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Tag: Lynette M. Burrows

BFFs Lynette M. Burrows and Jan S. Gephardt.

A Pair of BFFs Talk about Writing

By Jan S. Gephardt and Lynette M. Burrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is Jan S. Gephardt?

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

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

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

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

Now, let’s Talk about Writing!

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

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

Fellowship is available at most online bookstores.

JAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

JAN

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

JAN

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

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

Would You Like to Ask Us Other Questions?

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS:

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

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

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

The cover of the “We Dare: No Man’s Land” Anthology from Chris Kennedy Publishing.

Strong Female Protagonists

By Jan S. Gephardt

What’s your first thought, when you see or read the phrase Strong Female Protagonists? What memorable characters come to mind? Do you smile at the idea of finally seeing more strong women in leading roles? Do you grind your teeth a bitt, at the fact that Strong Male Protagonists aren’t pointed out?

You can search for “Strong Female Protagonist” in several genres on Amazon. There are BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) categories for “FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Women Sleuths,” and “FICTION / Women.” But you probably won’t be astonished to learn that no parallel Categories for “FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Men Sleuths,” or “FICTION / Men,” exist. Not unless you want to count “FICTION / Animals,” which I don’t.

And seriously: “Strong Female Protagonist” is doubly redundant. If your protagonist (male or female) is a wimpy pushover all the way through to the end, why would we want to read about her/him/them?

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien, Brie Larson as Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel, and Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2.
Three strong female protagonists from cinema. (Credits below).

You-Hoo! Half of the Human Population, Here!

I’m reminded of the time when I asked one of my elder family members, “We have Mothers Day and Fathers Day, but when is Childrens Day?”

My relative laughed. “Every day is Childrens Day!”

My child-self found this answer less than satisfying, as you can imagine. And I feel a similar irritation with singling out female protagonists as somehow “unusual,” despite the fact that biologically female persons are only narrowly in the minority among the humans on the planet. (In 2020, there were estimated to be 101.69 male humans for every 100 females in the world. The reverse—more females than males—was the norm until about 1957).

But these categories exist because, as in so many other realms, male protagonists have been a default setting. More than that, really. There was an active mindset among the editors who chose what to publish. They selected for male (cis, white, straight) “heroes.”

This quote from Drew Gilpin Faust says, “I’m not the woman president of Harvard, I’m the president of Harvard.”
Eliminate the excess qualifier. (World Economic Forum).

Strong Female Protagonists

Very early in my writing career I was told “girls will read books with boy protagonists, but boys don’t want to read books about girls.” Therefore, write about boys if you want to sell better, was the bottom line. By that reasoning, girls didn’t have much choice, did they?

I started thinking about strong female protagonists most recently while reading We Dare: No Man’s Land: An Anthology of Strong Female Leads, edited by Jamie Ibson and Chris Kennedy. This is their third “We Dare” title. The others are An Anthology of Augmented Humanity, and An Anthology of the Apocalypse. The focus in all three is the subgenre Military Science Fiction.

On the whole, I enjoyed it. As in any anthology, some stories are stronger than others. Many had good moments. My personal favorites are Leaving Paradise, by Griffin Barber, None Left Behind, by Jonathan P. Brazee, and Ragged Old Golem, by Rachel Aukes.

And the best line I’ve read in months came from The Relentless, by Melissa Olthoff: “If you can’t have fun being a space pirate, what are you even doing with your life?”

The cover of the “We Dare: No Man’s Land” Anthology from Chris Kennedy Publishing.
This anthology inspired this blog post (Chris Kennedy Publishing).

Define “Strong”

Unfortunately, in some of the We Dare: No Man’s Land stories, the strong in “strong female protagonist” got a little twisted. Yes, I know most military science fiction leans toward the dystopic (read more about the appeal of dystopian stories). But in a few stories “strong” seemed more equated with kill ratio, ruthlessness, or “not dealing with trauma in a healthy manner” than it did with what I think of as strength.

Strong, to me, does not mean being so emotionally brittle you can’t have friends or trust anyone. It also doesn’t necessarily mean having the ability and willingness to mow one’s way through legions of enemies. Especially not when other approaches (involving less mayhem but more thinking) might also yield success.

This quote from writer C. Joybell C says, “The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have hand on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.”
Here’s one way to look at female strength (Quotemaster).

Finding the Strength

There’s a reason why less-violent and less-physical characteristics don’t always register immediately as strong, and it has its roots in sexism. If you think of “male” and “female” traits, the gentler, kinder, more peaceable and nurturing traits are all lumped on the “female” side, along with “weak,” “soft,” and “emotional.”

“Strong,” on the other hand, is assumed to be a “male” trait. With that as the subconscious and conscious bias, a strong female protagonist is starting from a disadvantage by appearing to be an oxymoron, right out of the box.

Writers and readers also may mistakenly think she must have traditionally “male” characteristics to be “strong.” As if stuffing your feelings, smashing things, and killing people are any variety of “strong.” Toxic masculinity is also toxic for men.

This quote from writer Ernest Hemingway says, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
Everyone faces challenges, regardless of gender/identity (ItsWorthQuoting on Twitter).

Resiliency as Strength

I think a better way to look for true strength is to ask for a resilient protagonist. Sure, they need to be tough in the face of life’s outrageous fortunes. But to me the most important kind of strength isn’t so much in a person’s muscles as in their mind and their character. Are they strong, as in loyal to their word? Are they strong, as in steady and trustworthy? And are they strong enough to admit they can’t always handle everything without help?

Ursula Po, Gracie Medicine Crow, and Cassius were my favorite strong female protagonists from the third We Dare anthology. Well, Gracie was already a favorite, since I’m a fan of Jonathan Brazee’s Nebula-finalist novella, Weaponized Math (starring Gracie). Also of his Navy of Humankind: Wasp Squadron series, and his character Beth Dalisay.

Book covers for “Weaponized Math,” “Navy of Humankind: Wasp Squadron Book One, Fire Ant,” “Barrayar,” and “The Flowers of Vashnoi.”
Here are the covers of some books mentioned in this post (credits below).

Favorite Strong Female Protagonists

Branching out from military sf (not really my wheelhouse), my first thought is Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan (Shards of Honor, Barrayar, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen). But then I realize that pretty much any woman who is a protagonist in a Lois McMaster Bujold novel. Ista of Chalion (Paladin of Souls) and Ekaterin Vorkosigan (Komarr, A Civil Campaign, The Flowers of Vashnoi) also leap to mind.

A speculative fantasy protagonist in a “warrior woman” vein, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Maggie Hoskie, kicks butt, kills monsters, and hates to admit she has a soft spot for some of her friends and allies. Find her in Roanhorse’s Sixth World books, Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts.

Book covers for “Paladin of Souls,” “Trail of Lightning,” “Storm of Locusts,” and “My Soul to Keep.”
Here are the covers of some books mentioned in this post (credits below).

Beyond “Spec-Fic”

Dystopian fiction does inescapably imply a certain level of trauma. Overcoming it and emerging on the other side is the classic story arc, especially in dystopian fiction. And the subgenre is full of strong female protagonists—including a few who don’t rack up a bunch of kills. An example who leaps to mind is Miranda Clarke, the strong female protagonist of Lynette M. Burrows’ My Soul to Keep. Miranda can defend herself, but she’s not cutting notches in her gun stock.

Leaping to yet another genre I’ve learned to love, I also should mention Margaret Mizushima’s Mattie Cobb (The Timber Creek K-9 mystery series) and Meg Jennings (along with her talented posse) in Sara Driscoll’s FBI K-9 mysteries. And just about any of Diane Kelly’s protagonists, although many of them would question that “strong” characterization at the start of the story.

I could go on and on, but I’ll offer just one more: Ms. Eddy Weekes, proprietor of Deep Ellum Pawn (and so much more) in G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Series. Perhaps in a future post G. will offer her own thoughts on Strong Female Protagonists. Who are some of yours? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section!

Book covers for “Killing Trail” (Timber Creek K-9), “Lone Wolf” (FBI K-9), “Paw Enforcement,” and “Deep Ellum Pawn.”
Here are the covers of some books mentioned in this post (credits below).

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to IndieWire for the photo of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien. We’re grateful to The Guardian for the photo of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. And we thank Marvel Cinematic Database for the photo of Brie Larson as Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel.

We deeply appreciate the World Economic Forum for the quote from Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University. Humble gratitude to Quotemaster for the C. Joybell C quote, And we thank ItsWorthQuoting on Twitter for the Ernest Hemingway quote. The We Dare: No Man’s Land cover is courtesy of Chris Kennedy Publishing.

Many thanks to Jonathan Brazee’s website for the cover images for Weaponized Math and Fire Ant. We have Barnes & Noble to thank for the Barrayar cover. We’re grateful to Amazon for the covers for The Flowers of Vashnoi, Paladin of Souls, and Paw Enforcement. Lynette M. Burrows’ website provided the cover image for My Soul to Keep.

Our thanks go out to Simon and Schuster for the covers of Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts. Margaret Mizushima’s website provided the cover for Killing Trail, first in the Timber Creek K-9 series. The Lone Wolf cover (first of the FBI K-9 series) is from the website of Jen J. Danna and Sarah Driscoll. And Weird Sisters Publishing provided the cover art (© 2019 by Chaz Kemp) for Deep Ellum Pawn.

4 screen-grabs from Virtual ConQuesT 52’s Twitch feed.

Virtual ConQuesT 52

By Jan S. Gephardt

Compared to some authors I’m slow, but Virtual ConQuesT 52 was my first virtual sf convention using interactive video tools.

Throughout the months since March 2020 I’ve periodically participated in Facebook-based Concellation. Last year I pre-recorded myself reading Chapter One of The Other Side of Fear for Virtual DemiCon 31. But this year I was in the final throes of preparing a finished draft of A Bone to Pick, and just didn’t have the psychic energy for Virtual DemiCon 32 (my friends in Des Moines were very gracious and understanding, for which I thank them).

Here’s the video of Jan, reading Chapter One from The Other Side of Fear, for DemiCon 31.

One for the Home Team

Readers who’ve followed this blog/my Artdog Adventures blog for several years may remember that ConQuesT in Kansas City is my “home” convention. I’ve blogged about it many times over the years (follow the links for examples).

ConQuesT didn’t exactly have a convention last year. But they had more time to organize a virtual event this year. For the first time in decades I didn’t participate in the ConQuesT Art Show, but I did agree to participate in panels. So, how did Virtual ConQuesT 52 go?

Well, in some ways it was almost like being on regular panels.

How did they Conduct the Panels at Virtual ConQuesT 52?

We conducted our panels on Zoom. By now I guess everyone who regularly uses a computer for communication has experienced a Zoom meeting. My writers group has stayed in weekly contact all through the pandemic by using Zoom, so I was well familiar with this interface.

A cartoon by Tom Fishburne demonstrates some typical Zoom meeting issues.
We had the occasional frozen screen during Virtual ConQuesT 52, but not often (by permission from Tom Fishburne, The Marketoonist).

We had the occasional frozen screen during Virtual ConQuesT 52, but not often (by permission from Tom Fishburne, The Marketoonist).

I also have been on Discord chats before, but this was my first really positive experience with the program. Previous attempts have been unguided attempts to connect with groups who also didn’t seem to have much clue what they were doing with it. This time around, with people actually interacting, I enjoyed it (more on that in a bit).

Once the live-on-Zoom panels were finished, the concom posted recordings of them on a dedicated Twitch channel. That way if you were a member of the convention you could access the panel any time you wanted during the con. Once I figured out how to get on, it was pretty easy to use.

An Art Panel at Virtual ConQuesT 52

I may not have had artwork in the show, but I did participate in one art-related panel at Virtual ConQuesT 52. I moderated, facilitating a discussion of each artist’s unique approach.

Panelists were our Artist Guest of Honor, Toni Taylor, graphic designer/artist/game creator Harold Sipe, and fellow Kansas City artist Allison Stein. I misunderstood the end-time, so I kinda aced myself out of my own process description (I demonstrated how I created Common Cliff-Dragon—Male).

The ConQuesT panel description for “Behind the Curtain”: The Process Behind the Art read: “Every artist develops their own style, and works with their tools in their own way. In this panel, the moderator will display some of the art by the artists on the panel, and give the artists some space to walk through the process of creating the piece, giving a view “behind the curtain” into their artistic processes.”

Screen-grab from Virtual ConQuesT 52’s Twitch feed.
Here’s a glimpse of how the video for “Behind the Curtain” looked on Twitch. (Image courtesy of ConQuesT 52).

Toni Taylor, Starchild Art

Each of the panelists has a unique take on their approach to their artwork. Taylor described some of the considerations that go into her portraits, including totems, spirit animals, and places that hold special meaning for the subject. See some of them on her website and Facebook page.

Harold Sipe, Small Monsters Games

Sipe gave us a behind-the-scenes look at how he and his wife conceived of their “Takeout” card game, and the process they went through to refine the idea, then design, test, and build it. He also showed us screen-shares of the finished cards, and his website.

Allison Stein, Author, Artist, TV Addict, Geek Princess, and Cat Servant

Stein described the ways she develops her whimsical creations, featuring birds of all types (my particular favorites are her owls), bunnies, octopi, cats, dragons, and more. She described the wide range of media from which she selects tools and add-ons to make each tiny piece unique. Catch glimpses on her website, Fine Art America page, and Etsy store.

My Panels with Writers at Virtual ConQuesT 52

Most of my panels at Virtual ConQuesT 52 involved some aspect of writing. I moderated all but one. Allison Stein, who also is a writer as well as an artist, moderated that one, about writers groups, and she handled it brilliantly. Barbara E. Hill, Lynette M. Burrows, and M. C. Chambers joined us for that one. We discussed several excellent local writers’ groups and how important it can be for a writer to find a good one.

4 screen-grabs from Virtual ConQuesT 52’s Twitch feed.
This montage shows moments from each of my four writing-related panels on Twitch (Images courtesy of ConQuesT 52. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

We discussed our personal publishing journeys (each one different) with Guests of Honor Becky Chambers (no relation to M. C., as far as I’m aware) and Dan Wells, plus the science fiction writer Claire McCague. Readers of this blog know I’m a partner in Weird Sisters Publishing.

Two other writing-related panels focused on specialized writing topics.

Food in Fantasy provided a fun conversation with Claire McCaig and Reed Alexander. It explored all the ways that food can and has featured in both culture and pivotal scenes. We explored our own writing, and also the writing of others.

Trials and Tribulations of Running an Interstellar Space Station is probably going to provide a basis for a future blog post. Guest of Honor Becky Chambers, science fiction writer Claire McCague, and dedicated science fiction fan Michael Kingsley joined me for that one.

Overall a Good Experience at Virtual ConQuesT 52

We experienced a number of tech glitches during my first panel on Friday. How’s Your Apocalypse was mostly designed to introduce Guests of Honor Becky Chambers, Dan Wells, and Toni Taylor. But Friday afternoon of the con is usually a lightly-attended time period. And once we got the bugs worked out, the convention went well, as far as I could tell.

Screen-grab from Virtual ConQuesT 52’s Twitch feed.
Here’s a glimpse of how the video for “How was Your Apocalypse?” looked on Twitch. (Image courtesy of ConQuesT 52).

I won’t say I want to conduct all-virtual conventions from now on. But the more we use the technology, the more possibilities open up. People who wouldn’t have been able to attend in person had a chance to participate virtually.

The Twitch feed with its recordings opened the previously-unavailable opportunity to view and enjoy panels, even when they ran opposite something else I wanted to see. Now that we have the technology and know how to use it, I hope more and more conventions maintain a virtual presence. Even when the main event goes back to in-person.

Have you participated in a virtual science fiction convention? Please use the Comments section below to tell us what you thought!

IMAGE CREDITS

Many, many, many thanks to our image sources for this post! We appreciate the gracious Tom Fishburne, The Marketoonist, for permission to use his cartoon on this post, and we’re forever indebted to Virtual ConQuesT 52 and their guests for permission to post screen-grabs from their Twitch feed. This blog post would be pretty boring to look at without them!

Recent political-comment books

Politics in Science Fiction

Do you read science fiction as an escape? If you hoped the politics would die down after the election, and now you just want to get away from it all in a sci-fi world, I’ll try to break this gently. Politics in science fiction is pretty much baked-in.

No romance, no adventure story, no mystery, and no historical drama can completely evade society or politics, even when it’s not the focus. But most of these are based on actual events or places. If your romance is set in Tuscany, or if your historical novel takes place in Kublai Khan’s court, certain rules are already set.

But sf was kinda built for political or social comment. Science fiction can range from a simple town hall to a matrilineal nest-colony. But every sf story resides in a world that the author chose to create that way. For a reason.

Sometimes it’s just the wallpaper

Covers for Murderbot stories: “All Systems Red,” “Artificial Condition,” “Rogue Protocol,” “Exit Strategy,” “Network Effect,” and “Fugitive Telemetry.”
Jaime Jones illustrates the “Murderbot Stories” of Martha Wells, from Tor.com Publishing. Cover images courtesy of Martha Wells.

Would-be escapists take heart! Politics in science fiction novels isn’t always center-stage. Some sf authors choose the “background political system” more for plot-utility.

Martha Wells’ “Murderbot” stories take place in a system quite different from our own. What kind of place would allow such a cyborg to be made and exploited? We can believe this world would. It’s not obviously presented as a dystopia, but a writer with a different story purpose could actively portray it as one.

But maybe you’d rather take out your political frustrations in another way.

Dystopia

Maybe you’d like to see characters triumph over their politically- or socially-caused adversity. In that case, the politics in science fiction of certain kinds may be right up your alley. Perhaps counter-intuitively, some of the most inspirational science fiction unfolds in a dystopian world.

Writers use dystopian novels to critique some aspect of their current world. Suzanne Collins drew inspiration from both classical and contemporary sources for her “Hunger Games” books. Her critique focuses on social and economic inequalities, extreme versions of contemporary trends.

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale also makes an extremely relevant point about patriarchy taken to extremes. Women still struggle for the right to control their own bodies. Handmaid remains as relevant now as when it was published in 1985. Buzzfeed offers a list of 24 excellent dystopian novels you’d like to explore this subgenre.

Covers for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Ecotopia,” and “Brave New World,” as well as a boxed set of the Suzanne Collins “Hunger Games Trilogy” and the flag design for Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets.
Atwood book cover courtesy of Thriftbooks. Hunger Games boxed set photo courtesy of Goodreads. Ecotopia and Brave New World book covers courtesy of Bookshop. Star Trek United Federation of Planets flag by Shisma-Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Utopia

Ernest Callenbach’s novel Ecotopia gets pointed to a lot, as an example of a utopian novel—one set in a supposedly “perfect” society. Published in 1975, it influenced the dawn of the Green movement (so did fact-based books such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962). See my 2016 post “How Science Fiction Impacts Environmental Awareness.”

Utopias are harder to find in fiction—especially influential utopias. How do you present an interesting story set in a perfect world? Conflict and problems are the soul of plot. This may be the primary reason the Solarpunk movement has been able to produce inspiring and beautiful visual art, but no “breakout” novel to date.

The background society of the Federation in the Star Trek universe has a utopian nature. But few stories in the franchise take place there. Most are set in a less-utopian corner of the Final Frontier.

When one person’s utopia becomes another’s dystopia in some way, we tend to find more stories. Aldous Huxley took that approach in Brave New World (that society’sinhabitants believed it to be a utopia).

Political and social commentary

Politics in science fiction and speculative fiction is alive and well. And has been, all the way back to the genre’s roots.

Many people consider Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) to be the “first science fiction novel.” It’s a cautionary tale against technological hubris ( see Victor Frankenstein’s dying admonition to “avoid ambition”).

H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine commented on his contemporary social class system. He employed Darwinian concepts to speculate in an oh, so Victorian way that the upper and lower classes would evolve separately over the millennia into separate sub-species of humans.

Covers for historic books “Frankenstein” and “The Time Machine,” contemporary novels “Ancillary Justice” and “A Memory Called Empire,” and XK9 books “The Other Side of Fear” and “What’s Bred in the Bone.”
Book covers for Frankenstein, The Time Machine, Ancillary Justice, and A Memory Called Empire are courtesy of Bookshop. Covers for the “XK9” novels courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. XK9 cover art is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk and © 2019 by Jody A. Lee.

More recent examples

But the sf writers of the past have nothing on today’s works. Nnedi Okorafor, for one example, frequently tackles such topics as racial and gender inequality, environmental destruction, corruption, and genocide through the lens of her fantasy and science fiction.

Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice takes a unique approach to gender (for one thing, the “default pronoun” is she, which leads us interesting places). Her long, hard look at what Genevieve Valentine calls “the disconnects of culture” opens more parallels to consider.

Arkady Martine‘s acclaimed debut novel A Memory Called Empire tackles political intrigue (she’s a Byzantine Empire historian), and the multiple facets of colonialism.

Politics in the world of the XK9s

My own science fiction isn’t overtly political. My focus in the XK9 books is trying to tell a good story. But I built Rana Station, the environment where most of the action takes place, on ideas garnered from decades of teaching, studying history, and observing our contemporary society.

What kind of environment would enable all of my students to reach their full potential? If a political and social structure made that its guiding question, how would the resulting society look?

I built the world of Rana Station on ideas I started gathering during my coursework. But I don’t believe in “perfect” worlds. In my next post I’ll go into more depth on how and why I created the system where my fictional characters live.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to all of the following: Jaime Jones, who illustrates the “Murderbot Stories” of Martha Wells, from Tor.com Publishing. Cover images courtesy of Martha Wells. Atwood book cover courtesy of Thriftbooks. Hunger Games boxed set photo courtesy of Goodreads. Ecotopia and Brave New World book covers courtesy of Bookshop. Star Trek United Federation of Planets flag by Shisma-Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0. Book covers for Frankenstein, The Time Machine, Ancillary Justice, and A Memory Called Empire came from Bookshop. Covers for the “XK9” novels courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. XK9 cover art is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk and © 2019 by Jody A. Lee.

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

Looking forward to Capricon 40

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

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

Blogging a panel

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to Capricon 40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond programming items

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

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

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS: 

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

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

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

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

These are most of the books we donated to the local library, so they'd find good homes and we didn't have to haul them across literally half the continent. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt)

The Library Liberation Project

My son and I (with occasional help from my Beloved) have embarked upon a project we’ve long dreamed about. We call it the Library Liberation Project. When we moved into our current home (30 years ago come June 1), I declared that a back room addition the previous owners had used as a rec room was to be the Library.

Some of the family couldn’t imagine what we’d do with a whole room just for books, but others laughed and said, “It’s perfect!” And for many years, it was a good study and writing space, with my office tucked in a back corner amongst the stacks.

Here's a corner of the Library in 2004. Yes, it usually looked a lot more lived-in, but we were getting ready for a party, so I even dusted and vacuumed!
Here’s a corner of the Library in 2004. Yes, it usually looked a lot more lived-in, but we were getting ready for a party, so I even dusted and vacuumed! Sixteen years later, the lamp, the chair and the coffee table have passed on, but we’ve added lots more bookshelves. And loads of other stuff.

Some days I’d walk into my library, take a big, blissful sniff, and revel in the scent of being surrounded by books. Somehow ebooks just don’t smell the same. The Library was a place of liberation back then.

Tragedy strikes. Repeatedly

About a year and a half after I took the picture above, our family began a sad but inevitable process. My brother-in-law Warren died, at way too young an age, at the start of the summer of 2005. Before the end of that season, I’d also lost one of my aunts.

By 2007, stuff had begun to pile up.
By 2007, stuff had begun to pile up.

went to California with my father to settle my aunt’s estate. It was small and relatively simple to handle. But I would benefit from that apprenticeship in the years to come. Aunt Betty was also a writer, and I brought a few of her things back home with me.

They took up a small corner in the Library, but that would only be for a little while. Till I got photos digitized and organized, and went through her papers. The books from Warren found homes on the expanding board-feet of bookshelves. The art supplies and fun boxes and bags . . . well, I’d figure out a good place soon.

Another loss, another deluge

The next year my mother died. Gigi and I struggled to get her house cleared out and ready to sellNot sure what to do with all her stuff–and too heartsick to face sorting through it–we hauled it all to Kansas City.

Some went into storage, and some to my house. Gigi didn’t have room. She was still cleaning out the home she’d shared with Warren, and struggling to deal with abrupt widowhood.

By 2009, the burgeoning piles of stuff in the Library were accumulating at a much faster rate than I could keep up with it.
By 2009, the burgeoning piles of stuff in the Library were accumulating at a much faster rate than I could keep up with it. The Library was beginning to need Liberation, but I already had too much to do.

Piled higher and deeper

My mother also had a library in her home. She’d managed to confine it to one long wall of floor-to-ceiling books in her house, but when she passed away, my library suddenly had a whole new wall’s worth of books to assimilate. Yes, I got rid of a few. But Mom had some really cool books!

I only discovered later that some of the stuff from Mom’s house had originally belonged to my grandparents. And some of that had belonged to their parents or siblings. I had unwittingly joined a grand family tradition of accumulating inherited boxes full of stuff.

The year after that, my father-in-law passed away, and my mother-in-law began to downsize. More things arrived at our house, bit by bit. Year by year. And the Library took the brunt of it.

My kids went off to college and took some of the excess furniture–but a few years later they came back. With all of the same furniture, plus lots of new books. Then my other aunt became ill. My daughter went out to California to care for her, but eventually that aunt, too, died.

The California tsunami

And left us all her stuff. This time I went out to stay with Signy in my aunt’s condominium for several months, while we sorted through decades of accumulated wonderful things. Yes, she also had a full wall of books, but I was out of space and then some (of course, I still brought some of them home).

I read all I could, and wrote several blog post book reviews while I was at it. If you’d like to read them, I reviewed The Keepsake byTess Gerritsen,  The Sentry by Robert Craisas well as The Innocent and The Sixth Man, both by David Baldacci. We donated a large trove of hardback thrillers and mysteries by well-known authors to the local public library (they were delighted) before we left town.

These are most of the books we donated to the local library, so they'd find good homes and we didn't have to haul them across literally half the continent. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt)
These are most of the books we donated to the local library, so they’d find good homes and we didn’t have to haul them across literally half the continent. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt)

Donation mania

That wasn’t all we donated. We never found a good auction company or estate liquidator, and the Realtor was eager to get the place emptied so it could be staged. So we made lists and lists and lists of donations for tax purposes, and then we donated stuff. Clothing by the bales and bags, some of it designer items. Household goods till the local donation center personnel began to recognize us. We even found a place to donate much of the furniture.

But we still had to rent a 16-foot box truck to get the rest of it out of her place. Who knew a three-bedroom condo could hold so much stuff? We hauled it to Gigi’s place first. She didn’t take exactly half of it, but she took a lot. Even so, what was left was enough to swamp the remaining clear spaces at our house.

When we arrived home from California, emptying the truck loaded up our living room. It deluged our dining room. And let's not even talk about what it dit to the Library. Except, not talking about it didn't make it go away.
When we arrived home from California, emptying the truck loaded up our living room. It deluged our dining room. And let’s not even talk about what it dit to the Library. Except, not talking about it didn’t make it go away.

Stop! Stop!

But wait. There’s more! My mother-in-law moved into a nursing home. My father moved from his large home at the lake to a smaller place, then to a condo near us. In both cases a select few cherished or useful objects arrived at our place, along with other stuff that “needed to be gone through.”

We kept trying to live our lives, throughout all of this. To build businesses. Write books. Deal with medical emergencies, and my daughter’s chronic illness. We kept intending to go through all the stuff, but there was never time.

Well, now it’s time.

The Library Liberation Project is ON. We broke down and rented another storage unit last October. The one from last decade, after my mother died, had long been cleared out and closed, and we’d hoped to handle further inflows “in-house.” So, yeah, we caved. 

At this point, it's hard to find any floor space at all in our once-spacious Library (the pet fence is up to deter the dogs). If ever a Library needed Liberating, it's ours!
At this point, it’s hard to find any floor space at all in our once-spacious Library (the pet fence is up to deter the dogs). If ever a Library needed Liberating, it’s ours!

Retreat to the caves!

But we needed some slack. We were like one of those sliding-tile puzzlesbut with no empty space to slide a tile into. The rental’s not cheap. When I say “we caved,” I mean that literally as well as figuratively. Not far from our house is an underground storage facility in a repurposed mine. The good part is that it’s naturally temperature-controlled. You may also have seen it featured on my friend Lynette M. Burrows’s blog.

In 2020, we hope to reclaim our Library for real. We got a slow start in the last quarter of 2019, but we’re determined. But The Artdog needs a better StudioWeird Sisters Publishing needs a real office, and the Gephardts may not be as reliant on the “dead-trees versions” of books as we once were, but we want our Library back! And the Library Liberation Project will (eventually) get us there. We hope.

2020 vision

You may periodically receive updates on our progress in this blog space. You may also periodically see fewer or shorter entries, as I juggle the time requirements to factor in the Library Liberation work. We didn’t get into this situation overnight, and it’ll take a lot of time and hard work to get us out.

I hope by talking about my quest, I may encourage you to tackle any accumulating problems that may be developing in your life (before they get this bad!). Or perhaps you may just enjoy laughing at the crazy woman with a knack for inheriting mounds of interesting stuff. Either way, I hope it’s interesting.

IMAGE CREDITS

Most of the photos in this blog post were taken by me, Jan S. Gephardt. The one of my late aunt’s collection of thrillers and mystery novels was taken by Tyrell E. Gephardt. Feel free to reblog or re-post any you may find helpful, but please only do so with an attribution and a link back to this post. Thanks!

I’m excited to announce . . .

The Artdog Image of Interest

Lynette M. Burrows has revealed the cover of her upcoming new book, My Soul to Keep, with cover and art direction by Elizabeth Leggett (see Wednesday’s post for developmental sketches).

This is the first time I’ve ever announced a friend’s newly-released book cover as my Image of Interest, but I really want anyone who follows this blog to know about her upcoming book!

I’ve known Lynette for–let’s just say a LONG time. We’ve been each others’ writing cheerleaders and critique buddies for ages, so I’ve watched this book evolve and played a part (one of many who did!) in helping her focus and craft it.

I can tell you this for sure: it’s a really good story! It’s a fast-paced thriller set in an alternate timeline, in which the US turned into a theocracy, never entered World War II, and the Nazis won in Europe. The action in this novel takes place in 1961 of this alternate timeline, and focuses on four strong women who are pivotal at a pivotal moment in US history.

There is much more detail about the book on Lynette’s website. It’s currently in production, and is scheduled to be released in August, 2018. I’d like to encourage you to sign up for her e-newsletter (you already signed up for mine, right?) so you’ll know as soon as it’s available!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Lynette M. Burrows, who provided this image for me to use on this post. Learn more about Lynette and her book on her website!

“Moving the needle” and author readings

I just wrapped up a delightful weekend at ConQuesT 49 in Kansas City, MO. Yes, it’s my “home convention,” but it was a particularly good one, this year–and I’m not the only one I heard say that.

The presentations by the amazing Elizabeth Leggett were worth the price of admission, all by themselves–Especially the big reveal of my friend Lynette M. Burrows’cover for her soon-to-be-available new book, My Soul to KeepIt was part of Leggett’s presentation on the making of book covers.

This is only a tiny glimpse of the “Book Cover” presentation by Elizabeth Leggett, featuring development of the cover for My Soul to Keep by Lynette M. Burrows, a spine-tingling alternate-history thriller soon to be released by Rocket Dog Publications.

Unfortunately, I was so busy I barely got to see half of the wonderful Dealers’ Room, and never made it all the way around the entire Art Show, though I helped hang the mail-in art. Did manage to get a photo of my own display.

Here is my before-sales display at the ConQuesT 49 Art Show. I sold several of my larger pieces!

I spent a lot of time at author readings, during the convention. I had my own reading on Saturday–and was overjoyed when I got a good audience! Thanks, everyone! 

I make a point of going to other authors’ readings, too–for several reasons. I like to know what their current projects are, and because it’s fun to find new things to read. I also like to support my fellow writers–and it’s a lot more fun to read your work aloud when there’s someone eager to listen!

Just a few of the books from which their authors selected scenes to read at ConQuesT 49: L-R, Blood Songsby Julia S. MandalaSinger’s Callby J. R. Bolesand The Alchemist’s Stone, by Kevin WohlerI either own, or will soon buy, copies of all of them.

I had panels opposite some of the authors I wanted to hear, but I did get a chance to listen to Kevin WohlerJ.R. BolesJim YeltonJulia S. Mandala, and Van Allen Plexico. I also really wanted to hear Sean DemoryLynette M. Burrows, R. L. Naquinand Rob Howell, but unfortunately I had duties elsewhere when they were reading.

One thing I did notice was that all readers are not equally audible, or intelligible. I was half-planning to create a post about “Reading Best Practices,” but Lynette beat me to it–and I don’t think I can improve on her excellent post! If you are an author who does readings–or if you know an author who does readings–give her post a close look! If you look at readings as a marketing vehicle, or if you plan to record your own audio-version, pay close attention to her advice!

It also pays to advertise, so come prepared with pre-printed information about where to find your work, and what it’s about. I’m always amazed how many authors forget to tell what the book is about, in their promotional material. Authors (especially Indie authors) sometimes think that making appearances at sf conventions isn’t worth the effort because it doesn’t normally result in an immediate jump in sales.

J. R. Boles and Sean Demory, who teamed up this winter as part of the Palookaville team, both did readings at ConQuesT 49. They came to meet fans, talk about their work, and share thoughts. That’s sold brand-building.

It also pays to advertise, so come prepared with pre-printed information about where to find your work, and what it’s about. I’m always amazed how many authors forget to tell what the book is about, in their promotional material. Authors (especially Indie authors) sometimes think that making appearances at sf conventions isn’t worth the effort because it doesn’t normally result in an immediate jump in sales.

But I am convinced that appearances at conventions are not so much about lead generation as they are about brand-buildingWhy do you think so many traditionally-published writers with established reputations still bother with going to conventions? It’s a chance to interface directly with a larger number of one’s fans, and to impress more, through your knowledge on panels, your attention, which is flattering, and your demonstrated grace. Of course–if you don’t demonstrate much grace (skip panels or readings, hide out in your room, or shy away from fans), you won’t develop a whole lot of brand loyalty!

IMAGES: Many thanks to Elizabeth Leggett’s public Facebook page, for the image of developmental stages for the cover of My Soul to Keep by Lynette M. Burrows! I took the photo of my Art Show panels; you may re-post the photo with my blessings if you don’t alter it, give an attribution to me, and link back to this post. The cover image for Blood Songs is from Amazon; the cover image for Singer’s Call is from J. R. Boles; and the cover for The Alchemist’s Stone is from Kevin Wohler. The photo of J. R. Boles and Sean Demory is from Sean Demory’s Facebook page

It’s the reading season!

Jan S. Gephardt reading, by Judith Bemis

It’s time to start practicing. A new season of readings approaches rapidly. That means I need to find scenes or chapters from my work that are relatively self-contained and appropriate lengths (usually 20-30 minutes), then start practicing, so I can read smoothly and clearly, and also build up my voice so it will last 20-30 minutes.

In addition to the conventions I’ll attend (I already know I’ll be scheduled for a full hour of reading at DemiCon 29, and I’ve requested to do readings at other conventions through the summer), I’ll also be participating in a panel discussion about writers’ groups, and doing a short reading at a meeting of the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society (KaCSFFS), April 21.

That’s Saturday, April 21, 7:00 p.m., at The Writers Place, 3607 Pennsylvania Ave., Kansas City, MO 64111.

At the KaCSFFS meeting, I’ll share the “reading chair” in the Library at The Writers Place with two friends who also are writers.

Holly Messinger

One is Holly Messinger, author of The Curse of Jacob Tracy (2015 from Thomas Dunne Books) and the upcoming sequel, Curious Weather (due in 2019 from St. Martin’s Press). Holly plans to read from Curious Weather:

“When Jacob Tracy—Civil War veteran, ex-seminarian, and reluctant psychic—agrees to move into Miss Fairweather’s St. Louis mansion and study magic with her, he has one purpose in mind: to hunt down and destroy the necromancer Mereck, a predatory madman who has twice tried to make a meal of Trace and trapped Trace’s partner Boz in a monstrous half-life.

“Sabine Fairweather has her own grievance with Mereck, though Trace doesn’t know the details and doesn’t particularly want to. The woman may be a brilliant scientist and a powerful witch in her own right, but there is darkness in her and bitter secrets that threaten the tenuous faith Trace has in her.

“With Mereck’s minions circling ever closer, and old allies posing unexpected threats, Trace knows he and Sabine have no choice but to trust each other. But for that to happen, he will have to lay bare all the deepest secrets of her soul…and quite possibly her heart.”

Lynette M. Burrows

The other is Lynette M. Burrows, author of My Soul to Keep, an alternate-history thriller set for release from Rocket Dog Publishing this summer (stay tuned to her website for details). She will choose a reading from My Soul to Keep:

“Miranda Clarke lives a charmed life . . . until she breaks the rules.

“It is 1961 but the world isn’t the one you know. The Prophet Josiah Shepherd, backed by billionaire J. D. Wagner and the Isolationist movement, kept the United States of America from entering World War II. The Nazis control Great Britain, Europe, and Northern Africa. Unopposed, Japan rules the east. America is a theocracy, a land of righteous repression led by the Fellowship and its council of greedy white men.

A concept drawing of one of the deadly Azrael, by Lynette’s husband, artist Robert Burrows.

“Miranda’s parents are part of the Fellowship’s elite, the inner circle. Her father, the nation’s premier preacher-politician, is on his way to the presidency. And Miranda’s hope of living a quiet, private life vanishes. But when Miranda makes a break for freedom, she learns everything she thought she knew is a lie:

“Her vengeance-seeking aunt isn’t dead.

“Her parents and the supposedly benevolent Fellowship Council aren’t benevolent.

“And the terrifying tales of the angel-assassins called Azrael aren’t just stories.

“Miranda must escape a religious re-education prison, discover the truth behind her horrifying nightmares, outwit her mother’s deadly ambitions, and destroy the ruthless, cloned angel-assassins who pursue her—or die.”

I promise–having seen advance peeks of both books–they will be delightful reads.

Jan S. Gephardt, by Colette Waters

But wait. What about that third woman on the program? What’s her book about? Yeah, well, that would be me. My book is called What’s Bred in the BoneIt’s a space opera/mystery set in a future when Humans have found or created other habitats in the reaches of space. If all goes well, it’ll be available in summer or early fall 2018:

“XK9 Rex is a dog who thinks too much.

“When a spaceship blows up among the docks at the Hub of Rana Habitat Space Station, the implications reach to the highest levels of the tiny sovereignty. But Rex is sidelined by a rookie mistake that puts his Human partner Charlie in the ICU.

“Now he’s on the outside looking in: worried, lonely, desperate to get back to his Pack and his life’s-work. He and his Packmates have been engineered and cyber-enhanced to be the most advanced forensic tools available to law enforcement, by a famous genetics lab—underwritten by the military intelligence of Transmondia, the Chayko System’s dominant power.

Rex in a happier moment: giving Charlie’s niece Sophie a doggie-back ride, as envisioned by Lucy A. Synk.

“But the XK9s are more than forensic tools, and more than their owners, the Ranan Orangeboro Police Department, ever bargained for. When Rex strives to prove just how capable he and his Packmates truly are, he unmasks a secret that could destabilize the entire System—and places all XK9s everywhere in mortal peril.”

I hope you’ll join us–we’ll also conduct a short panel discussion about writers’ groups, possibly with Dora Furlong and Rob Chilson joining the panel. Remember, that’s April 21, 7:00 p.m., at The Writers Place in Kansas City.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Judith Bemis for the photo of me at the NASFiC last year (reading an announcement of Chesley Award winner–but it’s the best “reading” photo I have!); to Holly Messinger for the photo of her; to Macmillans for the Curious Weather cover image; to Lynette M. Burrows for the photo of her, as well as the photo of the Azrael by her artist husband Robert Burrows; to Colette Waters Photography for my head shot; and to Lucy A. Synk for the whimsical vision of XK9 doggie-back riding.

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