Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Deep Ellum stories

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

One Schedule-Change

By Jan S. Gephardt

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

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

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

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

I Love FenCon

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

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

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

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

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

This Year was an Extra-Special FenCon

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

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

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

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

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

I literally timed the release date to coordinate with FenCon!

So, Why this One Schedule-Change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does my Language Offend You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ripples from That One Schedule-Change

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

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

But wait! There’s still Archon!

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

IMAGE CREDITS:

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

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

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

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

The covers for Deep Ellum Pawn, Deep Ellum Blues, and a portrait of G. S. Norwood and her dog Kata, by Chaz Kemp.

Why I Admire G. S. Norwood

Please indulge me while I explain why I admire G. S. Norwood. Her new story releases today. Deep Ellum Blues provides a marvelous addition to her growing “Deep Ellum” stories collection. Read our post on The Weird Blog, and consider buying her stories!

Full disclosure: if you’re new to “Artdog Adventures” you may not know that G. is my sister. She and I co-founded the fledgling small press Weird Sisters Publising LLC.

The cover for “Deep Ellum Blues”
Deep Ellum Blues cover art © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Making Deep Ellum Blues happen

The ebook goes live via Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited today. I recognize that some of my readers resist buying anything from Amazon. Yeah, I get it. However, KU (via both page-reads and sales) offers better ways to maximize income from short fiction such as G.’s individual “Deep Ellum” stories.

Never fear. Once the fourth planned “Deep Ellum” story releases, we mean to collect all of them into one combined volume, and publish that collection “wide.” Both ebook and a print version, available everywhere. And, since G. has a BFA in theater and is a masterful dramatic reader, excellent audio options await in the future.

Others also Admire G. S. Norwood

Other authors also offer an appreciation of G. S. Norwood. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough read the two finished “Deep Ellum” novelettes and told us they’re “some of the best stories I’ve ever read!”

Author Bradley Denton (whose musical alter ego is “Bland Lemon Denton”) wrote in more depth. He said, “G.S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Blues takes the classic notion of “a deal with the Devil” and joyfully twists it sideways into a story that celebrates integrity, dedication, and artistry.

“The Blues have long been said to have more than a passing acquaintance with demonic power, and the tale of Mudcat Randall (and the immortal Miss Eddy’s concern for his fate) stems from that tradition. But Deep Ellum Blues reaches beyond the old stories to reveal that the true power of the Blues is rooted not in darkness and damnation, but in redemption and light.

“And along the way, it pays tribute to all the great artists whose songs have always, in truth, made the same point. Somewhere, Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker are smiling.”

The frustrating years

I take special joy in helping G. bring her stories to new and expanding audiences. That’s because I admire G. S. Norwood’s writing. Only her critique partners knew what a great writer she is until last November. We published Deep Ellum Pawn, the first of the “Deep Ellum” stories, around her birthday.

Like me, she spent a goodly chunk of the 1980s and 1990s balancing other work, writing when she could, and attempting to get traditionally published. Her supportive writer-husband Warren C. Norwood began making more money in the late ’90s. At his urging, she quit to give writing a full-time try. She finished several novels, but none of them sold.

I loved her books, and many editors did, too–but one thing or another always held them back. They would be hard to market. Her romances didn’t quite fit the formula they were looking for (at the time, romance novels dominated much of the market).

I always figured they didn’t sell because romance was the wrong niche. But what did I know? Her writing career seemed to end when Warren died. It was devastating, wrenching, and it forced her to find full-time work again.

The cover for Deep Ellum Pawn
Deep Ellum Pawn cover art © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.

A new opportunity

More than a decade later, we’re selling her stories in a different way. She wrote the first draft of Deep Ellum Pawn in 2017. Then as far as I know she put it in a drawer and didn’t look at it again till after I fumbled and bumbled What’s Bred in the Bone into print.

In between her demanding concert and behind-the-scenes schedule with The Dallas Winds (she’s Head of Concert Operations), she refined it into something we could publish. We really lucked out finding Chaz Kemp to do her covers.

That first story didn’t exactly turn into a bestseller. But there’s something awesome about being a published author. Especially with a story people out there in the world actually like and buy. Yes, indeed. Time to take another stab at a writing career!

A growing body of work

She definitely couldn’t yet give up her day job! But she’s been working on a delightful first-in-an-intended-series mystery novel (working title: “Sunshine and Ray”). She paused it to write Deep Ellum Blues, and then developed concepts for two more “Deep Ellum” stories.

Covid-19 lockdown put a serious crimp in the concert schedule. But it’s given G. more time to write. To my delight, she recently dusted off one of those “not-to-formula” romances and gave it an overhaul. I just got a polished new update of the last novel she finished before Warren’s death in 2005.

What’s next?

The novel, Wrong Way Riley, tells the story of a young woman determined to live her own life, despite intense pressure to be something she’s not. This book is no longer trying to be a romance novel (although the main character does enjoy one steamy romance), and it’s all the stronger for it.

If you’ve read G.’s “Deep Ellum” stories, you’ve noticed a strong music theme. Riley stays true to that trend. It’s deeply steeped in Texas folk music (we might get more setlists).

The covers for Deep Ellum Pawn, Deep Ellum Blues, and a portrait of G. S. Norwood and her dog Kata, by Chaz Kemp.
All artwork is © by Chaz Kemp. Be courteous. Re-post or reblog with an attribution and link back to this post and Chaz Kemp.

More will admire G. S. Norwood in the future

All of this means the fun and the discovery has only just begun. Much as I admire G. S. Norwood I could only offer a glimpse of what she has in store next.

She finished several other “failed romances” back in the 1990s. Those wonderful stories–and the “Route 66 novel” she hasn’t yet finished–deserve to be updated and read and loved.

My little sister has a powerful voice. I can’t wait to help her reveal it.

Four books from Weird Sisters Publishing in the order of release: What’s Bred in the Bone, Deep Ellum Pawn, The Other Side of Fear, and Deep Ellum Blues.

Gotta have a newsletter!

Everyone says, “You’ve gotta have a newsletter!”

Newsletters are a vitally important tool that authors can use to connect with readers.”

An author newsletter is an invaluable tool for authors.”

The data is in, and the guidance is out there, easy to find. Every Indie author needs a newsletter. So, yes, it’s clear. I’ve gotta have a newsletter.

Email “envelope symbols” above an electronic tablet visually describe sending emails.
Photo from Bigstock Photos, via The Book Designer blog.

As a former direct marketer, I already know this. Back in pre-Internet days, I was one of the people trying to convince tight-fisted small business owners to create a newsletter (and, incidentally, to hire me to produce it!).

So, then. Why haven’t I created one till now?

Because: Reasons.

I tried to set one up almost a year before I released my first book, What’s Bred in the Bone. I went with MailChimp, which is a reputable service that several friends use. The service starts the small folk out for free. I installed their plugin . . . and nothing happened.

Since I apparently had no one to send it to, I never wrote a newsletter. Then I got busy with several dozen other things. I always meant to come back to it, but it seemed a low priority. Zero subscribers, and low energy to go out and pursue any, kept that project on the back burner.

Finally, another friend who understands coding a lot better than I do looked at it. She’d tried to sign up and it sent her into cyber la-la land. It had done that to me, too, but I had no idea how to fix it.

She discovered the plugin interface was corrupted. She also found evidence that several hundred people had tried to sign up–but instead of going to my landing page, they took the same “nowhere” trip she had.

Oops! Is my face red!

If you’re one of the several hundred, I’m really sorry about that! Yikes. We uninstalled the plugin, I said goodby to MailChimp, and I vowed to try the whole thing again in the future “when I have more time.”

At that point I was hip-deep in creating a small press, Weird Sisters Publishing, with my sister. Also, getting What’s Bred in the Bone into print, which at the time I compared to wading through a swamp. (So far, alas, I’m still not a very adept Swamp Thing, but practice does help).

Book covers for “Deep Ellum Pawn,” “The Other Side of Fear,” and “Deep Ellum Blues.”
Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues cover art © 2019 and 2020 respectively by Chaz Kemp. The Other Side of Fear cover art © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

After that I got busy making the rounds of conventions (this was before Covid-19). After that, producing Deep Ellum Pawn.

And then working on A Bone to Pick and The Other Side of Fear.

And most recently, producing Deep Ellum Blues.

So, why now?

Because it’s way past high time. Since I didn’t start one several years ago, the next-best time is now. And besides, I’ve started getting all these cool pictures from my artist friend, Lucy A. Synk.

Lucy Synk has painted four of the male Pack members in running poses.
Portraits of (L-R) Tuxedo, Victor, Razor and Rex are all © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

Lucy and I have embarked on a mission to create portraits of all the XK9s in the Orangeboro Pack (I inform and finance; she paints). This has been a dream of mine, ever since I first realized how beautiful the Pack would be, all assembled together. Each has a unique coat color and personality. I can’t wait to introduce them to you visually!

That starts with this newsletter, but introducing Pack members is only the beginning.

What’s in the newsletter that you can’t get on the blog?

I’ve created blog posts about working with artists to develop cover artwork for Deep Ellum Pawn, The Other Side of Fear, and Deep Ellum Blues.

But glimpses of the “backstage” part of my work don’t show up too often on the blog.

In the October newsletter, Jan describes her efforts to visualize the environment inside Wheel Two of Rana Station.
Models and photos © 2017-2020 by Jan S. Gephardt.

They’ll be a regular feature of the newsletter. I’ll talk lots more about my works-in-progress. I’ll offer glimpses of ideas I’m developing for future work, character sketches, maps, and timelines.

I’ll also get a little more personal about what’s going on in my life, and how it informs my work.

Early glimpses and preview-previews

Lucy Synk painted a calico cat with a sweet expression.
This not-quite-finished
painting of Kali (for
one thing, no whiskers yet)
is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

Newsletter readers will get the “scoops.” The early glimpses. First looks at early scenes, ideas, and more. And newsletter readers will get to tell me what they think, especially if there’s something I haven’t yet decided, and I’m not sure which way to go.

For instance, when I was deciding on a name for Hildie’s cat, I asked my Facebook followers for ideas, and they voted (her name is Kali). Readers will get to meet her in A Bone to Pick.

From now on, I’ll be asking my newsletter readers such questions, instead.

Newsletter readers also get the first crack at presales and special offers, whenever I or Weird Sisters Publishing come out with something new. So. Are you interested? I sure hope so!

Shall we try this again?

I’m really doing it this time! I’ve signed up with a different mail service, ConvertKit, this time. Their interface makes more sense to me, and I think I’ve gotten all of the components loaded and turned on. I not only gotta have a newsletter, I now have the first one written!

It’s full of information on several current topics, including a look at some of the models I’ve made, to help me visualize the environment inside Rana Station better.

I have lots more things to share in future months, and I’d really like to include you in the audience I share it with! Will you please sign up for my monthly newsletter?

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