Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Texas

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

One Schedule-Change

By Jan S. Gephardt

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

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

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

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

I Love FenCon

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

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

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

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

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

This Year was an Extra-Special FenCon

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

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

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

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

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

I literally timed the release date to coordinate with FenCon!

So, Why this One Schedule-Change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does my Language Offend You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ripples from That One Schedule-Change

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

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

But wait! There’s still Archon!

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

IMAGE CREDITS:

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

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

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

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

A montage of public events in Texas

What’s it Gonna Take?

By G. S. Norwood

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

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

Let’s Take it For a Spin

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

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

Go Live? Or go Livestream?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Hours in the Dark With Your Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s it Gonna Take?

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

IMAGE CREDITS:

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

All image montages were assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.

Crowded Texas Venues

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

Dallas Winds at the Meyerson

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

Three Movie Posters

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

The Bryant family of Garland, TX huddled in front of the fireplace with their kids and their dog.

Surviving a Not-So-Natural Disaster


By G. S. Norwood

I grew up in Missouri, so I know about snow. I’ve been caught in a blizzard, snowed in over Christmas, and endured a January with fresh snow storms every three days. I know how to deal with natural disasters like those. So did the public utility companies of my native state. But I live in Texas now, and last week I only barely managed to survive a not-so-natural disaster. I credit my Missouri smarts, but I blame the government infrastructure that totally failed Texas.

It’s Not Like We Weren’t Warned

Weather forecasters in Texas tend to panic at the mere thought of ice. They’d been telling us for weeks that we were due for a dance with the Polar Vortex. We knew it was coming. Like any sensible person, I prepped my house, draining hoses and changing furnace filters. I stocked up on things like toilet paper and pet food. The Polar Vortex could bring it.

On Friday, February 12, I picked up my grocery order for the week, full of sandwich stuff and the ingredients for a big batch of chili. There had been a 133-car pileup to the west, in Fort Worth, that morning. Six people had died on an iced-over freeway ramp. We all shook our heads in dismay, but the roads were clear in my city. A few tiny flecks of very dry snow were starting to fall, and it was getting colder, but I was okay.

Cars, SUVs, trucks, and tractor-trailer units lie tumbled and smashed across several lanes of ice-shiny highway. On either side of the pileup, a dozen emergency vehicles, as well as police and firefighters scramble to help victims.
The debacle on I-35W near Fort Worth, TX. (Lawrence Jenkins / Special Contributor / via The Dallas Morning News)

The snow started in earnest on Saturday. I like snow, and I was indoors, warm and well-fed. My dogs wanted to go out and play. The cats wanted to sleep. My biggest concern was for the birds; I didn’t want my bird feeder to run out of safflower seed.

A Not-So-Natural Disaster

By Sunday morning the snow was about four inches deep, including in my driveway and street. A rabbit had hopped across my front lawn sometime overnight. The morning paper warned of possible “rolling blackouts” to protect the electrical grid from strain over excessive demand. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) promised these blackouts would last fifteen to 45 minutes each and be no big deal.

They lied. ERCOT and local energy providers had run cost/benefit analyses on winterizing the grid the way the rest of the country has done, and decided they’d rather save money than lives. That decision created a not-so-natural disaster.

The ERCOT control room has and extensive array of screens and futuristic-looking control desks.
The ERCOT control room looks a lot more advanced than its grid turned out to be. (@ERCOT_ISO / Twitter, via E&E News)

Timeline for a Not-So-Natural Disaster

On Monday, at 2:00 am, my power went out for the first time. It was out for about 30 minutes. We’d never had rolling blackouts back in Missouri, but if that was what they were like, I figured I could handle them.

At 3:30 am the power went off again. At 4:00 am, I woke up because the house was getting really cold.

That blackout lasted for eight hours. The indoor temperature got down to 40 degrees (F). I could see my breath. My house is all electric, so I couldn’t cook food, make tea, or shower. I had no light and, although I have a fireplace, I had no wood to burn in it. The internet was gone, but my phone was charged. Our local news kept repeating ERCOT’s lie about the 15 to 45-minute rolling blackouts. They recommended we drink hot beverages to stay warm, assuming everybody had a gas stove.

Nearby buildings are dark, but a few blocks over the lights remained on in downtown Dallas.
One deeply unpopular energy-saving strategy utilized partial blackouts like this one in Dallas. (Brandon Wade, via The Dallas Morning News)

Dark Night of the Soul

On Monday afternoon my power came back on for a couple of hours. I hurried to cook a serious meal and make myself hot tea. Every device went on a charger, while I closed off rooms and left drips on all my faucets to keep my pipes from freezing and breaking. Then the lights went off again.

Oncor, my local electric company, admitted that the rolling blackouts might last up to an hour. They told us to only make a report if the power was out for more than 60 minutes. I took grim satisfaction in reporting every hour on the hour as my power outage stretched into the evening.

Temperatures continued to drop, headed for a low of 2 degrees overnight. A friend reported it was 34 degrees in her kitchen. Around 9:00 pm an ambulance took away my next-door neighbor, an eighty-year-old stroke survivor.

I woke at 1:30 am on Tuesday. Fully dressed, buried in blankets, wrapped in jackets and coats and gloves, I was still cold. Wool boot socks did not keep my toes warm, even under the covers. I know about hypothermia, so when I began to shiver, I knew I was in trouble. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to get out of bed to find the tissues so I could blow my nose.

The Bryant family of Garland, TX huddled in front of the fireplace with their kids and their dog.
Weathering ERCOT’s blackouts challenged many families in Texas. The Bryant family cuddled by the fireplace in a pile of blankets with their kids and the family dog (wearing two doggie sweaters), in their home in Garland. (Smiley N. Pool, via The Dallas Morning News)

What’s A Woman to Do?

Frightened for my safety, alone except for my animals, I thought about calling 911. But what would I ask them to do? I didn’t need hospitalization, and my city hadn’t opened any warming centers. Who should I call? A mental health line?

Oncor got another outage report from me, and then I did what any pissed-off American citizen should do in such circumstances. Hunched over my tiny phone screen, I pounded out an angry e-mail to my state representative, demanding he introduce legislation to mandate modernization throughout the Texas electrical grid. Another angry screed went to ERCOT, pointing out what utter failures they were. Invoking images of frozen grannies, clutching their paid-up electric bills, I also referenced of frozen nuts. I didn’t mean pecans.

Then I burrowed deeper under my covers and resigned myself to the cold and the dark. I had my rage to keep me warm.

In this editorial cartoon a Texan in a cowboy hat, coat and muffler holds a mug under the frozen spigot of a container marked “Deregulation.”
Editorial Cartoon by Nick Anderson / Tribune Content Agency via Cleveland.com

A New Day

When I woke up Tuesday morning, I discovered I hadn’t been the only angry emailer, tweeter, or caller to communicate with our representatives overnight. Some mayor out in West Texas got so tired of the calls he told everybody the government owed them nothing. He quickly became an ex-mayor. Our United States Senator decided to fly to Cancun, where it was warm. The response he got from his constituents was even hotter.

But Texas’ let-business-regulate-itself governor actually called for new legislation to regulate ERCOT. It seemed like everybody (who didn’t fly to Cancun) agreed: this was a not-so-natural disaster, and we wanted those responsible to pay.

By Tuesday night—Oh! Look! Actual rolling blackouts began to happen. They were more like two hours on; six hours off, but they were sort of predictable, and cycled more quickly through the night. On Wednesday, around noon, my power came back on and has stayed on ever since. By Saturday, February 20, a solid week after things began to go bad, the temps in my part of Texas popped up into the 40s, and the snow melted away.

A low camera angle catches frost on the grass in a Texas field at dawn.
A frosty morning in Texas from an “ITAP” (I took a picture) thread on Reddit. (Alyssa J. Perez)

Fallout

It will take a while to get back to normal. The New York Times reports at least 58 people died as a result of this not-so-natural disaster. The Dallas Morning News reported that broken pipes and cold-related damage will cost insurance companies more than Hurricane Harvey did back in 2017. Politicians have called for investigations. People have called plumbers and lawyers, and started to look for someone to sue.

Me? I’m just happy I survived. I am safe and warm, and my house is undamaged. For just this quiet moment of time, that’s good enough for me.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to The Dallas Morning News for three of the photos in this post! First, for the “Debacle on I-35W,” with extra thanks to photographer Lawrence Jenkins. Second, for the “Partial Blackout in Downtown Dallas,” with a tip of the hat to photographer Brandon Wade. And thirdly for the “Family Survival Cuddle,” with gratitude to staff photographer Smiley N. Pool. The “ERCOT Control Room” photo is from ERCOT itself (on Twitter), via E&E News. We offer our deepest gratitude to Nick Anderson and Tribune Content Agency for the “Kool-Aid is Frozen” cartoon, via Cleveland.com. And we also appreciate the “Frosty Texas Morning” photo by Alyssa J. Perez, via an “I Took A Picture” thread on Reddit. We appreciate all of you!

G.’s Housemates:

For posts about the other living things that share G.’s home, you might enjoy “The Snow Witch Sisters” and “How Does Your Garden Grow?” about her gardens (we hope they survived), “The Texas Pack,” about her dogs, or “Cats in Space?” and “The Universe Gives Me a Cat,” about . . . we bet you can guess!

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