Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Almost Perfect

Brian and the cover of “Almost Perfect.”

Almost Perfect Except . . .

By Brian Katcher

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

The Almost Perfect Story

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

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

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

Research and Early Responses

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

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

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

Delayed Reaction

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

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

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

Brian’s Self-Critique

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

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

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

Pitfalls and the Creative Process

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

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

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

IMAGES

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

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

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

Authors of Archon 44

By Jan S. Gephardt

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

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

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

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

Panel Discussions with the Authors of Archon 44

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

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

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

Developing Your Creative Brand

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

Cole’s Experience

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

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

Brian’s Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inevitable Question

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

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

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

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

The Space Races

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

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

Alternative Views

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

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

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

Sustainable Creativity

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

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

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

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

Virtual Pros and Cons

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

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

A Tale of Two Publishing Experiences

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

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

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

The One Reading I Did Go To!

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

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

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

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

What did the Others Read?

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

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

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

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS

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

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