Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Capricon

the logo for Archon science fiction convention

Because Archon’s Doing it Right

By Jan S. Gephardt

I am happy to report that I’m going to Archon 44 after all. Why? Because—and only because—Archon’s doing it right.

The Email That Changed Everything

At left, a vaccination map of the US, shows Missouri’s vaccination rate is less than 55%, and Illinois is less than 70%. At right, the most current chart available at publication time shows that on Sept. 20, 2021, there were 207,974 new COVID-19 cases in the USA.
The vaccination map at left is by Josh Renaud, courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The chart at right is from The New York Times, via Google.

You may recall that a few weeks ago, I very reluctantly decided to withdraw from this year’s FenCon, a Texas science fiction convention that my son and I have come to love. I had been watching the COVID-19 trends in the St. Louis area and growing more and more convinced I’d have to do the same with Archon. But then I got the Email That Changed Everything.

“The Archon Chairs have decided to require vaccination OR a negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours,” the email said. “Documentation is required for both. . . There are no exceptions to this policy.” This is such an unusual and—sadly—BRAVE position to take in this part of the country that I actually gasped.

Archon 44 Co-chairs Alan DeVaughn and Scott Corwin are boldly going where many regional convention chairs have feared to go. And while they’re at it, they’re going “all the way.”

The state of Illinois has mandated masks for indoor public spaces for anyone older than 2 years old,” they wrote. “The mask must cover your nose and mouth, unless you are eating or drinking. If you are asked to put your mask on by an Archon staff / committee member and choose not to comply, you will be asked to leave. There are no exceptions to this policy.”

At left, protesters hold up signs with slogans opposing vaccine requirements. At right, protesters from a different group hold up signs with anti-mask slogans.
At left, protesters demonstrate against vaccine mandates (photo by John Lamparski, via The Atlantic). At right, anti-mask protesters in Kalispell, MT (courtesy of the Flathead Beacon).

Archon’s doing it right.

Yes, Archon’s doing it right, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I plan to honor their commitment to follow both science and good sense in the best way I know how: by coming with my books, my artwork, and my work ethic. I’m scheduled for nine events and panels—and I plan to show up for all of them as well-prepared as I can possibly be.

I’m also going to do everything in my power to promote their event—for example, on this and my other blogs, and on every social media platform where I have a presence. Because Archon’s doing it right, they have earned my heartfelt gratitude and loyalty.

If anyone reading this was on the fence and wavering about coming to Archon, please make this policy your deciding vote for going!

Oh, and a word to the wise: book your hotel reservations (use the link on their homepage to get the convention rate) as soon as possible. Historically, they fill up fast!

This montage shows views from Archon 42 and 42, held in 2018 and 2019. Above are two art panels. Below, two views of the Gateway Center, one in sunshine and the other in rain.
Top L, artists Brent Chumley, Rachael Mayo, and Allison Stein discuss creating fantasy creatures in 2019. Top R, Rachael Mayo and several attendees discuss art materials at a 2018 panel. Below, R-L, we had much sunnier weather at the Gateway Center in 2019 than 2018. (All photos by Jan S. Gephardt).

I Have History with Archon

As I noted in the article on my Events Calendar, Archon has been around for a while.

The “44” in Archon 44 means this annual convention has been around for a while. G., Warren, Pascal and I all went to earlier Archons when we were just starting in fandom. And a few years ago, Ty and I started going to them again. If you follow my blog, you might remember posts I’ve written about hall costumes at Archon 42 and 43, and the Art Show.

It’s a well-established convention, run by people who generally know what they’re doing and find excellent ways to make it a good weekend for attendees.

After years in the funky, rambling, since-demolished Henry VIII Hotel in St. Louis proper, the convention has found an excellent new home in the Gateway Convention Center and DoubleTree Hotel in Collinsville, IL.

Throughout my career, I’ve had some great moments, and met some wonderful people at Archon.

Photos from the “writing side” of Archons 42 and 43, held in 2018 and 2019. These photos show a variety of people engaged in panel discussions, readings, and demonstrations.
At left, EMT Kevin Hammel conducts a highly informative 2019 presentation on gunshot wounds, for writers who want to get it right. Top center, a 2018 panel on Diversity in SF, which included, L-R, Jennifer Stolzer, Kathleen Kayembe, Camille Faye, and Debbie Manber Kupfer (M). Top far right: I prepare for my reading in 2019. Below center L-R: Donna J. W. Munro, Marella Sands, and Christine Nobbe chat with the audience before their readings in 2018. Below R, Jennifer Lynn discusses Shamans, Druids, and Wise Women in a 2019 presentation. Photos by Jan S. Gephardt, with the exception of one (guess which) by Tyrell Gephardt.

But that was then. What about Now?

ecause Archon’s doing it right, I’ll have an opportunity to show off my new book (readers who’ve followed this blog in recent weeks probably noticed I have one) sooner than next February (looking at you, Capricon 42). And I’ll get to display my artwork in an in-person display for the first time in almost 2 years.

“A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt, envisioned as an ebook on the left and as a trade paperback on the right.
Jan’s new book A Bone to Pick became widely available in a variety of formats after Release Day, September 15, 2021. Cover artwork © 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

I’m scheduled for an autograph session on Friday, a reading on Sunday, and seven panels (several of which I’m moderating). I love doing those things, because they give me opportunities to have great conversations with other panelists and audience members. I get to meet creative, interesting new people (and so can you, if you’ll join us at Archon). And I also get to re-acquaint myself with people I haven’t seen for a while.

I’ll come equipped with an expanded collection of S.W.A.G., badge ribbons and bookmarks for all (or—if that last order doesn’t arrive in time, at least most) of the books and stories Weird Sisters Publishing has produced so far. If you’re a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, and you tell me so at Archon, I’ll even have an exclusive-offer “I’m a Member of the Pack” badge ribbon for you.

Here’s Jan at her Autograph table, surrounded by S.W.A.G.
Jan at her Capricon 40 autograph table (photo by Tyrell Gephardt).

Introducing “Stripped ‘Scripts”

Also because Archon’s doing it right, my son Tyrell will have a first opportunity to present his new service to authors, called “Stripped ‘Scripts.” Through it, he’ll bring his skills as a developmental editor to a new audience.

What’s a developmental editor, and why would a writer need one? In the movie industry they’re sometimes called “script doctors.” While that name gets applied to services from high level plot-revision to hands-on rewriting, the idea is basically that when a plot or a manuscript has gone off the rails, dead-ended somewhere, or developed another kind of structural dysfunction, all hope may not be lost.

A good developmental editor can look it over and offer an analysis. They’ll often have a better idea of what’s wrong and how to turn it into a structurally sound story than an author who’s “written themself into a corner” and run out of ideas. I’ll freely admit that my stories have benefitted from Ty’s “big picture” view. I also appreciate his fresh takes on cultural adjustments to varied technical innovations, and his martial-arts expertise.

Here’s a photo of Ty, along with his business card for Stripped ‘Scripts
Photo and developmental editing business card design are both courtesy of Tyrell Gephardt.

Because Archon’s Doing it Right, We can Relax and Have a Great Con

I know I’m not the only science fiction fan who has missed going to conventions. I’ve blogged elsewhere about why I love science fiction conventions. Not rubbing shoulders with other writers and the fans who keep us afloat has been disappointing, but necessary during the pandemic.

But although it seems as if it’s taking forever, it’s now in our power to make this fourth wave the last one. It’ll be a bit longer, no thanks to the purveyors of an unprecedented flood of misinformation. But we can do it. Spread the word. Speak up in support of those who are doing it right. Kindly (if possible) help to educate those who are sincerely confused.

Science, technology, and government services (sometimes government really isn’t the problem!) have given us the tools we need. They’ve placed research, growing understanding of this virus, and three phenomenally effective vaccines within our grasp. We’re the taxpayers who’ve underwritten much of this historic work. We now have the right and privilege to avail ourselves of these new tools and understandings.

And because Archon’s doing it right, we now can do it at a science fiction convention!

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Archon’s Facebook Page, for the logo header image. The map showing vaccination rates in the United States was created by Josh Renaud for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The chart of COVID-19 cases in the United States is regularly updated by The New York Times, accessed 9/21/2021 via Google.

The montage images from Archon 42 and 43 are all by Jan S. Gephardt except for one, taken by Tyrell E. Gephardt (of Jan’s reading). Ty also took the one of Jan at her Capricon 40 autograph table. Moreover, he provided the photo of himself, along with the image of his “Stripped ‘Scripts” business card.

Many thanks to all!

The cover of the Advance Reader Copy edition of “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt, shown as an ebook.

Making ARCs

By Jan S. Gephardt

I’ve been making ARCs recently.

What does that mean? It means I’ve been assembling an assortment of documents into an early version of my latest book, to create Advance Reader Copies. It’s not exactly parallel to a dress rehearsal for a stage play, but for me it’s a necessary step in the publicity rollout for my science fiction mystery novel A Bone to Pick.

I’ve been blogging a lot in this space recently, about A Bone to Pick. Those posts are another part of the rollout. As basically an Indie writer, I’m trying to build a small press publishing company, Weird Sisters Publishing, with my sister, G. S. Norwood. I may not have to face the kind of “gatekeepers” a writer encounters in traditional publishing. But plenty of other challenges attend every attempt to promote and sell each book we “weird sisters” produce and release.

G. and I decided to share part of our approach to those challenges in this blog post. We know some of our blog subscribers will be more interested in this than others. Perhaps you found G.’s post from last week more interesting. But maybe you’ll enjoy seeing me pull back the curtain on part of our process, and the role that making ARCs plays in it.

The cover of “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt, as an ebook.
The release date for A Bone to Pick is September 15, 2021. (Cover art ©2020 by Jody A. Lee; 3D effect by Book Brush).

The Struggle to find Our Kind of Readers

In an earlier post I explored some of the difficulties an Indie or small press faces, when trying to get the attention of reading public. The first thing we had to understand is that “the reading public” isn’t actually our target. A small subgroup of the global population who reads books—that select group of readers who are interested in the specific kinds of stories we write—is the population we need to find.

It’s a search that never ends. This blog is part of how we search. My website and that of Weird Sisters Publishing are other essentials. Reviews, social media interactions, and targeted advertising provide other ways for us to reach out. Check us out: I have an Author Page on Facebook, and so do G and Weird Sisters. I also have a presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.

I traveled to science fiction conventions for publicity as well as pleasure, until COVID put a temporary halt to that. Last fall I started building a mailing list for followers of my XK9 stories. They receive a monthly newsletter full of insider glimpses, extras, and exclusive freebies.

Join the Pack newsletter offer with FREE copy of “The Other Side of Fear” novella.
The offer still stands: Get The Other Side of Fear FREE when you sign up for my Newsletter! (all artwork ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk).

The Rollout

Those are all ongoing efforts. The rollout is different. It’s a focused push to let as many of “my kind of readers” as possible know about my new book. That includes advertising. It also includes the series of blog posts we’ve been running. Newsletter updates and excerpts. Changes to our websites.

And, importantly, it includes making ARCs. Because it has taken me so darn long to write the book, and because I’ve been planning a return to science fiction conventions that starts at FenCon, I cut my rollout shorter than would have been ideal, and set my release date for September 15, 2021.

The Kindle version of A Bone to Pick is available for presale now, in both the United States and the United Kingdom. I’ve offered a discounted price for the presale: $2.99 in the U.S. (after release it’ll go up to $4.99), and £2.12 in the UK (post-release, that’ll go up to £3.84).

I wanted, if possible, to have printed copies of the new book available at FenCon, which is scheduled for September 17-19. My proofreader is still carefully combing through the manuscript for errors. But the shortened time frame means I should have been making ARCs weeks ago, not now.

Jan at her autograph table at Capricon 40.
I go to science fiction conventions such as Capricon (where this was taken) and FenCon as part of my ongoing outreach. (Photo ©2020 by Tyrell E. Gephardt).

Making ARCs

So, okay. How hard can that be? What goes into making ARCs? Well, a finished-for-real manuscript, for one! That was the hardest and longest part.

I also have created a Directory of names, places, and acronyms in the book. That was a reader request. I’ve also included one for the first book, in current versions of What’s Bred in the Bone. Both are large, sweeping space opera mysteries, full of exo-terrestrial and multicultural names, police-style acronyms, and a rather large cast of characters. The readers were right!

Thank goodness, I’ve had the cover already created for a while now. But I needed to differentiate it from post-release “official” copies of the book, so I created an identifying element to the cover design. Yes, I could simply have overprinted “ADVANCE READERS COPY” on the cover, but I think this looks better.

What else goes into an ARC? Well, there’s all the “book stuff” you need for the real thing. A title page, with our Weird Sisters Publishing logo and URL. The page with copyright notices. Vellum, the publishing program I use, automatically creates a Table of Contents, but I needed to compose the Dedication’s wording. I added my bio for the About the Author page (with a photo), and there was other material needed for the end of the book. Did you know I also specifically designed the “Wolf Tracks” ornamental break we use in all of the XK9 books? That needed to go in there, too.

Design elements, author photo and a directory all went into the ARC compilation.
Here are some of the elements that went into making ARCs for A Bone to Pick. (Credits below).

Why do I need ARCs?

Advance Reader Copies go out ahead of the release date to my all-important Street Team—and the sooner, the better! Street Team members are people who have signed up to not only be on my mailing list and get my newsletter. They also receive free Advance Reader Copies before release date. In return, they write honest reviews of the book, and post them to Amazon on Release Day. ARCs should go out to current Street Team members today!

If you are interested in being on my Street Team, sign up for my newsletter! You’ll receive more information in the follow-up emails. It’s not too late to get an A Bone to Pick ARC of your own!

Other ARCs go to reviewers, bloggers on review sites, and other authors willing to consider giving me a cover quote. I’m in the process of contacting them now. ARCs are just a part of what goes into the “entrepreneurial” side of being an independent writer. But for me, making ARCs is the step that makes it “real.”

Yes, the book is finished at last! It says what I want, and the Brain Trust has reassured me it’s ready. And yes, others will read it soon! For me, that’s at least as big a thrill as writing THE END.

The cover of the Advance Reader Copy edition of “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt, shown as an ebook.
Making ARCs is an important part of the rollout process before the release of A Bone to Pick. (Cover art ©2020 by Jody A. Lee; 3D effect by Book Brush).

IMAGE CREDITS

The cover painting for A Bone to Pick is ©2020 by Jody A. Lee. The artwork on my Newsletter offer, including the cover of The Other Side of Fear, is ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk. The photo of me at Capricon 40 with all the S.W.A.G. on my autograph table is ©2020 by Tyrell E. Gephardt. In the montage of “ARC ingredients,” the photo of me is ©2017 by Colette Waters Photography. The Weird Sisters Logo and the “Wolf Tracks” ornamental break were designed by me, and are ©2019 by Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. The photo of the Directory’s first page is a screen capture of the preview in Vellum. The 3-D effects on both the regular edition and ARC images are by Book Brush. If you wish to reblog or repost any of these images, please do so with an attribution and a link back to this post. Thank you!

Here's Jan at the autographing table during Capricon 40

Indie Author Speed-Dating

The Capricon Project continues

On Friday of Capricon 40 I participated in the Indie Author Speed-Dating event. The idea was that we’d bring handouts and freebies, have books on hand to sell or show, and be prepared to deliver our “elevator speech” to tell people what our books are all about. The next morning I followed a similar process when I made myself available for autographing (more on that later). 

Photo of Jan with her stuff at the autographing table by Ty Gephardt.
Here’s Jan at her autographing table, with books and SWAG from Weird Sisters Publishing. (Photo by Ty Gephardt.)

Timed during the dinner hour, the Indie Author Speed-Dating event didn’t enjoy the best of turnouts. Some folks came in, and some of us actually sold books. A few of us circulated to “speed-date” other authors so we could get to know each other better. It would have been more fun if we’d had more people in the “audience,” but it was a nice opportunity for those who did come to talk one-on-one with authors.

There were some interesting books and authors at this event. I thought perhaps you’d like a “Virtual Indie Author Speed-Dating” glimpse! Where possible, I’ve used authors’ online statements and/or book descriptions in lieu of their “elevator speeches.”

Rook Creek Books

Blake Hausladen and Deanna Sjolander are the authors of Rook Creek BooksDeanna moderated the event. She and Blake did a lot of circulating at the beginning, to kind of get things going.

Here's a montage of all 18 Blake Hausladen book covers, courtesy of Rook Creek Books.
Eighteen Books by Blake Hausladen. (Montage courtesy of Rook Creek Books.)

Blake’s Vesteal Series is 15 books long. “The completed series has been published into three omnibus collection, The Ghosts in the YewNative Silver, and The Vastness.” NOTE: Rock Creek Books also presented a showing of their stop-motion movie production of Beyond the Edge at Capricon 40.

Deanna’s latest published editing project is Eileen Flaherty’s The Perilous StepHer own first novel, Sophie and the G-Man, is set to publish later this month (Feb. 2020).

Rebecca Ciardullo, a.k.a. R. L. Frencl

Rebecca brought the three books of her fantasy Star Circle Trilogy, which was published last year.Here’s a brief description from the trilogy’s page on Amazon:

“The Darkness that lives behind the stars rises, spinning plots and lies to entrap humanity and bring down the civilizations of mankind. The Star Bearers are called by the Lights to represent the best of mankind and drive the Darkness back behind the stars.

“Aerin and Robyn have been down this road before. Both have stood at a point of the Circle, giving all to the fight. They were two of the few who walked away from the last convergence. The Stars align once more, calling them to represent a world that doesn’t know it’s in danger.”

The Star Circle Trilogy by R. L Frencl includes The Shattered Prism, Walking with Shadows, and Dark Rainbow's End. (photo courtesy of Amazon.)
The Star Circle Trilogy by R. L Frencl includes The Shattered Prism, Walking with Shadows, and Dark Rainbow’s End. (photo courtesy of Amazon.)

She is the author of at least one other series, including some books available in the UK, as well as in the USA. I didn’t get a chance to talk much with Rebecca, but she and author Jen Haeger let me take their picture.

Rebecca Ciardullo/R. L. Frencl and Jen Haeger chat at the Indie Author Speed-Dating event at Capricon 40 (Photo by Jan S. Gephardt)
Rebecca Ciardullo/R. L. Frencl and Jen Haeger chat at the Indie Author Speed-Dating event at Capricon 40 (Photo by Jan S. Gephardt)

Jen Haeger

As I mentioned in an earlier post on this blogJen and I collaborated long-distance on a blog post back in 2017. Neither of us was able to come to Capricon 37. Without meaning to, we “orphaned” the panel Writing about Forensics, so we tried to make up for it by blogging the panel discussion.

At that time she’d only just published her first novel, a paranormal romance titled Moonlight Medicine: Onset. According to her website, however, “My werewolf paranormal romance trilogy, Moonlight Medicine: Onset, Moonlight Medicine: Epidemic, and Moonlight Medicine: Inoculation, previously published by Crowded Quarantine Publications, is not currently available except at the Barnes and Noble in Brighton, MI.”

The WHISPS Series-to-date consists of Whispers of a Killer, Whispers of Terror, and Whispers of Conspiracy. (Image courtesy of Amazon.)
The WHISPS Series-to-date consists of Whispers of a KillerWhispers of Terror, and Whispers of Conspiracy. (Image courtesy of Amazon.)

Meanwhile she’s been busy with the WHISPS Series (currently up to three books), and a novel titled Miles from Manistique

Chris Gerrib

Chris goes to a lot of the same sf conventions I do. I featured him in a post last year about three authors I’d encountered at Capricon 39His series about Martian pirates continues to be the extent of his science fiction explorations. He tells me he’s been writing mysteries more recently.

Chris Gerrib's Martian Pirates Trilogy consists of The Mars Run, Pirates of Mars, and The Night Watch. (Image courtesy of Amazon.)
Chris Gerrib’s Martian Pirates Trilogy consists of The Mars RunPirates of Mars, and The Night Watch. (Image courtesy of Amazon.)

Chris shared a table with me at the Indie Author Speed Dating event. He and L.A. Kirchheimer, posed for a photo beside my and Chris’s displays. 

Chris Gerrib and L. A. Kirchheimer show me their books at Capricon 40's Indie Author Speed-Dating event. (Photo by Jan S. Gephardt)
Chris Gerrib and L. A. Kirchheimer show me their books at Capricon 40’s Indie Author Speed-Dating event. (Photo by Jan S. Gephardt)

L. A. Kirchheimer

L. A. Kirchheimer seems like an interesting person, though I barely got to talk with her. To date she’s written two books, Secrets in Mystic Woodsand Journey Through Darkness.

Both center around the paranormal adventures of thirteen-year-old Charity Graves, who starts the first book seeking to learn more about a teacher with whom she’s come into conflict, but whose concerns quickly escalate to much larger and more terrifying threats.

L. A. Kirchheimer's books, Secrets in Mystic Woods and Journey Through Darkness recount the adventures of 13-year-old Charity Graves. At right, Kirchheimer participates in a panel at Capricon 40. (Cover images courtesy of Amazon. Kirchheimer at Capricon 40 courtesy of her Facebook Author Page).
L. A. Kirchheimer’s books, Secrets in Mystic Woods and Journey Through Darkness recount the adventures of 13-year-old Charity Graves. At right, Kirchheimer participates in a panel at Capricon 40. (Cover images courtesy of AmazonKirchheimer at Capricon 40 courtesy of her Facebook Author Page). 

We’ve only gotten partway through the list of authors at the Indie Author Speed-Dating event. In the next post we’ll meet some more. I hope you learned about someone new whose books you’d like to explore! Please leave a comment if you did!

IMAGE CREDITS:

The photo of Jan S. Gephardt with books from Weird Sisters Publishing is by Tyrell Gephardt, and is used with his permission.

Many thanks to Rook Creek Books for the Vesteal Series composite (and description), featuring books by Blake Hausladen with covers by Elizabeth Leggett

Many thanks to Amazon for the photo of R. L. Frencl’s The Star Circle Trilogy, Jen Haeger’s WHISPS Series, Chris Gerrib’s Martian Pirates Trilogy, and the cover art for L. A. Kirchheimer’s two books. The photo of Kirchheimer at the Capricon 40 panel is courtesy of the author’s Facebook Page.

The photos of Jen Haeger with Rebecca Ciardullo (R. L. Frencl),  and of Chris Gerrib with L. A. Kirchheimer, are both by Jan S. Gephardt, taken with their consent at the Indie Author Speed-Dating event at Capricon 40. Re-post or reblog if you wish, but please include an attribution to Jan as the photographer and a link back to this post, if possible.

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

The Capricon Project

Let me tell you about The Capricon Project. As I noted on this blog Feb. 1, I’m planning to attend Capricon 40 this week (God and the weather willing).  While I’m there, my publishing company and I hope to join forces (and blogs) to cover the event.

As you may know, I’m the Weirdness Manager for Weird Sisters Publishing LLC (I’m half of the partnership. The other half is my sister, G. S. Norwood).  As Weirdness Manager, I also write most of our posts for The Weird Blogand I’m in charge of preparing and posting all of them. But I can only split “me” into so many fragments. 

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

What is The Capricon Project?

Artdog Adventures and The Weird Blog will join forces for The Capricon Project. I propose to take lots of photos and do a lot of things at the convention (followers of Artdog Adventures are familiar with my process). 

I like to highlight things I’ve seenpeople I’ve metand panels I’ve attended or helped present. We plan to cross-post the short profiles, photos, and other items I generate, to both blogs and some of our social media.

What’s the plan?

I have a pretty ambitious schedule for Capricon 40. I’m scheduled for eight programming events, including five panel discussions (three of which I moderate), an autograph session, a reading, and the Indie Author Speed-Dating event. 

This photo shows Jan S. Gephardt's Art Show display at Archon in Collinsville, IL as it looked October 6, 2019.
Photo by Jan S. Gephardt. This is my Art Show display at Archon in Collinsville, IL as it looked October 6, 2019.

I also have two display panels reserved at the Art Show. I’ll have a few copies of What’s Bred in the Bone with me, available for sale at the con (reduced at-con price is $13, or almost $2 off the regular trade paperback price).

I also plan to attend other panels and readings, and tour the Dealers’ Room. If they agree, I’ll take pictures or short videos of dealers whose work I can recommend, and post them on my social media (Artdog Studio is on Facebook and PinterestJan S. Gephardt-Author is on Facebook and Twitter, and Weird Sisters Publishing is on Facebook), as well as collect them for possible blog posts.

I hope you’ll follow my posts, and see how well The Capricon Project turns out!

IMAGE CREDITS:

The half-header for Capricon 40 is courtesy of the Capricon Website

The photo of my book display at the May 24, 2019 “Mad Authors’ Salon” at ConQuesT 50 is by Ty Gephardt, and used with his permission.

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

Looking forward to Capricon 40

My “sf convention year” kicks off in February. I’m looking forward to Capricon 40 on Valentine’s weekend, Feb. 13-16, 2020, in Wheeling, IL. And I’m already preparing for panel discussions and the Art Show.

My first Capricon was Cap 30, when my friend Lucy A. Synk was their Artist Guest of Honor. She invited me to attend as her guest. I had a lot of fun, but wasn’t able to go back for several years after that.

Blogging a panel

This image bears the words "Blogging a Panel - Writing about Forensics," superimposed over a montage of four images: ballistics-matching photos, forensic examiners in a lab, a cop interviewing a witness on the street, and a fingerprint being scanned.
Montage by Jan S. Gephardtto represent her Blogging a Panel post from the Capricon 37 she wasn’t able to attend.

I tried to go back in 2017, but a combination of countervailing events forced me to cancel so late in the process that I’d already been scheduled for panels. Unfortunately, one panel for which I’d been scheduled, Writing about Forensics, only had two panelists. The other, Jen Haegeralso had to cancel late in the process, so Writing about Forensics suddenly also got scrubbed.

Jen and I had been communicating online, and we decided that even if we couldn’t goto Capricon and present the panel in person, we still could present the panel virtually. This led to Blogging a Panel on this blog (I think it was paralleled on Jen’s blog and also that of Capricon’s parent group, Phandemonium).

Since then, I haven’t had to resort to such drastic measures

This blog has followed my adventures at Capricon 38 and my Artworktravel follies, and reflections upon Capricon 39.

Looking forward to Capricon 40

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

I plan to have my artwork in the Art Show, and of course I’ll be on panels. I even have my schedule already! So I’m really looking forward to Capricon 40.

They called the one set for Thursday at 5:00 p.m.Detectives in the Wild (I moderate). We’ll talk about detectives in science fiction (as opposed to urban fantasy, where they more often turn up).

May 24, 2019. Books, badge ribbons and bookmarks at the
Mad Authors' Salon co-hosted by Jan S. Gephardt, Lynette M. Burrows, and Dora Furlong, at ConQuesT 50 in Kansas City, MO.
Photo by Ty Gephardt, taken May 24, 2019. Books, badge ribbons and bookmarks at the
Mad Authors’ Salon co-hosted by Jan S. Gephardt, Lynette M. Burrows, and Dora Furlong, at ConQuesT 50 in Kansas City, MO.

On Friday my panels are Pronouns and SF/F at 2:30 p.m., and Weird Hobbies for Immortals at 4 p.m. (I moderate that one, too). I’m in the Indie Author Speed-Dating event on Friday at 5:30 p.m. It should be interesting. I’ll bring badge ribbons and bookmarks to hand out!

Saturday starts early (for me). I’m scheduled to autograph at 10 a.m. I’ll read from What’s Bred in the Bone at 1 p.m., sharing the time slot with Dorothy Winsor. That evening at 7 p.m. I’ll facilitate the Creating a Tropical World workshop.

Finally, on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. I’ll join the conversation on Religion and Ethics in an Age of Artificial Intelligence. That also ought to be an interesting discussion. I promise I’ll come with coffee in hand, so I’m coherent.

Beyond programming items

Of course I’ll also bring paperback copies from Weird Sisters Publishing. Certainly I’ll have copies of What’s Bred in the BoneIf all goes well, I’ll also have paperback copies of my sister’s Deep Ellum Pawn novelette (as I write this, it’s still only available via Kindle)! 

With all of this, I hope that you, like me, will be looking forward to Capricon 40–either at the convention in Wheeling, or perhaps here in follow-up blog posts.

This photo shows Jan S. Gephardt's Art Show display at Archon in Collinsville, IL as it looked October 6, 2019.
Photo by Jan S. Gephardt. This is my Art Show display at Archon in Collinsville, IL as it looked October 6, 2019.

Please note: My next XK9 story, a prequel novella titled The Other Side of Fear, will be available in March 2020. The second novel in the XK9 “Bones” TrilogyA Bone to Pickis set for release this fall.

IMAGE CREDITS: 

Jan S. Gephardt made the “Blogging a Panel” header with images courtesy of Reference,  Belleville News-Democrat National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Criminal Justice Degreelink

The half-header for Capricon 40 is courtesy of the Capricon Website

The photo of my book display at the May 24, 2019 “Mad Authors’ Salon” at ConQuesT 50 is by Ty Gephardt, and used with his permission. 

I took the photo of my art display at Archon, October 6, 2019 myself. you may re-post or re-blog any of them with correct attribution to the creators and a link back to this post.

Karen Ann Hollingsworth’s enchanting fantasy artwork

My personal highlight of the Capricon 39 Art Show

I’ve written several posts about Capricon 39, this year’s Chicago convention from Phandemonium. I wrote about assorted (weather-related) experiences, and about fellow panelists who are authors, but no group of posts from me about a convention would be complete without mentioning the art.

In this case, one amazing artist, whom I particularly associate with Capricon. Although Karen Ann Hollingsworth exhibits her work at many different sf conventions art fairs, and other exhibitions, and although she is an accomplished illustrator as well, I first met her when we were on a panel together at Capricon 38. That also was the largest collection of her art all in one place that I’d seen.

I was enchanted.

 I’m also beyond excited to share some of her gorgeous work with you in this space. I hope her visual magic will enchant you, too.

"Imagine" is Karen Ann Hollingsworth's signature piece. Mostly rendered in tones of green and yellow, it's a picture of a beautiful fairy on the right side of the composition, looking straight toward the viewer, surrounded by Celtic-looking swirls and leaf-shapes.
Imagine is Hollingsworth’s “signature” work, because it embodies so many aspects of her art.

I asked Karen for permission to post some of her images here, and she not only gave me permission–she gave me stories for each piece. Here’s what she said about Imagine

“I must lead with my signature piece Imagine. It combines both [of] the ways I approach my work. The right side the way I work when I do illustrations and commissions and the left is done in the intuitive way I approach my fine art pieces. It also embodies the sense of magic and wonder I try to infuse in all my work.

“Most of my work is done in watercolor and colored pencil on hot press watercolor paper. The only time I involve the computer is when I scan the images in to make reproductions, for a client or for doing promotion.”

"Catnip Dreams" by Karen Ann Hollingsworth shows a light tan cat curled up asleep in the center of the design. around the cat is a green, embossed-looking design of catnip leaves. In bands at the top and bottom of the composition are stylized designs. The band at the top is a green, embossed-looking frieze of flying birds. The one at the bottom is a similar, green embossed-looking design of stylized fish.
Catnip Dreams by Karen Ann Hollingsworth

Karen wrote: Catnip Dreams is an example of one of my private commissions. I got permission from the client to sell reproductions of this one of the three images I did for them.

"Shades of Grey" is a stylized, fantastical design of abstract, vaguely tree-branch or plantlike looking forms, rendered in a range of gray tones the go from near-black to almost white.
Shades of Grey by Karen Ann Hollingsworth

Karen described the origins of Shades of Grey“This is an example of one of my intuitive fine art images. I was experimenting with doing a black and white watercolor.”

not only saw the next piece at Capricon 39, I voted for it

"Just a Dream?" by Karen Ann Hollingsworth was created for the Artist Challenge at Capricon 39, which it won. The composition is a study in mostly green foreground images on a lavender-to-greyed purple background. In the upper part of the painting is a very goatlike green kaiju, entangled in an aggressive-looking seaweed. In the lower third of the painting a small white goat sleeps in a nestlike bowl structure, with its head on a glowing green-and golden egg.
Just a Dream? by Karen Ann Hollingsworth

Just a Dream? is my very latest piece, winner of the Capricon 39 Artist Challenge,” Karen wrote. Challenge artists had to “incorporate a goat (the convention’s mascot) and three of the following five items: an animal skull, a carnivorous plant, a kaiju, a strange/glowing egg, or a monster-hunting weapon” in their composition.

"Coffee Dragon" by Karen Ann Hollingsworth is a study in black, brown, and tan, with a light green coffee mug in the lower fourth of the composition. Above it, appearing to form out of the steam rising from the cup, is a serpent-like brown, wingless dragon, whose head is turned to look directly at the viewer.
Coffee Dragon by Karen Ann Hollingsworth

Green Tea Dragon is one of my most poplar images. This year I finally got around to finishing the series, with the Coffee and Hot Cocoa Dragons,” Karen wrote. “I do like doing series. I don’t always realize . . . till after I do something that it will become a series.”

And speaking of series (she has created 7 or 8 series so far), here’s an example of another:

"Great Horned Owl" by Karen Ann Hollingsworth is a fanciful painting of a Great Horned Owl, with a swirly blue background and a tan, brown, and white owl, whose enormous, yellow eyes with black centers dominate the composition. The owl is painted in a stylized manner, almost seeming to be made of the dark green leaves from which it emerges at the bottom of the picture plane.
Great Horned Owl by Karen Ann Hollingsworth

“I completed [this series] last fall. My owls,” Karen wrote. “I started with the Screech Owl that I had been hearing outside my window at night. I didn’t know what it was. When I found out and saw photos I had to draw one. More often I hear the Great Horned Owls. To my amazement they sound just like the owls in cartoons. It’s always special hearing them. I don’t find they sound spooky at all.” 

I told her I usually like to include links to pages where people can buy prints, but she is still rebuilding after website problems last year. “As far as buying reproductions or prints of my work the best way to do so is in person at the Art Fairs and conventions I participate in,” she said. “People can contact me online via email if they know the image they want.”

What’s next for Karen? “At the moment I am hard at work prepping for my next Art show/convention. . . . I’ll be in Kansas City, MO [March 29-31, 2019] showing and selling in the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live pavilion [Booth #1412] within Planet Comicon

“It’s my 6th time doing Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, but [my] first at Planet Comicon. Not certain how my work is going to go over. I plan to have more updates on my website soon about some of the special products I will have at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live  / Planet Comicon.”

Don’t worry, Karen. If the Planet Comicon attendees have eyes, they’ll love your artwork!

IMAGES: All images are © 2007-2019 by Karen Ann Hollingsworth. They are posted here with her express permission. Please do not re-post any of them without her permission! For prints or more information about purchasing her originals, please follow her blog to learn about the art shows where she’ll be exhibiting and selling her work, or contact her directly. Unfortunately, she’s currently having to rebuild her website. Perhaps you can buy her art there at a future date.

Some characters and character-creators of Capricon 39

When you talk about science fiction and fantasy, you’re going to meet a lot of memorable characters.

And that’s just the people who write it.

Beguiling as the fictional characters might be, they have to be dreamed up and written about, by someone. And a science fiction convention such as Capricon 39 is a great place to meet writers.

Meeting a writer is sometimes as startling as meeting your first radio personality, but the wit, the knowledge, the humor and the perceptiveness you enjoy in their fiction didn’t come by accident from that person. Most of the writers I know are interesting in their own right.

And some of them are a particular pleasure to be on panels with or to listen to on panels you’re not on. In this post I’d like to feature three writers who made this year’s Capricon a particular treat for me. I’ve included links and some of their covers to give you an idea of what they write. Perhaps you’ll find something that’s right up your alley.

Megan Mackie

Megan Mackie

Megan was on a couple of panels with me, “Book Reviews vs. Literary Criticism,” and “Things Authors Always get Wrong!

She brought perceptive comments from personal experience with a troll to the “Book Reviews” panel, and discussed unrealistic descriptions of women, their behavior, and their bodies, to the “Authors Get Wrong” panel.

I found her to be well-informed and well-spoken, altogether a positive addition to our panel discussions.

And no wonder. Her website reveals she’s a podcaster (The Princess Peach Conspiracy) as well as the author of a growing series of urban fantasy books.

Set in a magical alternate Chicago (Megan just happens to live in the Chicago of our space-time continuum), her “Lucky Devil Series” seems to be off to a strong start.

Finder of the Lucky Devil is the first in Megan Mackie’s “Lucky Devil” series, followed by The Saint of Liars.

Chris Gerrib

Chris Gerrib

Chris was on the “Space Opera” Themed Reading panel with me, as well as the “Things Authors Always Get Wrong!” panel with Megan and me. He is the author of the “Pirates of Mars” Trilogy.

He, too, hails from Chicago, and his cover story is that he’s an IT director at a Chicago-area bank, with only a small, manageable Mars obsession.

He read selections from the first book in his “Pirates of Mars” seriesThe Mars Runfor the “Space Opera” Themed Readings.

In the “Things Authors Always Get Wrong!” panel, he discussed the ways that authors who don’t do their homework can be tripped up by actual facts that readers may know in the realms of the way military organizations work, logistics, and economics

Chris Gerrib’s “Pirates of Mars Trilogy” is available in print or e-book format from Amazon.
The Thursday panel, “Publishing and Marketing for Indie Authors,” featuring (L-R) Lance ErlickJim PlaxcoBeverly BamburyBlake Hausladen, and Jonathan P. Brazee.

Jonathan P. Brazee

Jonathan P. Brazee

I first met Jonathan Brazee at Northamericon ’17 in Puerto Rico, and we’ve been bumping into each other periodically ever since. I have enjoyed his comments on many different panels. 

At Capricon 39, I particularly enjoyed the panel discussion “Publishing and Marketing for Indie Authors.

He is the highly prolific author of “more than 75 titles,” including 44 novels. But don’t let that high output fool you about the quality of his work. 

In 2017 he was a Nebula Finalist for Weaponized Math.” In 2018 he was a Nebula Finalist for Fire Antand a finalist for the Dragon Award for Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel for Integration

He also is an active member of SFWA, the esteemed  Science Fiction Writers of America organization.

Jonathan Brazee’s nominated works from 2017 and 2018, L-R: for the NebulaWeaponized Math (2017) and Fire Ant (2018); for the Dragon Award for Military Science Fiction or Fantasy NovelIntegration (2018).


IMAGES: Many thanks to Capricon 39 for the convention’s header, which I cropped for size. I am grateful to Megan Mackie’s website for her author photo and her two book covers.  Many thanks to Chris Gerrib’s Amazon Author Page for his author photo, and to the individual Amazon pages for The Mars RunPirates of Marsand The Night Watchfor their book covers. Many thanks to Jonathan Brazee’s Amazon Author Page for his author photo, and to his Amazon listings for Weaponized MathFire Antand Integrationfor the cover images.

Capricon 39, “Strange Beasts Arise” (Between storms)

Ty and I made it to Chicago between storms, and then again home from Chicago, between storms. We lucked out massively, and for that I’m intensely grateful

Sheltering in place: Here’s how it looked on Sunday night before we were supposed to drive home Monday. The Wheeling, IL area near the Westin Chicago North Shore got at least 4 inches of snow. But Chicagoland can handle it!

Better yet, Capricon 39 made it WORTH dodging storms in Chicago in February. Con Chair D’Andre Williams and his concom outdid themselves, and for that I’m also intensely grateful.

It was a full-range sf convention, featuring an Art Showgamingspecial eventspanels, a large, well-stocked dealers’ room, and a fine range of excellent parties, including a bunch of them on Thursday night of the conCapricon cultivates its evening parties, and the results speak for themselves. Great job, Jason Betts!

Seanan McGuire was the Author Guest of Honor, Phil Foglio the Artist Guest, Carrie Dahlby was the Music Guest, and Doug Rice the Fan Guest. It bears noting that Foglio and Rice go way back, and they can be very entertaining. All of the GoHs were engaged and engaging.

As I am at most sf conventions I was primarily interested in stimulating panel discussions and the quality of the Art Show. Each of those departments will be the subject of upcoming blog posts.

Wheeling’s snow removal professionals ROCK! By the time we left at noon, the main hazards were the potholes. No snow-pack, no icy patches, we were even blessed with blue skies!

IMAGES: I took the “weather photos” myself. Feel free to use either, with link back and attribution. The Capricon 39 header is from their website.

A glimpse from Capricon 38

The Artdog Image of Interest  

Paper sculpture by Jan S. Gephardt, as displayed at Capricon 38, in February 2018.

I’m in Wheeling, IL, for the weekend, at Capricon 38. So far, it’s been fun. I’ll probably have more thoughts about Capricon in future posts, but here’s a look at my Art Show panel, as it appeared before the show opened.

IMAGE: I took this photo, in part for this blog post. If for any reason you re-post it, please do so with an attribution and a link back to this page. Thanks!

Blogging a panel

Writing About Forensics

A would-have-been panel for Capricon 37

Capricon 37 was a science fiction convention held February 16-19, 2017 in Wheeling, IL, just north of Chicago. Authors Jen Haeger and Jan S. Gephardt were scheduled to present a panel at the convention called Writing About Forensics.  Unfortunately, circumstances prevented both of us from attending, so all of a sudden the panel had no panelists!

To make up to Capricon for our inability to present the panel at the convention, Jen and Jan have created a co-written blog post, to offer a glimpse of what we would like to have been able to say at the convention. We agreed to post it on our blogs, and send the finished “virtual panel discussion” to Capricon, too, for their use. We hope you enjoy it.

The Panelists:

Jen Haeger

Jen Haeger (Moderator) is a writer geek with a DVM in Veterinary Medicine and a Masters in Forensic Science, though she presently writes part time and works part time at Barnes and Noble. Her published works include a veterinarian meets werewolf paranormal romance trilogy with some forensics in the first book, Moonlight Medicine: Onset. She currently resides in Ann Arbor, MI with her husband.

Jan S. Gephardt

Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and longtime science fiction fan. Her new science fiction novel, Going to the XK9s, is scheduled to be released this year by Durendal Productions. It is the first in a series about a pack of super-smart bio-engineered police dogs who struggle to establish themselves as full citizens, while solving crimes and sniffing out bad guys. To prepare for this novel series, she has devoted much of the last four years to researching, among other book-related topics, police investigational procedures and forensics.

The Questions, and our answers:

1. What is your definition of “forensics”? How does the definition expand or change, when you apply it to science fiction?


JH: My explanation of forensics is the opposite of the scientific method. When you use the scientific method, you start with a hypothesis, then design experiments or make observations to test that hypothesis, and end up with a result. With forensics you already have a result: a murder victim, a contaminated stream, a collapsed building. You then come up with a hypothesis of how that result came to be and do experiments or look at the evidence to try to determine how likely your hypothesis is.

I don’t feel like the definition should change when applied to science fiction. If in your story there are people who can just use a device to say, replay what happened at a crime scene without needing evidence, I wouldn’t call that forensics.

JSG: In the post-CSI era, I think most laypersons would define “forensics” as established techniques for evaluating the physical evidence of crimes. This would include analysis of images, fingerprints, chemical substances, DNA, blood spatter, ballistic evidence, etc., retrieved from a crime scene and documented according to the protocols of the agency doing the investigation. In each category of physical evidence, standards have evolved, based on systematic observations and more general scientific knowledge.

Unfortunately, in recent years we’ve occasionally discovered that standards of analysis have not been developed with enough scientific rigor to withstand the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. The reliance upon hair-sample analysis before the availability of DNA testing is an example of a formerly-trusted forensic technique that more recently was found to fall well short of that standard.

I think the only way the definition might be changed in science fiction would be a matter of specific techniques for the “list of types of analysis.” An author might extrapolate a new way of analyzing evidence, or speculate that a current technique might be abandoned in the future for some reason.

2. What are some of the problems you see with writing about crime and forensic evidence-analysis “in the future tense”? That is, what are some of the pitfalls science fiction mystery writers might need to consider and try to avoid?


JH: I think that science fiction writers must do research on what is currently available as far as forensic techniques are concerned and build/extrapolate from there if they want to stick to “hard” science fiction. Soft science fiction writers have a lot more leeway. They can just make stuff up and not worry about any pitfalls, but they may lose readers who know what is impossible, like determining the age of a latent fingerprint or time of death down to the minute.

JSG: I agree that any writer should do thorough homework, and I’d include the “soft sf” folks in that caveat. Due diligence helps avoid silly mistakes that can ruin the story for readers who know better. The main pitfalls beyond that are in the area of prognostication: what will be the “DNA-type” revolutionary discovery in the mid-21st Century? We can’t know, any more than people writing sf in the 1970s could have easily predicted using a cell-phone to photograph evidence or analyzing touch-DNA. But it’s fun to guess!

3. How big a role should forensics play in a science fictional crime story, as opposed to other aspects? What other investigation techniques or practices do you think might evolve, and how might they compliment or augment what we now think of as investigational best practices?

JH: Wow, okay, so any other investigation technique could evolve, but if your story is science fiction, I feel that the author should stick to science, i.e. forensic science. That is what the reader will be expecting from a science fiction novel. If the author wants to do character-centered speculative fiction, then they can concentrate on other investigational practices like mind reading during interviews or using super emotionally sensitive people to assess a suspect. There are so many different types of forensics that I’m not sure too many other techniques really come into play in a crime story except maybe interviewing people and profiling, though that may fall under forensic psychology. There is also deduction, but that can’t really be used in court.

JSG: I feel I ought to point out that while analysis of the physical evidence has an increasingly important role to play in helping to alleviate that “reasonable doubt,” there will always be a place for “good old-fashioned police work” in an investigation—that is, canvassing for witnesses, getting statements, building timelines, getting eyewitness identifications, etc.

Although eyewitness IDs have been found to be far less reliable in some cases (especially identifications of strangers in crowds or with distractions) than originally thought, it’s pretty hard to beat the certainty of a statement such as, “I’ve known that guy for 20 years, and I saw him shoot so-and-so in the head that night!” A science fiction crime story that ignores the human element (or the “non-terrestrial person element,” if applicable) ignores a huge part of the normal investigational process, and needlessly limits the story-possibilities.

A Belleville, IL officer talks to a member of the neighborhood after a call regarding a gun. Few investigations turn on forensic evidence alone.

4. Forty years ago, DNA wasn’t a consideration in evidence-gathering. Now it has become important in an amazing range of ways, applicable to a variety of crimes. Gaze into your crystal ball and speculate about ONE other potential kind of evidence that might become radically more important, given just the right breakthrough.

JH: Forensic science is constantly making radical breakthroughs. Imaging has made enormous strides recently in areas like crime scene reconstruction (being able to take a 3-D image of a crime scene for later analysis), spectroscopy (developing a sensor to detect date rape drugs), and adding audio to video (by analyzing vibration images).

But I’m going to go with precise time of death which has so far proved elusive.

Artist Jeff Porter visualized Jan’s Going to the XK9s protagonist Rex, a “forensic olfaction specialist,” and his human partner Charlie.

JSG: Probably the biggest breakthrough I’ve extrapolated in my novels is the ability to tap into the sensory capabilities of dogs in much more detail. We know that dogs can be trained to detect everything from bedbugs to cancer to hidden cocaine, but our ability to communicate with them is severely limited. What could they tell us if they could communicate in more detail? How would things change if we could swear one in on the witness stand?

5. In your own work, what have you found to be the most challenging or intriguing aspect, when extrapolating future crime-solving techniques?


JH: I haven’t yet done this in my writing. All my fictional forensics is doable at present.

Moonlight Medicine: Onset includes some forensics that are currently possible. It is the first in Jen’s fantasy romance trilogy about a werewolf and a veterinarian.

JSG: As I just explained, I’ve been having wonderful fun looking at the recent research on dog cognition and sensory capabilities, then extrapolating ways that we might expand our ability to communicate in more detail with them to learn in more detail what they are sensing. But there are many other areas where we can look at current practice and say, “Wow! If only we could find a way to say for sure if . . . !” My main fear is looking back ten or twenty years from now and groaning, “How could I possibly have missed that we’d be able to do THAT?”

6. Something that a writer might want to consider is whether or not to include any forensics in a crime novel/story. What are some reasons that there might not be any forensic evidence?


JSG: There are lots of reasons why no forensic evidence might exist—even apart from the careful machinations of a criminal mastermind. The investigator might not have access to a crime scene (either can’t locate it, or it has been moved or destroyed) or other crucial evidence (it’s extremely hard to prove there’s been a murder if you can’t find the body, for example). Or perhaps you have the crime scene but it’s been wiped clean (by whatever standards your sfnal setting requires). I bet the other panelists can come up with more.


JH: When writing about forensics it’s important to consider why there may or may not be evidence and if that evidence is something that will hold up in court. One of my favorite episodes of CSI is called Jackpot and has Grissom alone in the tiny, isolated Nevada town of Jackpot several hours away from Las Vegas.

In the CSI episode titled JackpotDr. Robbins receives a severed head that sends Gil Grissom on a fateful trip to to Jackpot ,NV.

When he first arrives, all the evidence he has is a head and the townsfolk are all tight-lipped and unhelpful. Then he has his evidence kit stolen and has to buy supplies from the local hardware store to remake some of his evidence collection tools. It is a great example of how, in a small town or isolated place, the characters may not have the equipment or skills to process a scene, even if they find one. Also, I’m not sure if Grissom’s makeshift evidence collection techniques would allow that evidence to be admissible in court.

The CSI cast examines the wedding murder
scene in Rashomama.

Another great (and hilarious) CSI episode, Rashomama, has all the evidence the CSI had collected in Nick Stokes SUV and the SUV is stolen before the evidence makes it back to the lab, rendering all of the evidence inside contaminated and inadmissible in court. This is a good example of the necessity of proper chain of custody of evidence and how it may be broken, rendering the evidence lost or useless.

I’d also just like to quickly mention that in today’s age of people having at least a CSI level of understanding of forensics, you must have a very good reason for a criminal to leave behind any obvious evidence. Unplanned or heat of the moment crimes are fine, but if someone has planned a murder, you must consider the steps they would have taken to minimize the evidence left behind unless your crime doesn’t take place in the present. If it takes place in the past, be very careful not to have police acting like the CSI of today and collecting evidence that there are no techniques yet established for analyzing.

7. Where does forensic science fit into non-crime stories?

JSG: Investigational-style observations could fit into lots of stories. You don’t have to be a trained detective to walk into your boyfriend’s apartment, find two wineglasses, and realize the lipstick on one of them isn’t a shade you wear, to infer he’s been entertaining another woman. Perhaps one of your characters is an amateur graphologist who never does business with someone whose handwriting shows certain characteristics. Anytime a character wants to learn something, there’s an opportunity to use an investigative approach.

JH: This is a good place to talk about all of the different disciplines of forensics. There are so many different aspects of forensics that apply to the environment, to engineering, to computers, to fields like anthropology/archeology, and so many others, that a crime is not necessary to employ forensic disciplines. The following is an almost exhaustive list:

Physiological Sciences

–       Forensic anthropology

–       Forensic dentistry

–       Forensic entomology

–       Forensic pathology

–       Forensic botany

–       Forensic biology

–       DNA profiling

–       DNA phenotyping

–       Bloodstain pattern analysis

–       Forensic chemistry

–       Veterinary forensics

Social Sciences

–       Forensic psychology (human behavior)

–       Forensic psychiatry (evaluations)

Forensic Criminalistics

–       Ballistics

–       Ballistic fingerprinting

–       Body identification

–       Fingerprint analysis

–       Forensic accounting

–       Forensic arts

–       Forensic footwear evidence

–       Forensic toxicology

–       Gloveprint analysis

–       Palmprint analysis

–       Questioned document examination

–       Vein matching

Digital Forensics

–       Computer forensics

–       Forensic data analysis

–       Database forensics

–       Mobile device forensics

–       Network forensics

–       Forensic video

–       Forensic audio

Related Disciplines

–       Fire investigation

–       Fire accelerant detection

–       Forensic engineering

–       Forensic linguistics

–       Forensic materials engineering

–       Forensic polymer engineering

–       Forensic statistics

–       Vehicular accident reconstruction

Many recent, popular police, mystery or thriller dramas on television use forensics as an important part of their stories. For some it is the primary focus, while it plays a smaller role in others.

8. Is the public done with forensics and shows like CSI? Is it still interesting to readers?

JSG: I think in the post-CSI era it’s hard to completely get away from forensics in at least some plot lines of crime stories. Consider that most of the N.C.I.S. franchise include quirky forensic analysts as regular members of the team, for example—and they’re some of the most popular shows on the air right now.

Similarly, Elementary, Hawaii Five-O, and Bones (although the latter is in its final season) all prominently utilize forensics. Moreover, the enduring popularity of crime series such a Patricia Cornwell’s “Scarpetta” novels, built around a character who is an evidence-collecting medical examiner, all would argue that forensics are far from “dead” in crime fiction.

JH: Sadly, I have just recently come to fully realize how obsessed the public is with crime and particularly murder and particularly the murdering of women. I came to this conclusion (that I should have reached long ago) after reading The Girl on the Train (excellent novel and movie by the by) back to back with The Woman in Cabin 10.

For more of my soap-boxing on this subject, please see my previous blog post. But stepping off the soapbox, I think the continued interest of the public in forensics is also evidenced by true forensic shows like Forensic Files and The New Detectives (yes, I’m a real forensics Netflix junkie).

Several long-running reality television shows also focus on forensics.

9. If forensics are so good, why are there any unsolved crimes? What problems with or drawbacks of forensics can make a story more interesting?

JSG: An earlier question that touched on “what if there isn’t any forensic evidence” partially answered this question, in my opinion. Forensics can only address the physical evidence. Such evidence can provide powerful corroboration, but in a satisfying crime story, often the most important element in the investigator’s “holy trinity” of means, motive, and opportunity is the middle one: MOTIVE. That’s usually what lies at the heart of a crime story. Forensics might be able to tell us who, what, when, where, and how, but rarely can do more than point vaguely in the general direction of the WHY.

JH: Though it is true that there are unsolved crimes due to lack of evidence, lost evidence, and contaminated evidence, there are also other hot issues dealing with forensics that can make your story more interesting. How about a forensic scientist skewing or just downright faking the results of a test to get a conviction? How about trying to validate a forensic technique in time for it to be admissible in court? How about taking a fresh look at old evidence with new forensic techniques (consider The Innocence Project)? How about planted evidence? Plenty of great story in the drawbacks of forensics.

10. What is your best piece of advice for authors wanting to write about forensics? Or conversely, what makes you crazy when you read stories where the forensics is poorly executed?

JSG: Ha! My answer is the same for both questions: Do your homework, authors! Especially in our field, it’s essential to check your facts. Anything else just doesn’t stand up to critical scrutiny by people who actually know. Who do you think your audience is, anyway? If you’re writing sf and your answer doesn’t include a fair number of scientists and scientifically-literate people, you haven’t framed your demographics accurately. Moreover, when it’s crime fiction, you might be surprised how many law enforcement folks are in the audience. This also means, of course, that experts may be more open to helping you get it right than you might expect.

JH: I agree with Jan here. If you are going to write about forensics, make sure to do your homework at least to the CSI-watcher level. That being said, I have several huge pet peeves with CSI:

1) the time it takes to do forensic testing,

2) the fact that they run every test on every piece of evidence collected,

3) the fact that they often work without masks and other PPE when analyzing DNA,

4) they have been shown working on multiple pieces of evidence at the same time,

5) CSI analyzing the evidence also interrogate the suspects, and

6) they often get DNA “matches”.

First, it should be noted that some forensic testing takes days or even weeks to do, so make sure that you don’t have an inappropriate turn around time. Second, many forensic tests are possible, but very expensive, so typically only the quickest and easiest are done unless it is a high profile case.

Also, not every forensic lab has the latest shiny, new forensic testing machine. Third, my masters thesis required me to analyze DNA and even with the strictest controls and appropriate PPE (hat, gloves, gown, booties, safety goggles, mask), there was still the possibility of contamination. Additionally, as an aside, don’t have people talking to each other directly over DNA evidence or while analyzing DNA evidence. Your spit has DNA and you should not speak when analyzing DNA. Fourth, cross contamination.

A crime lab scientist tests evidence from a sexual assault kit. As Jen described in her answer, the woman wears a mask to avoid cross contamination.

Fifth, forensic lab technicians must be as impartial as possible when analyzing evidence. In a perfect world they wouldn’t know anything about the crime or the suspects involved so that they could not introduce bias when analyzing and presenting results.

Sixth, okay, so in today’s world you can actually genotype an entire human genome from a sample and match it to another entire human genome from another sample. However, this is NOT how DNA testing is typically done, particularly since DNA samples at a crime scene have often undergone some type of DNA degradation (time, heat, chemicals, sunlight, dryness, etc.).

Typical DNA testing compares a small sampling of loci on just a few genes and comes up with a probability that the sample in question (i.e. found at the crime scene) came from the suspect as opposed to another random individual. This gets really complicated really fast, so best just to say “consistent with” instead of “match” (only the pilot episode of CSI gets this right).

Also, again, if you are writing in the past, make sure that you are using forensic techniques appropriate for your story’s time frame.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Capricon 37‘s website for their logo. So sorry I couldn’t be there in person, after all! Jen Haeger’s photo is from her Google+ Profile page. My photo is used by permission of my daughter Signy, the photographer. 

Many thanks to Hawaii Reporter’s article, “Allow the justice system to render the verdicts in violent crimes for the photo with the evidence bag in the foreground, and to Criminal Justice Degree Link’s article “10 Great Criminal Justice Jobs” for the fingerprint-scan photo. 

Many thanks to Reference-dot-com’s article “Why is forensic science so important?” for the photo of forensic scientists in a lab, to the Belleville News-Democrat for the photo of the officer talking with the neighbor about a gun report in 2015. 

There is no cover art for Going to the XK9s yet, but Jeff Porter has created a character sketch of Rex and Charlie. The cover for Jen’s Moonlight Medicine: Onset is courtesy of Amazon. 

Many thanks to Fandom’s CSI Wiki, for the photo from Jackpot, and to CSI Geekromance for the photo from Rashomama. I am indebted to Prisma Dental’s article “Your Teeth as a Tool for Investigation,” for the forensic odontology image, and to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s article “New Ballistics Control Chart for Forensic Imaging,” for the photo comparing cartridge casings.

Many thanks to the CBS TV shows’ official websites for the title cards for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Elementary, and Hawaii Five-O, and to Wikipedia for the title card for Bones

The cover images for The Girl on the Train and The Woman in Cabin 10 are from their respective Amazon pages. I am indebted to Wikipedia for the title cards for Forensic Files and The New Detectives, from their respective Wikipedia pages. 

Grins and many thanks to Marche Marie Regan’s Pinterest board on Forensics/Criminal Justice for the “criminologist baby meme”(via quickmeme). I am grateful to the National Institute of Justice’s “Sexual Assault Kits” page for the photo of the scientist testing evidence.

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