Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Dallas Winds

Two nice fountain pens, an Esterbrook Estie and a Stipula Adagio, with Jill Danahey’s painting, “Winter Persimmons.”

A Birthday Indulgence

By G. S. Norwood

By now you all know that I am a self-indulgent woman. I’ve blogged about how I value little rewards to myself for a job well done, or just for a laugh. But birthdays? Birthdays are an indulgence class all their own. Because I live alone, I can be really extravagant when it comes to a birthday indulgence.

In past years I have given myself pens and paintings. One year I famously gave myself a cat. Or was it Gift who gave herself a person that year? Sometimes it’s hard to tell with that girl.

Keyboard Kitty: In 2019, the Universe gave me a cat for my birthday.
Gift is one of my all-time favorite birthday indulgences. (G. S. Norwood).

Place Markers and Promises

One thing I enjoy is jewelry, particularly lovely rings. I have given myself more than a few for my birthday, including one made by a contemporary Native American artist, and one that looks like traditional Native American work, but was actually made by a friend’s husband.

For me, these rings are place markers. I wear them to remember a specific time I wanted to celebrate by giving myself this precious gift. The contemporary ring marked the birthday that officially made me older than Warren ever got to be. For me, it is a symbol of survival.

Traditional Ring; Contemporary Ring: Two of the many nice bits of jewelry I’ve given myself for my birthday.
The traditional ring on the left. The contemporary ring on the right. (G. S. Norwood).

The Symbol of a Vow

The traditional ring has an even stranger story.

I spotted it in a photo of work my friend’s husband was taking to an art fair. Since I wouldn’t be able to attend that weekend, I figured the ring was as good as gone. Something that lovely would surely sell fast.

When the weekend was over, I asked if he’d sold the ring. He hadn’t. He offered to send it to me on approval. If I liked it, I’d send him a check in return. The ring arrived a few days later, and I liked it even more “in person” than I had in the photo. But the only finger it fit was the ring finger of my left hand, where I no longer wore my wedding band.

I decided, if I was going to wear the ring on that particular finger, it should symbolize a promise I made to myself. Now when I look at the ring, I am reminded of my vow to be strong, to be brave, and to take control of my future instead of drifting along, cowed by all the challenges of life. When I wear it, it is much more than a birthday indulgence. It is the symbol of my vow.

Decorative ceiling beam and wall bricks.
Architectural details in Santa Fe, New Mexico: At a shopping plaza, and the Lensic Theatre. (G. S. Norwood).

Getting Out of Town

Sometimes I give myself an experience for my birthday, rather than a self-indulgent thing. Like the time I gave myself a weekend in Santa Fe, New Mexico. That one started out as a way to keep myself honest.

You see, there was this piccolo audition. I work for the Dallas Winds. From time to time a musician will retire and create an opening in the core Winds ensemble. We fill those openings by holding blind auditions.  They can last all day and be a real beating, even when you’re not the musician behind the curtain with your career on the line. When the Winds decided to hold piccolo auditions, they discussed a variety of dates, one of which was my birthday. I told them I could work any date but that one. I planned to be out of town that weekend, I said.

In my world, “out of town” can simply mean “not in Dallas.” Since I live in a little town about 30 miles north of Dallas, any time I go home I’m technically “out of town.” But this was my birthday. So when the Audition Gods decided my birthday weekend was the best possible time for piccolo auditions, I decided to get out of town for real.

The Santa Fe Plaza and two historic Santa Fe buildings, the hotel and the cathedral.
One birthday I treated myself to Santa Fe, staying in La Fonda, around the corner from St. Francis Cathedral and not far from the Plaza. (G. S. Norwood).

A Trip to Santa Fe

But where could I go that would require minimal travel time and offer an affordable adventure? I chose Santa Fe. The flight was only an hour to Albuquerque. From there I’d have the modest adventure of driving another hour into the mountains to Santa Fe. Oooo! That meant a rental car! I love rental cars. And a hotel? I booked myself into La Fonda, one of the coolest historic hotels I’ve ever stayed in.

I only had a couple of days there, but I loved every minute. I spent my birthday morning touring the art galleries along Canyon Road. In the afternoon I walked the Plaza, and logged some quality time just sitting on my private balcony, watching the crows that lived around the Loretto Chapel.

View of Santa Fe and Loretto Chapel.
The Loretto Chapel, as seen from my balcony. (G. S. Norwood).

I connected with a friend I had only known online. We met up the next morning for breakfast and several hours of amazing, wide-ranging conversation. I found an interesting bookstore and a lovely restaurant. I walked all over, then drove even farther, going back to Albuquerque via the back roads to see even more new stuff.

By the time I got home to Dallas, I was replete with new experiences and memories that I cherish to this day. Plus, no involvement in the piccolo auditions, and an unsullied reputation for honesty. Talk about a birthday indulgence!

Views from historic Cerillos, New Mexico.
I took the back road, called the Turquoise Trail, down to Albuquerque. (G. S. Norwood).

A Birthday Indulgence

As my birthday approached this year, I began to think about a new birthday indulgence. I wouldn’t be able to travel. Aside from the ongoing pandemic, I have a trip planned for later that will use up all my dog-sitting resources. I have all the pens and books any sane woman could want, and I haven’t seen any fresh artwork that needs to find a home on my walls. I could invest in a bit more renovation—I need tile in my den, and there’s a closet that could be rebuilt. None of these ideas grabbed me.

The one idea I kept returning to was a gas log for my fireplace. I love a good fire, but I hate hauling wood and shoveling ashes. After last February’s deep freeze, I thought it might be prudent to get something for my house that could give off heat even when the electricity is out for an extended time. I searched online, found a local dealer, and gave him a visit. He had a style I liked, at a price within my budget. And yet . . . Somehow, I kept holding off.

Two nice fountain pens, an Esterbrook Estie and a Stipula Adagio, with Jill Danahey’s painting, “Winter Persimmons.”
The same old indulgences didn’t appeal this birthday. (G. S. Norwood; Winter Persimmons is © by Jill Danahey).

Somebody Needs to be an Adult

And then, one morning, I opened the door of my clothes dryer to find it had died mid-cycle, and was no longer responding to my commands, pleas, or prayers. While I am old enough to remember clotheslines, I don’t have one in my back yard, and I don’t really fancy going back to the days of lugging heavy baskets of wet sheets outdoors to pin up in the breeze.

I went online and did my research. Turned out the kind of dryer I wanted cost . . . just about exactly the same as that set of gas logs I’d been eyeing. Clearly somebody in my household needed to step up to be an adult. That “somebody” was me, of course, because you can’t count on cats or border collies at moments like this.

So there it is, folks. This year I have chosen to indulge myself in warm, fluffy sheets and towels with that fresh-out-of-the-dryer smell. I have named my new indulgence Emily, for no good reason beyond the fact that it seemed a good match for Arthur, the washing machine. Emily is a champ at getting things dry.

It might not be the kind of decadently indulgent birthday present I usually give myself, but I am satisfied with my choice. Well done! Happy birthday to me!

The author’s new clothes dryer, next to her washing machine.
Emily and Arthur—together at last. Happy Birthday! (G. S. Norwood).

IMAGES:

All photos were taken by G. S. Norwood. Winter Persimmons is © by Jill Danahey. In case you’re curious, the fountain pens are an Esterbrook Estie and a Stipula Adagio.

BFFs Lynette M. Burrows and Jan S. Gephardt.

A Pair of BFFs Talk about Writing

By Jan S. Gephardt and Lynette M. Burrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is Jan S. Gephardt?

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

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

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

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

Now, let’s Talk about Writing!

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

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

Fellowship is available at most online bookstores.

JAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

JAN

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

JAN

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

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

Would You Like to Ask Us Other Questions?

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS:

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

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

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

A montage of public events in Texas

What’s it Gonna Take?

By G. S. Norwood

With the number of new COVID-19 cases dropping, and Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, what’s it gonna take to get you out of the house and back into large entertainment venues this summer? I’m thinking specifically of movie theaters and concert halls, but that’s just me. What about sports arenas and churches? County fairs, rodeos, and festivals? Are you prepared to dive back into public pools and farmers’ markets? Just how comfortable are you going into public spaces, indoors or out, where a lot of people gather, with or without masks?

Montage of public events in Texas.
Texas, like the rest of the country, offers a variety of crowded events (see below for credits).

Let’s Take it For a Spin

My youngest granddaughter graduated from high school a couple of weekends ago. She was home-schooled, and the home school association that sponsored the graduation ceremony aligns with the evangelical Christian movement. All of which is to explain why I found myself in a crowd of happy people, celebrating their children’s rite of passage without a mask in sight, and—at a guess—not many vaccinated people in attendance.

But I love Warren’s daughter and her family. My granddaughter wanted me to be there. So I went. Never mind that, only a few months ago, the whole thing would have been a prime candidate for a super-spreader event. I decided to take my fully-vaccinated status, and the latest CDC guidelines, out for a spin.

Go Live? Or go Livestream?

But that was family, and I hadn’t seen any of them in quite a while. What’s it gonna take to get me out to an event that doesn’t involve relatives? Well . . . Maybe money?

Crowded concerts by The Dallas Winds.
Will you be ready to return to concerts like these at the Dallas Winds? (see below for credits).

July Fourth is a big day for the Dallas Winds. Every year, except for last year, we have a concert at Dallas’ Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. Lots of patriotic music. Lots of fun. A giant flag drops from above the stage. CO2 cannons fire streamers into the air. A delightful guy in maybe the best Uncle Sam costume I’ve ever seen hands out flags to kids and grownups in the lobby. He used to do it on stilts. It’s a big, old fashioned celebration of patriotism and American music. The concert usually sells out the 2,061-seat house.

As Director of Concert Operations, I’ll be involved in it up to my eyebrows. It’s my job, and I’ll be paid for it. You can bet I’ll be there. But will you?

You will have the option to attend in person, whether the city limits us to no more than 500 socially distanced ticket holders, or lifts the limits and lets us sell the whole house. You’ll also have the option to purchase a pay-to-view livestream of the concert. Are streamer cannons and flag drops enough to get you out of your house after a year without the magic of a live concert? Or will you be content to sit back and watch it on a small screen at home?

200 piccolos and Uncle Sam on stilts join the Dallas Winds on July 4, 2016. (see below for credits).

Two Hours in the Dark With Your Dreams

Speaking of magic, what about movies? As much as I adore a live concert, my idea of the perfect getaway is to sit in the dark for a couple of hours, watching somebody else’s story unfold in front of me on a giant screen. With popcorn, of course. But I haven’t been to a movie theater since November 2019, when I went to see Knives Out.

Movie posters for “The Green Knight,” “Black Widow,” and “Knives Out.”
The author is looking forward to a return to movies in theaters (see below for credits).

Oh, I’ve watched feature films since then, but that was streaming video at home. I had to make my own popcorn and get my own soda refills. Didn’t have to gamble on having time to hit the restroom during the big fight sequence in the middle. I could pause the action for as long as I wanted, go to the bathroom, take the dogs out, maybe order a pizza and wait for delivery. And I was certainly not glued to my chair, bound by time limits to absorb the whole experience right now, the way you are in a movie theatre.

Cinemark is the dominant theater chain in my area. They’ve devoted a lot of their website to detailing the steps they take to make their theaters clean and safe for patrons. You want to check it out? There’s a banner at the top of every page you can click for more information. Or read it here.

Is it enough? Maybe. But maybe it will take all that plus Black Widow. Or The Green Knight. Will Dev Patel on a horse be enough to tempt me out of the house in the middle of the summer?

The Green Knight releases on July 30, 2021. (see below for credits).

What’s it Gonna Take?

2020 was the year of the introvert. We all got to stay home, deal with work remotely, and insulate ourselves from the pandemic craziness outside. But things are opening up again now. Although only 35% of people in Texas are fully vaccinated, we’re going to have to go back out there sooner or later. You tell me. What’s it gonna take?

IMAGE CREDITS:

We have lots of thanks to share, this week. Both videos come from the YouTube channels of their originators. The Dallas Winds and the World Record for Most Piccolos Playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” and The Green Knight Official Trailer in HD from A24. Much obliged!

All image montages were assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.

Crowded Texas Venues

Many thanks to The Dallas Morning News, for both the photo of the Dallas Cowboys game from 2019, by photographer Tom Fox, and the Shed at the Dallas Farmers Market, by photographer Ron Baselice. We thank Second Baptist Church’s Facebook Page and Wide Open Country for the photo of people at a service. Our gratitude goes to Texas Hill Country for the photo of rides at a county fair after dark, and Travel Texas for the undated photo of the unidentified barrel racer. Thanks also to The Dallas Observer and photographer Brian Maschino for the photo from the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

Dallas Winds at the Meyerson

Many thanks to The Dallas Winds for the image of their logo, the photo of the crowd listening to a fanfare at the Meyerson, and the “Star Spangled Spectacular” concert (also used in a previous post). The photo of a Dallas Winds audience is courtesy of Culture Pass: Dallas Culture. We thank you all.

Three Movie Posters

Our deepest gratitude goes to Amazon for the posters for the movies Knives Out and Black Widow. The not-at-all-green poster image for The Green Knight is straight from A24, the studio itself. We are grateful to all!

Covers for G. S. Norwood's novellas, "Deep Ellum Pawn" and "Deep Ellum Blues."

Horror? Oh, Horrors!

By G. S. Norwood.

Jan S. Gephardt’s sister G. S. Norwood is a frequent guest blogger on “Artdog Adventures.”

I was a surprised when I learned my novelettes, Deep Ellum Pawn, and Deep Ellum Blues fall into Amazon’s “Occult Horror” category.  Sure they deal with the supernatural, but Horror?  I don’t think so.

This category ranking list from early October 2020 shows that at the moment Ms. Norwood made the screen capture, her novelette “Deep Ellum Pawn” was ranked #61 in 90-Minute Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Reads, #236 in 90-Minute Literature & Fiction Short Reads, and #645 in Occult Horror.
Screen-capture from Amazon by G. S. Norwood.

I am not a horror fan. While I deeply respect Stephen King, and am happy to recommend his memoir/advice book, On Writing, I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t read many of his other works.  I don’t enjoy being scared.  It’s not a recreational pursuit for me. Film franchises like Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street do not tempt me. I’m not tuning in to Lovecraft Country, although I hear it’s terrific. 

Funny horror stuff is okay for me—films like The Addams Family and BeetlejuiceTim Burton’s Corpse Bride knocked me out with its stop-motion animation.  But I’m too chicken for the super scary stuff.  In fact, when I was three, I was too chicken to watch The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

The movie poster for the 1966 horror comedy movie “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” shows a picture of the film’s star, Don Knotts, and other cast members.
Movie poster for The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

Imagination Makes it Scary

Still, I wonder sometimes if the horror is more horrible in my imagination than it is in reality.  I remember a childhood friend describing James Whale’s Frankenstein to me after he’d seen the 1931 horror classic on TV.  It sounded really scary. I avoided watching it until 2014, when the Dallas Winds did a live concert performance playing Michael Shapiro’s brooding orchestral score under the film.

Boris Karloff was the best part, of course.  I felt tremendous sympathy for his misunderstood monster.  But the rest of the story? After decades of avoiding it because it was “too scary,” I walked away thinking, “C’mon, buddy. You want to create new life? There are time-tested methods for that. You’ve already got the girl. It could be fun.”

A movie lobby card from the 1931 movie “Frankenstein, The Man Who Made a Monster,” shows the classic monster image, along with portraits of the cast.
Movie Theater Lobby Card for Frankenstein.

Horror?  In a Time of Virus?

In this Time of Virus, I have found myself turning more and more to books that soothe and reassure me. I’ve re-read mysteries where I already know the ending. I’ve chain-read a series of romantic comedies by British author Jules Wake, set in the London theatrical scene, or in cozy country villages.

I put off reading Elly Griffiths’ The Stranger Diaries for months because the cover blurb sounded too creepy.  As it turned out, it was just a slightly stalkerish murder mystery, and I enjoyed it immensely.

This header image from Simone St. James’s website shows a short cover quote from Riley Sager, “Deliciously creepy. A chilling blend of mystery and ghost story that will thrill fans of both.” The words run alongside the cover of her book The Sun Down Motel.
Header for The Sun Down Motel courtesy of Simone St. James’s website.

Two other recent reads stepped out of my usual comfort zone into the realm of horror.  One was a terrific ghost story/mystery called The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James.  It skirted pretty close to my limits in the beginning, but I’m glad I stuck with it.

The other was a real-life horror story. Jerry Mitchell was an investigative reporter for the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger.  His book, Race Against Time recounts four horrific crimes committed by members of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1960s Civil Rights era. Through work by Mitchell and others, these criminals were finally brought to justice. 

Author Jerry Mitchell’s portrait is next to the cover of his book, “Race Against Time.”
Author Jerry Mitchell, with his book Race Against Time.

Horror? I was certainly horrified by the violence Mitchell depicted.  But I was also uplifted by the understanding that evil can be defeated whenever good people—real or fictional—have the courage to stand up and fight back.

IMAGE CREDITS:

G. S. Norwood provided the screen capture from an early-October Amazon listing for her Deep Ellum Pawn novelette, showing one of its consistent categories is “Occult Horror.”

The Movie poster for The Ghost and Mr. Chicken The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Universal Pictures, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist. Image via Wikipedia. The movie theater lobby card for Frankenstein is by Employee(s) of Universal Pictures. Now in the Public Domain, this image is from Wikimedia Commons.

The header for The Sun Down Motel is courtesy of Simone St. James’s website. Quote by Riley Sager. Book cover photograph by Tom Hogan/Plain Picture; Jacket design by Sarah Oberrender/Berkley books. The photo of author Jerry Mitchell is by James Patterson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger. Cover for Race Against Time is courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

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