Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

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On this multicolored square design the artist has grouped all eight of the covers for the books in the two posts covered in the “Artdog Adventures” Blog’s digest post that summarizes two posts filled with book reviews from The Weird Blog of Weird Sisters Publishing. In the left part of the design she grouped the five covers for the “Old Code” series by Anthony W. Eichenlaub. They are “Grandfather Anonymous,” “Grandfather Ghost,” “Grandfather Guardian,” “Grandfather Zero,” and “Grandfather Crypto.” In the right-hand part of the design are the three graphic books’ covers. They are The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts,” “The Book Tour,” “Fangs,” and “The Book Tour.” Below the grouped covers, the words say, “Covers Courtesy of Amazon.com.

More Book Reviews

I promised to return with more book reviews in March. With my time as crunched as it has been lately, I’ve started creating a monthly review of the posts I ran on The Weird Blog of Weird Sisters Publishing. Yes, it’s an aggregation and not completely original, but I hope you’ll enjoy my “digest” posts in lieu of no posts at all.

On a square black cover with a pale peach center, the book covers for “Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts,” “The Book Tour,” and “Fangs” span the center, slightly offset from each other.
Book covers courtesy of Amazon. See Credits below.

I Hope You Give Graphic Books a Closer Look

I began the month’s posts by highlighting Three Graphic Books Worth a Look. The category name might make someone unfamiliar with it to worry about explicit sexual content or extreme violence, but don’t worry. They’re not that kind of “graphic.”

The three graphic books I reviewed in that post cover a wide range of subjects and approaches. I hope they demonstrate how very much graphic books do not inevitably have to be “just comic books” – and they are definitely not intellectually simple.

But wait! There are more book reviews to come!

The five covers of the books in the “Old Code” series, by Anthony W. Eichenlaub, are arrayed across this square image in two rows. On the upper row, L-R. are the covers of “Grandfather Anonymous,” “Grandfather Ghost,” and “Grandfather Guardian.” On the lower row, L-R, are the covers of “Grandfather Zero” and “Grandfather Crypto.” The covers are monochromatic blue, turquoise, or purple. A single slender man with a hat and cane anchors the first three covers. He is joined by a young woman in the latter two. All covers are courtesy of Amazon.com.
Book covers courtesy of Amazon. See Credits below.

The Old Code Series Makes for Excellent Reading

I discovered the first book in this series, Grandfather Anonymous, through a BookBub newsletterlisting. It sounded interesting and they were practically giving it away, so I thought, “why not?” I don’t normally find “hacker” stories all that intrinsically interesting. But I’m an old gal who hopes she still has her skills, so the idea of an old guy who still has his skills was personally appealing.

Within the first page I was engaged, and the quality of the reading experience in these techno-thrillers remained consistent throughout. I’m glad I found this series for many reasons – but the most fundamental of them is that the Old Code series delivers the goods from start to finish.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of reviews, and I hope maybe you’ll even look around for a copy of one or more of them.

On this multicolored square design the artist has grouped all eight of the covers for the books in the two posts covered in the “Artdog Adventures” Blog’s digest post that summarizes two posts filled with book reviews from The Weird Blog of Weird Sisters Publishing. In the left part of the design she grouped the five covers for the “Old Code” series by Anthony W. Eichenlaub. They are “Grandfather Anonymous,” “Grandfather Ghost,” “Grandfather Guardian,” “Grandfather Zero,” and “Grandfather Crypto.” In the right-hand part of the design are the three graphic books’ covers. They are The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts,” “The Book Tour,” “Fangs,” and “The Book Tour.” Below the grouped covers, the words say, “Covers Courtesy of Amazon.com.
Book covers courtesy of Amazon. See Credits below.

I hope you enjoy the reviews in the linked posts, and that you’ll buy (or borrow from your local library) any that you think look interesting. Please feel free to comment below if you’ve read any previously (and agree or disagree). And please let me know if you’d like to see more book reviews!

About the Author

Author Jan S. Gephardt is an artist whose first love is line art, and a longtime science fiction reader. Thus, the books highlighted in this post and the two linked posts were all right up her alley. She’s also a science fiction novelist, the author of the XK9 Series, including the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The third book in the trilogy, Bone of Contention, is set for release September 24, 2024. A fourth book, Bones for the Children will extend the series past the trilogy and is now in the works.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Amazon for the book covers used in all the graphics for this post. The specific links for the first collection of three graphic books are: Fangs, The Book Tour, and Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts.

I also want to thank Amazon for the “Old Code” cover images, which represent the ebook covers for this series. See Grandfather Anonymous, Grandfather Ghost, Grandfather Guardian, Grandfather Zero, and Grandfather Crypto.

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

My New Year Dragon Project

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

New Year Dragon Ladies

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

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

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

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

New Year Dragon Gentlemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books by New Year Dragon Project Artists

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

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

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

What did you think of the New Year Dragon Project?

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

And please leave me comments.

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

About the Author

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Theresa Mather, Rachael Mayo, David Lee Pancake, and Randal Spangler, who provided all the artwork used in this digest post, the two longer “Weird Blog” posts, and the social media posts that were coordinated with this project. All of the artwork in this post is © by the artist listed in each copyright notice. See links in the text above for the book cover sources.

This year’s image is a book with bright bubbles and fairy dust rising from its glowing pages. The words say, “ConQuesT 54 June 2 @12:00 p.m. – June 4 @6:00 p.m.”

Going to ConQuesT

By Jan S. Gephardt

I’ve been going to ConQuesT or about as long as I’ve been going to science fiction conventions. I think of it as my “home con.” It’s sponsored by KaCSFFS (we pronounce it “KAX-fuss”), the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. I was “discovered” by Robin Wayne Bailey and his wife Diana J. Bailey, when I showed my artwork at a relatively short-lived convention at a local community college. That was back in 1982.

KaCSFFS friends introduced me to fandom, provided transportation and shared rooms at other conventions, and opened a new world of wonder and delight to me. I’ve always been grateful for their tutelage and their friendship. I’ve served several times as an officer of the club, most recently a stint from 2010-2017 as Communications Director. I also was the ConQuesT Art Show Director for three inglorious years (2011-2013), until the far more capable Mikah McCullough took over.

So going to ConQuesT is like coming home for me. These days, I’m much more of a program participant than I am concom, but the love hasn’t changed.

Photos of Jan at ConQuesT in Kansas City (in 1985 and 2012), plus at Archon 43 (2019).
Here’s a walk through the decades that I’ve been going to sf cons – and it’s telling that two of the three are from past ConQuesTs. (See credits and panelist identifications below).

Things I’m Looking Forward To

One thing I always look forward to is being on panels. I’m writing this post too early to know exactly what panels I’ll be on. I filled out the Panelist Questionnaire a while back, so I feel a fair amount of certainty that they’ll come up with something for me to do this year!

I’ve asked for an opportunity to do a reading, and expressed my openness to a number of other options. So I guess we’ll see.

Going to ConQuesT as a panelist in recent years has become even more pleasant for me than ever, because we have half-hour breaks between panels. This allows for follow-up conversations, getting from place to place, impromptu autograph-signings, and bathroom breaks. I wish more conventions would add this lovely feature.

I also look forward to seeing old friends at ConQuesT: some from Kansas City, and others “regulars” from other parts of the region. Many times con-runners will work the whole weekend at their own convention, then go to the next one nearby to relax and just be fans hanging out with fans.

And of course I’m looking forward to the Dealers Room and the Art Show!

This year’s image is a book with bright bubbles and fairy dust rising from its glowing pages. The words say, “ConQuesT 54 June 2 @12:00 p.m. – June 4 @6:00 p.m.”
For the first time that I can remember, ConQuesT will not be on Memorial Day Weekend. The convention also has moved to a new hotel. (Image courtesy of ConQuesT 54 website).

Our Dealers Table

Last year, some of my Kansas City friends invited me to join them at their ConQuesT dealer’s table. I’d been contemplating the possibility, but daunted by my persistent night-owl tendencies. No way was I likely to prosper running my own dealer’s table all alone if it meant being alert before 9 a.m. and attempting to make money selling only three titles! But they invited me to Try Something New and join them.

If you’ve followed this blog recently, you probably know that was a fateful first step. I subsequently shared tables at SoonerCon and Archon. This year, my son Tyrell E. Gephardt and I have roped our Household Morning Person, my husband Pascal, into joining us for this convention season. He’ll be the person who primarily runs the Weird Sisters Publishing dealers table.

We also are coming to ConQuesT with considerably more books than just the three “XK9 Book” titles I had with me last year. This year, we not only have the Weird Sisters book Deep Ellum Duet by my sister and co-publisher, G. S. Norwood.

We also have a wonderful range of other excellent books by some of our Kansas City Author Friends. They include books by the two friends who invited me to share their table last year, M. C. Chambers and Karin Rita Gastreich. They also include fellow “Mad Authors Party” friends Lynette M. Burrows and Dora Furlong. And how could we not bring books by our longtime friend Randal Spangler? All in all, it’s a great lineup!

The words say, “Look for Weird Sisters Publishing and Kansas City Writer Friends in the Dealers Room at the Convention!” The imagery includes covers for books by WSP authors Jan S. Gephardt and G.S. Norwood, as well as Kansas City-based writers Lynette M. Burrows, M.C. Chambers, Dora Furlong, Karin Rita Gastreich, and Randal Spangler.
This is the announcement I created about the table, primarily for social media.

The Art Show

For most of my history at science fiction conventions, I’ve primarily been known for my artwork. No one knew me as an author – even though I’ve always been both a writer and an artist. But it takes a LOT longer to finish a book than a piece of artwork. I actually had something to show, as an artist, that would back up my claims that I was one!

And it’s not as if art was ever a minor part of my life. I majored in visual art (printmaking and graphic design) as an undergrad. During both of my teaching careers, I was hired as an art teacher who also could teach publications. After a decade of commercial graphic design work and my “second art-teaching career,” my paper sculpture eventually opened doors to national juried fine art shows around the country.

I’m still doing paper sculpture, although the projects are fewer and farther between now than they have been in a long time. Most of my artwork these days is (once again) graphic design. And as an added bonus, I get to be the Art Director for Weird Sisters Publishing! But the art show still means a lot to me – as I discovered recently at DemiCon. Last year’s ConQuesT Art Show was another marvelous one, under Mikah’s skilled direction. I anticipate this year’s will be, too.

This is a montage of some of my recent paper sculpture. The artworks are: Top Row, L-R: “Common Cliff Dragon – Male,” “Gemflower Outburst,” and “Love in the Storm.” On the next row, L-R: “Overcoming Complications,”  pair from the “Guardians” series in yellow top mats, “Protector” and “Defender;” and “White Clematis with Dragons.” The lower pair of “Guardians,” in green top mats, are “Fierce” and “Brave.” All artwork is © by Jan S. Gephardt.
Here are samples most of my paper sculpture I’m showing this year. All artwork is © by Jan S. Gephardt.

Going to ConQuesT 54

All in all, I’m looking forward to going to ConQuesT this year. I’ve had decades of fun history there. The new Dealers Table project and Pascal’s attendance add adventure to the prospect. And I hope to see a lot of old friends, plus maybe meet some new ones. All of those things add to my anticipation.

Will you be there, too? If you are, I hope you’ll watch for my panels, check out the Art Show, and stop by my Dealer’s Table. Mention that you read this post, and I’ll make sure you get your choice of our badge ribbons!

And if you’re not going to ConQuesT – I know some readers live far away from Kansas City and it’s not practical – I hope you’ll enjoy my next post. I plan to share photos and write about the convention.

IMAGE CREDITS

I don’t think I was ever sure who took the “historical documents” that show me at ConQuesT in 1985 and 2012, but I can identify my fellow panelists. In the 1985 photo they are L-R: Dell Harris, Ken Keller, me, and the late Roland Schmidt, my former co-teacher and a fantasy watercolorist. BTW, that’s my calligraphy on the name cards, back before desktop printing made them easy to print.

And in the 2012 photo that’s me on the left. Tracy S. Morris sits in the middle with her book Bride of Tranquility. At the right is fellow Kansas City writer, artist, and longtime sf fan Sherri Dean. I owe Tyrell Gephardt thanks for photo of me, masked up behind my then-current collection of signs, books, and S.W.A.G. at Archon 43 (2019).

Many thanks to the ConQuesT 54 website, for their header image. The designs for the social-media image about our Weird Sisters Publishing dealers table and the sampler of my paper sculpture are my work. My paper sculpture is, of course, my original multimedia artwork, all © by Jan S. Gephardt.

The cover art for my book The Other Side of Fear is ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk. Cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 and for A Bone to Pick is ©2020 by Jody A. Lee. The art for G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Duet cover is © 2022 by Chaz Kemp. Many thanks to our Kansas City Author Friends, and in a couple of cases to Amazon, for their cover images. See embedded links above.

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

My last DemiCon?

By Jan S. Gephardt

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

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

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

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

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

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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

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

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

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

Art Show?

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

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

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

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

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

A Very Tight Squeeze

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

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

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

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

The Best Bright Spot: My Panels

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

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

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

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

My Last DemiCon?

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

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS

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

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

Demicon 34

By Jan S. Gephardt

It’s that time of year again: getting ready for “con” season, and specifically for DemiCon 34. Repeated blizzard events over several recent years have discouraged us from attending Capricon in February. This means DemiCon, an annual, early-May convention in Des Moines, Iowa, has become our “new normal” first science fiction convention of the summer season.

But for DemiCon 34, things will be a bit different from our usual. Some of the changes were planned, others not. Here’s hoping I’m in much better health and voice than I was last year! I’m also hoping that we have our typically pleasant DemiCon experience on the whole.

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

A Couple of DemiCon 34 Disappointments

Let’s get these out of the way, so I can go on to the much-more-fun stuff. Due to a snafu in communications, I won’t be doing a reading at DemiCon 34. Readings are one of my favorite forms of “giving out free samples,” so I’ll miss it! To partially compensate for that, you might enjoy My First Original Video, which was filmed for 2020’s Virtual DemiCon (DemiCon 31, “Contaminated”).

In that video my son Tyrell Gephardt filmed me reading the first chapter of The Other Side of Fear aloud. That’s the prequel novella to my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, which was released that year. It was as close as we could get to a live reading during the early months of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Perhaps you’d also like to read the “free sample” first chapter from one of my novels, What’s Bred in the Bone (XK9 “Bones” Trilogy  Book One) or A Bone to Pick (Book Two). Just follow the links to their Weird Sisters pages, where you’ll find them offered.

My other DemiCon 34 disappointment? There doesn’t seem to be an Art Show. I have a long history of bringing my paper sculpture to sf cons, and I’ve enjoyed showing (and selling) my artwork at DemiCon for many years. I also love hanging out with the artists who gather in greater numbers at conventions where they can show and sell their work!

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

Panels Planned!

But another one of the things I love to do at sf cons will definitely be happening at DemiCon 34: panels! I have started pulling together notes for the five panels on which I’m scheduled! The first, AI Meets SF, is scheduled for Friday, May 5 at 6:00 p.m. I’ve been on a number of panels that discussed science fictional stories about artificial intelligence. But this will be my first discussion primarily about the potential for AI to write science fiction.

On Saturday I’m set for two more, a back-to-back pair. Thank goodness, they’re in the same room! Starting at 2 p.m., the first addresses a topic very near to my heart, The Role of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Predicting and Shaping the Future. That one’s pretty self-explanatory, I think. The other also promises to be a meaty topic: Pandemics Through History and Their Effects on Literature.

Sunday wraps up with two more. And again, they’re scheduled back-to-back. The first starts at noon, which will be a stretch for me, especially on Sunday of the convention! The rooms are next door to each other, so that should help me make it to the second one on time. At noon we’ll discuss Gadgets in SF. This is where we’ll talk about ways writers can incorporate speculative tech into their stories without grinding the story to a halt while they deliver a data-dump to explain how it works. Then, at 1:00 p.m., we’ll discuss life forms we might encounter on the Final Frontier in Who Will We Meet in Space? Should be fun!

Photos of Jan at ConQuesT in Kansas City (in 1985 and 2012), plus at Archon 43 (2019).
Here’s a walk through the decades that Jan’s been going to sf cons. (See credits and panelist identifications below).

Our Biggest News for DemiCon 34

For the Gephardt household, the most important change at DemiCon 34will be our official presence in the Dealers Room. Not only will we have a Weird Sisters Publishing dealers table with all four of our books. We’ll also have a new member of the Gephardt clan at the con: my husband Pascal. My son Ty and I have traveled to sf cons for many years, while Pascal has always had obligations elsewhere.

But here’s the thing. Pascal is the lark among us night owls – the family’s Designated Morning Person. A lot of the Dealers Room schedule happens before 1:00 p.m., which means that someone has to be awake then to run it! Add to that the fact that he’s got years of experience traveling to art shows and Renaissance festivals with our friend Randal Spangler, and he was doomed to be drafted for this role!

Of course we’ll bring our own books: Mine are, as noted above, The Other Side of Fear, What’s Bred in the Bone, and A Bone to Pick. We’ll also have copies of my sister G. S. Norwood’s book Deep Ellum Duet, which includes both of her “Deep Ellum” novelettes, Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues. But wait! There’s more! Speaking of Randy, he’s among the “Kansas City Writer Friends” whose books we’ll be offering at our table. It’s a way to expand our range of offerings and give our friends access to a new market (not to mention we earn a commission while we’re at it).

Weird Sisters Publishing Presents Books by Jan S. Gephardt and G. S. Norwood, plus Books by Kansas City Writer Friends Lynette M. Burrows, M. C. Chambers, Dora Furlong, Karin Rita Gastreich, Randal Spangler.
All cover images are courtesy of the authors, their publishers, or Amazon.

Our Kansas City Writer Friends

The covers of books by our “Kansas City Writer Friends” in the illustration above represent books that we’ll offer at our table. By Lynette M. Burrows, we’ll bring dystopian alternate history sf novels from the Fellowship Dystopian Series. They are Fellowship, My Soul to Keep, and If I Should Die. By M. C. Chambers, we’ll have fantasy books Midsummer Storm (romance novelette) and Shapers’ Veil (novel). By Dora Furlong, a science fiction novella titled One of Our Own.

In addition we’ll have the Silver Web Trilogy fantasy novels by Karin Rita Gastreich. They are Eolyn, Sword of Shadows, and Daughter of Aithne. And, as noted above, from Randal Spangler we’ll have hardcover, full-color children’s books D is for Draglings written with Lauren K. Duncan, and The Draglings Bedtime Story. Not shown in the illustration (because I couldn’t make it fit), we’ll also offer The Draglings Coloring Book.

All in all, things definitely will be different at DemiCon 34. But then, change is the most constant thing about our lives. I’d love to see you at the convention. If you can’t make it, I plan to publish a follow-up after we get back so you’ll know how it went. And here’s hoping one thing that doesn’t change is having a fun and creative weekend at another year’s DemiCon!

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to the DemiCon Facebook Page for a good pic of their header. All of the artwork in the paper sculpture sampler is mine, shown in a montage I made, from photos I took. All of it is © by Jan S. Gephardt. If you should choose to repost it, please do so with a link back and attribution, if possible.

As for the photos of me at conventions through the decades: I don’t think I was ever sure who took the “historical documents” that show me at ConQuesT in 1985 and 2012, but I can identify my fellow panelists. In the 1985 photo they are L-R: Dell Harris, Ken Keller, me, and the late Roland Schmidt, my former co-teacher and a fantasy watercolorist. Might note that’s my calligraphy on the name cards, in an era before desktop printing made them easy to print.

In the 2012 photo that’s me on the left. Tracy S. Morris sits in the middle with her book Bride of Tranquility. At the right is fellow Kansas City writer, artist, and longtime sf fan Sherri Dean. I owe Tyrell Gephardt thanks for photo of me, masked up behind my then-current collection of signs, books, and S.W.A.G. at Archon 43 (2019).

For the fourth illustration, I am indebted to the authors, their publishers, or Amazon, for the cover images of our Kansas City Writer Friends’s books (see their embedded links in the text of this post). The design is mine.

“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!

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Not in My Neighborhood

By Jan S. Gephardt

“Not in my neighborhood!” I’m sure you’ve heard this characteristic cry of property owners almost everywhere. It’s a near-universal protective reflex when anything new or even potentially threatening appears on the horizon.

And there are times when it’s thoroughly justifiable. After all, the vast majority of us are persons of limited means. If we don’t protect and steward the value of things we own, who will? If our property value goes down too much, our home or other property can turn into more of a liability than an asset.

So, for example, if we don’t raise a stink a rumor that someone wants to install a landfill near our local school, we could be in trouble. Pretty soon there’ll be a stink on our kids and on our spring breezes. If we don’t make some noise about a “party house” where they blare loud music all night, we might lose our sleep and our hearing in the resulting din. And in either case, our neighborhood will suffer.

“We must do more to protect our neighborhoods and give integrity to our community plans.” – Alan Autry
Many thanks to AZ Quotes.

“Not in My Neighborhood” and Inequality

But “not in my neighborhood” isn’t always possible. That’s because what it actually means is “somewhere else.” So, for all too many of us, it’s okay if someone else’s neighborhood is trashed, just as long as ours isn’t? My country – indeed, my own home city – offers many cases in point, both from history and in the present.

That’s because the power to say “not in my neighborhood” doesn’t belong to everyone. No matter how “equal” we try to convince ourselves we are. It never has. In the United States, as I write this, dramatic economic inequality colors every aspect of our lives and the way we live. “Not in my neighborhood” currently finds some of its expression in gated communities. Some of it comes with gentrification. And it often finds expression that results in environmental injustices.

Historically, “not in my neighborhood” is the very heart and soul of redlining. That’s a now-illegal lending and real estate practiced that very successfully segregated our cities. Its legacy lingers today. But it’s a concept our kids are unlikely to learn if we live in certain states that have restricted academic freedom and the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

"If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighborhoods." -- Harvey Milk
Thanks again, AZ Quotes!

How “Not in My Neighborhood” can Cause Enduring Harm

Redlining by real estate developers such as J. C. Nichols in Kansas City created cascading results we still see today. By figuratively but quantifiably “walling off” parts of the metro area from each other, these practices guaranteed division. You can still see stark differences from one block to the next in my home town.

When they systematically invested money in some, while actively barring investment in others, they guaranteed harsh divisions between rich and poor areas. They chose to bless some with fertile ground to prosper, while they monetarily “salted the earth” in others to make sure they stayed poor. This not only impacted personal wealth – we also see it in schools, health outcomes, and many other compounding effects.

Income and racial disparities from redlining and similar practices left a mark. They made it possible for developers of the US interstate highway system to target Black and brown neighborhoods. Those “lower value” zones became the ones literally plowed under and paved over. The social chaos from that simple, cruel solution still haunts many cities today.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
Many thanks to QuoteFancy.

Righting Old Wrongs

The statutes that enabled redlining have since been declared illegal and unconstitutional, but the disparities persist. Johnson County, KS was the “favored land” in the Nichols vision – read that white and Christian only. No Jews need apply, and certainly no Black people back then. Our local officials and state legislators are still trying to eradicate all of the old, racist language from housing covenants. Legally, that’s been a lot harder than it should be.

Rectifying historic wrongs will take a lot more than erasing old language, however. The harder work is fighting persistent biases and historic patterns. In my town there’s a common understanding about which are the “good” or “safe” neighborhoods, and which are the “bad parts of town.” Cultural memory persists. To this day, some of my neighbors actively fear going into “the wrong parts of town.”

Unfortunately, avoidance doesn’t usually breed either an appetite to do something about it, or the individual means to do so. And heaven forbid we should suggest anything as radical as reparations! Most of those selfsame neighbors are still stuck in the “that was then, this is now” mindset of people afraid of losing their historic advantages.

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” — Nelson Mandela
Many thanks to GoodGoodGood!

How “Not in My Neighborhood” Creates a Toxic Stew

Those disadvantaged, redlined communities also have borne the brunt of environmental injustice. Because they are poor (as well as often poorly-educated, hungry, over-scheduled by juggling multiple low-wage jobs, and ill), they don’t wield a lot of clout in municipal decisions. The working poor are almost never at the table when zoning changes that impact them are made.

Thus, we have situations such as the one in Brownsville, Texas, where Native Americans (another historically restricted and dispossessed group) have been fighting to preserve their heritage in the face of environmental destruction. We have activists from a Black neighborhood in South Charleston, WV, struggling for decades to contain the pollution from a Union Carbide plant. Or poor neighbors in Catawba, SC, fighting pollution from a paper mill. And don’t forget residents of the Wilmington Neighborhood in Los Angeles, struggling with pollution from oil refineries.

Where does it stop? How do we change and improve? Environmental destruction impacts poor neighborhoods first, but as the residents of East Palestine, OH have discovered, pollution can happen anywhere, anytime, with no warning. You also can ask people in Washington County, KS about that. Those folks all can attest that “not in my neighborhood” only goes so far.

Environmental injustice is a tangible, intolerable example of exhibited moral laxity and minimal concern for healthy standards by corporations and political structures based on the race, ethnicity, and class of those being impacted.” – Bernice King
Thanks again to GoodGoodGood!

Reconsidering “Not in My Neighborhood”

This post has been long on problems and short on practical solutions. That’s partly because few of the difficulties I’ve highlighted are easy-to-fix issues. Hidden danger lurks in only focusing on the “low-hanging fruit” – the easy fixes. Simple-minded solutions to complex issues aren’t solutions at all. They just defer the inevitable (and possibly attempt to shift blame).

If we habitually look at life as a zero-sum game where someone must by definition be a “loser,” we’ve not only taken a morally bankrupt approach. We’ve also set ourselves up for later grief. I write science fiction about an imaginary place far from earth. But through it I often try to re-imagine how solutions to clear and present problems might be solved – and what those solutions might look like.

Here in the present, our neighborhood is increasingly connected to everyone else’s neighborhood. All-or-nothing “solutions” are not helpful at all. It takes creativity to look at complex problems in new ways. It takes ingenuity and determination to craft new, better answers to the problems born of inequity, pollution, and systemic injustice.

In the final analysis, “Not in My Neighborhood” doesn’t truly fix anything. Not unless it transforms into “Not in Anybody’s Neighborhood.”

IMAGE CREDITS

As noted in the cutlines under the illustrations, for this post I’m grateful to AZ Quotes, QuoteFancy, and the wonderful post full of “Quotes about Justice to Inspire Positive Change” from GoodGoodGood.

Covers for Jan's three "Cops in Space" books, "The Other Side of Fear," "What's Bred in the Bone," and "A Bone to PIck."

What should police do?

By Jan S. Gephardt

We rarely think to ask a fundamental question: what should police do? What part should they play in a multicultural, representational democracy? The ubiquity of police forces around the world argues that many societies believe police do have a role in civilized life. But what – exactly – should it be?

As a novelist whose primary characters are science fictional detectives, I am in an unusual position, both to ask and to answer this question. But I believe it’s also a question everyone should ask. Especially every citizen in a representational, multicultural democracy.

Why should we ask? Isn’t the answer to that question obvious? Well, no. We’ve all grown up “pre-loaded” with conscious and unconscious attitudes and understandings of what police officers and police forces do, and why they exist. But clearly, those seldom-examined attitudes and understandings aren’t leading to very good outcomes. Not in much of the world. And certainly not here in the United States.

"Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They've got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law." - Barack Obama.
Many thanks to BrainyQuote.

Asking as a Novelist

One of the best things science fiction does is hold up a mirror to society. If you think about it, all fiction does that in a certain way, because all fiction is a reflection of our experiences of life. I’ve written elsewhere about the role of the novelist in society. And yes, a fundamental aspect of our work is purely to produce entertainment.

But it’s not the only aspect. I would (and frequently do) argue that it may not even be the most important aspect, particularly in the realm of science fiction. That’s because science fiction is all about thought experiments.

When we start asking “what if?” a whole multiverse of possibilities opens up. What if a recent scientific discovery led to a new technological breakthrough? How would that change the world we live in? What if our society continues on its current course in this aspect, what might the future look like? How would our world change? How would we react?

So, as a novelist who writes about police in a future society, I must ask “What Should Police Do?”

"My role as a novelist is to explore ideas and imagination, and hopefully that will inspire people from my world to continue dreaming and to believe in dreams." - Alexis Wright.
Thanks again, BrainyQuote!

Asking as a Citizen

But I’m also a citizen: of the world, and also specifically of my country and community. I’m a taxpayer, a voter, a member of “the public.” I can be sliced and diced out and defined demographically, culturally, and any other way you choose. Mother. Wife. Daughter. Woman. Educated. Teacher (retired). Middle class. United Methodist. White. Senior citizen. Democrat. Science fiction fangirl. Creative person. Animal lover. Multiculturalist. I am all of those things and more.

And as that complex, multi-aspect creature, I bring all of my experiences, understandings, and biases into my role as a responsible adult in contemporary society. For me, that involves an active interest in news and politics. I have formed some rather strong opinions over the course of my life. Each day I refine them or adjust them or reinforce them as I receive and process information.

I see it as my right – indeed, my responsibility – as a citizen to ask if my government and community leaders are representing me and governing in a way I think is appropriate. Are they respecting and honoring values I share? If they’re not, then I have a right to question them, and to seek better representation. As do we all.

This means, as a citizen in contemporary society, I must ask “What Should Police Do?”

"Each day, millions of police officers do the selfless work of putting their lives on the line to protect civilians, frequently responding to or preventing crises completely with no recognition." - Letitia James
You’re now 3-0, BrainyQuote!

What Do We Ask Police To Do?

We currently ask police to fill a wide range of roles. “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said in a 2016 interview by the Washington Post. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. … Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. … That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

I tend to agree with Chief Brown. As a teacher, I learned all too much about the many things our communities want to dump in the laps of their public servants. Usually while also underpaying them, restricting their operating budgets, and asking them to do work they never trained or signed up for. I get it, and I agree.

But what problems are the police meant to solve? Unlike some observers on the leftward end of the spectrum, I do believe there is a role for police in society. Unlike some observers on the rightward end of the spectrum, I don’t believe we will ever be well served by our current system. Certainly not when it’s focused on criminalizing poverty and mental illness. Not when it majors on crackdowns on minority populations and small offenders. And certainly not when it perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline.

This graph charts United States crime clearance rates in 2020, the most recent year for which the statistics are available. “Murder and nonnegligent homicide:54.4%. Aggravated assault: 46.6%. Violent crime: 41.7%. Rape: 30.6%. Robbery: 28.8%. Arson: 21.5%. Larceny-theft: 15.1%. Property crime: 14.6%. Burglary: 14.%. Motor vehicle theft: 12.3%”
Graphic ©2023 by Statistia.

What Problems WERE Police Meant to Solve?

If you were to ask the average “person on the street” this question, they’d probably say “Solve crimes,” or maybe “keep public order,” or perhaps “enforce the law.” Fair enough. So, how well are they doing?

Let’s take that first one, “solve crimes.” A look at the crime clearance rates (percentages of crimes that are cleared in a given year) is downright discouraging. “Clearance rate,” by the way, does not mean the full Law & Order-style litany of captured, charged, tried, and convicted. No, “clearance” means at least one person has been arrested and charged, or it means the probable perpetrator(s) are identified, but outside circumstances make arresting and charging them impossible. For two examples, circumstances could include that they died. Or maybe they’re in another country from which we can’t extradite them. Stuff does happen sometimes.

Clearance rates vary by the type of crime. But according to Statistia.com the only type that gets solved more than half the time in the USA is “murder and non-negligent homicide.” The clearance rate for that is 54.4%.

Flunking Crime-Solving

Think about it. That’s only a bit better than a 50-50 chance that any given murder will be solved. If I were grading a test and my student made a 54.4% on it, their grade would be an F (On a normal grading scale, 0-60% = an F). And that’s the best they do! You want them to solve your burglary? Sorry to tell you, but you have only a 14% chance that the perpetrator will be caught and charged with the crime. Someone stole your truck? Oh, dear. You only have a 12.3% chance they’ll ever arrest the thief.

So, basically, police in the United States flunk at crime-solving. Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons, and many of them are tied up in the other answers to the question “What should police do?”

"When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe." - Mary Frances Berry
Thanks yet again, BrainyQuote!

What Should Police Do to “Serve and Protect”?

What does “keep public order,” “enforce the law,” or “protect people” look like, when it’s happening? Does “keeping public order” mean bulldozing camps of unhoused persons? Or imposing a curfew on a small population’s free movement during a specific part of the day or in a specific place? Does it mean beating or injuring protesters? The words “keeping public order” have been used to justify all of those actions.

On the other hand, it also could mean directing traffic away from an accident. Maybe it means repelling a violent insurrection from the Capitol. And it could mean shielding a person who has not been convicted of any crime from a lynch mob that wants to kill them. It’s an umbrella phrase, broad and nonspecific enough to be both used and abused.

Standards Without Clarification

And in the end, it’s not a very helpful standard without further clarification. The seemingly obvious “protect people” brings the same host of issues when we try to apply it to specific cases. Which people are the police to protect? From whom or what? In a racist, sexist society (don’t kid yourself: that’s this one), how many ways could that go wrong?

“Enforce the law” is only deceptively “more specific.” Does that mean “enforce all the laws, all the time?” By that standard, most of us should be, or should have been, arrested at many points in our lives.

People are fallible. There are times when we’re sick and can’t cut the noxious weeds in our front yard. Or we’re forgetful and only notice later that our driver’s license has expired. Perhaps we’re tired or in a hurry, so we jaywalked when we saw an opening, instead of walking down to the corner and waiting for the lights to change. Minor traffic violations, legally carrying a gun, or simply walking down the street have resulted in citizens being killed by police in the name of “enforcing the law.”

"Accountability for police officers should be an expectation, not an aberration." - Alex Padilla
You rock, BrainyQuote!

Okay, so: What SHOULD Police Do?

As we’ve seen, that’s a really problematic question! But, both as a citizen and as a novelist, I want to find better answers to it. I cannot endorse a blanket approach such as “abolish the police.” I’m not a fan of “defund,” either. Neither of those represent where I think this conversation should go.

On the other hand, a thoroughgoing interrogation of that “what should police do?” question isn’t going to deal kindly with old-school “cop culture.” Not with many contemporary police training techniques and approaches, either. Nor even with a fair number of contemporary laws and standards.

Yes, dear reader, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m cueing up a series of blog posts on this topic. I’m not sure how long it’ll be. Considering our upcoming publication schedule, it most definitely won’t be every single post for the next umpty-dozen times without a break!

But over the next few months, I propose to take up one aspect of “what should police do?” at a time. I’ll examine how it’s currently being handled in the USA, survey the critiques, and then explain “how we handle it on Rana Station” and why I think that might work better. I hope you’ll find the series interesting.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to BrainyQuote (what would I have done without you for this post?) and Statistia.

Two photos of “Harvey” – later renamed Slater – taken at the Collin County, Texas Animal Shelter.

The Definition of “Dog”

By G. S. Norwood

I love dogs. When I was growing up, we always had at least one dog around the house. Penny, my mother’s dog during my childhood, was my earliest definition of “Dog.” She died at the ripe old age of 16. After that, the dogs were mine. Penny was followed by Burr, a collie mix, then Finnian, an Irish setter. Then Lightfoot—who went to live with Jan—and Nigel, K.D., Bashō, Liam, . . . you get the idea.

Four dogs from the family’s past – 2 from the Norwood side and 2 from the Gephardts – all have those distinctive black-and-white markings. Also included: a painting by Lucy A. Synk of Jan’s fictional XK9 mates Elle and Tuxedo, reveals that they look extraordinarily like a red border collie and a black-and-white one.
Our “once and future definition of ‘dog’” is clear to see. At top, Bashō (with cat Ella) and Liam nap in the Weatherford, Texas home of Warren and G.S. Norwood in the ‘00s. Left bottom are Wolf (Ty Gephardt’s dog) and Cole (originally Grandma Janet’s dog, but at that point the dog of Signy Gephardt). Bottom R a sweeping view of Jan S. Gephardt’s fictional Sirius River Valley on Rana Station forms the backdrop for a romp by XK9 mates Elle and Tuxedo (who bear a striking resemblance to a red border collie and a “classic” black-and-white border collie) in a painting ©2020-2022 by Lucy A. Synk. (See full credits below).

My Mother’s Dog

But Liam taught me something I just hadn’t figured out with the other dogs. Liam was a seven-year-old border collie who clearly had professional herding experience when he fetched up on my doorstep. My mother had just lost her long-time pup, and I thought she might like Liam. Penny, that dog of my childhood, had been a border collie and she was the best dog ever, according to Mom.

Penny had belonged to neighbors back when Mom was pregnant with Jan. Through the long, humid summer, in the days before air conditioning, Mom spent her afternoons in her relatively cool garage, reading and resting. Often Penny, left outdoors and not confined, came over to keep her company. Mom and Penny bonded. Then, one day, Penny disappeared. Mom learned that the neighbors, tired of a dog they never paid attention to, had dumped her out in the country.

Two weeks later Penny came back—not to the neighbors who had neglected and abused her, but to Mom. My mother promptly went next door to inform her neighbors that Penny had returned, but she was no longer their dog. Mom claimed her, as Penny claimed Mom. The two of them remained loyal to each other through two children, three moves, a crumbling marriage, and all the rest. Along the way, Jan and I grew up with a strongly imprinted archetype. In the deepest parts of our brains, “Dog” equaled a black and white border collie. I didn’t fully understand this until I saw Liam, and realized he was the definition of “Dog” for me.

Four views of G.’s black-and-white border collie Liam, two from his old age and one with a tiny black kitten.
The dog who taught G. her definition of “dog” was Liam, seen here in four different stages of his life. (All photos courtesy of author G. S. Norwood).

The Definition of “Dog”

Since that time, I have only looked at border collies. I first noticed Tam at an adoption event because he had border collie lines. He turned out to be a border collie/golden retriever mix. After Liam died, I started volunteering with a border collie rescue group.

Chess was my first foster, and first foster fail. Zoe was the dog I was really looking for—a classic black and white female like Penny—and Kata . . . Well, okay, Kata looks like a smooth-coated sable border collie if you get her in the right light. She was stranded at a high-kill rural Texas shelter and got classified as “border collie enough” so she could get out of there. The four of them became my Texas Pack.

Clockwise: Zoe, Chess, Kata and Tam in a photo montage that has appeared on this blog before.
Until recently, this was G.S. Norwood’s “Texas Pack,” described in loving detail in an earlier blog post. (See credits below).

An Opening in the Pack

Back in October, however, Tam, at age 13, lost his battle with lymphoma. His passing left a huge hole in the Texas Pack but opened up space for me to start fostering again. I wasn’t eager to get another dog, but I did check the shelters for border collies from time to time.

Which is how, in mid-November, I happened onto a photo of a sweet young border collie boy who looked like he was smart, a little wary, and more than ready to get the heck out of my local dog pound. Those big brown eyes hooked me, with his direct gaze and knowing attitude. I called my current rescue group’s coordinator. She said it was okay if I wanted to evaluate him, but she warned that she didn’t think we had any fosters available.

Three photos of Tam on a “rainbow river” background image.
G.’s dog Tam recently crossed the proverbial “Rainbow Bridge,” but she got some great photos of him while she had him. Here are three of the best. (See credits below).

Harvey Needs Help

I went to the shelter anyway. Once I saw the overcrowded conditions, I knew this dog—shelter named Harvey—needed rescue. It seemed everyone in my county had decided to surrender their pandemic pups in time to have a dog-free home for the holidays. I like my local shelter. The folks there do a good job of keeping it clean, treating the animals well, and moving them through without euthanizing healthy animals to create more space. But they were bursting at the seams, and crating dogs in the hallways. They needed some help to clear the shelter before Christmas.

The shelter worker was happy to show me to Harvey’s kennel. He seemed to be a calm, friendly dog. I asked to meet him in a private space and was led to an outdoor exercise pen. When the shelter worker brought Harvey out, she warned that he hadn’t been out all day, and was a little slow to warm up. As if he knew why I was there, Harvey came directly to where I sat and put his head in my lap for a friendly meet-and-cuddle before he trotted off to do his business like a house-trained guy who had been holding it for a while.

I knew right then I was not leaving this dog behind. I called the rescue coordinator again and offered to foster him through the holidays, until she could find a long-term place for him.

Two photos of “Harvey” – later renamed Slater – taken at the Collin County, Texas Animal Shelter.
These two animal shelter photos piqued G.’s interest in learning more about “Harvey.” (Photos via G. S. Norwood from Collin County (TX) Animal Services).

Harvey Goes Home

How could she refuse an offer like that? Harvey left the shelter with me—then spent fifteen minutes refusing to load into my car. Apparently getting into cars meant strange, bad things were about to happen.

Once home I discovered that the recently-neutered Harvey still had the urge to do a lot of territorial marking. Which spurred the long-neutered, completely house-trained Chess to mark his territory right back. Great. But we made it through Thanksgiving week, which included a lot of outrage from the cats and an emergency trip to my vet to treat the upper respiratory infection Harvey had picked up at the shelter.

It also included a name change. Rescue groups handle a lot of dogs, but we try not to repeat names, so we always know which dog we’re talking about. They can’t all be Zoe, Molly, or Max. This guy couldn’t be Harvey, either, since the group had already had a Harvey. And a Shiloh. And a Dylan. I dug out my name book and he became Slater.

A large photo of Slater in his “forever home” back yard is surrounded by smaller photos of his canine and feline housemates Kata, Ella, Gift, Chess, and Zoe, underlain by a fabric pattern of cartoon grey squirrels and the words “Squirrel Patrol.”
Slater (center) now lives in a new domain with canine housemates (L-R) Kata, Zoe, and Chess, as well as felines (L-R) Ella and Gift. Ever vigilant, he enjoys his new “Squirrel Patrol” duties. (See credits below).

Slater Meets the World

And eventually—probably inevitably—he became Slater Norwood. The cats are still adjusting, but the rest of the pack has agreed to tolerate this new guy. Slater is slowly coming out of his shelter shock and learning the ropes of his new life: pottying happens outdoors, it’s okay to cuddle on the bed, but he can’t chase the cats. Ever.

He is discovering squirrels. He is learning his new name, and that he really should come when I call him. Things are starting to make sense to him. One thing he definitely knows is that I am a kind person who will reassure him if he gets confused and love him even when he transgresses.

Border collies are smart about things like that. That’s one reason why they are my definition of “Dog.” As Jan so wisely observed, our mother would have loved him.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to G. S. Norwood and Jan S. Gephardt, who provided nearly all of the photos for this post. The montages are all Jan S. Gephardt’s fault.

We would like to thank Lucy A. Synk for her wonderful painting ©2020-2022 of XK9s Elle and Tuxedo at play on a meadow high above Rana Station’s Sirius River Valley (characters from Jan S. Gephardt’s XK9 novels). Our gratitude goes to Evgenii Lashchenov and 123rf as well, for the “Multicolored-Magical-Rainbow-River” digital illustration that provides a backdrop for the “Memorial to Tam.”

We deeply appreciate Collin County Animal Services for the two photos of Slater when he was known as “Harvey” and was up for adoption. And we’re very grateful to Jessica Prout of Little Arrow Design via Spoonflower, for the cute “Squirrel Patrol” fabric pattern for the “Slater in His Domain” montage. Prout’s design is available in fat quarters or yardage on Spoonflower.

“The shortest day—the longest darkness—takes place in a cold season when everything lies fallow. In the earliest ages, it was a time of privation, often of hunger, of death. A sort of nadir for the year.” – From “Berwyn’s Solstice Story,” in “A Bone to Pick” ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. The words appear against a black background. At lower left, a single red candle burns in a darkened environment sprinkled with small red holiday lights among a drift of sparkly red confetti.

Berwyn’s Solstice Story

By Jan S. Gephardt

I hope you’ll enjoy something a little different for today’s blog post, Berwyn’s Solstice Story. This post goes live on the exact day of the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere where this blog, Artdog Studio, and Weird Sisters Publishing are based. So it seemed an appropriate time to share it.

This excerpt comes near the end of A Bone to Pick, the second novel of my science fiction mystery XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. It is ©2021-22 by Jan S. Gephardt (aka: Me), so please don’t borrow it without attribution or claim it as your own work! Fair warning: I have edited it slightly from the book version in a few places. I did it to make a few references clearer and take out a couple of spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet.

The viewpoint character is the Trilogy’s protagonist, Rex Dieter-Nell. He is an XK9, an uplifted (human-level intelligence) police dog. He, his Pack of nine other XK9s, and their human (detective) partners live on a large space station in another star system from ours, several hundred years in the future. It’s their job to track down the mass murderers who blew up a ship that had been docked in their jurisdiction’s part of the Rana Station space docks.

XK9 Pack portrait “Head Shot” illustrations for Razor, Shady, and Rex – the three XK9s in this story. Artwork ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk.
I don’t (yet) have appropriate portraits to share of the three humans who play a part in this scene. The three XK9s in this sequence are (L-R): Razor, Shady, and Rex. Artwork ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

Setting the Scene

This excerpt takes place in the specialized clinic that fulfills the Pack members’ health care needs. At this point in the story, we’ve had some wounded in action. I can’t say more without giving spoilers, but I hope you’ll enjoy Berwyn’s Solstice Story:

The retreat room was small, narrow, and pretty much maxed out, once three humans and three XK9s had squeezed themselves inside. Humans Berwyn, Shiv, and Liz all smiled a greeting, while Razor wagged his tail.

“Rex. Shady. Wow,” Berwyn said. “Would you like to observe the Solstice with us?”

“We came to wait with you,” Rex said.

“Then please join us. I was explaining to the others . . . What do you know about Solstice?”

“It is an astronomical phenomenon observable on many planets,” Rex said. “If there are seasonal variations in the length of daylight and darkness, then the longest and shortest days are solstices, and the days which are divided equally between darkness and light are equinoxes.”

Berwyn’s smile held a trace of sadness. “You sound like Cinnamon, when I first explained it to her.”

“We all attended the same planetary astronomy class,” Shady said.

“Well, let me tell you about the way my Family observes the Solstice.” He gestured toward a low table in the center of the room. Someone had placed a lighted, mostly-burned candle on it, next to a tall, new, unburned one.

Both appeared to be the same brownish-dark-gray tone to Rex. Humans probably saw them as one of the colors XK9s couldn’t distinguish, such as red or green. Between them, a small case pad ticked a silent countdown.

“The shortest day—the longest darkness—takes place in a cold season when everything lies fallow. In the earliest ages, it was a time of privation, often of hunger, of death. A sort of nadir for the year.” – From “Berwyn’s Solstice Story,” in “A Bone to Pick” ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. The words appear against a black background. At lower left, a single red candle burns in a darkened environment sprinkled with small red holiday lights  among a drift of sparkly red confetti.
Candle image is courtesy of Paula Onysko’s blog post “Light a Candle Ritual for Winter Solstice.” Words & design are ©2021-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Berwyn’s Solstice Story

“My Family follows an ancient tradition that observed these variations on Mother Earth and found spiritual meaning in them. The shortest day—the longest darkness—takes place in a cold season there, when everything lies fallow. In the earliest ages, it was a time of privation, often of hunger, of death. A sort of nadir for the year.” Berwyn stared at the flickering candle flame for a moment. “This year, I’ve been able to very personally relate.”

“Oh, man, I hear you!” Liz’s eyes brimmed with tears. She reached over to squeeze Berwyn’s shoulder. Shiv clasped Berwyn’s hand. He did not speak, but he looked almost as haggard as Berwyn and Liz.

Rex’s throat tightened. Having almost lost his partner Charlie just a few weeks ago, he thought he understood some of what they must feel. Shady nuzzled him.

“But at the end of every ‘longest dark,’ the light begins to return,” Berwyn said. “It starts at that very moment when darkness and cold seem to conquer the world. The light comes back. The warmth begins to grow. New hope rises up, and the faith that things will get better.”

He looked at Liz, Razor and Rex. “We will heal and grow stronger.”

He met Shady’s eyes. “We will rise again to new heights.”

He turned to Shiv. “Unexpected new things may . . . may dare to take root.” The fearful hope in both men’s faces and scent factors filled Rex’s heart with empathic, joyful yearning and set Shady’s tail to thumping.

Berwyn drew in a breath. “Oh. It’s already later than I thought. In my Family, it’s our tradition to extinguish the old year’s candle at 23:50, which is .… now.” He blew out the candle.

“We extinguish the old year’s candle . . . Our tradition is to banish distractions, sit in silence, and let our minds find a centering peace.” – From “Berwyn’s Solstice Story,” in “A Bone to Pick” ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. Smoke from a blown-out red candle at lower left drifts upward and to the right on a black background.
Candle photo by Vit Krajicek/123rf. Words & design are ©2021-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Darkness

The Retreat room went pitch dark.

“Our tradition is to banish distractions, sit in silence, and let our minds find a centering peace.”

No one answered. Six hearts beat quietly, although at different rhythms. Six presences breathed in and out. Rex noted that more than one ran a breathing pattern of the sort he’d learned from Charlie. Liz shifted in her seat. An itch prickled along his right shoulder blade. He lifted a hind paw to scratch it, then refrained. Stilled himself. The itch burned a moment or two longer, then died.

They abided in silence.

Gradually, their breathing fell into a common rhythm. Their heartbeats slowly synchronized, too. The humans couldn’t consciously hear it, but somehow they also attuned.

A deep calmness and peace fell over Rex. A sense of oneness with his companions, and of resting after strife. He abided in the moment, content.

Soft bells chimed. They grew louder, a building carillon. They crescendoed into joyous, triumphant peals. The bells seemed to say, Darkness is banished. Light will prevail. Things will get better! Rejoice!

The sound broke over him, balm for his heart. Light and hope for his mind and spirit.

A scratch and a flare of flame. Sharp bite of burning struck his nose. Berwyn lit the new candle, then touched his case pad. The bells faded out. “Nadir has passed. The light is returning.”

On a black background, the words read: “It starts at that very moment when darkness and cold seem to conquer the world. The light comes back. The warmth begins to grow. New hope rises up, and the faith that things will get better.” – From “Berwyn’s Solstice Story,” in A Bone to Pick ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. At right, a tall new red taper candle burns in darkness.
The taper candle image is courtesy of Stone Candles. The words & design are ©2021-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Nadir has Passed

“The light is returning,” Shiv murmured.

Berwyn straightened. “The light is returning, indeed.” He sat back with a sigh and a smile. “Thank you. Thank you, all of you. I thought I’d be doing this alone.” His dark eyes glistened with excess moisture.

Shiv shook his head. Gave Berwyn’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Not alone. Not tonight.”

“I know I needed to be here,” Liz said. “Thank you. Thank you for sharing this with us.”

Razor dipped his head. “Very much. That was amazing.”

Berwyn’s gaze swept the room. “Solstice blessings abound.”

I sincerely hope you enjoyed Berwyn’s Solstice Story. If it has sparked your interest in learning more about the series, click this link. For more about A Bone to Pick, click the link in the title.

If you’d like to read more short fiction about the XK9s and their people, you might enjoy a FREE subscription to my monthly Newsletter. Signing up for the Newsletter also scores you a FREE ebook copy of my prequel novella, The Other Side of Fear. In case you’re wondering – no, the Trilogy’s not done yet, and yes – I’m writing as fast as I can! Bone of Contention is scheduled for publication in September 2023.

Two visualizations of “A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt: at left the ebook cover is shown on a tablet. At right “A Bone to Pick” is visualized as a fat trade paperback. Below the two pictures a line of type reads: “Cover art ©2020 by Jody A. Lee.
This story is an excerpt ©2021-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt from her novel A Bone to Pick. It’s the second book of the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The cover artwork is ©2020 by Jody A. Lee.

IMAGE CREDITS

I have a lot of people to thank for the images in this post. First of all to my dear friend and frequent illustration source, Lucy A. Synk, I want to lift up a hearty “thank you!” If you’d like to see more of her amazing artwork, check out her website and her Facebook page!

Likewise, I want to thank another longtime friend, Jody A. Lee, who does such a stellar job on the cover art for the “Bones” Trilogy. That’s her work on A Bone to Pick. You also might enjoy her website, Facebook page, and (while there’s still a Twitter) her Twitter feed.

The other sources are considerably more varied. I’ve credited them in the cutlines under the pictures, but here’s a rundown, for the record. Much gratitude to Paula Onysko’s blog post “Light a Candle Ritual for Winter Solstice,” for the candle photo used in the first candle picture with the opening quote from Berwyn’s Solstice Story. You also might enjoy reading Paula’s suggestions for a different kind of solstice candle ritual.

Deepest thanks to Vit Krajicek and 123rf for the evocative photo of the smoke from the blown-out candle in the second from that sequence. And I also thank Stone Candles for their photo of one of their beautiful red taper candles, used in the third candle-with-quote image. I deeply appreciate all!

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