Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Jan S Gephardt Page 1 of 8

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.

IMAGE CREDITS

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.

On this multicolored square design the artist has grouped all eight of the covers for the books in the two posts covered in the “Artdog Adventures” Blog’s digest post that summarizes two posts filled with book reviews from The Weird Blog of Weird Sisters Publishing. In the left part of the design she grouped the five covers for the “Old Code” series by Anthony W. Eichenlaub. They are “Grandfather Anonymous,” “Grandfather Ghost,” “Grandfather Guardian,” “Grandfather Zero,” and “Grandfather Crypto.” In the right-hand part of the design are the three graphic books’ covers. They are The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts,” “The Book Tour,” “Fangs,” and “The Book Tour.” Below the grouped covers, the words say, “Covers Courtesy of Amazon.com.

More Book Reviews

I promised to return with more book reviews in March. With my time as crunched as it has been lately, I’ve started creating a monthly review of the posts I ran on The Weird Blog of Weird Sisters Publishing. Yes, it’s an aggregation and not completely original, but I hope you’ll enjoy my “digest” posts in lieu of no posts at all.

On a square black cover with a pale peach center, the book covers for “Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts,” “The Book Tour,” and “Fangs” span the center, slightly offset from each other.
Book covers courtesy of Amazon. See Credits below.

I Hope You Give Graphic Books a Closer Look

I began the month’s posts by highlighting Three Graphic Books Worth a Look. The category name might make someone unfamiliar with it to worry about explicit sexual content or extreme violence, but don’t worry. They’re not that kind of “graphic.”

The three graphic books I reviewed in that post cover a wide range of subjects and approaches. I hope they demonstrate how very much graphic books do not inevitably have to be “just comic books” – and they are definitely not intellectually simple.

But wait! There are more book reviews to come!

The five covers of the books in the “Old Code” series, by Anthony W. Eichenlaub, are arrayed across this square image in two rows. On the upper row, L-R. are the covers of “Grandfather Anonymous,” “Grandfather Ghost,” and “Grandfather Guardian.” On the lower row, L-R, are the covers of “Grandfather Zero” and “Grandfather Crypto.” The covers are monochromatic blue, turquoise, or purple. A single slender man with a hat and cane anchors the first three covers. He is joined by a young woman in the latter two. All covers are courtesy of Amazon.com.
Book covers courtesy of Amazon. See Credits below.

The Old Code Series Makes for Excellent Reading

I discovered the first book in this series, Grandfather Anonymous, through a BookBub newsletterlisting. It sounded interesting and they were practically giving it away, so I thought, “why not?” I don’t normally find “hacker” stories all that intrinsically interesting. But I’m an old gal who hopes she still has her skills, so the idea of an old guy who still has his skills was personally appealing.

Within the first page I was engaged, and the quality of the reading experience in these techno-thrillers remained consistent throughout. I’m glad I found this series for many reasons – but the most fundamental of them is that the Old Code series delivers the goods from start to finish.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of reviews, and I hope maybe you’ll even look around for a copy of one or more of them.

On this multicolored square design the artist has grouped all eight of the covers for the books in the two posts covered in the “Artdog Adventures” Blog’s digest post that summarizes two posts filled with book reviews from The Weird Blog of Weird Sisters Publishing. In the left part of the design she grouped the five covers for the “Old Code” series by Anthony W. Eichenlaub. They are “Grandfather Anonymous,” “Grandfather Ghost,” “Grandfather Guardian,” “Grandfather Zero,” and “Grandfather Crypto.” In the right-hand part of the design are the three graphic books’ covers. They are The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts,” “The Book Tour,” “Fangs,” and “The Book Tour.” Below the grouped covers, the words say, “Covers Courtesy of Amazon.com.
Book covers courtesy of Amazon. See Credits below.

I hope you enjoy the reviews in the linked posts, and that you’ll buy (or borrow from your local library) any that you think look interesting. Please feel free to comment below if you’ve read any previously (and agree or disagree). And please let me know if you’d like to see more book reviews!

About the Author

Author Jan S. Gephardt is an artist whose first love is line art, and a longtime science fiction reader. Thus, the books highlighted in this post and the two linked posts were all right up her alley. She’s also a science fiction novelist, the author of the XK9 Series, including the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The third book in the trilogy, Bone of Contention, is set for release September 24, 2024. A fourth book, Bones for the Children will extend the series past the trilogy and is now in the works.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Amazon for the book covers used in all the graphics for this post. The specific links for the first collection of three graphic books are: Fangs, The Book Tour, and Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts.

I also want to thank Amazon for the “Old Code” cover images, which represent the ebook covers for this series. See Grandfather Anonymous, Grandfather Ghost, Grandfather Guardian, Grandfather Zero, and Grandfather Crypto.

Four composite images from the post show eight “New Year Dragon” works of art, four each by featured fantasy artists Theresa Mather, Rachael Mayo, David Lee Pancake, and Randal Spangler, plus a total of eight book covers – four coloring books for adults by Rachael Mayo and four children’s books by Randal Spangler, all with a dragon theme.

My New Year Dragon Project

In February I devoted two blog posts and 16 different social media posts to a “New Year Dragon Project” display of dragon-themed artwork. When I discovered that this Chinese New Year’s animal was the Dragon, I immediately thought about all the amazing artists I know, who paint or sculpt – and indeed, specialize – in dragons. But for the sake of my sanity I settled on only four, whom I know well enough to anticipate they’d be willing to work with me on this project.

New Year Dragon Ladies

I decided to focus the first blog post of the Project on my two New Year Dragon Ladies I asked each to share four pieces and permission to reproduce them on social media and this blog post. All artwork is © by the artist, as noted on the imagery.

This is a square image with the eight artworks featured in this article arranged around a middle where it says, “NEW YEAR DRAGONS by Theresa Mather and Rachael Mayo.” Clockwise from top center the artworks are: “ “Chasing Wisdom,” “Celestial Dance,” “Heart of the Storm,” and “The Astronomer,” all by Mather. “Opal Paradigm, “Emerald Unity,” “Deep Rising 11,” and “Dragon Dance 6,” by Mayo.
Here’s the artwork celebrated in my “New Year Dragon Ladies” post. All artwork is © Theresa Mather or © Rachael Mayo, as noted on the individual compositions.

Practically the very first person I thought of for my New Year Dragon Project was Theresa Mather. I have rarely gone into a science fiction convention art show in the last two decades without a chance to see her latest work.

It also wasn’t hard to decide that Rachael Mayo would be my other featured New Year Dragon Lady. She may classify herself as an amateur at sf art shows, but she is an amateur in the most honorable sense of the word, a master who does the work for the love of it more than to make a living. She knows her craft through and through.

New Year Dragon Gentlemen

I conceived the two posts of the New Year Dragon Project to be a sort of “progressive art show.” The New Year Dragon Gentlemen post provided the second half. The “rest of the story,” if you will.

These posts were considerably longer on art than on words, but when the pictures are worth a thousand each, there should be little more to say. I hope you’ll enjoy these gorgeous pieces!

This is a square image with the eight artworks featured in Jan’s blog post arranged around a middle where it says, “NEW YEAR DRAGONS by David Lee Pancake and Randal Spangler.” Clockwise from upper left, the artworks are: “Eldar’s Secret,” by Spangler; “S’mine” and “Scrapper,” by Pancake; “The Literate Dragon,” by Spangler; “Solstice,” by Pancake; “A Gathering of Dragons” and “Devouring a Good Book,” by Spangler; and “Stormwind,” by Pancake.
Here’s the artwork celebrated in my “New Year Dragon Gentlemen” post. All artwork is © David Lee Pancake or © Randal Spangler, as noted on the individual compositions.

I’ve enjoyed David Lee Pancake’s wonderful resin sculptures for more than a decade. I love his artistry, his originality (check out his Vent Dragons for one notable example!), and his willingness to “go there.” I’m pleased for a chance to bring some of his work more attention. I hope you’ll be intrigued, and explore his website more fully.

And there was never any universe in which Randal Spangler would not have been one of my choices for New Year Dragon Gentlemen. He’s one of my husband’s closest friends. And over the years he and I have not only been friends but also business partners on several ventures. He’s the next-best-thing to family. Give yourself a little while to peruse his extensive galleries, and I think you’ll find his completely different, far more playful take on dragons has an enduring appeal.

This square design shows the covers of Randal Spangler’s four books (current count in Feb. 2024) on a variegated background. Clockwise from upper left: “Counting With the Draglings,” the newest title; “The Draglings Coloring Book,” “The Draglings Bedtime Story,” and “D is for Draglings.” All artwork is © by Randal Spangler. Covers are courtesy of Spangler’s website and (in the case of the coloring book) Amazon.
Please reference the links in the text below for purchasing information.

Books by New Year Dragon Project Artists

We normally don’t think of artists as also being authors (yes, that’s me talking, the exception that illustrates the rule). Two of our New Year Dragon Project artists also push against that expectation, although in less “text-dense” ways.

As I note in the linked blog posts, both Rachael Mayo and Randal Spangler also have books to their name. Rachel has created four coloring books for adults, working with Kaleidoscopia. Randy has a coloring book, but also a growing line of children’s books. He just produced a third children’s title, which is now available through his website.

This square image shows the covers of Rachael Mayo’s four dragon and fantasy art coloring books, each featuring 52 images and designed to be used by people of all ages. They are: Top row L-R, “Dragon Adventure” and “Dragon Adventure 2.” Second row, L-R, “Dragon Adventures 3, Dragons and Friends,” and “Dragon Adventures 4, Fantasy Drawings to Color.” All were published by Kaleidoscopia Coloring books, and all are available on Amazon. All artwork © Rachael Mayo.
Rachael’s four (to date: 2/28/24) coloring books are full of her wonderful art. Follow the links from her Amazon Author Page to find links to more information of purchase.

What did you think of the New Year Dragon Project?

These two posts were considerably longer on art than on words. But when the pictures are worth a thousand each, there should be little more to say. I hope you enjoy these gorgeous pieces!

And please leave me comments.

Do you like this “progressive art show” idea? Would you like to see more artists profiled on my blog posts in this way, perhaps as a “curated just for Artdog Adventures” kind of group show?

About the Author

I’m Jan S. Gephardt, and I’ve been writing this blog since 2009. Since I don’t want to let it die of neglect, even though I’m now too busy to write lots of individual posts. I still plan to come around as often as I can to post new things and keep readers up-to-date with recent posts we’ve run on The Weird Blog for Weird Sisters Publishing. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s the best I can do for now.

I’m also a novelist, as well as being a paper sculptor. I’m currently in final edits on Bone of Contention, the third novel in my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The series centers on a pack of uplifted police dogs who live and solve crimes on a space station in a star system far, far away. It is scheduled for publication September 24, 2024.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Theresa Mather, Rachael Mayo, David Lee Pancake, and Randal Spangler, who provided all the artwork used in this digest post, the two longer “Weird Blog” posts, and the social media posts that were coordinated with this project. All of the artwork in this post is © by the artist listed in each copyright notice. See links in the text above for the book cover sources.

Header images for the three Weird Blog articles described in this post show book covers for nonfiction books "Sedition Hunters" by Ryan J. Reilly, "Burnout," by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, and "Why Does my Cat Do that?" by Catherine Davidson; a design by Erin Phillips that says, “Feed an author. Leave a Review. It takes five minutes and helps more than you can imagine. (from) Erin Phillips.me.”; and a montage of four covers representing books by two authors: By Jodi Burnett, "Extraction" and "Corruption." By Travis Baldree, "Legends & Lattes" and "Bookshops & Bonedust."

Recent Posts on The Weird Blog

The realities of SEO searchability have forced a change in how I’ve handled recent posts on The Weird Blog and here on Artdog Adventures. Unfortunately, Artdog got the shorter, messier end of that stick.

This blog, however, has been my “home blog” for a long time. I want to keep it current for the moments when my opinion pieces are a bit too “political” for my partner! 😊 And I’d like to keep you better in the loop, if you’re a loyal subscriber. To that end, I thought you might like some glimpses of recent posts on The Weird Blog that I am no longer able to share in full here.

This square image has a black background. The words are at the center, surrounded by a design of stars and dots. The words say, “Feed an author. Leave a Review. It takes five minutes and helps more than you can imagine. (from) Erin Phillips.me.”
Courtesy of Erin Phillips via Rebecca’s Write Inspirations (see Credits below).

Recent Book Reviews

I figured out what my New Year’s Resolution needed to be when I looked back over my recent book reviews from 2023. I only wrote eleven! Book reviews are essential for authors, so I decided that I must do better than that, if I’m going to ask my own readers to write reviews for me. Since I am reading many things every day, whether it’s fiction or fact, I have no excuse. Here’s how I formed my resolution to write more reviews.

This square image shows the covers of the three books featured in the blog post “Three Nonfiction Book Reviews,” by Jan S. Gephardt, published on “The Weird Blog,” 1/17/2024. The covers, L-R are those of: Ryan J. Reilly’s book “Sedition Hunters: How January 6th Broke the Justice System,” “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle” by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski DMA, and Catherine Davidson’s book “Why does my CAT do that? Answers to 50 Questions Cat Lovers Ask,” on a background that is a blend of the covers’ colors. Montage design by Jan S. Gephardt.
See Credits Below.

Three Nonfiction Book Reviews

In my first January post, I talked about book reviews that I have (and more importantly have not) written in 2023. At the end of that post I made writing more book reviews a New Year’s resolution. This post is my first installment toward making good on that resolution. In it I share three nonfiction book reviews, written either in 2023 or – a true start on my resolution – in 2024.

The covers of the four books reviewed in the blog post overlap each other slightly in a grouping around the central area of this square montage. The books represented are upper and lower left, “Extraction” and “Corruption,” both by Jodi Burnett. At upper and lower right are “Legends & Lattes” and “Bookshops & Bonedust,” by Travis Baldree.
Cover images courtesy of Amazon. (See Credits below).

A Post Full of Page-Turners

Rounding out my list of recent posts on The Weird Blog, how about a post full of page-turners? Book reviews have been the theme of the month. But fiction is my particular wheelhouse, and it’s the core business of Weird Sisters Publishing. So how about some fiction reviews? But not just any fiction. As promised above, it’s a post full of page-turners.

Header images for the three Weird Blog articles described in this post show book covers for nonfiction books "Sedition Hunters" by Ryan J. Reilly, "Burnout," by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, and "Why Does my Cat Do that?" by Catherine Davidson; a design by Erin Phillips that says, “Feed an author. Leave a Review. It takes five minutes and helps more than you can imagine. (from) Erin Phillips.me.”; and a montage of four covers representing books by two authors: By Jodi Burnett, "Extraction" and "Corruption." By Travis Baldree, "Legends & Lattes" and "Bookshops & Bonedust."
See Credits Below.

A Month of Book Reviews – Next up, Artists!

There were three recent posts on The Weird Blog for January, because there were three Wednesdays. I’ll post more book reviews and also share the links to them here in future months. In February I plan move on to a different theme, one that might be closer to the “home turf” of Artdog Adventures: profiles of fantasy and science fiction artists whose work I admired at science fiction conventions during 2023.

About the Author

I, Jan S. Gephardt, have been writing this blog since 2009. Since I don’t want to let it die of neglect, I still plan to come around as often as I can to post new things and keep readers up-to-date with recent posts we’ve run on The Weird Blog. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s the best I can do right now.

I’m also a novelist, as well as being a paper sculptor. I’m currently in final edits on Bone of Contention,the third novel in my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The series centers on a pack of uplifted police dogs who live, and solve crimes, on a space station in a star system far, far away. It is scheduled for publication September 24, 2024.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Designer Erin Phillips and Rebecca’s Write Inspirations for the “Feed an Author” quote. Thanks to Amazon for the book covers used in second image, Sedition Hunters, Burnout, and Why Does My Cat Do That? And ongoing thanks to Amazon once again, for consistently high-quality cover image files! Here are direct URLs to the sources for Extraction, Corruption, Legends & Lattes, and Bookshops & Bonedust.

This square image is dominated by a red rectangle showing a black, green, yellow, and red design flanked by the words, “The seven principles: Umoja: Unity. To maintain unity in Family, community, nation, and culture.”

Kwanzaa Begins with Unity

Kwanzaa begins with Unity. Is there any value that should resonate more with all of us? Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration of African American strengths and values. I’m not Black, so I can’t presume to speak for Black people (other than as an ally against racism).

But no American of any ethnic background can afford to spurn the idea that unity is a paramount value, and sadly lacking in the USA right now. In this historical moment, all of us could afford to learn a few things from our Black neighbors and friends.

I don’t believe I did justice to the first day of Kwanzaa, back in 2017 when I wrote my first post about it. I squeezed it in between two other “holiday thoughts,” about the day after Christmas and Boxing Day. Both have their place, but Kwanzaa deserves to stand alone.

This square image is dominated by a red rectangle showing a black, green, yellow, and red design flanked by the words, “The seven principles: Umoja: Unity. To maintain unity in Family, community, nation, and culture.”
Image by, and courtesy of, Jeffrey St. Clair. See Credits below.

Kwanzaa Begins with Unity and so Should We

If you think about it, unity is what brought us together as a nation in the first place: unity against outside tyranny. We were perpetuating our own egregious tyranny over the enslaved Africans whose labor our white ancestors stole to build a lot of the young country. But at the same time the founders (apparently unironically) set forth principles of equity and justice.

The very foundations of this country were uniquely well-adapted to building a multicultural nationality. Emphasizing freedom, equality, and justice for everyone under the law was radical stuff in the 18th Century.

And it’s still radical stuff today. We set ourselves up “from the get-go” for a lot of trying and falling short. We are a multicultural republic, stitched together both by force and by choice. And we are perpetually certain to come up against opposing views competing for space and dominance.

The background of this square image is a charcoal drawing of four hands and forearms in a roughly square alignment, where each hand grasps the wrist of the person to their right. Superimposed over the drawing, it says, “’Unity is Strength, Division is Weakness.’ – Swahili Proverb.”
Courtesy of United We Stand on Facebook. See Credits below.

But Beginning is Not Enough

If you look at the whole principle as outlined in Jeffrey St. Clair’s design, the idea is “to maintain unity in family, community, nation and culture.” That’s no small feat. And it’s definitely not something we can do alone. That takes commitment. It takes grit, it takes communication, and it takes a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated, like-minded people.

Kwanza begins with Unity, but it continues with six other principles that ground and support and make unity happen. This holiday celebrates strong Black people living in a vibrant culture – but no single segment of our multicultural republic can flourish without a broader unity.

Here in the USA we’ve managed to let ourselves be drawn into warring camps, to the extent that we’re in serious danger of losing it all. Can the “democratic experiment” we started almost 250 years ago survive? Not without Umoja. And not without Black people, White people, Native people, immigrants from all different communities and everybody else in this country joining together in our own self-defense.

This is a dark red square image with a length of woven Kente cloth across the bottom. At the top it says “@SanCophaLeague,” Then “Black Unity is key. ‘Get organized and you will compel the world to respect you.’ -Marcus Garvey.” In the lower left, just above the cloth band, it says, “Facebook.com/SanCophaLeague.”
Courtesy of SanCophaLeague. See Credits below.

Kwanzaa Begins With Unity, but the Series Continues

I have spent a lot of time this week going back though my old series of Kwanzaa articles and updating them for today’s standards. 2017 was 6 years ago, which is an eon or so on the Internet. Now they’re ready for mobile devices, and I’ve tried to optimize them other ways, as well as expand them into fuller explorations of the topic. Along the way, I’ve also worked to improve the illustrations in both quality and relevance.

So please take a look at the rest of the series in their new format! Take them in order, or skip around if one or another takes your fancy: See Self-Determination on Day Two, followed by Working Together and Investing Wisely. From there, explore Empowerment through Purpose, and Creative Healing. Appropriately enough, on New Year’s Day Kwanzaa Ends with Faith to Take that Step . . . whatever you determine those steps should be in the coming year.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair, via LinkedIn’s Slide Share for today’s Umoja: Unity design. I really loved the “Unity is Strength” quote-image from United We Stand on Facebook, and I also loved how the quote coordinated with my topic today. It was a little harder to track down the SanCophaLeague’s exact image, which I first found on Pinterest. I figure it’s got to come from them since their name is all over it, but even Tineye Reverse Image Search didn’t turn it up. In any case, Thank you!

Covers for Jan's three "Cops in Space" books, "The Other Side of Fear," "What's Bred in the Bone," and "A Bone to PIck."

What should police do?

By Jan S. Gephardt

We rarely think to ask a fundamental question: what should police do? What part should they play in a multicultural, representational democracy? The ubiquity of police forces around the world argues that many societies believe police do have a role in civilized life. But what – exactly – should it be?

As a novelist whose primary characters are science fictional detectives, I am in an unusual position, both to ask and to answer this question. But I believe it’s also a question everyone should ask. Especially every citizen in a representational, multicultural democracy.

Why should we ask? Isn’t the answer to that question obvious? Well, no. We’ve all grown up “pre-loaded” with conscious and unconscious attitudes and understandings of what police officers and police forces do, and why they exist. But clearly, those seldom-examined attitudes and understandings aren’t leading to very good outcomes. Not in much of the world. And certainly not here in the United States.

"Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They've got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law." - Barack Obama.
Many thanks to BrainyQuote.

Asking as a Novelist

One of the best things science fiction does is hold up a mirror to society. If you think about it, all fiction does that in a certain way, because all fiction is a reflection of our experiences of life. I’ve written elsewhere about the role of the novelist in society. And yes, a fundamental aspect of our work is purely to produce entertainment.

But it’s not the only aspect. I would (and frequently do) argue that it may not even be the most important aspect, particularly in the realm of science fiction. That’s because science fiction is all about thought experiments.

When we start asking “what if?” a whole multiverse of possibilities opens up. What if a recent scientific discovery led to a new technological breakthrough? How would that change the world we live in? What if our society continues on its current course in this aspect, what might the future look like? How would our world change? How would we react?

So, as a novelist who writes about police in a future society, I must ask “What Should Police Do?”

"My role as a novelist is to explore ideas and imagination, and hopefully that will inspire people from my world to continue dreaming and to believe in dreams." - Alexis Wright.
Thanks again, BrainyQuote!

Asking as a Citizen

But I’m also a citizen: of the world, and also specifically of my country and community. I’m a taxpayer, a voter, a member of “the public.” I can be sliced and diced out and defined demographically, culturally, and any other way you choose. Mother. Wife. Daughter. Woman. Educated. Teacher (retired). Middle class. United Methodist. White. Senior citizen. Democrat. Science fiction fangirl. Creative person. Animal lover. Multiculturalist. I am all of those things and more.

And as that complex, multi-aspect creature, I bring all of my experiences, understandings, and biases into my role as a responsible adult in contemporary society. For me, that involves an active interest in news and politics. I have formed some rather strong opinions over the course of my life. Each day I refine them or adjust them or reinforce them as I receive and process information.

I see it as my right – indeed, my responsibility – as a citizen to ask if my government and community leaders are representing me and governing in a way I think is appropriate. Are they respecting and honoring values I share? If they’re not, then I have a right to question them, and to seek better representation. As do we all.

This means, as a citizen in contemporary society, I must ask “What Should Police Do?”

"Each day, millions of police officers do the selfless work of putting their lives on the line to protect civilians, frequently responding to or preventing crises completely with no recognition." - Letitia James
You’re now 3-0, BrainyQuote!

What Do We Ask Police To Do?

We currently ask police to fill a wide range of roles. “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said in a 2016 interview by the Washington Post. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. … Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. … That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

I tend to agree with Chief Brown. As a teacher, I learned all too much about the many things our communities want to dump in the laps of their public servants. Usually while also underpaying them, restricting their operating budgets, and asking them to do work they never trained or signed up for. I get it, and I agree.

But what problems are the police meant to solve? Unlike some observers on the leftward end of the spectrum, I do believe there is a role for police in society. Unlike some observers on the rightward end of the spectrum, I don’t believe we will ever be well served by our current system. Certainly not when it’s focused on criminalizing poverty and mental illness. Not when it majors on crackdowns on minority populations and small offenders. And certainly not when it perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline.

This graph charts United States crime clearance rates in 2020, the most recent year for which the statistics are available. “Murder and nonnegligent homicide:54.4%. Aggravated assault: 46.6%. Violent crime: 41.7%. Rape: 30.6%. Robbery: 28.8%. Arson: 21.5%. Larceny-theft: 15.1%. Property crime: 14.6%. Burglary: 14.%. Motor vehicle theft: 12.3%”
Graphic ©2023 by Statistia.

What Problems WERE Police Meant to Solve?

If you were to ask the average “person on the street” this question, they’d probably say “Solve crimes,” or maybe “keep public order,” or perhaps “enforce the law.” Fair enough. So, how well are they doing?

Let’s take that first one, “solve crimes.” A look at the crime clearance rates (percentages of crimes that are cleared in a given year) is downright discouraging. “Clearance rate,” by the way, does not mean the full Law & Order-style litany of captured, charged, tried, and convicted. No, “clearance” means at least one person has been arrested and charged, or it means the probable perpetrator(s) are identified, but outside circumstances make arresting and charging them impossible. For two examples, circumstances could include that they died. Or maybe they’re in another country from which we can’t extradite them. Stuff does happen sometimes.

Clearance rates vary by the type of crime. But according to Statistia.com the only type that gets solved more than half the time in the USA is “murder and non-negligent homicide.” The clearance rate for that is 54.4%.

Flunking Crime-Solving

Think about it. That’s only a bit better than a 50-50 chance that any given murder will be solved. If I were grading a test and my student made a 54.4% on it, their grade would be an F (On a normal grading scale, 0-60% = an F). And that’s the best they do! You want them to solve your burglary? Sorry to tell you, but you have only a 14% chance that the perpetrator will be caught and charged with the crime. Someone stole your truck? Oh, dear. You only have a 12.3% chance they’ll ever arrest the thief.

So, basically, police in the United States flunk at crime-solving. Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons, and many of them are tied up in the other answers to the question “What should police do?”

"When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe." - Mary Frances Berry
Thanks yet again, BrainyQuote!

What Should Police Do to “Serve and Protect”?

What does “keep public order,” “enforce the law,” or “protect people” look like, when it’s happening? Does “keeping public order” mean bulldozing camps of unhoused persons? Or imposing a curfew on a small population’s free movement during a specific part of the day or in a specific place? Does it mean beating or injuring protesters? The words “keeping public order” have been used to justify all of those actions.

On the other hand, it also could mean directing traffic away from an accident. Maybe it means repelling a violent insurrection from the Capitol. And it could mean shielding a person who has not been convicted of any crime from a lynch mob that wants to kill them. It’s an umbrella phrase, broad and nonspecific enough to be both used and abused.

Standards Without Clarification

And in the end, it’s not a very helpful standard without further clarification. The seemingly obvious “protect people” brings the same host of issues when we try to apply it to specific cases. Which people are the police to protect? From whom or what? In a racist, sexist society (don’t kid yourself: that’s this one), how many ways could that go wrong?

“Enforce the law” is only deceptively “more specific.” Does that mean “enforce all the laws, all the time?” By that standard, most of us should be, or should have been, arrested at many points in our lives.

People are fallible. There are times when we’re sick and can’t cut the noxious weeds in our front yard. Or we’re forgetful and only notice later that our driver’s license has expired. Perhaps we’re tired or in a hurry, so we jaywalked when we saw an opening, instead of walking down to the corner and waiting for the lights to change. Minor traffic violations, legally carrying a gun, or simply walking down the street have resulted in citizens being killed by police in the name of “enforcing the law.”

"Accountability for police officers should be an expectation, not an aberration." - Alex Padilla
You rock, BrainyQuote!

Okay, so: What SHOULD Police Do?

As we’ve seen, that’s a really problematic question! But, both as a citizen and as a novelist, I want to find better answers to it. I cannot endorse a blanket approach such as “abolish the police.” I’m not a fan of “defund,” either. Neither of those represent where I think this conversation should go.

On the other hand, a thoroughgoing interrogation of that “what should police do?” question isn’t going to deal kindly with old-school “cop culture.” Not with many contemporary police training techniques and approaches, either. Nor even with a fair number of contemporary laws and standards.

Yes, dear reader, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m cueing up a series of blog posts on this topic. I’m not sure how long it’ll be. Considering our upcoming publication schedule, it most definitely won’t be every single post for the next umpty-dozen times without a break!

But over the next few months, I propose to take up one aspect of “what should police do?” at a time. I’ll examine how it’s currently being handled in the USA, survey the critiques, and then explain “how we handle it on Rana Station” and why I think that might work better. I hope you’ll find the series interesting.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to BrainyQuote (what would I have done without you for this post?) and Statistia.

The Weird Sisters Publishing LLC logo shows a black-outline cartoon of two sisters with their arms linked. One holds an e-reader, the other a hardbound book.

Forward momentum on publishing efforts

It’s kinda like being pregnant. Except it takes longer

No matter how much people tell you your life will change after the baby is born, you can never really “get it,” until after you’ve become a parent. 

There’s this divide between “before baby” and “after baby” that can never be crossed in reverse. On the far side of that Rubicon is Terra Incognita (with or without dragons) that you’ll never understand till you get there.

If my publishing efforts turn out as well as my kids did, I’m good. However, right at this moment the “contractions” have set in, but the results haven’t finished coming into the world, yet

This image shows the Jody A. Lee cover for Jan S. Gephardt's science fiction novel, "What's Bred in the Bone." It depicts a scene in which the protagonist, XK9 Rex, follows a scent trail to a dangerous underworld neighborhood called the "Five-Ten," accompanied by his new colleague, Lead Special Agent Shiva Shimon of the Station Bureau of Investigation.
Cover art © 2019 by Jody A. Lee

The manuscript for What’s Bred in the Bone is finished and edited and mostly formatted in Vellum.

The gorgeous cover by Jody A. Lee is finished.

The ISBNs are acquired. I’ve mostly nailed down the barcode resource, I think. I’m prepared to register my copyright.

I keep struggling to get my emailing list up and running, but if you’ve tried to sign up for it you know I’m not there yet. Soon! I promise!

And also, because my life isn’t busy enough, my sister Gigi Sherrell Norwood and I have pooled our resources to create Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. We plan to publish my books, her books, re-publish her late husband Warren C. Norwood’s books, and possibly publish work by others, too (but not yet).

Bold white letters spell Weird Sisters Publishing LLC next to the company's logo, a black outline of two cartoon sisters, one holding an e-reader, the other a paper book. The background is taken from part of the cover art by Jody A. Lee for Jan S. Gephardt's novel What's Bred in the Bone.

The Weird Sisters Facebook Page went live Wednesday. The website’s coming. It all needs to be done at once, preferably yesterday. But at least we’re on our way.

IMAGES: The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee, and is used here with permission. The design work for both the cover and the Weird Sisters Publishing banner are by Jan S. Gephardt.

Becoming Weird Sisters Publishing

Gigi Sherrell Norwood

Regular readers of this blog (if you are one, THANK YOU!!) may recall that I’ve published at least one guest-post by my sister, Gigi Sherrell Norwood (Orchestra Dreams). 

What you may not know is that she is herself a talented writer, and she’s also the widow of science fiction writer Warren C. Norwood.

Yes, we’re kind of a cottage industry all in the family (and that’s not even counting the emerging editorial expertise of my son and frequent sf convention companion Tyrell Gephardt). 

It was perhaps inevitable that we’d do the writing/publishing equivalent of saying, “Hey! Let’s put on a show!” (note: Gigi has a BFA in theatre).

The result is Weird Sisters Publishing LLC, a small press publishing enterprise registered (as of February) and operating out of Kansas. As you might guess from our name, Gigi’s studies included an emphasis in Shakespeare. And, we must face it, we’ve never exactly been conventional. 

“Weird Sisters” just kind of fit.

We’re starting our enterprise with my debut novel, What’s Bred in the Bone, to be released in May, as well as an urban fantasy novella by Gigi, titled Deep Ellum Pawnlater in the summer. 

We hope to follow that soon with more of my XK9 novels, and six of the novels in Warren’s catalogue, the rights to which have reverted to his estate (AKA Gigi). We plan new covers, and a full range of formats. 

Gigi also is in possession of two unpublished novels by Warren, and we are in pursuit of other titles whose ownership is less clear.

Gigi has several other novels in her backlist, not written in collaboration with Warren (she collaborated on some of the Time Police series with him, as did Mel Odom). 

We’re not currently seeking submissions for Weird Sisters Publishing, but that might change in the future. We plan to focus on character-driven science fiction, urban fantasy, and related works.

IMAGES: Gigi provided the photo of herself. It is used with her permission. Cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is ©2019 by Jody A. Lee, and is used with her permission.

Universal human rights

The Artdog Quote of the Week

Yesterday was Human Rights Day, when this post was originally supposed to go live (many apologies!). But human rights are important every day. My theme for the December Quotes is homelessness. I think this excerpt from the United Nations Declaration of Human Rightsratified 70 years ago in 1948, is fittingly consistent with that theme.

IMAGE: I created today’s image. The background photo is one I took last September in Dallas, TX; the words, as credited, are from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25(1). Please feel free to use the quote image if you wish, but kindly include an attribution to me (Jan S. Gephardt) as the creator and a link back to this post. Thanks!

In this photo from the original Star Trek series, Leonard Nimoy as “Mr. Spock” sits at the console of what looked in the mid-1960s like a very futuristic computer array. The console has a black frame with readout windows that shows many different-colored, glowing rectangles above a console covered with buttons and toggle-switches. Nimoy’s costume consisted of a blue velour tunic with a black collar and a Starfleet badge. His character’s black hair has straight-line-cut bangs and the pointy ears that became iconic. Photo courtesy of “Subspace Communicator” blog, collected in 2018.

Design fiction and science fiction

Have you ever heard of design fiction? WALDENLABS’ John Robb explains it this way: “Design fiction is a way for designers and artists to visually depict the future in inspiring ways. Typically, design fiction is associated with how technology will change our future.” But in my opinion he misses an important aspect of design fiction with this definition.

What is “design fiction”?

Robb offers examples of companies that are developing products they want to promote. To do that, they’ve put together videos to show how those products might be used in the future. He suggested that one by Corning, “A Day Made of Glass,” is an excellent example (see above).

It was made in 2011, but it still looks pretty futuristic . . . except in a few of the ways that women are portrayed. Did you catch them? Some are subtle, others quite blatant. What struck me most forcibly however, was how old that “art form” of design fiction by companies making products really is, and how it actually misses the mark if you want to think of it as “art.”

In my opinion, Robb conflates corporate design fiction with science fiction wrongly. He points to Star Trek‘s best-known innovations. That show’s  communicators inspired the development of cell phones. Their glass computers later came into reality as touchscreens. Science fiction readers need not look far to point out other innovations first portrayed in sf. But they were made for a different purpose.

In this photo from the original Star Trek series, Leonard Nimoy as “Mr. Spock” sits at the console of what looked in the mid-1960s like a very futuristic computer array. The console has a black frame with readout windows that shows many different-colored, glowing rectangles above a console covered with buttons and toggle-switches. Nimoy’s costume consisted of a blue velour tunic with a black collar and a Starfleet badge. His character’s black hair has straight-line-cut bangs and the pointy ears that became iconic. Photo courtesy of “Subspace Communicator” blog, collected in 2018.
Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and his shipmates used an inspiring computer unlike anything the 1960s had seen before. But Star Trek wasn’t “design fiction.” That is, it was created to tell engaging stories, not sell computers.

The difference between design fiction and science fiction

Note that corporate design fiction is created for different reasons than science fiction. At recent sf conventions, I participated in programming that showed examples of corporate design fiction from the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s.

Those visions focused on kitchens, cars, and houses. They presented fascinating glimpses, but they were made primarily as marketing tools. Companies developed them to create brand identity and to sell the companies’ products of that day. The design fiction imagery associated their products with futuristic visions. It was a way to say “we’re advanced!”

Here’s an example of futuristic design fiction from 1956.

Doesn’t sf have an agenda, too?

Science fiction offers a viewpoint, of course. But each individual science fiction writer develops their own unique viewpoint. An author may represent more than one viewpoint, over a lifetime of work. But science fiction is not primarily designed to preach, teach, or sell products.

Our wheelhouse is different. We shine a light on new thoughts, ideas, and potential problems . . . and also always to entertain, beguile, and if possible, enrich our readers’ lives. If those technological wonders we invent in the course of doing that become real someday, well, that’s icing on the cake.

About the Author

I’m Jan S. Gephardt, and I’ve been writing this blog since 2009. As you might guess from this topic, I write science fiction, as well as make paper sculpture. Learn more about my XK9 series from my publishing company, Weird Sisters Publishing. I originally wrote this post in 2018 and updated it in 2024.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Corning via YouTube, for the “A Day Made of Glass” video. Thank you, CBS Sunday Morning, for the 1956 GM vision of the “car of the future.” And I’m grateful to Subspace Communique for the photo of Mr. Spock and his computer.

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