Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Archon 44

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.

The Archon 44 Art Show entrance and Jan’s display.

Artists at Archon 44

By Jan S. Gephardt

If I may judge from my own experience, it was a pretty good weekend for artists at Archon 44. There was only a little space left over in the Art Show, but not much. And there was a nice variety of media and art styles represented.

The Artists’/Creators’ Alley looked full and busy to me, even though the overall crowd was definitely smaller this year. It seemed as if people had been cooped up for close to two years, saving their money to buy things. For me, the highlight of this part of the show was the chance to meet and talk with the gifted illustrator Jennifer Stolzer. Her wonderful artwork may find its way into a Weird Sisters publication someday!

And, as is normal at Archon, there was a pretty full track of Art Programming. The audiences were a little smaller, but I was delighted to find they were eager to engage. We had some great panels. Yes, on the whole it seemed to be a very good weekend for artists at Archon 44.

Archon 44 Art Show entrance and Jan’s display.
Here’s a glimpse of the Archon 44 Art Show being set up, plus a photo of Jan S. Gephardt’s Archon 44 paper sculpture display. (Jan S. Gephardt).

The Art Show

For many artists, especially those who don’t have a booth in the Artists’ Alley or Dealers’ Room, the Art Show is an important event. For quite a few years in the past, the late Michelle Zellich presided as Art Show Director, but the committee lost a beloved friend and an incredible resource when Michelle passed away in June.

Artist Anna Mulch took the helm this year, and really put in a good effort. I feel quite certain (having been a first-time Art Show Director myself, a decade ago) that she and her staff came out of the weekend exhausted and stressed. But from my perspective as a participating artist, the show went well and seemed smoothly-organized.

Although some conventions have an Artists’ Reception on Friday of the con (designed to lure people into the show), that hasn’t been a recent tradition at Archon. Instead, most experienced Archon attendees know to come in for the voting and the bidding.

Craig Skaggs and Tai Taeoalii.
At left, Craig Skaggs with his Artists’ Alley display. At right, Tai Taeoalii’s Artist Guest of Honor photo (Jan S. Gephardt/Archon 44).

Award-Winning Artists at Archon 44

This year’s Artist Guest of Honor was Tai Taeoalii, whom the convention’s organizers spotted at an art fair (once you’ve seen his work, it’s hard to forget).

He had several large works on display near the front. My favorite of his works on display (and also the winner of the Fans’ Choice Award) was An Epic Versus of Classics. His Alternate Labyrinth received the Art Show’s Best Concept Award.

But the Art Show Awards also recognized other accomplished artists at Archon 44. Disney and Lucasfilm artist Craig Skaggs also claimed a number of panels near the front for some of his large showpieces. One of them, Trooper, received the Best in Show Award. Cartoonist Mike Cole, not surprisingly, captured the award for Best Use of Humor, with They Had Cookies.

Gifted Non-Pros

The Best Non-Professional Art Award this year went to Mary Skywalker, creator of Mermaid Lamps. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a link to her artwork.

Best Juvenile Art (Under 13) winner was Meara Ensminger, age 9, whose Universe impressed a lot of us. Since she’s the granddaughter of April Robinson (who shared panel space with her), we suspect we know where she gets her artistic bent.

You may be wondering why haven’t posted images of some of these artworks. I’ve opted to instead embed hyperlinks to all of the artworks I specifically can find online. I did this for an important reason. Because of personal time and energy constraints, I couldn’t contact these artists far enough in advance to receive permission to share their images in this post. The issue of “fair use” is a much more fraught subject with visual artists than, say, sharing images of book covers. But please do follow the hyperlinks to see the artwork!

A Strong Showing by 3D Artists at Archon 44

Best Professional Art honors went to the marvelous sculptor Snail Scott, a “local,” but also widely-exhibited, professional. She also is an adjunct assistant professor who currently teaches at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Eddie Wilson (Whisperstudio-Broken Toys) also is a gifted 2D illustrator. But it was his original sculpture Wasteland Prophetesse that won the Best 3D Art Award. It was one of several original sculptures Wilson displayed at Archon 44.

And the ever-beloved potter Peri Charlifu of Aegean Goods received the Artists’ Choice Award for his Dragon Spoon Jar. Veteran readers of this blog may recall that Peri and his artwork have done star turns in my posts before.

A large display of Peri Charlifu’s ceramics.
In 2019 at FenCon XVI, Peri Charlifu allowed Jan S. Gephardt to photograph his Artist Guest of Honor Art Show display during Art show setup, for use on her blogs. (Art by Peri Charlifu/photo by Jan S. Gephardt).

Viewing the Show With a Friend

For me, the Art Show Award winners weren’t the only highlights. I happened to get a chance to view the show on Saturday before the Auction at the same time John E. Kauffmann was there.

As you might guess, science fiction conventions are a bit like a traveling community (art fairs and Renaissance Festivals are, too). John and I have been sf convention friends for several years. We’ve exhibited in many of the same shows and been co-panelists on art programming. Just as importantly, we like and respect each other’s art.

So, once we bumped into each other, we strolled through the rest of the show together, sharing thoughts and just generally having a pleasant visit. Gotta say, that’s one of my favorite memories from Archon 44 (not an experience it’s easy to replicate online!). Thanks, John!

John E. Kaufmann.
At his Archon 44 “Artists’ Alley” display, John E. Kaufmann gave his permission and cooperation for this photo by Jan S. Gephardt.

Other Notable Artists at Archon 44

Another highlight of the show for me was a chance to see some new-to-me artwork by the wonderful Arden Ellen Nixon. I say “new-to-me” because although it may have been out for a while, I haven’t been, much, for two years—and I simply can’t spend all my time online. So I had the joy of discovering Arden’s heartstring-tugging Rainbow Bridge, and her utterly adorable What? (my personal choice for Best Use of Humor), for the first time at Archon 44.

Fellow Kansas City artists Allison Stein and Rachael Mayo also had lots of new things in the show, as well as old favorites. Longtime readers of this blog may recall that two years ago I featured Rachael’s work in a post about Archon 43.

I also had a chance to see new intaglio prints by the amazing Mark Roland, and wonderful work by forever-fan-favorites Sarah Clemens and Theresa Mather. I’m sure I’ve failed to mention someone (several someones) who deserve mention, so I apologize to all the artists I failed to note by name. It was a good show!

Three artworks by Rachael Mayo.
These works by Rachael Mayo were exhibited in the 2019 Archon 43 Art Show. They are, clockwise from left, Jazzdragon 13, Shadowgorge, and Deep Rising 11. Used with permission from the artist.

Panels for Artists at Archon 44

I participated in a total of ten scheduled panels and other events throughout the weekend, including an autograph opportunity and a reading (more on most of them next week). Yes, it was a lot. But I gave the Programming Department a green light to “keep me busy,” so if I was tired at the end, that’s on me.

Three of those panels (one each day, as it turned out) specifically dealt with visual art topics. The Gateway Center’s “Illini A” has been the “art panels“ room at Archon for the past couple of years. It makes sense to keep the art panels in one room. People can say, “Art panel: Got it!” and always know where to go. It’s one of the smaller rooms, but art panels rarely generate large crowds. Everyone can get close enough to see art demos. Also, they can leave the tables bare-topped (easier to clean or cover up afterward, if art media spill on them).

After my comments about the Art Show, I bet you’ll recognize most of my fellow panelists’ names.

Adding Depth in Two Dimensions

This was my Friday art panel. I moderated, working with panelists Eddie Wilson, Allison Stein, and Rachael Mayo and a small but extremely engaged audience of seven. I always come prepared with questions and reference sources, but at this panel I barely had to do anything but guide the first few topics and facilitate.

Eddie came prepared with his own whiteboard and markers, ready and able to do quick demos of basic linear perspective and chiaroscuro techniques, while Rachael and Allison used pieces of their own art to demonstrate ways to use value and color to create visual depth through contrast, color schemes, and aerial perspective.

After the panel, I sent a short list of URLs to audience members who asked. It offered more guidance on the background and history of linear perspective and chiaroscuro, and gave detailed guidance on one-point, two-point, and three-point perspective.

Allison Stein, Rachael Mayo, and Eddie Wilson.
Jan’s fellow panelists on the “Adding Depth in Two Dimensions” panel, L-R: Allison Stein, Rachael “I AM smiling” Mayo, and Eddie Wilson. (Noble Fusion/Jan S. Gephardt/Eddie Wilson via Facebook).

Commercial Vs. Fine Art

My fellow panelists on this Saturday panel were two well-known artists at Archon 44, Craig Skaggs and John E. Kaufmann. We had a small but extremely engaged audience, while we walked through relevant questions.

How long have people recognized a division between “commercial” and “fine art”? Was Michelangelo a “commercial” artist? Was da Vinci? Can illustration also be fine art, or is it always commercial art? If you sell the artwork to someone, does that make it “commercial”? How much of the need to distinguish between them is driven by collectors, art dealers, and art directors? How much is driven by ego?

As you might imagine, the conversation got lively. And along the way we heard stories about boring work done only because someone was paying to have it done, the perils of commission work, and the joy of actually getting paid to make art.

Craig Skaggs and John E. Kaufmann.
Photos (L-R) of Craig Skaggs and John E. Kaufmann at their respective Archon 44 “Artists’ Alley” displays. Photos taken with their permission and cooperation by Jan S. Gephardt.

Putting Your Money Where Your Art Is

This panel was geared toward fielding questions from art collectors and offering information about the resale value of sf and fantasy artwork. Snail Scott moderated. She’s a fine artist with deep knowledge and strong opinions on the subject, not to mention being a university professor. She could have handled the whole panel solo. Longtime Kansas City art collector Tom Meserole and I also added our occasional 2-cents’ worth.

This panel addressed an important issue for sf and fantasy art. There was a “resale” section in the Art Show. That’s a feature we never used to see. In the earliest years of my career many artists looked upon resales as unwanted competition. Not anymore. Now more and more artists have come to realize that the resale value of their work helps them justify their original asking prices.

Where’s the “Resale Art” Coming From?

Baby Boomers, as a generation, came into sf fandom more willing and able to buy artwork at science fiction art shows than previous generations. Artists responded by bringing larger, better-quality, and many more original artworks to shows, in addition to their smaller, more affordable pieces.

Works that publishers used to throw away (after they’d made color separations for printing) suddenly had value. Collectors (including my co-panelist Tom) have sometimes paid hundreds or even thousands of dollars for fantasy or sf originals they love. They made a whole, additional market available for illustrators whose work graced the covers of sf and fantasy books.

Today, questions of “exactly how much is Grandpa and Grandma’s collection of dragon paintings really worth?” have gained a lot of relevancy. For a panel scheduled in the very last programming time slot before Closing Ceremonies, on the day everyone has to get out of their hotel room, we had a big crowd in that little art room.

I hope that, like Archon 44, more conventions see the need for a resale option, and help educate their attendees about the ins and outs of this issue.

All in all, a Good Weekend for Artists at Archon 44

I hope you’ve enjoyed my overview of the “Art Part” of Archon 44. It was a pleasure (though exhausting) to be back among “my people” for a weekend. If you were at Archon 44, or if you want to comment on any part of this post, please use the comments section below!

IMAGE CREDITS:

The photos in this post that were taken during Archon 44 are all by Jan S. Gephardt. I took them with permission from their subjects to use them for publication. See photo credits in the cutlines. Re-post or re-blog with attribution and a link back to this post, please. The photo of Tai Taeolii is courtesy of the Archon 44 website. I appreciate it!

The photos of Peri Charlifu’s Artist Guest of Honor pottery display at FenCon XVI were taken with his permission, on the understanding that they would be used for blog posts, with attribution and a link back. Many thanks, Peri!

The artwork by Rachael Mayo also is used with permission (from an earlier blog post). Please go to her site on DeviantArt to see her most recent work! And, thanks again, Rachael!

The photo montage of my “Depth in Two Dimensions” co-panelists features publicly-shared images of Eddie Wilson from Facebook, and Allison Stein, (thanks!). Rachael Mayo’s photo with her Peers’ Choice Nucleon Award from SoonerCon 27 in 2018 is by Jan S. Gephardt, taken for publication with Rachael’s permission and active cooperation. Many thanks to all!

I’m so sorry to have to write this! Change of plans: I won’t go to FenCon after all.

One Schedule-Change

By Jan S. Gephardt

One schedule-change. That’s all it technically boils down to. One simple scratch-out on a calendar. I’d planned on going, but now I’m not.

Except, it’s not a simple thing at all. Not simply one schedule-change. No, it’s actually a whole end-of-summer tipped upside-down in a cascade of if-this-then-that change, after change, after change.

I’m so sorry to have to write this! Change of plans: I won’t go to FenCon after all.
This is one schedule-change I didn’t want to make. (Credits below).

Deciding not to go to FenCon, it turned out (as I knew it would), led to way more than one schedule-change.

I Love FenCon

Okay, so, what’s the big deal? Well, several things. First, I should explain that FenCon is a regional science fiction convention that’s been held in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area since 2004. It’s a friendly, fan-run convention that’s been the subject of several blog posts since Ty and I decided to try it out in 2018. We tried it, and agreed we didn’t want to miss out on any future FenCons!

It quickly become one of my favorite cons. Not that I go to any bad ones, mind you. I love going to science fiction conventions. But there are just some where the appeal is like instant chemistry, and going back each time is a small version of “coming home.” For me, FenCon is one of those special conventions.

Glimpses of past years’ parties, places, art displays, and panel events at FenCon.
Glimpses from FenCon in 2018 and 2019. (Jan S. Gephardt).

FenCon also has the added attraction of being in my sister’s neck of the woods. Each FenCon I’ve attended so far has been followed up by a “Corporate Summit” of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. That means G., Ty, and I get to hang out and eat, schmooze, and then G. and I discuss, face-to-face, our plans and ideas about where our little publishing venture goes from here.

So, there are lots of reasons why I love going to FenCon. And lots of reasons why I did not want to make that one schedule-change.

This Year was an Extra-Special FenCon

Of all the years I didn’t want to miss FenCon, this year I especially didn’t want to miss it. Above and beyond “I love FenCon.” In addition to the Corporate Summit opportunity. This year’s FenCon was going to be my first con “post-COVID.”

And this year,  Chaz Kemp is the Artist Guest of Honor. How could any con be more perfect for my big return to con-going? Chaz has become a Very Important Person for Weird Sisters Publishing. He’s the man who’s created the Deep Ellum covers. He’s the illustrator whose work will give Warren’s Windhover series a vastly improved set of covers when we release them in 2022. Chaz created G.’s official Author Portrait. So, yes. I wanted to be there to celebrate Chaz.

Covers for “Deep Ellum Pawn,” “Deep Ellum Blues,” and G. S. Norwood’s Author Portrait.
Artwork made for Weird Sisters Publishing, © 2019-2020 by Chaz Kemp.

On top of all that, this year I was going to debut A Bone to Pick at FenCon. If a book’s release is anything like a debutante’s first cotillion, FenCon was supposed to be A Bone to Pick’s “coming out party.”

It’s not as if book releases happen all the time for either me, or for Weird Sisters. This is my first book since before the pandemic lockdowns started. This is the first Weird Sisters release since last September.

I literally timed the release date to coordinate with FenCon!

So, Why this One Schedule-Change?

Of all the conventions, in all of the places, with all of the Guests of Honor—FenCon XVII was the one schedule-change I least wanted to make!

But I made it anyway. Why? Well, if you have to ask, perhaps you’ve lost your Internet connection to your hermit cave for most of the summer. (I mean, everyone fortunate enough to afford to self-isolate has been living in a hermit cave for more than a year, now. The hermit cave is kind of a given).

But just when we were all looking forward to leaving our hermit caves, people started opting out of taking the free, widely-distributed, highly-effective COVID vaccines that had been giving us grounds for hope. They tore off and burned their masks, declared premature victory, and went to Sturgis for a motorcycle rally (or to some other super-spreader-event).

A crowd at the Sturgis ND motorcycle rally.
Many came to Sturgis. Few wore masks. (CNN/Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

And they did this just as the Delta variant of the virus was getting a solid foothold throughout the United States.

The Delta Variant (and its Proponents) are Messing with Texas

Personal responsibility matters. Lack of personal responsibility kills. Regular old COVID-19 had already killed more than 600,000 of us before the vaccines were widely distributed. But those high death counts had plummeted . . . until recently. Once people stopped getting vaccinated, and once Delta took root, the numbers did a U-turn and started to skyrocket.

This is especially true in Florida and Texas. Those two large, populous states seem to have been perversely extra-cursed. They have governors who, in the face of Delta’s surge, appear hell-bent on killing or compromising the health of as many of their citizens as possible.

Outside the Texas Supreme Court building, anti-mask demonstrators hold up signs.
In Texas the anti-mask contingent has gubernatorial support. (Click2Houston).

Texas Gov. Abbott isn’t the only homicidal maniac on the loose in Texas, unfortunately. The Texas Supreme Court recently sided with him. They’re incited and cheered on by certain parents, sad to say. This hamstrings school districts, such as the Dallas Independent School District, that are trying to avoid killing the children who attend their schools.

Does my Language Offend You?

There may be readers who think I’ve used hyperbole, or judged Gov. Abbott and his friends too harshly. But how else should I describe the situation and stay on pace with the facts? There are no available pediatric ICU beds in the Dallas/Fort Worth region, and many smaller, rural hospitals have reached capacity. In the face of these facts, it’s hardly hyperbole to say children are dying. Others may try to be more polite, but I’m sick of that.

Anti-mask, anti-vaccination rhetoric and misinformation inevitably results in more people dying. Hundreds and thousands of people dying. Children are dying in ever-growing numbers. Young, healthy adults are dying. Even vaccinated people are suffering breakthrough infections, and some of them are dying.

A chart from the New York Times shows how Texas COVID cases are climbing steeply in August 2021.
Recent weeks saw a sharp spike in Texas COVID cases. (Chart from New York Times).

This is last year’s movie. We were supposed to be done with this by now. Last spring, when the organizers decided to hold FenCon and I signed up to go to it, we all thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We thought we’d soon be in the clear.

But the “light” is a headlamp on a locomotive called Delta Variant. And the train is driven by anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers. I speak for many when I say that the responsible folk who locked down, masked up, and got their vaccinations as soon as we could are furious.

Don’t anyone dare tell me I’m overstating this situation. Honey, I’m holding back how I really feel.

Ripples from That One Schedule-Change

I had been eagerly designing and ordering new S.W.A.G. for FenCon. Guess there’s less of a rush on that, now. I’d been worrying about getting print-edition copies of A Bone to Pick ready to publish in time to have physical books at FenCon. Don’t need to sweat that one, either, I suppose.

I’d been updating my wardrobe, trying to produce new artwork, starting to make checklists and signs. Guess those aren’t as urgent now, either. The party’s canceled. I’m grounded again. Gotta take my ribbons and my bookmarks and my shiny new copies of my happy new book, and go schlump on back inside my hermit cave. Dammit.

But wait! There’s still Archon!

Yes, I’m still scheduled to go to Archon 44 in Collinsville, IL on October 1-3. At least, so far I’m still scheduled to go to Archon. But it’s six weeks away. Six weeks ago, I was still planning to go to FenCon. So, we’ll see. I’m growing more dubious by the day, but I still hope that’s one schedule-change I won’t have to make.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to FenCon XVII for their logo, from the header on their website. The “Raindrop” background is from Facebook. The “COVID-Canceled” symbol is a combination of symbols from “uspenskayaa” and “bentosi,”obtained via 123rf.

All of the photos in the FenCon montage (also assembled by Jan S. Gephardt) are from Jan’s 2018 and 2019 archives.

The covers for Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues, plus G. S. Norwood’s Author Portrait were all commissioned for use by Weird Sisters Publishing and G. S. Norwood. They are © 2019-2020 by Chaz Kemp.

We appreciate CNN for the photo by Michael Ciaglo of Getty Images, taken at the 2021 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Much gratitude to Click2Houston, for the still image captured from a video of anti-mask protestors outside the Texas Supreme Court in Austin. Many thanks also to the New York Times for its chart showing the rise and fall of COVID-19 cases in Texas. This post wouldn’t be the same without you!

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén