Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: G. S. Norwood Page 1 of 3

This square image has a variegated background with a tan-edged, variegated rectangle on a layer floating above the background layer. Three square images from the blog post are arranged on the diagonal across the middle. They overlap each other – but not enough that we can’t see what they are. Design by Jan S. Gephardt.

A Mixed Bag in April

I had a mixed bag in April, when it comes to posts on The Weird Blog . . . and also when it comes to just about everything else, too. My ongoing book review work continues. However, I prefer to blog about books and share their reviews in themed groups of three to five. I didn’t have neatly themed groups of much of anything in April.

Book review topics were only one category of “hodgepodge” in April. I’m also transitioning out of the intense burst of art direction projects (see more below, for those). And because beta reader comments have now come in for Bone of Contention I made another kind of transition, back into working on the polishing round of revisions.

Transitions of that sort are a recipe for “mixed bag.” So are random variables, and we had one enormous new “random variable” in our household this month. In my last novel, A Bone to Pick, my fictional characters Charlie, Hildie, and Rex discovered that random variables can sometimes pack a nasty punch. Our new household random variable wasn’t what I’d call nasty – but he did prove to be extremely time- and energy-consuming.

New husky puppy Moon Gephardt in action: Clockwise from upper left, walking on the wall, chewing on and tossing a toy, and Moon takes a good sniff of Yoshi, while Yoshi sends an imploring look toward the camera. All photos © 2024 by Jan S. Gephardt.
See Credits below.

Meet Moon, Our Random Variable

Moon, our new dog, contributed more than his share to that mixed bag in April. Every new household member arrives bringing challenges. When my son adopted a year-old husky at the end of March, we thought we knew what we were getting into, because we’d had a lot of dogs in our lives. But I gained a whole new appreciation for the “puppy sequence” in the movie Togo after a few weeks of living with Moon. Like Togo, Moon is a Siberian husky.

In true husky fashion, he is intelligent, creative, charming, loving, persistent, and athletic. He’s a wonderful dog. And he’s been giving me an awesome experience to take notes for future books when XK9 puppies come on the scene. He’s also lighting-fast, extremely strong, bullheaded, and needs constant watching.

We have a senior cat, a middle-aged cat, and a middle-aged, somewhat smaller dog. They range from hanging out amicably when Moon’s feeling mellow, to being irritated by Moon, and sometimes to actively being in danger from him. That’s not because he’s mean. It’s simply because he’s so much bigger, stronger, and faster – and he’s a puppy, so he doesn’t know his own strength.

Even when my husband is on the scene, keeping Moon well supervised, especially around our other pets, is challenging. When my husband left for an 8-day trip to help a friend in Mississippi, the “Moon management” effort during the final week of April shifted from “challenging” to seriously exhausting. Let’s just say my productivity took a nosedive.

This montage shows the four illustrations from the blog post “A Proper Balance of Politics and Business,” published on The Weird Blog April 10, 2024. All montages by Jan S. Gephardt. See the original blog post for details from individual illustrations.
See Credits below.

Striking “A Proper Balance of Politics and Business”

As noted above, my Weird Blog post topics presented a mixed bag in April. The first post, A Proper Balance of Politics and Business, explored a question that perplexes many businesses, both large and small: just ask Nike or Bud Light about that! Even we Weird Sisters ourselves differ on what works best for our mutual corporate (as Weird Sisters Publishing) and separate professional balances.

My sister G. S. Norwood generally prefers to eschew any overt political comment. It’s a caution well-learned and deeply entrenched after a professional lifetime of interactions in the business community of Dallas, TX. Politics isn’t a major factor in her written fiction work, either, so it seems quite appropriate to walk a line of neutrality in her professional persona.

In my own work, I find it very difficult – indeed, counter-productive – to attempt to erase general political assumptions and concepts from the worldbuilding of science fiction. The artistic choices one makes in my genre are shot through with political understandings. I think politics in science fiction is kind of baked in. That holds, whether one is commenting pointedly or not. Consider the implied comment of many dystopian visions. Or the assumptions made in a post-apocalyptic setting. Or the ways that political and corporate balances of power are portrayed in any given science fictional story-universe.

This montage includes one of Chaz Kemp’s variations on the “Windhover” space ship in the center. Behind “Windy,” clockwise from upper left are Lucy A. Synk’s “Quadra,” “Thisseling and Rajor Zee,” “Mosseen,” Jose-Luis Segura’s “Mac and Yo-Yo in their workshop,” and Lucy A. Synk’s “Kril, Daytime, with Moons.” The words say, “Astronomicals © 2019-2024 by Lucy A. Synk,” “Windhover ship ©2022 by Chaz Kemp,” and “© 2021 by Jose-Luis Segura,” on the “Mac and Yo-Yo” picture. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt.
See Credits below.

The Windhover Tetralogy as Illustrated Books

From politics to the beauty and potential of illustrated books? Yes, The Weird Blog’s topics were quite the mixed bag in April! Our second post of the month explored the new way that I’m planning to present the “vintage 1980s” science fiction of my late brother-in-law, Warren C. Norwood.

My objective was to give the new reissue editions of his first, four-book series a better evocation of Warren’s wide and wildly inventive imagined worlds. To achieve that, I’ve engaged the talents of three different illustrators, Lucy A. Synk, Chaz Kemp, and Jose-Luis Segura.

We’re tackling this rather extensive, involved project in two bursts of production work. The first one, which started in December and has run through the spring, is beginning to wind down. Other production considerations kick in during the summer, specifically finishing up the Bone of Contention rollout. Then we plan to crank it back up and finish the work this fall and winter, with book release dates in 2025.

For more details, and for more looks at work we’ve finished so far, check theIllustrated Bookspostitself. And I bet by now you see my point about how all the assorted projects and random variables created such a mixed bag in April.

About the Author

Author Jan S. Gephardt Is shifting from the mixed bag in April to focus more fully once again on her own XK9 Series of science fiction novels and shorter fiction in May and through the summer. Subscribers to her monthly newsletter currently have access to more original short fiction set in the XK9s’ universe than is currently available for sale. Her newest title, Bone of Contention, is set to be published September 24, 2024. It completes the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, although the series will continue.


All photos in the “Moon Montage” are © 2024 by Jan S. Gephardt, who also designed the montage. The second montage shows the four illustrations from the blog post “A Proper Balance of Politics and Business,” published on The Weird Blog April 10, 2024. All montages were designed by Jan S. Gephardt. See the original blog post for details about sources within the individual illustrations.

The third montage includes one of Chaz Kemp’s variations on the “Windhover” space ship in the center. Behind “Windy,” clockwise from upper left are Lucy A. Synk’s “Quadra,” “Thisseling and Rajor Zee,” “Mosseen,” Jose-Luis Segura’s “Mac and Yo-Yo in their workshop,” and Lucy A. Synk’s “Kril, Daytime, with Moons.” The words say, “Astronomicals © 2019-2024 by Lucy A. Synk,” “Windhover ship ©2022 by Chaz Kemp,” and “© 2021 by Jose-Luis Segura,” on the “Mac and Yo-Yo” picture. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt.

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).


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.

Brian and the cover of “Almost Perfect.”

Almost Perfect Except . . .

By Brian Katcher

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

The Almost Perfect Story

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

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

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

Research and Early Responses

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

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

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

Delayed Reaction

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

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

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

Brian’s Self-Critique

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

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

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

Pitfalls and the Creative Process

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue: An excerpt

By G. S. Norwood, abetted by Jan S. Gephardt


Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Deep Ellum Blues’ publication, and some of our readers want to know. Will the Deep Ellum stories continue?

To that, we’re happy to answer an emphatic yes. Ms. Eddy’s adventures aren’t nearly over yet. But when’s the next story coming? Well, that’s a little harder to say. Death in Deep Ellum, the working title for the third story, is a murder mystery. It’s required some theological thinking and some careful interweaving of the plot elements, while G. also works on several other exciting fiction projects.

Oh, yes, and her job. Concerts are starting up again, and the grant proposals never did let up. So G.’s a busy lady in her day job, too.

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue

But yes. Rest assured. The Deep Ellum stories continue! To prove it, this post includes a first look at Death in Deep Ellum’s opening. But before that, a quick look at how we got here.

In the first story, Deep Ellum Pawn, we met Ms. Eddy Weekes, proprietor of Deep Ellum Pawn. Her shop is always there when you need it, and she rocks the most epic storage room and garden-with-water feature that you may ever have encountered.

“The Golden Fiddle is back. The Hell Hounds are Ms. Eddy’s problem now.”
The e-edition of Deep Ellum Pawn in a visualization from Book Brush. Cover artwork © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.

Deep Ellum Pawn Description

The Golden Fiddle is back. Can Ms. Eddy break its curse this time?

What’s a pawnshop owner to do? The cursed Golden Fiddle keeps coming back to Deep Ellum Pawn, the shop where Ms. Eddy Weekes stands guard over the historic Dallas, Texas, neighborhood of Deep Ellum. Each time the fiddle shows up, it leaves a swath of broken dreams and shattered lives, with a pack of fearsome Hell Hounds hot on its trail.

Music, magic, and legends intertwine in Deep Ellum, and things long buried have a way of coming back ‘round again. Only Ms. Eddy can end the fiddle’s curse, but first she must learn its secrets.

Will she have the tools she needs to fend off the Hell Hounds and get to the heart of the Golden Fiddle, before an ancient evil brings the darkness back to Deep Ellum forever?

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue with Deep Ellum Blues

We published Deep Ellum Pawn in November 2019, preceded by three successive blog posts with excerpts and a release-day announcement. People enjoyed it, so G. got to work on a second. You might also enjoy another post with some of the story’s background, and another one on the making of the cover.

We rolled out Deep Ellum Blues not quite a year later, again with a series of blog posts. They included an excerpt, an interview of G. by internationally-bestselling mystery novelist Deborah Crombie, and a look at the making of the cover. We also posted a Setlist with YouTube videos of Mudcat’s songs (scroll down), and a release notice. And we followed its release with a post by G. about the famous song Deep Ellum Blues.

“Mudcat Randall is flirting with disaster. Can Ms. Eddy break through, or will an old and tragic story make Deep Ellum sing a new kind of blues?”
The e-edition of Deep Ellum Blues in a visualization from Book Brush. Cover artwork © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Deep Ellum Blues Description

Free will is a rule she doesn’t break.

As the genius loci of Deep Ellum, Ms. Eddy Weekes is a hands-off goddess who won’t micro-manage human affairs. She’d rather sit on the sidelines and enjoy the show. Her motto? “People have the right to make their own hideous, life-altering mistakes.”

But there’s something different about the young blues musician Mudcat Randall.

Maybe if her old friend Waylon hadn’t called him to her attention, she’d have let things be. Maybe if she hadn’t glimpsed something special in his music . . . But Mudcat is flirting with disaster. Eddy’s old adversary wants him to sign a tempting management contract, and there are deadly strings attached.

When a third force enters the fray, everything Mudcat has ever prayed for is suddenly on the line, and Eddy knows the game is rigged against him. Can Eddy break through to the headstrong musician? Or will an old and tragic story make Deep Ellum sing a new kind of blues?

Coming Next: Death in Deep Ellum

We promised you an excerpt. Here’s a glimpse of the current draft’s opening.

Chapter One: Prayer of the Dying

There is no prayer like the prayer of the dying.

As the genius loci of Deep Ellum, the historically Black, funky, happenin’ heart of Dallas, Texas, I hear those prayers, whether the people praying live here or just come to hang out for a while. Think of me as the neighborhood’s resident goddess. You can call me Ms. Eddy Weekes.

I heard Perkins’ prayer just after dark on a scorching summer evening. Perkins was an alcoholic, and a member in good standing of the homeless population that still drifts through Deep Ellum despite all the developers’ efforts to gentrify. I’d kept my eye on him for the past couple of years, but I hadn’t anticipated any sudden downturn in his condition.

Ms. Eddy, a detail from Chaz Kemp’s Deep Ellum Pawn cover.
Ms. Eddy, ©2019 by Chaz Kemp.

When he called, I was with him in an instant. I found him curled on his side by a back-alley dumpster off Elm Street. He’d been shot three times in the gut, and blood was everywhere.

“I’m here, Perkins. I heard you. I can fix this,” I said. The day’s heat radiated up from the crumbling asphalt as I dropped to the ground, but Perkins’ skin was already going cold, his dark skin going gray.

He rolled onto his back, his head on my knees, and I put my arms around his shoulders, trying with all my will to knit his shattered intestines back together.

“It’s my time, Miz Eddy. Don’t worry ‘bout me. It’s my time.”

His voice was a thin thread, only sustained by the force of my will. He had called out to me in need. I had to know what he wanted me to do.

“What happened?”

“I’ze jus’ here, and he come up out of nowhere. Shot me. Didn’t say a thing. Then he’s gone.” Perkins bucked a little against my legs, racked by a cough, a shiver, or some spasm of pain.

“What can I do, Perkins? How can I help?”

“I don. Wanna go. To the bad place. I bin. A drunk. But I ain’t. Bin bad.” His breath was coming in short gasps now.

“You won’t go to the bad place,” I promised. I could see his soul starting to spin out and away from his body, so I reeled it in, holding it close. “What else?”

Perkins made a supreme effort. He used his very last breath to ask one more thing of me.

“Get that son of a bitch.”

He sagged in my arms as I drew together the last tattered fragments of his soul, winding it into a tight ball. Holding it in my heart, as well as my hands, I said aloud, “Nathan Allen Perkins, I see you. I see you in your entirety. I see your heart. I see your mind. I see your soul. You are worthy. You will be missed. You will be remembered. You are safe in my hands, and free to move forward without fear.”

Then I tucked his soul into a pocket of time and space not even my old foe, Nick, could hack into. I sent the little pocket to the store room of my pawn shop, where Perkins’ soul could rest until I delivered it on up to the next level.

That done, I paused a moment to absorb the loss of a man I had liked. I’d given Perkins sandwiches from the shop down the street. He’d kept an eye out for Morsel, my wandering cat. We had shared gossip, and the news of the neighborhood. Perkins’ belief in me had fed my being just as surely as my sandwiches had fed his. I am far too old to trade in human relationships but, as far as it was possible, Perkins had been my friend. I would miss him.

So I took the moment to mourn. Something vital was now gone from Deep Ellum, and I felt the loss.

A detail from one of Chaz Kemp’s working drawings of Ms. Eddy.
Ms. Eddy, ©2020 by Chaz Kemp.

Then I pulled my phone out of my back pocket and called 9-1-1.

It would only take the cops a few minutes to get here.

In those few minutes, I took a look around the alley. I wasn’t interested in the three brass shell casings I spotted at the corner where Crowdus Street intersected with the alley that ran behind a rag-tag assortment of take-out restaurants. I didn’t much care about the view from the youth hostel that loomed above me, or the rusty, reeking dumpster that must have all but hidden Perkins unless someone was looking for him. I saw the bottle he’d been nursing, smelled the rotgut that had spilled from it.

And, faintly, under the garbage, the booze and the blood, I smelled something else entirely. As I rose from the pavement to stand guard over my friend’s body, I caught just the barest trace of brimstone. Somehow, in some way I could not yet see, Nick had had a hand in this.

I would help the police, if I could, to find the man who pulled the trigger, but Perkins had asked me for more than mere human justice. He’d asked me to “get that son of a bitch.” That meant I was going to have to track down the Devil himself.

The Deep Ellum Stories Continue

We hope you’re looking forward to Death in Deep Ellum as much as we are. And we’ll keep you posted on progress!


The covers for Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues are ©2019 and 2020, respectively, by Chaz Kemp. The character developments for Ms. Eddy are also ©2019 and 2020, respectively, by Chaz Kemp. Many thanks!

If a story is in you it has to come out. – William Faulkner

Call me Irresponsible

By Jan S. Gephardt

Call me irresponsible if you will, but I spent the day writing.

Writing fiction, that is, not a blog post. Even though it was “Blog-or-Die Day.” Even though I had scheduled and set aside time to work on a blog post. Yes, even though I hate, hate, hate missing deadlines. The journalist/commercial graphic designer in me detests missing deadlines.

But instead of blogging like I was supposed to, I spent this week’s designated blogging day writing fiction. Specifically, I spent it finishing a brand-new short story set in the universe of the XK9s. Call me irresponsible, but I’d do the same thing again, if I had this day to do over. The story had to come out. Now.

If a story is in you it has to come out. – William Faulkner
Courtesy of Quotefancy.

Order versus Chaos

I sometimes see the struggle to use my time well as a balancing act between order and chaos. As someone with a small creative business, there are certain things that I must do regularly, in a systematic and orderly way. But there are other activities it’s harder to stuff into an orderly time slot.

Each week, I need a Plan/Review Day. For me, that’s Monday. Long and bitter experience has taught me that I must stop regularly to take stock, to check my progress. I ask, “What did I plan to do? Did I get it done? All or some? What contributed to my success? What kept me from meeting my goals?”

I’ve learned that if I don’t do this every week, I never get my bookkeeping done. I miss deadlines. And I spend a lot of time wondering what I did with all that time, since I “didn’t accomplish a darn thing.” Even if I actually accomplished a lot. I’m really good at forgetting or downplaying things I did. And also at mourning grandiose dreams that didn’t turn out the way I envisioned them.

It is not enough to be busy . . . The question is: what are we busy about? – Henry David Thoreau
Courtesy of Rescue Time Blog.

“Blog-Or-Die” Day

My small creative business requires other kinds of orderly, regular, systematic days. I already mentioned Blog-or-Die Day, which is Tuesday (or else). If I don’t write and/or produce a blog post on Tuesdays, my blog will be off-schedule. It might not even happen at all. So, you don’t have to call me irresponsible if I miss Blog Day. I’ll call it that way myself.

But so what if I miss a Blog Day, you might ask (some days I do, too). Well, a regularly-updated blog on one’s own website provides ever-renewing material. Even during the long “pregnant” periods between the publications of my books, stuff is happening on my website. I have subscribers, with whom I feel I’ve made a kind of pact: I’ll write about my creative journey, and they can ride along with me. It could be fun! Better yet, it can become a creative conversation.

For the past year and more, It’s become an expanded conversation, with my sister G. S. Norwood added to the mix. She brings things to the blog that I can’t, such as her depth of knowledge about music or her unique take on books or history. It’s worth doing. But it won’t happen by itself.

Even if I don’t write the material for that week, I format and illustrate it, which takes a good bit of time in itself. When I observe a weekly Blog Day, I make enough time (usually) for that important blog post each week.

Good order is the foundation of all things – Edmund Burke
Courtesy of Be Yourself via Medium.

Marketing Day

Especially since G. and I formed Weird Sisters Publishing and started producing books, there is always marketing to do. Some of ours is paid advertising. Some of it is appearances at readings or science fiction conventions, social media, or other things. But all of it must be strategized, planned out on a tactical level, executed, and then the results must be measured. For me, Wednesday is Marketing Day. The rest of the week I focus elsewhere, but on this one day I review as many of our promotional efforts as possible.

For instance, only on Wednesdays do I allow myself to look at the Estimated Royalties from Amazon. I know some authors check it daily (or even hourly), but that can quickly drive a person around the bend. It also can devour massive amounts of time. Only on Wednesdays doI check to see how pre-orders are accumulating. As I write this, the accumulating number of pre-orders for A Bone to Pick is a “high-interest topic” for me. But looking at it more often won’t change the numbers.

I do those and other tasks every week. I do others once a month, such as analytics on particular ad campaigns, keyword list-building efforts, or writing my monthly newsletter. If I didn’t regularly do these things each month during a designated time, some of them might never get done at all. You would definitely need to call me irresponsible if I didn’t hit all of these marks in a regular, systematic way.

How to support your friend’s small business without spending any money: Share their post, like their post, tag a friend, comment something nice, comment an emoji, post a pic, especially if you do purchase something, shout them out, leave a review. – Adria Adams Co.
Support a small business, by Adria Adams Co. via Sparksight on Twitter.

Random Variables

But I can only stand to slot myself into orderly, prescribed, (and often statistics-based) activities for so long. Pretty soon, you’re gonna have to pry my fingernails out of the ceiling if I do too much of that.

My heart’s desire, and the thing I’ve so loved doing as much as possible since I stopped needing to work outside the home, is the creative work.

Sometimes it’s artwork, sometimes it’s writing fiction, and oftentimes it’s a blend of both. It’s been about a month since I finally wrote “THE END” on the manuscript for A Bone to Pick and sent it off to the proofreader. Since then I’ve slotted myself into more “production days” (to get the book ready for publication). I’ve also started working in earnest on development for the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy’s third and final installment, Bone of Contention, but mostly by thinking about it, rather than writing.

But fiction-writing is an uneven process. For me, it’s also a discovery process. And one of the things I discovered as I worked on the developmental phase of Bone of Contention was that I had another story to write first. I needed to know more aboutwhat happened during an incident that’s obliquely mentioned in The Other Side of Fear and may be briefly revisited in Bone of Contention.

Life is nothing without a little chaos to make it interesting. – Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Courtesy of Quotefancy.

The Story Digs in its Claws

I didn’t think I’d write it as “share-with-the-public story” at first. It started out as a background sketch. But sometimes a story takes on a life of its own. Things began to fall into place. And the more they did, the more I wanted to write it in a more complete form. As something I could share.

I’ve been working on it sporadically for about four weeks at this point. I’d go for a while, hit a snag, set it aside and do something else (there’s always stuff to do), and pretty soon I’d be back at work on it.

Then, toward the end of last week, it dug its claws in real deep. I schedule regular writing times each day, but it was a greedy baby story. It wanted all of my time. All of my attention. Call me irresponsible, but I gave in.

“I haven’t been on social media for a while,” I’d say to myself. “I ought to check in and catch up.” But I’d find myself writing instead. “I should check my email,” I’d tell myself. “Okay, but I’ll work on the story first.” Hours later, I’d still be writing. I’m almost afraid to check my inboxes at this point.

It’s Time to Write a New Story – Jade Abaya
Courtesy of Jade Abaya on Twitter.

Call me Irresponsible

Yeah, yeah, I know. It is really rude to ignore my emails. And I had a whole different blog topic I was going to tackle this week—one that involved research and analysis and . . . never mind. I intended to work on the post last night.

I wrote the story instead.

And then I seriously needed to work on the blog post . . . um, at this point, that was all day yesterday.

I wrote the story instead.

It didn’t want to let go. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned over decades of fiction-writing, it’s don’t put it off if it’s flowing, because you may never get exactly that flow back again. And seriously, what is my current job-description? (Hint: “blogger” is an “also” that’s several notches down on the list.).

So, call me irresponsible, but I spent every bit of Blog-or-Die Day this week on the story. I now have a first complete draft of a 6,500-some-odd-word story that I’m currently calling Beautiful New Year. It’s not done, of course. A lot of sharpening, focusing and listening to critiques lies ahead. But I finished the first draft. That’s a milestone.

And, whoops! Would you look at that? Somehow* I managed to finish a blog post, too.

First drafts don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be written. – unknown author
Courtesy of Quotes Wiki.


Double thanks to Quotefancy, which provided both the William Faulkner quote about stories that need to come out, and the quote about chaos from Ameila Atwater-Rhodes. I really appreciate it! My gratitude also goes to Jory MacKay’s post on the Rescue Time Blog for the quote from Henry David Thoreau, and to Chad Brockius on Be Yourself via Medium, for the Edmund Burke quote.

I deeply appreciate the graphic on “How to support your friend’s small business,” from Adria Adams Co., via Sparksight on Twitter, the “Time to write a story” quote/image by Jade Abaya on Twitter, and QuotesWiki for the “First Drafts” quote. Many thanks to all of you!

* = “by not sleeping much and posting late”

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.


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!

A montage of variations on macaroni and cheese.

What’s Your Comfort Food?

By G. S. Norwood

For a while there, it looked like we might be out of the woods. The rate of coronavirus infections had begun to fall as the vaccination rate was on the rise. The CDC said it was okay for us to go out again, hit the Farmers Market and maybe even take in a movie. But then came the Delta variant. Now we’re all headed back to the bunker again. And what do we crave? Comfort food!

A montage of crowded venues from an earlier post on this blog, with a circular “NO” symbol over it. The circle of the “NO” symbol has the outline of a coronavirus molecule.
Remember those crowded venues we dreamed of last June? The COVID-19 Delta variant has canceled them for now. (Credits listed below).

What is Comfort Food?

I define comfort food as that special meal you turn to when you need emotional support as well as physical sustenance. Maybe it’s chicken soup, when you have a head cold, or ramen noodles when you’ve just been dumped by the love of your life. It’s the Chinese food you must eat while you study for your finals, or the midnight waffles you and the rest of the cast opt for when the performance is over.

Sometimes there’s a ritual element to it. As a kid, if I got a sore throat, I wanted ice cream. But not just any ice cream. For a sore throat I needed vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup, served in a coffee mug. I’d smush the ice cream up with the syrup until it was like a thick milk shake, then eat it with saltine crackers. Nothing beats it for childhood strep. It’s classic comfort food.

Montage: Grilled Cheese sandwich with tomato soup; Ham and Beans.
Grilled Cheese sandwiches just naturally pair with Tomato Soup, while Homemade Ham and Bean Soup is classic comfort food.( Dallas Grilled Cheese Co./G. S. Norwood).

More adult-oriented comfort food often includes stuff that’s super simple to prepare after a stress-filled work week: eggs and bacon for supper, or a grilled cheese sandwich with hamburger dills on the side. Leftovers make excellent comfort food, particularly when you’re only cooking for one. Ham and beans that can feed you for a week? The endless possibilities of Sunday pot roast come Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday? There’s comfort in every bite you don’t have to cook.

The Twenty-Four Hour Breakfast

Eggs, bacon, biscuits, gravy, cinnamon toast, and waffles are staples of the comfort food menu. There’s a reason round-the-clock truck stops and 24-hour diners make bank on this stuff. People who stumble in, weary from the road, don’t need to deal with exotic food. They need basic carbs and protein that their stomachs will recognize and accept without controversy. It’s the International House of Pancakes for a reason, right?

Montage: Picnic foods from Whataburger, a vintage photo of G. and Warren playing music together, and a variety of International House of Pancakes breakfast offerings.
Some years back, G. and Warren (shown here on lap harp and ukulele) wrote an ode to the likes of food from Whataburger and IHOP. (Credits below).

Warren and I even had a song about late night comfort food. The Texas-based fast food chain Whataburger is always open. There was an outlet conveniently positioned between our home in Parker County and the Fort Worth concert venue where we got to see Guy Clark, Joe Ely, and numerous other Americana greats. Once, as the clock neared midnight, we hijacked the tune of the old Doc Watson song, Crawdad Hole, and came up with this ode to comfort food:

Carbohydrates, grease and salt, honey, honey
Carbohydrates, grease and salt, babe.
Carbohydrates, grease and salt:
Top ‘em off with a rich, thick malt!
Honey, oh baby mine!

The Rules

Comfort food is different for every soul who needs comforting. Your choice will depend on your age, your culture, and what your mama fed you when her sweet baby didn’t feel good. Whether you turn to tea and a danish when you need a spiritual boost, or head straight for a quart of Ben and Jerry’s, there are rules we should all observe about comfort food:

When it comes to comfort food, G. lays out Da Rules (a “Fairly Oddparents” reference).
Let these “Comfort Food Rules” guide you the next time you need a “food-based hug.” (Credits below).
  1. You don’t get to make fun of anybody else’s comfort food. Elvis liked peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwiches. Some people toast their grilled cheese with mayonnaise instead of butter. A fried bologna sandwich on white bread can be your best friend in a crisis. It takes all kinds. Let people find comfort where they can.
  2. Don’t go all gourmand about it. Macaroni and cheese with spinach penne, a dollop of truffle oil, and four kinds of cheese that aren’t Velveeta may be delicious. But a moment of crisis is no time to insist you must make your pasta by hand using that massive stand mixer with the extrusion attachment.
  3. Don’t try to make it healthy. Comfort food is loaded with fat and salt. That’s what makes it comforting. If, in your hour of need, you crave tuna casserole the way Mom used to make it, beware. Making it with egg white noodles, low sodium mushroom soup and 2% milk will only plunge you back into despair.
  4. There is no substitute for bacon. You know I’m right.

Mac and Cheese for the Win!

When it comes to comfort food, we each have our favorite. But, after a completely unscientific survey of the friends who still take my weird questions, it has become clear to me that one comfort food rules them all: Macaroni and Cheese.

A montage of variations on macaroni and cheese.
We won’t judge you, however you prefer your macaroni and cheese (well, maybe a little, if it involves truffle oil). (Credits below).

Different generations approach this classic in different ways. When Jan and I were young, our mother made macaroni and cheese from scratch using whole milk, medium pasta shells, and—yeah, gotta fess up here—Velveeta pasteurized, prepared cheese product. Jan was a bigger fan than I was, but she loved it, hot out of the oven with burned cheese on top, or cold the next day in her lunchbox. We made a pact about it. I would get all the tuna casserole leftovers if she could have all the mac and cheese.

By the time Jan and I hit college, Kraft had cornered the market on comfort food mac and cheese with convenient boxed mixes that were supposed to feed the whole family. But c’mon! That little box was single-serving size for famished youngsters for at least the next two generations. Jan’s two children learned to cook it for themselves at a rather tender age, and still reach for it when emotional times are tough.

Classic Comfort

These days, macaroni and cheese comes ready-made in custom-sized servings from individual microwavable cups for your lunch box all the way up to genuinely family-sized casseroles tucked in next to the frozen lasagna at the supermarket.

Gift, the cat, cuddles under author G. S. Norwood’s chin.
My cat, Gift, is also great when I need comfort. (G. S. Norwood).

Grandmothers, hard working parents, busy young singles—they all name macaroni and cheese as one of their top five comfort foods. I even know a four-year-old diva—who should not yet know the need for comfort food—who names it as her #1 go to.

Serve it as a meal. Serve it as a side dish. Dump a whole bunch of it into your favorite bowl and eat it on your couch in your pajamas. However you like it, macaroni and cheese will not let you down. Unlike that user/loser ex-boyfriend of yours who . . . Well, never mind. Take comfort in the fact that macaroni and cheese is a universally understood food-based hug.

What are your go-to comfort foods? Leave a comment below to let us know. We promise not to laugh.


The “Crowded Texas Venues” montage from our prematurely-hopeful “What’s it Gonna Take?” post in May brought together six photos from pre-COVID times. 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.

This and all montages in the post are by Jan S. Gephardt. She made the “Canceled by COVID-19” symbol from symbols created for 123rf by “upenskayaa” and “bentosi.”

All Those Comfort Food Photos (and a couple of others)

We deeply appreciate The Dallas Grilled Cheese Company (check them out, when you’re in Dallas!) and G. S. Norwood herself for the Comfort Combo montage featuring grilled cheese with tomato soup and ham and beans, respectively. G. also included the “cat cuddle” pic at the end. We also want to thank Whataburger on Twitter for the picnic pic, Margaret Norwood Donnelly for the Family Archive photo of G. on the lap harp and Warren on ukulele, and City of Aiken, SC Tourism for the photo of menu items from the International House of Pancakes.

Many thanks for the “Da Rules” cartoon image, courtesy of Formula Student Austria. The photo of colorful scoops of ice cream came from The Mom Collective’s Kansas City Ice Cream Guide. Those nachos came from “Picuki’s” Instagram gallery. And the cookies are Peanut Butter Kisses from Scrapality’s “Christmas Cookies Galore!” article. Our gratitude to all!

Far from least, we marvel at the mac-and-cheese munificence from Dinner at the Zoo (bacon mac & cheese) and Benjamin McCormick on Medium (square white dish). We’re particularly grateful for double yumminess from Spend with Pennies (the round white bowl, and the cheddar topping), and Dallas Grilled Cheese Company (again), with the two grilled mac-and-cheese sandwiches. We’re not worthy, but we’re definitely hungry. Many thanks to each of you!

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).


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!

The recipe that launched this blog post, “pigs in a blanket.”

Cooking is Fun!

By G. S. Norwood

Are You a Cook? Or a Snob?

Do you cook for yourself? Not just an occasional cake mix or pork chop, but really cook? Breakfast in the morning? Dinner every night? I do. Although I didn’t learn a lot about cooking when I was a kid, I can now cover the basics nearly every day. And do you know what? Cooking is fun!

Well, sort of. Once I mastered the simple stuff like scrambled eggs, and grilled cheese sandwiches, I started branching out. Looking for recipes I’d never tried before. And that’s where I ran into problems. You see, some recipes are for people who just want to put food on the table. But some recipes are aimed at hobbyists, and hobbyists are a whole different class of cooks. They look for the challenging recipe that needs special ingredients, special devices, and an elevated level of snobbery to pull off.

Scrambled eggs and beef stew.
The simple stuff, like scrambled eggs and beef stew. (G. S. Norwood).

Special Devices

I once bought a cookbook with a recipe for a delicious-looking blueberry poundcake, only to find that all the ingredients were weighed, not measured. No cups and tablespoons for this chef! And no conversion chart either, for those of us who don’t want to take up valuable counter space with a digital kitchen scale that measures things in grams.

Other food gadgets I’ve been told I “must have” include meat thermometers, candy thermometers, slow cookers, instant cookers, things that cook rice, things that cook beans, and a professional grade stand mixer that costs more than my last four grocery orders combined. I’ve even been told that no Christmas is complete unless I have an ebelskiver pan.

Every gadget listed in this blog post.
Here’s every gadget listed in this blog post. Can you name them all? (Credits below; montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

Clearly, if I don’t invest in all these gadgets, I’m not a serious cook. As if millennia of poor folk developing recipes we now call “authentic ethnic cuisine” had to wait around for the invention of the food processor to get tasty results. Which came first? The ebelskiver, or the pan?

Special Ingredients

And then there’s the “snobbier than thou” ingredient list. Nearly every single hobbyist recipe I’ve ever run across has at least one ingredient that I don’t have on hand. Some of them are not available in my local grocery store. One friend wanted to try a new recipe, only to find that none of the ingredients were commercially available in the entire 910 square miles of her county. And she doesn’t exactly live in a food desert. She has her pick of major grocery stores, plus an active farmers market and countless roadside stands in the summer.

But forget about organic quinoa, Pacific Rim seaweed paste, and rambutan. Let’s talk about salt.

Five ramekin-like holders with different colors and textures of salt.
Here are five of the article’s twelve kinds of salt. (Wide Open Eats).

The cooking website lists twelve different kinds of salt. Each has a specific use in the kitchen, and if you don’t use the right one? Well, my dear, clearly your palate is not as refined as it should be. Nor is you bank account as fat. Old fashioned cooks like my grandmother may be forgiven for rolling their eyes.  

Unrealistic Expectations

Sometimes the recipe writers assume the home cook has access to things we just don’t have access to. Not only are we expected to have a top-of-the-line, professional grade stand mixer with all the attachments, we really ought to have multi-level cooling racks, a professional grade gas stove, and a huge refrigerator dedicated entirely to proofing dough, chilling cupcakes, and making the fancy frosting frosty. I recently tried a recipe that had me mixing a simple dough in a “large bowl.” The 12” bread bowl I used was just right.

Then I got to the part about chilling the dough overnight in the refrigerator. I found room in my fridge, but I immediately thought of my grandmother’s refrigerator and my mother’s. It was a running joke in my family that those iceboxes were crammed with stuff wall to wall, front to back. My good friend follows that tradition, and kindly let me take a photo of her fridge. Please tell me where the 12” bread bowl is supposed to go?

Packed-full refrigerator shelves.
Now that’s a full fridge! (G. S. Norwood).

Cooking Is Fun!

Time to take a deep breath and a big step back. If you try to meet every expectation of those untethered-to-reality recipes, you’ll never venture into the kitchen again. But how do you “de-snobify” a new recipe?

Use what you’ve got: If the recipe calls for salt gleaned from the brows of sweaty Tuscan virgins, just use salt. Table salt is fine. Trust me.

Buy locally: If you must buy an ingredient or two, make sure they’re things you can get locally. No, I didn’t have dried cranberries or orange juice on hand when I made that orange cranberry cake, but I knew they were available at any grocery store, and the cake was worth the trip.

Edit: If I’m trying a recipe for something I know my hillbilly grandmother made all the time—like, say, ham and beans—I feel pretty safe in leaving out the seaweed.

Beans and brussels sprouts.
This recipe taught me how to cook beans, but I leave out the seaweed. (G. S. Norwood).

Give yourself plenty of time: That recipe for simple dough that needed to rest overnight in the fridge? From the moment I first mixed the yeast into warm water, to the happy instant I took the finished products out of the oven, I spent 24 hours on that “fun, fast” recipe for pigs in a blanket. Turns out, the dough recipe is enough for three batches of pigs. Maybe a hint that it’s a catering recipe? But the dough keeps in the refrigerator for weeks. The second and third batches are much faster to make, and the “pigs” are worth the work!

When you can bring a recipe back to earth and cut out all the “my palate is more refined than yours” snobbery, cooking is fun!

The recipe that launched this blog post, “pigs in a blanket.”
Worth the work! (G. S. Norwood).


Author G. S. Norwood has written a previous Weird Blog post, “Setting the Table,” about things to eat off of. Jan S. Gephardt periodically writes about growing food in space habitats on this blog.

But “Cooking is Fun!” breaks new ground for us. We haven’t previously written about cooking. What do you think? Would you like to see future posts about cooking? How about recipes? (no snobbishness allowed, of course!) Please leave a comment if you have an opinion or a question!


First: many of the photos (and delicious concoctions) are by G. S. Norwood, © 2021; reuse or reblog with attribution and a link back to this post, please. Montages are by Jan S. Gephardt.

We have lots of acknowledgements for the montage of gadgets. Many thanks to Williams Sonoma for the KitchenAid stand mixers “rainbow” and the nostalgic photo with the ebelskiver pan. We’re grateful to Alzashop for the pic of the Gorenje food processor with attachments, and to Sur la Table for the photos of a meat thermometer, candy thermometer, and digital food scale. Our deepest gratitude goes to Ebay for the Crock Pot picture, to Zojirushi for the big and little rice cookers, and to the New York Times’s “Wirecutter” feature, for the row of Instant Pots. And finally, we’re thankful to Amazon and Fox Run for the great “bean pot with ingredients” photo.

We are indebted to Wide Open Eats, for the photo showing five of the twelve kinds of salt described in their fascinating article. The variety truly is kind of amazing. Thanks!

Details from Jan’s paper sculptures show typical forms.

Leitmotifs in Your Life

By Jan S. Gephardt

Have you noticed any leitmotifs in your life? I’m using the term loosely here, to describe a phenomenon I’ve observed in many creative lives. But I probably should explain a little. By definition, a leitmotif (pronounce it “LIGHT-mo-teef”) is a recurring theme or thematic element in a work of art.

The 19th century German opera composer Richard Wagner popularized the term—and made brilliant use of the technique. You often hear the term “leitmotif” in reference to music, literature, or film.

For examples, think of the color red in The Sixth Sense, or Hedwig’s Theme” in the Harry Potter movies (20th-21st century American composer John Williams makes brilliant use of the technique, too).

We don’t usually think of it in terms of visual art but that’s a mistake. Paul Cézanne kept returning to Mont Sainte-Victoire (which he could see from his studio in his ancestral home). It wasn’t the only thing he painted. Far from it! But he kept coming back to it. Mont Sainte-Victoire was a leitmotif in his approach to his work. Many other artists offer parallel examples.

Three Paul Cézanne paintings of Mont Sainte Victoire.
Three decades, three paintings of the same mountain. L-R, Paul Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire in 1887, 1895, and 1902-4. (Credits below).

Creatures Built to See Patterns

We humans are creatures built to see patterns. Evolution has crafted us that way. It’s a survival tactic. The bright little hominid who spotted a pattern of sights, sounds and smells that signaled a tasty kind of fruit, or a way to fresh water, or the approach of a predator? She was the one who lived. She survived to successfully rear her babies and carry on her genetic heritage.

In a very deep way, we need to make sense of things. There must be an explanation, we insist. And if one doesn’t readily reveal itself, we’re fully prepared to make one up. It’s how we figure out ways to make our lives easier. It’s how we invent new things. And it’s the origin of our primal storytelling need.

it’s where conspiracy theories, myths, superstitions, and OCD routines come from, too. We’ll readily see patterns, even where there aren’t any. Consider: None of the objects pictured below actually have faces. But most of us see faces, anyway.

Everyday objects that remind us of faces.
Our human aptitude for seeing patterns makes us recognize “faces” on familiar objects. (Google Image Search screen-capture).

Every Pattern Tells a Story

You’ve heard the saying, “every picture tells a story.” But I’d also say we humans are hardwired to think that every pattern tells a story, too. That’s what makes implied lines work. Are you aware that you see lines where there actually aren’t any? Well . . . of course you do. You just followed two: a dotted line (there is no line, just dots), and a “line” of text.

When you look across a field to a line of trees . . . there are no lines. The crop-growing area stops. Some trees grow nearby. The lines are all in your head. A line of dunes. A line of waves breaking on the beach. Line up, children! We’ll go out for recess, where we might line up a kick to a ball or dream of hitting a line drive to the bleachers.

Our brains make “lines” where reality offers nothing of the sort. It’s all metaphors. That we can make sense of a 2-D drawing or painting—that we can look at a photo montage on a blog post and say, “there are three different paintings of the same mountain”—is a testament to the power of suggestion on a human brain primed to see patterns.

Three examples of implied lines in artwork.
Our brains insist there are lines there, even when they’re only implied. (Credits below).


So, then. Have I shaken your confidence in the reality of lines? It may help to remember that your pattern-recognition function is there for important survival reasons. Our bright little hominid’s family eventually produced you—and you aren’t here because all of your ancestors were out of touch with reality.

We may see things that aren’t there—a face in a faucet, or a building with eyes—but we also laugh at those fancies. We have less reason to laugh about other patterns—patterns in our own lives that may signal trouble until we learn to see and adapt to them.

Perhaps you’ve read some or all of Portia Nelson’s There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery. Her “Hole in my Sidewalk” poem about seeing and avoiding problems in life offers a handy metaphor.

This quote from Portia Nelson is a little too long for alt text.
Here’s the poem, “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk,” by Portia Nelson. (More Famous Quotes).

In Portia’s poem, the “hole in the sidewalk” can be seen as a pattern of behaviors and attitudes that we’ve developed in our life that repeatedly gets us in trouble. Until we recognize the “hole” for the danger it represents, we keep falling in. People’s “holes” aren’t all the same. For some it may be an addiction. For others, a pattern in their relationships. Or maybe a depressive pattern of thinking.

But if you’re honing your skill at pattern-recognition . . . at recognizing the leitmotifs in your life . . . you’re developing a vital survival tool.

Leitmotifs in My Life

What are the patterns you see in your own existence? What are the leitmotifs in your life? If you need time to stop and think about the question, let me offer an illustration. I’ve already been thinking about this.

One leitmotif I’ve noticed is that I always end up circling back to my sister. We were “first best friends.” We’ve wobbled in and out of each others’ orbits as our lives and careers took us in different directions, but G. is in many ways one of my most important touchstones in life. Whenever and wherever we come back together, we’re still that foundational “us.” Some things may change, but others never do.

My Beloved, Pascal, my husband, hasn’t been in my life quite as long (only going-on-49-years as I write this), but he’s another touchstone who keeps me grounded in myself, even as I try to do the same for him. But people aren’t all there is in the world. And they certainly don’t represent the only patterns in life.

Photos of my sister, my husband, and me, earlier in my life.
My sister G. and my Beloved, Pascal with me, earlier in our lives. (Family archive).

Other Leitmotifs Open Insights

I realized that nurturing things—students, children, gardens, companion animals, friends, the environment—is another constant in my life. Kind of a default setting. That’s why I went into teaching. The reason why I wanted kids. It’s how I conduct my life.

Animals, especially dogs, are another recurring theme, for me. Having them around just makes life complete. Not having them around means all of my sensory systems are not in place, and the absence of smaller, furry beings . . . echoes kinda hollow. I don’t like it.

In my visual art, it’s sinuous creatures, curling leaves, and expanding blossoms, literally rising off the page as paper sculpture. It’s maps and earth-from-above, and the ever-unfolding adventure of architecture. In my written art, it’s love, family, community—the work of finding a way back together after being pulled apart. It’s lovers and partners protecting each other. Finding hope. And building a way out of darkness. (And dogs).

Details from Jan’s paper sculptures show typical forms.
These details capture recurring imagery in Jan’s paper sculpture (images are © 2013-2021 by Jan S. Gephardt).

Leitmotifs in Your Life

But that’s me. What about you? What patterns keep cropping up in your life? Which ones are your good-and-true touchstones? Which patterns have you learned to dread and shun? What invariably fills you with joy? To what things and places do you keep returning, because you just can’t stay away?

I pray that for you they are the solid and true things. Things that nurture insight. Perhaps they’re painful things. But if they teach you about yourself, and how to live more genuinely in your own true skin, they’re golden.

You may or may not want to share them in the comments below. If not, no problem: this got personal. But if you’ve realized or recognized again that there’s a pattern in your life that you’d care to share, please do!


Many thanks to Smart History for the images Mont Sainte-Victoire (1902-04) and Mont Sainte-Victoire With Large Pine (1887), and to WikiArt for Mont Sainte-Victoire (1895), all by Paul Cézanne. I appreciate Google Image Search for the results from a search for “Photos of objects that look like faces” (my screen-capture).

All gratitude to Ms. Dodge’s Website, “The Elements of Art” page, for the instructional chart showing examples of actual lines versus implied lines. I totally love Matt Fussell’s lesson “Losing Lines in Drawings” on The Virtual Instructor, and his great example with the skull and shadows. And I was utterly delighted to share Malika Favre’sThe Leftovers,” a master class in implied lines. It came from Design Culture, found via Erika Oldershaw’s wonderful “Implied Line in Art” Pinterest Pinboard.

Many thanks to More Famous Quotes and its “Hole in My Life Chapter Quotes” page, which gave me a great visual for Portia Nelson’s wisdom. The photos for the montage featuring G. and Pascal in my life all came from the family archive. And the examples of Jan S. Gephardt’s paper sculpture are all © 2013-2021 by Jan S. Gephardt.

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