Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Weird Sisters Publishing

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

A Mixed Bag in April

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

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

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

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

Meet Moon, Our Random Variable

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

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

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

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

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

Striking “A Proper Balance of Politics and Business”

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

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

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

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

The Windhover Tetralogy as Illustrated Books

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

IMAGE CREDITS

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

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

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

Recent Posts on The Weird Blog

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

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

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

Recent Book Reviews

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

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

Three Nonfiction Book Reviews

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

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

A Post Full of Page-Turners

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

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

A Month of Book Reviews – Next up, Artists!

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

About the Author

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS

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

Brian and the cover of “Almost Perfect.”

Almost Perfect Except . . .

By Brian Katcher

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

The Almost Perfect Story

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

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

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

Research and Early Responses

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

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

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

Delayed Reaction

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

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

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

Brian’s Self-Critique

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

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

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

Pitfalls and the Creative Process

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

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

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

IMAGES

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

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

This is a photo of the complete painting, “Oak Park Halloween.” It shows several dozen children trick-or-treating in Halloween costumes.

Rejoicing in Our Differences:

Lucy A. Synk’s Oak Park Halloween

By Jan S. Gephardt

“Rejoicing in our Differences” is a new series of larger-scale paintings by my friend (and frequent XK9-painter) Lucy A. Synk. The theme also could be an unofficial motto for Weird Sisters Publishing. Yes, Lucy, G., and I are all white women of a certain age. You might not look at us and instantly think “diversity!” But all three of us are creative types who both value, and seek to nurture and celebrate, diversity.

Privileged in some ways? Certainly. It comes with the skin, whether we like it or not. Had it easy? Well, we’re all women. We’ve spent decades bumping into patriarchy, in male-dominated creative fields (name one that isn’t), and earning lower wages than men. Make of that what you will. But diversity isn’t a contest. And this isn’t a story about who’s more “oppressed.”

It’s an invitation to celebrate, to ally with others, and to spend a little time rejoicing in our differences. In the spirit of the season, please spend a little time looking at Oak Park Halloween.

This is a photo of the complete painting, "Oak Park Halloween." It shows several dozen children trick-or-treating in Halloween costumes.
The full painting Oak Park Halloween, 2019, by Lucy A. Synk.

Every Painting is a Journey

Lucy’s journey to creating this painting took her through job changes, moves from state to state, and a bout of homesickness for a beloved place she’d had to leave. For a while she had an illustration job in Chicago, and she settled happily into the suburb of Oak Park, Illinois. There she found friends, a compatible faith community, and a place of architectural and natural beauty.

Even after she had to relocate, the fond memories lingered. And they fed an idea for a painting. No, a series of paintings. In 2018, before SARS-CoV-2 had even hinted at darkening our horizon, she began to build on her ideas for a series of paintings that explored the many ways in which the United States has ample reason to rejoice in our differences.

As she says in her artist’s statement, “Even more importantly than providing entertainment or decoration, art should also inspire, teach, and encourage people to think, wonder and grow. My work often has symbolic or fantasy elements without fitting any single category but reflects my search for unity in the diversity not only of my own interests, but in the plurality of American culture.”

A Sharp Break with Disunity and Hatred

Oak Park Halloween draws on Lucy’s memories, but it’s not meant to be taken as history. The painting was specifically inspired by one particular Halloween in her diverse, family-friendly neighborhood in Oak Park, IL. But the painting does not portray any specific street or group of people. She was hoping to evoke a feeling of Halloween fun that many can relate to and enjoy.

In today’s political climate, that almost makes it a radical protest painting. “Rejoicing in our Differences,” as a message, cuts sharply counter to the majority of things we see in the media these days.

As I write this, they’re doing jury selection in Georgia, for the trial of three men who are using a fugitive slave law from 1863 as their defense for killing Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery. White supremacists are going on trial in Charlottesville, VA, for civil rights violations stemming from a the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally that led to the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer. And hate crimes are at a shocking high.

But just because Americans don’t seem to be rejoicing in our differences right now, that doesn’t mean the message isn’t important. Some (me, for instance!) might say it’s more important now than ever. That said, let’s walk through Oak Park Halloween.

From Lucy’s original drawing through color images and roughs, to a black-and-white tonal study, the painting’s development went through many steps.
You might notice a bunch of changes to details through these varied steps in the development of the painting. The black-and-white tonal study at lower right was done to check contrast and value range. (Images are © 2018-2019 by Lucy A. Synk).

How do you Paint a Crowd Scene?

Of all the things in the world that there are to draw, people are by far the hardest, especially for untrained artists. Even trained ones can have difficulty. We come pre-loaded with a lot of ideas that have nothing to do with how humans (or other things) look in objective reality. Which is why the proportions in kids’ drawings are so frequently distorted.

And if you think one human is hard, just wait till you tackle a crowd scene!

Take another look at Lucy’s painting above. Yes, it is a tour de force. But how does an artist manage a crowd scene? It’s kinda like eating the proverbial elephant “one bite at a time.” Except, in this case it’s drawing (and then painting) one small group at a time.

Five children in costume have arrived on the painting-viewer’s “front porch” for trick-or-treat.
The brother and sister in front portray Marvel’s Black Panther and one of his elite Dora Milaje, the Wakandan royal guards. We have a Vulcan Starfleet Science Officer from the Star Trek Universe to the front girl’s left. The child in the red hoodie portrays Coco, from the movie of the same name, and the girl in the purple witch costume might be portraying Hermione Granger. Since masks tend to obstruct kids’ ability to see, in this pre-Covid painting, these children wear face paint, rather than masks. (Image © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk).

The Porch Kids

In the front-center of the composition, a group of five kids appear larger than the others, many of them staring directly at the viewer. They’re there to both center and focus the painting, and to invite you into it. The idea is that they’re standing on the viewer’s porch, awaiting your interaction and generosity.

As the most prominent group, they also are the most diverse, in keeping with the overarching theme of rejoicing in our differences. Since kids normally trick-or-treat in friend groups, how might these kids have met and formed friendships? I bet you’re already imagining a story for them—exactly as the artist hoped you would.

Lucy did a lot of research to create each group in the painting. Many of the costumes are based on DIY (do-it-yourself) outfits she found online, or combinations of them. She also took some important (pre-Covid) safety concepts into consideration. For example, since masks tend to obstruct kids’ ability to see, these children wear face paint, rather than masks.

A collection of drawings, a color study, and a tonal study for the “Porch Kids” group.
These are just some of the developmental sketches and studies Lucy worked through for the “Porch Kids” group. (All images © 2018-2019 by Lucy A. Synk).

Fantasy and Science Fiction Elements

Lucy and I met at a science fiction convention. A deep, abiding interest in these genres continues to be an important part of our lives, even outside of the field. Oak Park Halloween isn’t meant to be a “fantasy genre” painting in the way that some of Lucy’s work has been. But with fantastical elements dominating popular culture, of course she made sure there was broad representation for many beloved stories.

Thus, you’ll find Star Trek, Star Wars, the Marvel Universe, the DC Universe, Dr. Who, and others among the more traditional witches, vampires, fairy princesses, and caped heroes. Lucy also came down rather heavily on the side of DIY costumes. Not only did she want to avoid infringing copyrights, she wanted to celebrate parental ingenuity while “rejoicing in our differences.”

Five different details from the painting show a variety of costumes.
From left to right, (1) The Jedi Knight and his little sister (on the Tauntaun) portray characters from the Star Wars Universe. The child with the pink bag is meant to be a vampire. However, her tiny fangs do not show, since her whole body is only 7” high. (2) A little astronaut, in the actual painting about 3½” tall, wears an orange, NASA-style jumpsuit. The artist is inspired by all the little girls who yearn for such future careers. (3) The child dressed up as the T.A.R.D.I.S. is based on a popular DIY costume concept that proves particularly confusing to her observer—a nod to Dr. Who, as portrayed by “Tenth Doctor” David Tennant. (4) A toddler enjoys a first Halloween, guided by Dad. The DIY costume uses glow sticks to create a light-up “stick man” from a black, hooded onesie. (5) Wonder Woman and her parents Hippolyta and Zeus are based on the artist’s great-niece and her parents, for whom themed family costumes are a tradition. (All images © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk).

Getting the Details Right

Having been an “inside observer” of the two-year development process from early sketches to finished painting, I can tell you a lot of thought went into those houses across the street. Based on architecture in Oak Park IL they might be, but none of them is an exact portrait of an existing house. As with the kids they host, they are “of the general type.” But each one tells its own story.

You might be surprised at the care given to small details, such as placement, size, and color of the moon. The exact moment of twilight, and how to paint it, inspired another spate of thinking and second-guessing.

For an artist, the light has to be just right. If it’s off, or if a shadow falls wrong, the illusion fails. We often hear about the “willing suspension of disbelief” that’s necessary for a reader to self-immerse into a story. But to appreciate a painting we also need to willingly suspend our disbelief that this collection of light and dark color splotches “is” the frozen moment in time it purports to be. One wrong shadow or highlight can ruin it.

Sketches and color studies of houses and the sky.
Sketches and color studies offer a glimpse of Lucy’s decision-making, and the thorny question of how big and where to position the moon. (All images © 2018-2019 by Lucy A. Synk).

Homes that Harbor no Hate

As I noted above, each of the houses “across the street” tells its own story. I like to think of them as the “Hate Has No Home” House, the “Welcome to All” House, and the “Teal Pumpkin” House. Each embodies a sub-thread of the overall “rejoicing in our differences” theme.

The house at upper left in the painting, with a “Hate Has No Home Here” sign at right.
The yellow house at upper left in the painting is haunted by a fairly traditional group. We have several princesses, ghosts and a pumpkin-head. Some might recognize the sign in the window as a “Hate Has No Home Here” sign, shown at right. (House image © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk. Sign by Hate Has No Home Here).
The house portrayed top-center in the painting. Next to it is a quote from Lucy’s Artist’s Statement: “In this series of paintings, I am expressing my love for America and its wonderful diversity. In these dark times there has been so much negativity, I wanted to express the joys of everyday life. Good memories from happy times and hope for a future that we will not only preserve and protect but grow into a deeper and better people.”
We have Batman, the Cowardly Lion, another witch, and assorted other traditional costumes at the middle house. The host couple in the doorway are a mixed-race pair, typical of a growing number of American families. The group on the sidewalk to the right portray an assortment of Pirates of the Caribbean. The quote is from Lucy’s Artist’s Statement about her “Rejoicing in our Differences” series. (Image © 2019, and words © 2021 by Lucy A. Synk).
The house at upper right in the painting, alongside a poster about non-food treats that are fun.
The children at the house with the orange gables in the painting’s upper right include a portrayal of Princess Leia. Note the Teal Pumpkin on the porch, which indicates that this house gives prizes suitable for children with food allergies. Rejoicing in our differences includes making a happy, accepting place for everyone, even if they face special challenges. (House image © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk. The “Teal Pumpkin Treats” graphic is courtesy of University of Utah Health Care, via Pinterest).

Rejoicing in Our Differences

Lucy certainly recognizes that her “Rejoicing in our Differences” theme asserts an aspirational goal. But then, she’s lived a life of diverse inputs and challenges. She started with a BFA in Drawing, Painting, and Photography from a small college, then pursued an art career that included a stint at Hallmark Cards, freelancing as a fantasy artist, and work as a natural history illustrator and muralist.

“My work has always been very diverse, spanning multiple mediums and subject matters,” she says. As both natural and human history has shown, diversity makes a system stronger, even if not everyone is comfortable embracing differences. The most vibrant, creative, and innovative times and places have come at a crossroads of cultures, when diverse ideas and viewpoints make new ideas possible.

As Lucy wrote in her artist’s statement, “In these dark times, there has been so much negativity.” Perhaps you’ll agree that we’d do better to meditate on what Lucy calls America’s “wonderful diversity.” Based on that, “Rejoicing in Our Differences” may be exactly the medicine we need.

IMAGE CREDITS

Oak Park Halloween, the painting, the studies, the sketches, and the detail images, all are © 2018-2019 by Lucy A. Synk, and are used here with her permission. All rights reserved. The “Hate Has No Home Here” poster design is courtesy of Hate Has No Home Here. The “Teal Pumpkin Treats” graphic is courtesy of University of Utah Health Care, via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

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

Call me Irresponsible

By Jan S. Gephardt

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

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

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

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

Order versus Chaos

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

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

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

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

“Blog-Or-Die” Day

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

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

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

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

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

Marketing Day

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

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

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

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

Random Variables

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

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

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

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

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

The Story Digs in its Claws

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

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

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

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

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

Call me Irresponsible

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

I wrote the story instead.

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

I wrote the story instead.

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

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

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS:

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

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

* = “by not sleeping much and posting late”

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

One Schedule-Change

By Jan S. Gephardt

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

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

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

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

I Love FenCon

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

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

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

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

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

This Year was an Extra-Special FenCon

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

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

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

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

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

I literally timed the release date to coordinate with FenCon!

So, Why this One Schedule-Change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does my Language Offend You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ripples from That One Schedule-Change

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

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

But wait! There’s still Archon!

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

IMAGE CREDITS:

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

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

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

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

The cover of the Advance Reader Copy edition of “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt, shown as an ebook.

Making ARCs

By Jan S. Gephardt

I’ve been making ARCs recently.

What does that mean? It means I’ve been assembling an assortment of documents into an early version of my latest book, to create Advance Reader Copies. It’s not exactly parallel to a dress rehearsal for a stage play, but for me it’s a necessary step in the publicity rollout for my science fiction mystery novel A Bone to Pick.

I’ve been blogging a lot in this space recently, about A Bone to Pick. Those posts are another part of the rollout. As basically an Indie writer, I’m trying to build a small press publishing company, Weird Sisters Publishing, with my sister, G. S. Norwood. I may not have to face the kind of “gatekeepers” a writer encounters in traditional publishing. But plenty of other challenges attend every attempt to promote and sell each book we “weird sisters” produce and release.

G. and I decided to share part of our approach to those challenges in this blog post. We know some of our blog subscribers will be more interested in this than others. Perhaps you found G.’s post from last week more interesting. But maybe you’ll enjoy seeing me pull back the curtain on part of our process, and the role that making ARCs plays in it.

The cover of “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt, as an ebook.
The release date for A Bone to Pick is September 15, 2021. (Cover art ©2020 by Jody A. Lee; 3D effect by Book Brush).

The Struggle to find Our Kind of Readers

In an earlier post I explored some of the difficulties an Indie or small press faces, when trying to get the attention of reading public. The first thing we had to understand is that “the reading public” isn’t actually our target. A small subgroup of the global population who reads books—that select group of readers who are interested in the specific kinds of stories we write—is the population we need to find.

It’s a search that never ends. This blog is part of how we search. My website and that of Weird Sisters Publishing are other essentials. Reviews, social media interactions, and targeted advertising provide other ways for us to reach out. Check us out: I have an Author Page on Facebook, and so do G and Weird Sisters. I also have a presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.

I traveled to science fiction conventions for publicity as well as pleasure, until COVID put a temporary halt to that. Last fall I started building a mailing list for followers of my XK9 stories. They receive a monthly newsletter full of insider glimpses, extras, and exclusive freebies.

Join the Pack newsletter offer with FREE copy of “The Other Side of Fear” novella.
The offer still stands: Get The Other Side of Fear FREE when you sign up for my Newsletter! (all artwork ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk).

The Rollout

Those are all ongoing efforts. The rollout is different. It’s a focused push to let as many of “my kind of readers” as possible know about my new book. That includes advertising. It also includes the series of blog posts we’ve been running. Newsletter updates and excerpts. Changes to our websites.

And, importantly, it includes making ARCs. Because it has taken me so darn long to write the book, and because I’ve been planning a return to science fiction conventions that starts at FenCon, I cut my rollout shorter than would have been ideal, and set my release date for September 15, 2021.

The Kindle version of A Bone to Pick is available for presale now, in both the United States and the United Kingdom. I’ve offered a discounted price for the presale: $2.99 in the U.S. (after release it’ll go up to $4.99), and £2.12 in the UK (post-release, that’ll go up to £3.84).

I wanted, if possible, to have printed copies of the new book available at FenCon, which is scheduled for September 17-19. My proofreader is still carefully combing through the manuscript for errors. But the shortened time frame means I should have been making ARCs weeks ago, not now.

Jan at her autograph table at Capricon 40.
I go to science fiction conventions such as Capricon (where this was taken) and FenCon as part of my ongoing outreach. (Photo ©2020 by Tyrell E. Gephardt).

Making ARCs

So, okay. How hard can that be? What goes into making ARCs? Well, a finished-for-real manuscript, for one! That was the hardest and longest part.

I also have created a Directory of names, places, and acronyms in the book. That was a reader request. I’ve also included one for the first book, in current versions of What’s Bred in the Bone. Both are large, sweeping space opera mysteries, full of exo-terrestrial and multicultural names, police-style acronyms, and a rather large cast of characters. The readers were right!

Thank goodness, I’ve had the cover already created for a while now. But I needed to differentiate it from post-release “official” copies of the book, so I created an identifying element to the cover design. Yes, I could simply have overprinted “ADVANCE READERS COPY” on the cover, but I think this looks better.

What else goes into an ARC? Well, there’s all the “book stuff” you need for the real thing. A title page, with our Weird Sisters Publishing logo and URL. The page with copyright notices. Vellum, the publishing program I use, automatically creates a Table of Contents, but I needed to compose the Dedication’s wording. I added my bio for the About the Author page (with a photo), and there was other material needed for the end of the book. Did you know I also specifically designed the “Wolf Tracks” ornamental break we use in all of the XK9 books? That needed to go in there, too.

Design elements, author photo and a directory all went into the ARC compilation.
Here are some of the elements that went into making ARCs for A Bone to Pick. (Credits below).

Why do I need ARCs?

Advance Reader Copies go out ahead of the release date to my all-important Street Team—and the sooner, the better! Street Team members are people who have signed up to not only be on my mailing list and get my newsletter. They also receive free Advance Reader Copies before release date. In return, they write honest reviews of the book, and post them to Amazon on Release Day. ARCs should go out to current Street Team members today!

If you are interested in being on my Street Team, sign up for my newsletter! You’ll receive more information in the follow-up emails. It’s not too late to get an A Bone to Pick ARC of your own!

Other ARCs go to reviewers, bloggers on review sites, and other authors willing to consider giving me a cover quote. I’m in the process of contacting them now. ARCs are just a part of what goes into the “entrepreneurial” side of being an independent writer. But for me, making ARCs is the step that makes it “real.”

Yes, the book is finished at last! It says what I want, and the Brain Trust has reassured me it’s ready. And yes, others will read it soon! For me, that’s at least as big a thrill as writing THE END.

The cover of the Advance Reader Copy edition of “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt, shown as an ebook.
Making ARCs is an important part of the rollout process before the release of A Bone to Pick. (Cover art ©2020 by Jody A. Lee; 3D effect by Book Brush).

IMAGE CREDITS

The cover painting for A Bone to Pick is ©2020 by Jody A. Lee. The artwork on my Newsletter offer, including the cover of The Other Side of Fear, is ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk. The photo of me at Capricon 40 with all the S.W.A.G. on my autograph table is ©2020 by Tyrell E. Gephardt. In the montage of “ARC ingredients,” the photo of me is ©2017 by Colette Waters Photography. The Weird Sisters Logo and the “Wolf Tracks” ornamental break were designed by me, and are ©2019 by Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. The photo of the Directory’s first page is a screen capture of the preview in Vellum. The 3-D effects on both the regular edition and ARC images are by Book Brush. If you wish to reblog or repost any of these images, please do so with an attribution and a link back to this post. Thank you!

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!

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.

A season of small bright spots

We’re back at the nadir of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), and looking for a few small bright spots.

This year, especially, those can be hard to find. Relative lacks of urgency from certain Senators notwithstanding, this winter will be a very deep nadir indeed.

People are out of work. People are hungry. They can’t pay their rent, and a national moratorium on evictions ends soon. Death tolls from Covid-19 have surged higher than a 9/11 every day.

Spiky white coronaviruses like snowflakes dot the sky of a snowy landscape in this uncredited illustration.
(Uncredited illustration/Medpage Today)

Political division and controversy haven’t taken a break, either. The Supreme Court only recently turned down an appeal–backed by 17 state attorneys-general and 106 Republican members of Congress–that sought to overturn a legally-conducted election and disenfranchise millions of US voters. Anti-maskers and a rising chorus of vaccine-resisters threaten to prolong the pandemic yet more.

And yet there are small bright spots

Amidst all the gloom and dire predictions, few could blame a person for feeling daunted. But small bright spots do pop up.

There’s the stray puppy who took a nap in a nativity scene, caused an online sensation when someone photographed her, and who in the end found a forever home.

The Black family in North Little Rock, Arkansas who received a racist note after they placed a Black Santa Claus in their outdoor Christmas display–but whose mostly-White neighbors, once they learned about this, put Black Santas in their yards, too, in solidarity.

Chris Kennedy’s yard sports a string of white lights, a large, multicolored sign that proclaims “JOY,” a Christmas tree, and an inflatable Black Santa Claus in the middle.
(Photo by Chris Kennedy, via the Washington Post.)

The “world’s loneliest elephant” finds a new home and a small herd (parade?) of elephant friends, thanks to a court order, international cooperation, a pop star, and a well-prepared animal rescue operation.

Hope in a time of darkness is what humans do

Love does (sometimes) still triumph. Kindness (sometimes) shines through, and we humans do (sometimes) rise to the moment to share good works, generous acts, and gentle treatment. After all, ‘Tis the season.

Last year I published a post about the many holidays that happen at this time of year. It’s no accident that they do, since they all originated in the Northern Hemisphere.

The candles of Christian Advent, the miraculous oil lamp and steadily-brightening menorah of Hanukkah, and the bonfires of Winter Solstice and Yule all bring small bright spots to life in the vast darkness of the year’s darkest days.

The illustrated quote from the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu says, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
(Design by Rocio Chavez, Your Sassy Self)

We say “where there’s life there’s hope,” and that certainly seems to hold true for healthy humans. We may say “bah, humbug!” We may indeed be pessimists as individuals (Yes, the world needs pessimists, too! They often make better leaders, more realistic managers, and outstanding comedians). But humankind evolved to band together and help each other. Cooperation is our species’ best tool for survival.

Passing the light

In many Christian candlelight services we celebrate “passing the light.” We’ve stood or sat or knelt, sang, prayed, and listened throughout the service. All while holding an unlit candle.

At the end of the service, all or most of the artificial lights go off. Then the ushers come down the aisle(s) to light the candle at the end of each row. The person next to the end lights their candle from the end candle. Then the person next to them takes the light. Then the next, then the next, until everyone’s candle burns bright, and the sanctuary is filled with their collective light.

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.
(Photo from Hotty Toddy, via Tien Skye’s inspirational post on Medium.)

Having participated in many such services, I can tell you it’s a powerful effect. I know other religious traditions and secular groups observe similar rituals. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. My point here is not to preach the Gospel, so much as suggest we can use this as a helpful metaphor.

Creating small bright spots

How can we, as individuals or “covid bubbles,” create small bright spots for others? You may feel as if you’ve been in solitary confinement since March (and yes, you kind of have been), but it’s still possible to reach out virtually, even while reaching out physically is still dangerous.

Any day is a good day for charitable giving or volunteering. You don’t have to wait for a designated “Day of Giving” to donate, if you’re able. Shelters for victims of domestic violence and food banks everywhere are experiencing record need. And there are many creative ways to volunteer while socially distancing. Seek out a local charitable organization, and ask how you can help.

Offer a lifeline to a small, locally-owned business. Weird Sisters Publishing officially endorses buying physical books through local independent booksellers whenever possible. Pick them up curbside (this usually saves on shipping, too!). Find one near you through Bookshop (if you don’t already have yours on speed-dial).

Order carryout or delivery from your favorite local restaurants as often as you can afford to. Local toy stores, game shops, gift shops, and small but wonderful boutique designers all probably sell gift certificates if you’re not sure about sizes, colors, or tastes. And all are desperate for customers right now.

The design says, “When you support handmade you are not just supporting a person, small business, our economy; You are purchasing a small part of an artist’s heart.”
(Design by Menchua, of Moms & Crafters.)

Small bright spots for freelancers

Become a Patreon sponsor for someone whose music, videos, artwork, podcasts, or other creative work has warmed your soul and kept you company over the long months of lockdown. Don’t forget Etsy for small creative businesses, either.

Find wonderful handmade goods through a group such as the Convention Artists Guild (out of the Denver area) on Facebook. They hold regular Virtual Art Shows, where you can buy all sorts of cool stuff. My sister’s posts of this week and two weeks ago on The Weird Blog feature some of her favorite local Texas artisans’ work. But wherever you live, local artists are doing amazing work. Seek them out!

Here’s a list of seven great ways to support small artists, from a guest post on this blog by the musician Losing Lara, that originally ran in 2018. Although we can’t go to live concerts right now, many musicians and other performers are using platforms such as Twitch, You Tube, and various others to stream their events.

However you choose to do it, I hope you find that the more you share small bright spots in the darkness, the brighter and warmer and more joyous your own life becomes.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Medpage Today, for the “Covid-19 Winter” illustration. I really appreciate Chris Kennedy and The Washington Post for the photo of the Kennedys’ holiday yard display. I love the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu “hope” quote, as realized by the designer Rocio Chavez (check out her blog and her Facebook page, for some real mood-elevators!). Find some more heartwarming content on Tien Skye’s inspirational Medium post, as well as the candlelight photo, which came from Hotty Toddy. Thank you both! Finally, many thanks to Menchua, of Moms & Crafters, for her “Handmade is Special” design. I think it’s pretty special, too, which is why I posted it once before on this blog, back in 2018.

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

Why I Admire G. S. Norwood

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

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

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

Making Deep Ellum Blues happen

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

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

Others also Admire G. S. Norwood

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

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

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

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

The frustrating years

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

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

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

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

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

A new opportunity

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

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

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

A growing body of work

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

More will admire G. S. Norwood in the future

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

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

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

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