panelists are an important part of the “entertainment”—an important element in the convention’s overall success. That’s why many sf cons comp the memberships of attending creatives who agree to be on panels.

But at most conventions there’s also some “downtime” between panel appearances. That’s go-to-the-Art-Show and Dealer’s Room time. It’s wander-the-convention-and-take-pictures time. And it’s go-to-other-people’s-panels time. But Programming kept me really busy this year. I asked for it, so I’m not complaining! I also had my usual stuff to carry, plus a cane (a reluctant but helpful concession). It made the logistics of photography harder.

Jan S. Gephardt with signs advertising Weird Sisters Publishing titles.
Here I am, complete with mask, signs, and S.W.A.G.: just one of the authors of Archon 44. (Tyrell E. Gephardt).

Developing Your Creative Brand

I had a couple of panels with other authors of Archon 44 on Friday, in addition to the art-oriented panel I wrote about last week. The first one, “Developing Your Creative Brand,” certainly could just as well have included artists, as well as filkers, podcasters, costumers, and more. But as it turned out, it was just two other writers and me—as well as a small but engaged audience. The other two writers, Cole Gibsen and Brian Katcher, each occupy a somewhat different YA niche.

Cole’s Experience

Cole, who was our moderator for this panel, has written YA and Romance, but her most recent book, Risen, published in 2018. It is the first and so far only one in Blood Eternal vampire series—but there’s a reason for that. She’s a dog trainer as well as a writer, and the vast majority of her time these days is taken up with her nonprofit, Got Your Six PTSD Support Dogs. That seems to be her greatest passion these days, and it’s where she’s invested most of her brand-building efforts.

Cole Gibsen’s author photo; book covers for “Written on My Heart,” “Life Unaware,” “Seared on My Soul,” and “Risen;” and the logo for her nonprofit, Got Your Six PTSD Support Dogs.
Author and dog trainer Cole Gibsen has written several YA Romance books and started a vampire series called Blood Eternal (Book One is Risen). But her current passion seems mostly focused on her nonprofit, Got Your Six PTSD Support Dogs. (Goodreads; Cole’s Amazon Author Page; Got Your Six on Facebook).

Brian’s Experience

Brian Katcher, similarly, has written a number of books, all in the YA field. He’s a librarian in his “day job,” and recently his kids began to age into his audience demographic. He’s been circling around the “contemporary YA” identity for a while. He tested the waters in YA science fiction with Everyone Dies in the End.

His most acclaim came for his book Almost Perfect, about a high school boy in a small Missouri town who falls in love with the new girl (who turns out to be transgender). It won a Stonewall Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature in 2011, but it also caught some backlash later. Brian has written about his experience for this blog. Watch for it in November!

Covers for Brian Katcher’s books “Playing with Matches,” “Almost Perfect,” “Everyone Dies in the End,” “Deacon Locke Went to Prom,” and “The Improbable theory of Ana & Zak.” Also Brian’s picture.

It’s Never Too Late: Becoming a Successful Writer After 50

This was originally conceived as a “solo” event, a talk by Author Guest of Honor Alma Katsu. She convinced the Programming folks to open it up to additional “mature” authors of Archon 44. They reached out to several of us, which is how I ended up as the moderator.

Alma was right. We had a “deep bench” when it came to writers who are achieving success after age 50. Our conversation explored the reasons why we delayed our assorted launches into writing. Most came down to needing to earn a living while learning the craft and rearing children, which is certainly my story.

Alma Katsu at a book signing, and her “Taker” Trilogy.
This photo of Alma Katsu was used for her Archon 44 Guest of Honor photo. Her “Taker” Trilogy melded paranormal, historical, and romantic elements. Since then, she has focused mostly on historical fiction, with paranormal elements mixed in. (Goodreads; Amazon).

The Inevitable Question

We also had a chance to address the inevitable question, “if you were so talented and dedicated to your craft, why didn’t you start earlier?” I, for one, enjoyed calling out the entitlement and privilege that underlies the question. As if, of course, it’s that straightforward. As if, of course, everyone else in your life would be perfectly willing and able to support you until the literary world recognized your brilliance. And as if, of course, a true genius can only be devoted to one art.

So many fallacies! So little time! It was good to have a chance to stick pins in them. Not entirely surprisingly, all the panelists were women (imagine that), although men certainly can be subject to the same delays and issues.

Here’s a look at my other co-panelists. I’ve included a bit about their work in the cutlines.

Deborah Millitello, with her fantasy “Baramayan Chronicles” books “Mourning Dove” and “The Wizard and the Warrior.”
I discovered that Deborah Millitello is somewhat elusive online, but I found an author photo and a fantasy duo, the “Baramayan Chronicles.” (Word Posse, Amazon, and Amazon).
Lettie Prell with covers for “The Three Lives of Sonata James” and “Dragon Ring.”
Author Lettie Prell is best known recently for her wonderful short fiction, much of which is available online, some for free. Her novella The Three Lives of Sonata James is available as an ebook. So is her only novel to date, Dragon Ring. (Amazon, Lettie’s website, and Amazon).
Rachel Neumeier with Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and two 3-book series from her prolific collection: The “Tuyo” series and the “Death’s Lady” series.
Originally a botanist, Rachel Neumeier now writes Young Adult fantasy novels, raises and shows dogs, and works as a tutor. She has written numerous books. Among the most recent are her three-book “Tuyo”(at left) and “Death’s Lady” (at right) series. (Amazon, Rachel’s website, and Amazon).

The Space Races

Saturday’s panels started with one I’d really been looking forward to. The introduction to “The Space Races” read: “Some stories have mankind becoming more and more homogenous until race is no longer an issue. Others have racial, religious and other groups all heading off to colonize their own ‘home planet.’ Which do we think is more likely, and are there positive aspects to both systems?”

Anyone who’s read my work knows I am pulling for a diverse future, based on the understanding that a diverse system (of any sort) is more resilient. In every age, the centers where different people from different backgrounds have been able to come together (ideally, mostly in peace) are the most vibrant, creative, and prosperous. I was all ready to pour cold water on the idea that “divide or homogenize” are our only choices.

Alternative Views

Unfortunately, I didn’t find much backing for my idea among other authors of Archon 44. Rachel Neumeier, one of our panelists, took an evolutionary genetics point of view. She wasn’t interested in cultures, so much as biology. We’ll either inevitably homogenize or break into multiple sub-species variants, was essentially her take.

The other two panelists, Grant Carrington and Adrian “A. J.” Matthews, pretty much fell in with the “we’ll self-segregate” philosophy. Their predictions seem based on the idea that most people prefer to be comfortable, and differences make us uncomfortable. Therefore, if we make it to space, we’ll settle in our own little separate places, our “segregated neighborhoods” and “gated communities.” I’d love to think we’ve learned better, but contemporary trends do seem to make my take look too optimistic.

Covers for Grant Carrington’s “Down in the Barraque,”Time’s Fool,” and “Annapolis to Andromeda.” Also, a photo of Grant playing guitar by a microphone.
Author Grant Carrington has been publishing short science fiction since at least 1971. Meanwhile, he pursued a career as a computer programmer for Goddard Space Flight Center and other academic, corporate, and government entities. He also sings and plays guitar. His three books are widely available from Brief Candle Press. (Amazon).
The 5-book Veronica Nash series starts with “A Dangerous Quality.” Adrian “A. J.” Matthews wrote them.
The writer behind the 5-book Veronica Nash historical fiction murder mystery series. Adrian “A. J.” Matthews hails from Britain, but he currently lives in Ohio. (Amazon; Archon 43).

Sustainable Creativity

Once again, this topic could have been addressed by creatives in any field, but the folks on the panel were all (except for me) there solely as authors at Archon 44. Meg Elison and Christine Amsden rounded out the panel. The prompt for the panel said: “Maintaining a creative routine during life’s interruptions, whether big or small.”

As the moderator, I had imagined we might talk about some of the issues involved in remaining creative during Covid lockdowns, but lockdown was a topic everyone else wanted to put in the rearview—and then floor it, looking straight ahead.

Christine, who is legally blind, talked about the digital tools she uses to deal with her disability. We discussed more timeless issues for remaining creative, too. How do we balance our time? How do we manage an outside job and writing? What about interruptions from kids and other family members, including companion animals? Our answers, as timeless as the questions, boiled down to setting reasonable boundaries, being flexible, and persevering, whatever comes.

Meg Elison’s many books include “The Book of the Unnamed Midwife,” “The Book of Etta,” “The Book of Flora,” “Find Layla,” “Big Girl,” and “Near Kin.”
Author Christine Amsden may be legally blind, but it doesn’t stop her from writing. She is probably best known for her 7-book Cassie Scot paranormal series. (Christine’s website; Amazon).
Science fiction writer and feminist essayist Meg Elison is a multiple award honoree and a prolific author who “writes like she’s running out of time.” (Amazon).

Virtual Pros and Cons

Even as the moderator, I wasn’t sure where this panel would go. The topic was efforts by sf conventions and individual creators to stay active and deliver content in the midst of a pandemic when everything went virtual.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The small audience and one of the panelists, massage therapist and filker Jan DiMasi, all had deep experience as conrunners who’d had a baptism by fire over the past two years. They’d learned far more than they ever expected to, about the ins and outs of virtual conventions, and were eager to compare notes and “war stories.”

A Tale of Two Publishing Experiences

The other panelist besides me was another of the authors of Archon 44, Elizabeth Donald. She is founder and coordinator of The Literary Underworld, a journalist, and grad student pursuing dual masters degree programs at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. As her bio says, “In her spare time, she has no spare time.”

She spoke about the challenges of producing journalism conventions online, and described a downturn in business for The Literary Underworld, when they were no longer able to travel to sf cons. This provided a contrast with Weird Sisters Publishing’s experience. Since we are currently introducing ourselves almost exclusively online, we’ve seen our sales grow during the pandemic.

Elizabeth Donald, with covers for her books, “Setting Suns,” “Nocturne: Infernum,” and “Moonlight Sonata.”
Journalist and dark fiction author Elizabeth Donald has won several awards for her fiction and has written many books, including the “Nocturnal Urges” and “Blackfire” novel series. She is the founder and coordinator of The Literary Underworld authors’ group. (Elizabeth’s website; Amazon).

The One Reading I Did Go To!

As longtime readers of this blog know, one of my favorite things to do is go to other authors’ readings. I’ve blogged about readings at SoonerCon several times. Also at DemiCon, ConQuesT, FenCon, a Worldcon, and a NASFiC. But the only reading I attended at Archon 44 was my own. I’d asked that it be scheduled later in the weekend, so I’d have more time to promote it. Programming obliged, and scheduled it on Sunday of the convention. So, out of all the authors of Archon 44, I only got to listen to Van Allen Plexico and Kurt Pankau.

I came to the reading prepared to read any of several works. After all, both The Other Side of Fear and A Bone to Pick both were “debutantes” at Archon 44. A query revealed that some in the audience remembered how I’d read the first chapter of my then-newly-in-progress draft of A Bone to Pick at Archon in 2019. Did I happen to have something like that to share?

As it happened, I did have an early scene from my first draft of Bone of Contention. I call it Shady and the Not-So Diplomatic Appscaten. I read it,, it was well-received, and I later turned it into a downloadable “extra” for subscribers to my monthly newsletter. If you’d like to read it, scroll down for a way to subscribe!

This banner shows a cover I fabricated for my newsletter subscribers’ downloadable copy of “Shady and the Not-So-Diplomatic Appscaten,” with the selection’s first line: “Shady couldn’t see the entity on the bench in Glen Haven Park . . . but she could clearly smell it.”
I made this banner for my newsletter subscribers, after I created a downloadable version of the selection I read at Archon 44. (portrait of Shady ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk; photos from 123rf).

What did the Others Read?

A current work-in-progress gave Van Allen Plexico his material. He read the opening for his upcoming work Solonis: Master of Space and Time, from his “The Above” series. Previous books in the series are (in order) Lucien: Dark God’s Homecoming, Baranak: Storming the Gates, and Karilyne: Heart Cold as Ice.

Van Allen Plexico with his “Sentinels” series.
Longtime and honored writer Van Allen Plexico has been writing short fiction for anthologies recently, but he’s probably best known for his 9-book series “The Sentinels,” illustrated by Chris Kohler. He also hosts the White Rocket podcast. (Amazon; Amazon).

Kurt Pankau read a selection from his science fiction western High Noon on Phobos. Yes, “science fiction westerns” are a thing. The selection he read was pretty campy, but the story was set on a megastructure in space that involved an agricultural component (elements I’ve thought about a lot). I looked into it later, and decided to give it a whirl.

In the long run, I found the justification for rangeland and livestock on a modified ringworld around the Martian moon Phobos to be far-fetched. But this book doesn’t take itself at all seriously. It’s played for laughs, and I did laugh. You can read my review on Goodreads.

Writer Kurt Pankau and the cover of “High Noon on Phobos.”
Author Kurt Pankau is a computer engineer in St. Louis who most often writes short fiction, but he made an exception: his “silly space western,” which he originally published under a pseudonym. (Kurt’s website, photo by Kathy Schrenk; Amazon).

IMAGE CREDITS

I have seriously overdone it with the images on this one, and I undoubtedly could have broken this post into several. But I only have time to post once a week, and you’d still be reading about Archon 44 a month from now, at that rate. To make up for cramming them all into one post, I wanted to represent each author with their own small montage. To keep this section from being about a mile long on a post that’s already too long as it is, I’ve tried to make sure the credits are listed in each cutline.

BFFs Lynette M. Burrows and Jan S. Gephardt.

A Pair of BFFs Talk about Writing

By Jan S. Gephardt and Lynette M. Burrows

A note from Jan to her readers: My longtime friend Lynette M. Burrows and I belong to some of the same writers’ groups, and first met through the Kansas City Science Fiction & Fantasy Society (KaCSFFS). We bonded over (among other things) our interest in writing, and we’ve been friends literally for decades. We regularly check in with each other to “talk shop” or be each others’ cheerleaders. Earlier this summer, I suggested we co-write a post in which we talk about writing, our personal writing journeys, and our books. This post is the result of that conversation.

Before we Talk about Writing, Who is Lynette M. Burrows?

Covers for “My Soul to Keep” and “Fellowship,” the two books so far published in the Fellowship Dystopia.”
From Rocket Dog Publishing. Cover artwork for My Soul to Keep is © 2018 by Elizabeth Leggett. Cover artwork for Fellowship is © 2019 by Nicole Hutton at Cover Shot Creations

Lynette M. Burrows loves hot coffee, reading physical books, and the crack of a 9mm pistol—not all at the same time, though that might be fun! She writes thrilling science fiction for readers who love compelling characters with heroic hearts.

The White Box Stories, which she co-wrote with Rob Chilson, appeared in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact Magazine.

Her series, The Fellowship Dystopia, presents a frightening familiar American tyranny that never was but could be. In Book One, My Soul to Keep, Miranda discovers dark family secrets, the brutality of the Fellowship way of life, and the deadly reality of rebellion. My Soul to Keep and the series companion novel, Fellowship, are available at most online bookstores. Book two, If I Should Die, will be published in 2022.

Owned by two Yorkshire Terriers, Lynette lives in the land of Oz. You can find her online at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter @LynetteMBurrows.

Who is Jan S. Gephardt?

Covers for “The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt.
Covers courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing. Cover artwork, L-R © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk, © 2019 and 2020, respectively, by Jody A. Lee.

Jan S. Gephardt commutes daily between her Kansas City metro home in the USA and Rana Station, a habitat space station that’s a very long way from Earth and several hundred years in the future.

She and her sister G. S. Norwood are the founders and co-owners of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. Her XK9 “Bones” Trilogy and its prequel novella, The Other Side of Fear, feature a pack of super-smart, bio-engineered police dogs called XK9s. They struggle to establish themselves as full citizens of the space station where they live, while solving crimes and sniffing out bad guys.

The Other Side of Fear tells how the XK9s and their humans found each other. What’s Bred in the Bone begins the tale of XK9 Rex, a dog who thinks too much and then acts on his thoughts. Even after his human partner Charlie is injured and out of the picture. A Bone to Pick was just released last month. In it, Rex and the Pack have new and different problems, even before Rex’s enemy from the past comes gunning for him. Jan’s now working hard on Bone of Contention, in which the dogs must prove to a critical panel of judges that they are truly sapient, before the Transmondians manage to exterminate their kind completely.

Now, let’s Talk about Writing!

Lynette and I developed a list of questions, then each of us answered them. The rest of this post continues in a Q&A format. We hope you’ll enjoy this “conversation,” in which a pair of BFFs talk about writing!

What’s your most recently- or imminently-to-be-published title? What’s it about, and when/how/where can readers find it?

LYNETTE

This banner for “Fellowship” has a photo of a person in a snowy forest and the words, “The AZRAEL are real. The Cleaners are coming. Run, Ian, run!”
Banner and cover for Fellowship courtesy of Lynette M. Burrows on Twitter.

Fellowship, a companion novel to the Fellowship Dystopia, series, is my most recently published title.

Two years before Miranda begins her journey, tragedy shatters a high school senior’s dreams of being a journalist when his parents are Taken by the Angels of Death. Hunted by government agents, Ian and his younger siblings run for their lives. He leads them to the Appalachian Mountains. He knows how to survive, but resources are scarce. The mountains are unforgiving. And winter is in the air. If they are to survive, Ian and his siblings need help. But who can he trust?

I had intended to write a short story in the same world as My Soul to Keep, Book One in the Fellowship Dystopia, series. When Ian came alive on the page, Fellowship, a longer story about trust, was born. Read how, while writing this novel, My Story Went to the Dogs.

Fellowship is available at most online bookstores.

JAN

“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 is widely available in a variety of formats. Cover artwork © 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

My most recently-published novel is A Bone to Pick, Book Two of the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. It should now be widely available in a variety of formats.

The protagonist of the whole Trilogy is XK9 Rex, who becomes recognized on Rana Station as the Leader of the Pack for the Orangeboro XK9s. But an enemy from his past is still gunning for him.

Before Rex came to Rana Station, he ran afoul of Transmondian spymaster Col. Jackson Wisniewski. He deliberately flunked out of the espionage program and threatened Wisniewski’s life. Now Wisniewski wants Rex dead. Transmondian agents watch and wait for any opportunity to strike.

Meanwhile, his human partner, Charlie, faces a different struggle. Injured and out of the action for most of Book One, Charlie now works to recover from  his catastrophic injuries – and comes face-to-face with a once-in-a-lifetime love he thought he’d lost forever.

What is your current work-in-progress, and how does it fit into the rest of your oeuvre?

LYNETTE

I’m finishing up edits of the second book in the Fellowship Dystopia, series titled If I Should Die. It takes place in the same world as My Soul to Keep and picks up Miranda’s story.

Two years ago, former rebel soldier, Miranda Clarke, vowed she would never pick up her gun again. Vowed to help instead of kill. She created the Freedom Waterways and rescued fugitives from the Fellowship’s tyranny. With every rescue, she heard about nightmarish suffering and loss, and her dream of peace grew more and more desperate.

Until the day she received two simultaneous requests: a loved one on the Fellowship side wanted her help to bring peace to the nation, while a loved one on the rebel side would surely die without her help. No matter which choice she made, it would cost her. Dearly.

In a deadly battle between her dreams and loved ones, will she stick to her peaceful principles, or risk everything to settle the score?

JAN

I’ve recently started two projects. One is a short story tentatively titled Beautiful New Year, It’s set on Rana Station and features Rex’s partner Charlie, before he and Rex teamed up.

I’m also at work on the third novel in the Trilogy, Bone of Contention. Rex and the Pack have begun to enjoy the freedom Ranans believe they deserve. But they also have work to do. They’re hot on the trail of a murderous gang that blows up spaceships in the Black Void.

But in the far-flung systems of the Alliance of the Peoples, trafficking in sapient beings is the most-reviled crime of all. The leaders of the XK9 Project that created Rex and his Pack deny any wrongdoing. And the system-dominating Transmondian Government that sponsored the XK9 Project will do anything they must to protect themselves. Even if it means destroying every XK9 in the universe.

How did this series start? What themes did you know from the beginning that you wanted to address, and why? Have you been startled by other themes or ideas that developed in the course of writing?

LYNETTE

This has been one of those stories that cooked for a very long time. I knew I wanted to create a heroine who had survived abuse and ultimately makes the choice to thrive. Exploring abuse of politics, power, and people was a logical offshoot of my original idea.

The thing that startled me the most was that I would think I’d written a brilliant scene about abuse and violence until a first reader started questioning me about the scene. The way I’d written it, the abuse and violence were always off stage.

It took a long time for me to write more active and direct scenes.

JAN

This series started with a “what if?” I’ve been a dog-lover for a long time, and I’d been wanting to write a mystery set in a science fictional milieu. Reading about police K-9s used for scent tracking, I found a quote from an investigator: “It’s not like we can put the dog on the witness stand and ask him what he smelled.”

“Oho!” I thought. “But what if we could?” Science fiction is full of uplifted animals. It was a pretty short intuitive leap from there to Rex and the Pack.

This meme image shows a German Shepherd with its paw on a Bible held by a police officer, in what looks like a courtroom. It says, “ his look of determination: ‘I saw, heard, and smelled what you did. You’re going down, David!’”
Meme image courtesy of ImgFlip.

And when we talk about writing themes, my stories always seem to have an internal “compass.” One way or another, they end up being about interactions between people of different cultures, as seen through a lens of equity and social justice.

How did your book change from the first day of writing to your last day of the final draft?

LYNETTE

I started writing My Soul to Keep as a fantasy with dragons and a Cinderella story arc, which stalled out pretty quickly.

Then I tried setting the story in the future, but it smacked too much of The Handmaid’s Tale. And the writing stalled out again.

What I needed was a world that allowed me to explore the theme of thriving despite abuse. My husband suggested I write in the style of a 1950s Noir Mystery. So I explored that option, knowing this was a character growth story, not a murder mystery.

From there, it morphed into an alternate history. Once I had the alternate history idea, it was a small step to using the Isolationist movement of the 1920s and ’30s to turn America into an isolated religious tyranny.

JAN

It took me a while to research, think, write through, and develop the science fictional elements. I wasn’t sure at first how smart to make the dogs, or how they’d communicate with their humans.

A member of my writer’s group pointed out that my first concept for Rana Station wouldn’t actually work, for a lot of valid reasons. So I surveyed space habitat designs that have been proposed by sf writers and actual space scientists. Then I mixed, matched, and came up with my own (pardon the pun) spin on their ideas. After that, I had fun extrapolating how the inhabitants would design and use the interior.

What is your writing practice? Do you have a ritual to start your day? What time of day? How many hours, and how many days a week? How do you write (machine, dictate, hand write)?

LYNETTE

When I first started writing, I had a ritual. I’d light a candle or incense and start music and then do writing exercises in a journal. Those, I usually hand wrote. Then I’d re-read the manuscript pages I had written the day before. Finally, I’d put a blank sheet of paper in my IBM Selectric typewriter and re-type those pages, revising as I went. Then I wrote the next scene.

I had an infant when I started writing, so I wrote during his naps. Later, I wrote while he was in preschool (about two hours twice a week), and while he was in school.

Now, my dogs and I go to my office after breakfast. I might turn on some instrumental music or I might write in silence. I might review the latest pages. Just as often, I start where I left off. I write for at least two hours, but if the words are flowing, I will write for ten hours or more. I write six days a week with rare exceptions.

An adorable photo of Lynette’s Yorkies, Neo and Gizmo.
Yorkshire Terriers Neo and Gizmo in Lynette’s office, courtesy of Lynette’s Facebook Author Page.

JAN

I’ve never particularly made a ritual of creating a setting in which to write, but I do need to self-isolate. Attempts to write in a coffee shop or library result in people-watching instead. I write best between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. when there are no interruptions, and I write every day, if possible.

Let’s talk about writing tools. I started with crayons on cheap paper when I was four, but I’ve “traded up” a few times since then. I wrote my first complete, novel-length manuscript in 1976-78 on an Underwood manual typewriter. Later I went through two electric typewriters, a Kaypro computer (using WordStar) in the late 1980s, a succession of other PCs, and several Macs. I currently use a 15” MacBook Pro.

For early drafts I use Scrivener. It creates a separate file for each section. That makes it easy to switch their order and keep an eye on word-count. Closer-to-final drafts get copied over into MS Word. It creates a .docx file that’s easy to share for critique, print, or import into Vellum when it’s time to publish.

More specific to this book—do you write with music, tv or radio or silence? Is there a specific soundtrack you used for your book?

LYNETTE

When I started writing My Soul to Keep, I developed a specific soundtrack that I played on repeat. These days, about half the time I write in silence and the other half I’ll write with that soundtrack running or instrumental music that provides the perfect mood for the scene I’m writing. Music from epic movie battle scenes works well for me.

JAN

Sometimes I can write to instrumental music, or to songs with lyrics in a language I don’t speak. I love Two Steps From Hell and movie or show soundtracks. Current favorites include selections from The Mandalorian, as well as Raya and the Last Dragon and Captain Marvel. I grew up listening to Classical music and still enjoy it, particularly when it’s played by my sister’s band, The Dallas Winds.

However, when I’m trying to compose finished work I go silent. I need to listen to the internal cadence of the words I’m polishing, and music drowns that out.

What did you research the most? Did any of your research surprise you?

LYNETTE

What I researched the most is hard to say. It might be a three-way tie between the location and the history of the American Isolationist and the Eugenics movements.

My research constantly surprises me. I start off researching some small piece of history I recall and, in the process of that research, find a snippet that leads somewhere interesting. One of those surprises that became a large piece of My Soul to Keep was the eugenics programs that existed in the U.S.A. prior to World War II. You can read about the Better Baby Contests and the Eugenics movements on my blog.

JAN

I’ve done deep dives into both dog cognition and space habitat design. Like Lynette, I turned both of those inquiries into blog posts. My “Dog Cognition” series explored how much normal dogs understand, surprising canine word comprehension, and canine emotions. The “DIY Space Station” series offered an overview, then specifically looked at Dyson Spheres, Bernal Spheres, O’Neill Cylinders, and the Stanford Torus.

Not surprisingly, I needed to do lots of research into police standards, culture, practices and procedure—and wow, did that ever put me on the cutting edge of current events last year! You’ll find echoes of that research in the way police operate on Rana Station.

I think some of my most surprising research started when I was searching for sources of protein that one could sustainably produce in a space-based habitat. That led me to cultured milk, eggs, and meat and branched over into some of the ideas that underpin the speculative medical technology my characters call “re-gen therapy.”

When you started fleshing out your ideas for the book, did you start with plot, character, location, or something else?

LYNETTE

I almost always start with one or more characters. For me, character starts with a voice or an attitude that I find interesting. Plot and theme arise out of the characters’ needs and wants. And I choose locations because of real-life history, the mood I want to evoke, or an event that needs to happen. I also created locations that are totally fictional, but they provide an element that strengthens the theme or plot.

JAN

My whole series started with the idea of a dog who could testify in court. Stories can start literally anywhere. But it’s not really a story until there’s a character with a problem.

A character wants something, but they’re blocked from getting what they want. The character, their desire, and their obstacle(s) are the initial setup. Without those essential elements you can’t build a plot, although you can (and probably will) imagine snippets of action that may eventually become part of the plot.

Would You Like to Ask Us Other Questions?

The plan is for both of us to publish this as a post on our blog. We thought some of you might become interested in a new writer, or encounter a new idea. We hope you’ve enjoyed our talk about writing our stories.

If you thought of questions we didn’t ask, please ask them below in the comments! We’ll happily continue the conversation, because both of us love to talk about writing.

IMAGE CREDITS:

The banner with the covers from My Soul to Keep and Fellowship and the banner for Fellowship are from Rocket Dog Publishing. Cover artwork for My Soul to Keep is © 2018 by Elizabeth Leggett. Cover artwork for Fellowship is © 2019 by Nicole Hutton at Cover Shot Creations. And the adorable photo of her Yorkies, Neo and Gizmo, is © 2019 by Lynette M. Burrows

The banner with the three XK9 covers and the one for A Bone to Pick are both from Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. Cover artwork for The Other Side of Fear is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk. Cover artwork for What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick is © 2019 and 2020 respectively, both by Jody A. Lee. The meme with the K-9 on the witness stand is courtesy of ImgFlip.

In the header image, the photo of Lynette M. Burrows is courtesy of her website. The photo of Jan S. Gephardt is © 2017 by Colette Waters Photography. Gosh. We look nothing alike, do we? Many thanks to all!

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