Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: What’s Bred in the Bone

BFFs Lynette M. Burrows and Jan S. Gephardt.

A Pair of BFFs Talk about Writing

By Jan S. Gephardt and Lynette M. Burrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is Jan S. Gephardt?

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

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

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

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

Now, let’s Talk about Writing!

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

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

Fellowship is available at most online bookstores.

JAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

JAN

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

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

JAN

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

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

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

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

LYNETTE

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

JAN

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

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

Would You Like to Ask Us Other Questions?

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS:

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

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

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

the logo for Archon science fiction convention

Because Archon’s Doing it Right

By Jan S. Gephardt

I am happy to report that I’m going to Archon 44 after all. Why? Because—and only because—Archon’s doing it right.

The Email That Changed Everything

At left, a vaccination map of the US, shows Missouri’s vaccination rate is less than 55%, and Illinois is less than 70%. At right, the most current chart available at publication time shows that on Sept. 20, 2021, there were 207,974 new COVID-19 cases in the USA.
The vaccination map at left is by Josh Renaud, courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The chart at right is from The New York Times, via Google.

You may recall that a few weeks ago, I very reluctantly decided to withdraw from this year’s FenCon, a Texas science fiction convention that my son and I have come to love. I had been watching the COVID-19 trends in the St. Louis area and growing more and more convinced I’d have to do the same with Archon. But then I got the Email That Changed Everything.

“The Archon Chairs have decided to require vaccination OR a negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours,” the email said. “Documentation is required for both. . . There are no exceptions to this policy.” This is such an unusual and—sadly—BRAVE position to take in this part of the country that I actually gasped.

Archon 44 Co-chairs Alan DeVaughn and Scott Corwin are boldly going where many regional convention chairs have feared to go. And while they’re at it, they’re going “all the way.”

The state of Illinois has mandated masks for indoor public spaces for anyone older than 2 years old,” they wrote. “The mask must cover your nose and mouth, unless you are eating or drinking. If you are asked to put your mask on by an Archon staff / committee member and choose not to comply, you will be asked to leave. There are no exceptions to this policy.”

At left, protesters hold up signs with slogans opposing vaccine requirements. At right, protesters from a different group hold up signs with anti-mask slogans.
At left, protesters demonstrate against vaccine mandates (photo by John Lamparski, via The Atlantic). At right, anti-mask protesters in Kalispell, MT (courtesy of the Flathead Beacon).

Archon’s doing it right.

Yes, Archon’s doing it right, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I plan to honor their commitment to follow both science and good sense in the best way I know how: by coming with my books, my artwork, and my work ethic. I’m scheduled for nine events and panels—and I plan to show up for all of them as well-prepared as I can possibly be.

I’m also going to do everything in my power to promote their event—for example, on this and my other blogs, and on every social media platform where I have a presence. Because Archon’s doing it right, they have earned my heartfelt gratitude and loyalty.

If anyone reading this was on the fence and wavering about coming to Archon, please make this policy your deciding vote for going!

Oh, and a word to the wise: book your hotel reservations (use the link on their homepage to get the convention rate) as soon as possible. Historically, they fill up fast!

This montage shows views from Archon 42 and 42, held in 2018 and 2019. Above are two art panels. Below, two views of the Gateway Center, one in sunshine and the other in rain.
Top L, artists Brent Chumley, Rachael Mayo, and Allison Stein discuss creating fantasy creatures in 2019. Top R, Rachael Mayo and several attendees discuss art materials at a 2018 panel. Below, R-L, we had much sunnier weather at the Gateway Center in 2019 than 2018. (All photos by Jan S. Gephardt).

I Have History with Archon

As I noted in the article on my Events Calendar, Archon has been around for a while.

The “44” in Archon 44 means this annual convention has been around for a while. G., Warren, Pascal and I all went to earlier Archons when we were just starting in fandom. And a few years ago, Ty and I started going to them again. If you follow my blog, you might remember posts I’ve written about hall costumes at Archon 42 and 43, and the Art Show.

It’s a well-established convention, run by people who generally know what they’re doing and find excellent ways to make it a good weekend for attendees.

After years in the funky, rambling, since-demolished Henry VIII Hotel in St. Louis proper, the convention has found an excellent new home in the Gateway Convention Center and DoubleTree Hotel in Collinsville, IL.

Throughout my career, I’ve had some great moments, and met some wonderful people at Archon.

Photos from the “writing side” of Archons 42 and 43, held in 2018 and 2019. These photos show a variety of people engaged in panel discussions, readings, and demonstrations.
At left, EMT Kevin Hammel conducts a highly informative 2019 presentation on gunshot wounds, for writers who want to get it right. Top center, a 2018 panel on Diversity in SF, which included, L-R, Jennifer Stolzer, Kathleen Kayembe, Camille Faye, and Debbie Manber Kupfer (M). Top far right: I prepare for my reading in 2019. Below center L-R: Donna J. W. Munro, Marella Sands, and Christine Nobbe chat with the audience before their readings in 2018. Below R, Jennifer Lynn discusses Shamans, Druids, and Wise Women in a 2019 presentation. Photos by Jan S. Gephardt, with the exception of one (guess which) by Tyrell Gephardt.

But that was then. What about Now?

ecause Archon’s doing it right, I’ll have an opportunity to show off my new book (readers who’ve followed this blog in recent weeks probably noticed I have one) sooner than next February (looking at you, Capricon 42). And I’ll get to display my artwork in an in-person display for the first time in almost 2 years.

“A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt, envisioned as an ebook on the left and as a trade paperback on the right.
Jan’s new book A Bone to Pick became widely available in a variety of formats after Release Day, September 15, 2021. Cover artwork © 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

I’m scheduled for an autograph session on Friday, a reading on Sunday, and seven panels (several of which I’m moderating). I love doing those things, because they give me opportunities to have great conversations with other panelists and audience members. I get to meet creative, interesting new people (and so can you, if you’ll join us at Archon). And I also get to re-acquaint myself with people I haven’t seen for a while.

I’ll come equipped with an expanded collection of S.W.A.G., badge ribbons and bookmarks for all (or—if that last order doesn’t arrive in time, at least most) of the books and stories Weird Sisters Publishing has produced so far. If you’re a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, and you tell me so at Archon, I’ll even have an exclusive-offer “I’m a Member of the Pack” badge ribbon for you.

Here’s Jan at her Autograph table, surrounded by S.W.A.G.
Jan at her Capricon 40 autograph table (photo by Tyrell Gephardt).

Introducing “Stripped ‘Scripts”

Also because Archon’s doing it right, my son Tyrell will have a first opportunity to present his new service to authors, called “Stripped ‘Scripts.” Through it, he’ll bring his skills as a developmental editor to a new audience.

What’s a developmental editor, and why would a writer need one? In the movie industry they’re sometimes called “script doctors.” While that name gets applied to services from high level plot-revision to hands-on rewriting, the idea is basically that when a plot or a manuscript has gone off the rails, dead-ended somewhere, or developed another kind of structural dysfunction, all hope may not be lost.

A good developmental editor can look it over and offer an analysis. They’ll often have a better idea of what’s wrong and how to turn it into a structurally sound story than an author who’s “written themself into a corner” and run out of ideas. I’ll freely admit that my stories have benefitted from Ty’s “big picture” view. I also appreciate his fresh takes on cultural adjustments to varied technical innovations, and his martial-arts expertise.

Here’s a photo of Ty, along with his business card for Stripped ‘Scripts
Photo and developmental editing business card design are both courtesy of Tyrell Gephardt.

Because Archon’s Doing it Right, We can Relax and Have a Great Con

I know I’m not the only science fiction fan who has missed going to conventions. I’ve blogged elsewhere about why I love science fiction conventions. Not rubbing shoulders with other writers and the fans who keep us afloat has been disappointing, but necessary during the pandemic.

But although it seems as if it’s taking forever, it’s now in our power to make this fourth wave the last one. It’ll be a bit longer, no thanks to the purveyors of an unprecedented flood of misinformation. But we can do it. Spread the word. Speak up in support of those who are doing it right. Kindly (if possible) help to educate those who are sincerely confused.

Science, technology, and government services (sometimes government really isn’t the problem!) have given us the tools we need. They’ve placed research, growing understanding of this virus, and three phenomenally effective vaccines within our grasp. We’re the taxpayers who’ve underwritten much of this historic work. We now have the right and privilege to avail ourselves of these new tools and understandings.

And because Archon’s doing it right, we now can do it at a science fiction convention!

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Archon’s Facebook Page, for the logo header image. The map showing vaccination rates in the United States was created by Josh Renaud for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The chart of COVID-19 cases in the United States is regularly updated by The New York Times, accessed 9/21/2021 via Google.

The montage images from Archon 42 and 43 are all by Jan S. Gephardt except for one, taken by Tyrell E. Gephardt (of Jan’s reading). Ty also took the one of Jan at her Capricon 40 autograph table. Moreover, he provided the photo of himself, along with the image of his “Stripped ‘Scripts” business card.

Many thanks to all!

“A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt, envisioned as an ebook on the left and as a trade paperback on the right.

The story of A Bone to Pick’s Cover

By Jan S. Gephardt

It’s way too late for this to be a “reveal,” but the story of A Bone to Pick’s Cover deserves telling. Because it was not an easy—or short—journey!

Late update: I unfortunately timed this post just when Jody had retired her old website and hadn’t quite gotten her new one ready. If you’re reading this in late 2021, her links may not work.

The Artistry of Jody A. Lee

For most of my adult life it has been my secret fantasy that someday my books would have Jody A. Lee covers. She and I have a rather long history, and through it all, I’ve cherished an abiding love and admiration for both her, and her artwork. From the very beginning, long before it seemed like even the remotest possibility, I harbored a fantasy. I dreamed that one day Jody could illustrate a book I had written. It seemed like a crazy pipe dream, back then.

Jody and I met through ASFA, the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists, back in the 1980s. For quite some time in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, my husband Pascal and I acted as her agent for sending her fine art prints to science fiction conventions all over North America. I also created a couple of printed promotional brochures for her, in an early effort to help market her work directly to fantasy art lovers.

Even though those markets have changed, and changed, and changed again, We’ve been friends since then. In recent years we’d grown more distracted by family and career issues. But when I went to her and asked if she’d ever be willing to paint a cover for me, she said yes! My crazy-pipe-dream-fantasy actually came true. Twice, so far! How many people get to say that?

Left to right, some book covers by Jody A. Lee: “The Black Gryphon,” by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon; “A Study in Sable,” “By the Sword,” and “The Hills Have Spies,” all by Mercedes Lackey.
Jody has range and vision and amazing skill. All of these cover paintings are ©Jody A. Lee (image source credits below).

A Memorable Moment in the Book

Jody reads the current draft of my book before she conceives the cover illustration. She builds it based on a memorable moment. In our first outing, for the cover for What’s Bred in the Bone we considered several scenes. Jody’s portrayal of Shiv and Rex in the Five-Ten worked best. But then came a bunch of those devilish details.

Jody doesn’t normally read a lot of science fiction, especially not “hard” sf. I’d had several readers who were old hands at sf go through the work and have little reported trouble with the descriptions. But Jody was having a devil of a time visualizing some of them. We went round and round on the helmet and background and how to portray them. What did I mean by this or that term? What did one of those things look like?

But eventually we arrived at this characteristic moment for Rex and Shiv, a man who was at that point in the story his SBI “frenemy.” And helping Jody visualize it helped me understand ways to (I hope) make the story more understandable and accessible. I like to think that others are intrigued by the idea of a sapient, talking police dog, even if they primarily read other genres. And maybe they will enjoy the stories more, thanks to my consciousness-raising from Jody.

Left to right, Rex in the Citron Flash; then Shiv and Rex in the Five-Ten.
Two highly characteristic moments from the novels. Artwork © 2020 and 2019 respectively, by Jody A. Lee.

A Fantasy Painter Tackles Futuristic Tech. Twice.

When you read A Bone to Pick you’ll almost certainly recognize “The Scene” that inspired the cover. That scene unfolded somewhat differently in the early (2019) draft Jody read, but it’s definitely still in there. Many of those who’ve read the manuscript as beta-readers or critique partners also pointed it out as a favorite moment. I was tickled by the idea that it would end up on the cover. And I think she has realized it beautifully.

But that beautiful painting didn’t happen without long, hard effort.

First problem: Jody knew she wanted to show Rex in the car. But what did a futuristic self-driving car on a space station look like? It needed to look sleek and science-fictional. The boring little auto-nav boxes that most people utilize on Rana wouldn’t “read” well on a book cover at all! That’s how the Citron Flash was born. In later drafts, it developed into something of a “character” in its own right. If you enjoy that minor subplot when you read the book, chalk up another “thank you” to Jody.

But this wasn’t the first time Jody had approached science fictional tech with initial trepidation. Remember Shiv’s helmet and his weapon on the first cover? That gun-looking thing is an EStee. It’s a dual-function service weapon used by law enforcement officers on Rana. But for a fantasy artist who specializes in painting swords, a futuristic firearm wasn’t part of the normal toolkit. For the underlying EStee design, she and I owe a debt of gratitude to Jeff Porter. He helped me with some initial character development artwork, and he reportedly enjoyed designing an EStee for me.

An early study for the Citron Flash, a detail of Shiv’s helmet and EStee from “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and Jeff Porter’s EStee prototype design.
Artwork is © 2020 and 2019 respectively by Jody A. Lee, and @2016 by Jeff Porter.

Envisioning the Inside of Rana Station

Unfortunately for Jody, that was not the most daunting science fictional aspect she’d have to tackle. The story of A Bone to Pick’s cover involves a particular, peculiar twist. Or should I say “upward curve”? The infernal perspective of the habitat wheel posed a far steeper challenge. This peculiarity of the toroidal space habitat landscape is so marked, it provided an opening for What’s Bred in the Bone, where it bothered the newly-transplanted, planet-reared Rex:

“A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt, envisioned as an ebook on the left and as a trade paperback on the right.
Jan’s novel What’s Bred in the Bone, the first book in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, is available right now. Cover artwork © 2019 by Jody A. Lee.

“Damn it, no horizon should bend upward.

“XK9 Rex Dieter-Nell flinched away from the “scenic overlook.” He clenched his jaws on a quiet whimper, but the shudder down his back made his hackles prickle.

“His human partner, Charlie, met Rex’s eyes. I’m sorry. I know you don’t like it. His words flowed through their brain link on a wave of empathy.

“Rex lowered his head, wary of insulting his partner’s beloved home. . . . I guess we’ll see how things work out. He hazarded another look. Ugh. It was freaky-unnatural for a river to run down the wall at one end of the vista, as Wheel Two’s Sirius River did. Even worse for it to run back up the wall at the other.”

–Chapter One, “A Walk in the Park,” from What’s Bred in the Bone
Rex and Shady are silhouetted against the sky-windows of Rana Station.
Rex has since reconciled himself to the view. (background ©2020 by Jody A. Lee; Rex and Shady portrait heads ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk).

The infernal perspective of a habitat wheel

God bless Don Davis and Rick Guidice. They were the first artists to grapple with the technical complexity of painting a landscape as it would appear inside something similar to a massive bicycle wheel in space. They were an essential part of the early NASA Ames Research Center project. In the summer of 1975, they helped a think-tank of genius scientists and engineers develop detailed plans for a habitat in space based on a wheel-like structure, a basic plan first proposed by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1903.

Drawing the thing from the outside was far easier than drawing or painting images of the inside. But Davis and Guidice brought it memorably to life. You’ll notice that two of the three are cutaway views. As the middle image from 1975 demonstrates (below), it’s really challenging to get such an image to “read” clearly. Bending their brains around the crazy view cannot have been easy. But ever since then we’ve had something of a “cheat sheet” to go by.

And also a challenge for their successors. If they could do it, then it can be done.

Visualizations of the interior of a toroid space habitat: Left to right, under construction and a landscape oof the interior; and a cutaway of the interior with homes and landscaped plants.
Visions from the Ames Center in 1975: © NASA; artwork left and center by Don Davis. Artwork at right by Rick Guidice.

An Alien Landscape

Early in the story of A Bone to Pick’s cover, I sent Jody these images from 1975 (she’d already found them for herself, too, I believe). When she sent her first developmental color study, she accounted for the “bent” horizon. Other aspects of Orangeboro’s topography, though? Unfortunately, not so much.

That was my bad. As a writer, it’s easy to airily refer to “the verdant terraces of the Sirius Valley” and go on with whatever is happening in the scene. But an artist has to show it. In considerably more detail than the writer must devote to the subject. No matter how “impressionistic” the artist’s technique may be. And you’ll have noticed already that Jody has a beautiful style, but it’s not notably “impressionistic.”

So, okay, Jan. What do you mean by “the verdant terraces of the Sirius Valley”?

Rana Station is supposed to be a self-sufficient space habitat that is home to more than eight million souls. Those are eight million souls who need not only room to live and work, but who also need to eat. Self-sufficient means they need to grow it all on-Station. And that means they need to maximize their food-growing space. Don Davis gave us a rolling, but basically single-level landscape that didn’t include nearly enough growing space for what I had in mind. Rana Station needed something different. This led me to agricultural terraces and river meanders.

At left, Philippine rice terraces. At right a satellite view of a meandering river.
Rice terraces in the Philippines create crop land on a steep hillside (photo © by Allyson Tachiki), and rivers naturally meander (photo by Google via Robert Hodgin).

The Terraces of the Sirius River Valley

I needed a “horizontal space multiplier,” if I was going to feed all those hungry fictional mouths. I also needed to account for some of the natural patterns we know will develop over time, because: physics. Humans have been “making more arable land” for centuries, using agricultural terraces in naturally-steep terrain.

And even from early on, it was pretty clear that there’d be a river running through the torus. If you water the plants in gravity, where does the water go? Check the Don Davis landscape above from 1975.

Moreover, if water flows, it naturally meanders. My Rana Stationers would have to allow for that, too. I also realized that an undulating valley structure, winding in and out, rather than running arrow-straight along the insides of the torus also would be a “horizontal surface multiplier.” For an unscientific example of this, fold a paper fan. Your fan has the same surface as a flat piece of paper, but the flat paper is much longer. The folds condense the surface area.

Thus, I told Jody not only were “The verdant terraces of the Sirius Valley” built like giant stair steps. They also rippled in and out. So, is that clear enough?

Say, what???

The story of A Bone to Pick’s cover grew kind of complex at this point. The superb horticulturalists of Rana Station don’t tolerate unproductive weeds in any precious cubic centimeter of Ranan soil. But at this point Jody and I wandered off into the tall, jungle-thick, metaphorical weeds of trying to communicate with each other. No. it was not clear enough. Not at all.

Frustrated, I resorted to the same expedient Davis and Guidice had, back in 1975: I started making pictures. More accurately, I started making models. I created what I thought were interesting simulations of the perspective. But my models still didn’t communicate what Jody needed.

Left-to-right, Jody’s first color study for the cover of “A Bone to Pick,” Jan’s photo of the maquettes she’d constructed, and Jan’s cut-and-paste mashup of Jody’s Rex-in-car sketch over photos of Jan’s maquettes.
At left is Jody’s first color study. Center and right are Jan’s attempts to use 3-D paper maquettes to describe the terraces, switchbacks, and a model of Corona Tower cut-and-pasted behind the sketch of Rex in the car. No, they didn’t make sense to Jody, either. (artwork © 2020 by Jody A. Lee and Jan S. Gephardt, respectively).

Something Like Wavy Layer Cakes

It’s a good thing we had started working on this project well before I needed it, or the story of A Bone to Pick’s cover might have turned tragic at this point. It took me a long time to produce a drawing that more clearly communicated what I needed to convey to Jody (see below left). It’s not great art, and since my studio was mostly in boxes while we put in a new floor, I wasn’t able to develop any kind of perspective for the buildings beyond “eyeballing” the angles. It was crude. It was stiff. Frankly, it was an embarrassing drawing.

But once I sent it, we were finally on ever-more-synchronized wavelengths. I had begun to fear we’d never get there. That she’d tell me to take my stupid job and shove it. But Jody is a pro, and she stuck to it. And when it comes to visualizing something that is purely hypothetical and may never exist in real life, I guess you can’t beat a fantasy artist.

I was startled and distracted by how much my terraced hills looked like layer cakes, but by now Jody had a firm vision and a much less meandering route to the finish line. She took things masterfully from there. We exchanged a series of sketches, and she got to work on the final painting.

Left to right, Jan’s first, stiff sketch in a sketchbook; Jody’s response, based on it; and Jan’s refinement on the idea, with more terraces, in response.
A “conversation” between artists: evolving views of the “verdant terraces of the Sirius Valley.” Artwork © 2020 by Jan S. Gephardt, Jody A. Lee, and Jan S. Gephardt,, respectively.

The story of A Bone to Pick’s Cover

So that’s the story of A Bone to Pick’s cover. I hope that this collaboration has not only produced a cover to make you smile (and buy my book???). I hope that the whole process of working through questions of “exactly what do you mean by that?” and “what does that look like?” has made A Bone to Pick a better book.

You can find out for yourself it it did, on (or after) the release date, September 15, 2021. If you’re interested, you can pre-order a Kindle version in either the USA or the UK. After release, it’ll be available from a variety of booksellers in a variety of formats.

“A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt, envisioned as an ebook on the left and as a trade paperback on the right.
Release day is September 15, 2021! Pre-orders available. Cover artwork is © 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

IMAGE AND OTHER CREDITS:

The excerpt from What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jan S. Gephardt, published by Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. All rights reserved.

Of course, the vast majority of the artwork in this post is © by Jody A. Lee. The EStee sketch is © 2016 by Jeff Porter. There also are some sketches that are © 2020 by Jan S. Gephardt. And the “head shot” portraits of Rex and Shady are © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

The book covers at the beginning come from a variety of sources. That first cover, for The Black Gryphon, is courtesy of Amazon. The covers for A Study in Sable and By the Sword are courtesy of Goodreads. And the cover for The Hills Have Spies is from Penguin Random House.

Imagery and all kinds of rich information from the NASA Ames Research Center makes my life as a science fiction writer infinitely easier, and continues to yield more treasure each time I explore it. And I can’t begin to express the impact the artwork of Don Davis and Rick Guidice has had, both on my work, and on the conception of Rana Station. Seriously, guys. It’s a debt I can’t ever repay.

Farther down, the photo of the Batad Rice Terraces in Banaue, Philippines is © by Allyson Tachiki via Flickr. It offers a great example of how humans have learned to “make more land” out of very steep terrain. The satellite photo of an unidentified river meander originated from Google. But I found it on Robert Hodgin’s fascinating exploration of river meanders. Do yourself a favor and check out that web page when you have a minute. It’s pretty amazing.

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!

A Bone to Pick by Jan S. Gephardt

Almost There

By Jan S. Gephardt

To quote Red Leader Garven Dreis, we’re almost there!

In this case, I mean we’re almost to the point where A Bone to Pick is available and ready to read. Almost. We’re close enough that I can at last announce a presale offer on Amazon, in both the US and the UK.

I’m also almost to the point where Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) are ready to go out as review copies. I’ll send them to my Street Team and other selected people (learn more about that process—and how to get one—when you subscribe to my newsletter).

The official release date is September 15, 2021. Take advantage of the presale offer to get it first thing on Release Day, and also to get it at an almost-half-off discount!

"A Bone to Pick.”
Pre-order A Bone to Pick as a Kindle ebook for a significant discount. Cover art © 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

What is A Bone to Pick? It’s the way-too-long-in-coming second novel in my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. What’s it about? Here’s a book description.

XK9 Rex is a dog who knows too much.

Now his past is gunning for him.

Rex and his Packmates were bio-engineered and cyber-enhanced to be cutting edge law enforcement tools. So smart they’re considered uplifted sapient beings on Rana Habitat Space Station. Rex may be the Leader of the Pack on Rana, but his past is still gunning for him.

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

Rex takes pains to evade his old enemy. His human partner, Charlie, faces a different struggle. He works to recover from catastrophic injuries – and comes face-to-face with a once-in-a-lifetime love he thought he’d lost forever.

Can Rex and Charlie confront their pasts and secure their futures? Or will events force them to sacrifice everything?

“The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “A Bone to Pick.”
Cover art for The Other Side of Fear, a prequel novella about the XK9s, is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk. Covers for What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick are © 2019 and © 2020 respectively, by Jody A. Lee.

Almost There

I’m hopeful that I have made A Bone to Pick complete enough within itself that it will stand alone. Early returns from my Brain Trust look good.

I had a lot of fun writing this book. I enjoyed interweaving a romantic subplot (and making things tough for the would-be lovers). The Izgubil investigation continues, of course, with new twists and revelations. The XK9s face enemies both old and new – and the complexities that come with taking on the responsibilities of sapient beings begin to baffle and bemuse them.

I’ve tried to make this book as entertaining as possible. Some readers may be pleased that I reached gender-parity with the point-of-view (POV) characters in this book. In What’s Bred in the Bone there were three: Rex, Charlie, and Shady. Kinda heavy on the guys. We get to ride along in the head of a new, fourth POV this time, with Hildie’s point of view. I hope you’ll agree that she adds a new dimension.

I could say more, but I’ve hinted at enough spoilers already.

I’ve poured a lot of energy and time into this project, as readers of last week’s post may have discerned. I’m excited for you to read it. But it’s the second book in a trilogy. A reader undoubtedly will get more out of A Bone to Pick, if they read the first book, What’s Bred in the Bone, first. If you haven’t yet read it, here’s your chance!

“What’s Bred in the Bone.”
Published in a number of formats, What’s Bred in the Bone, the first book in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, is available from a variety of booksellers. Cover art is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee.

XK9 Rex is a dog who thinks too much

. . . and it could get him killed.

Rex and his Packmates were bio-engineered and cyber-enhanced to be cutting edge law enforcement tools, both smart and verbal. But there’s smart . . . and then there’s sapient. In the star systems of the Alliance of the Peoples, that’s a legal distinction with potentially deadly consequences for XK9 Rex and his Pack.

Sold to a police department on an in-system space station, Rex trails a pair of murder suspects. But his rookie mistake in microgravity, plus a catastrophic spaceship explosion, sideline both Rex and his human partner, Charlie.

But Rex’s keen senses picked up a vital clue about the exploded ship. He knows he must get the humans to listen to him somehow, even if it means breaking protocol. He doesn’t realize that protocol hides an ugly truth: XK9s are more than forensic tools with cold noses and wagging tails. When Rex takes an independent hike to HQ, he blows open an international conspiracy that could destabilize the entire system . . . and place all XK9s everywhere in mortal peril.

If you haven’t read it yet, there’s no better time than the present to get your copy. But maybe you’d like to know more about the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. What’s the idea behind it? Here’s the trilogy’s description.

Can a pack of uplifted police dogs find a home among the stars?

Or will their creators hound them to extinction?

The XK9s are super-smart dogs, bio-engineered and cyber-enhanced to be cutting edge law enforcement tools. But do smart and verbal equal sapient? In the star systems of the Alliance of the Peoples, that’s a legal distinction with potentially deadly consequences for XK9 Rex and his Pack of canine super-sleuths.

When Rex, his Pack, and their human allies on Rana Habitat Space Station tackle a grisly mass-murder case, more than an interstellar pleasure ship blows wide open. Now the people behind the XK9 Project, and their sponsors in the system-dominating Transmondian government, are desperate. They’ll do all they can to erase the evidence of their international conspiracy, before inspectors from the powerful Alliance of the Peoples can investigate.

Will Rex and his Pack run down the perps and defend their sapience claim? Or will their enemies destroy them?

four running XK9s.
XK9s Tuxedo, Victor, Razor, and Rex are headed somewhere in a hurry! Illustration artwork © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

Almost There” is Relative

Don’t get me wrong. I’m really excited to have a finished manuscript of A Bone to Pick. It’s literally the labor of years. But it took fewer years by far than What’s Bred in the Bone. And I really, really hope that Bone of Contention will be ready even sooner than that.

So, then. When do we get Book Three? Well, I’m working on it now. I don’t have a cover yet, but I do have a title, Bone of Contention. And I have an ever-more-detailed concept.

How close am I? Well, I have an established world and characters. Also a lot of ideas, a handful of early-draft scenes, and a partial outline.

And a book description! Can’t forget the book description. It may not be the final book description. But more experienced hands than me have advised that it’s a good practice to write a book description as part of starting a novel project. That way, when inevitable conundrums arise when the author’s drafting the novel, the book description can help keep things on track.

XK9 Rex is a dog who dreams too big.

Now he may lose everything.

Rex and his Packmates were bio-engineered and cyber-enhanced to be cutting edge law enforcement tools. But they’re more than super-smart forensic tools with cold, wet noses and wagging tails. Their human allies on Rana Station claim the XK9s are sapient beings.

Rex and the Pack have begun to enjoy the freedom Ranans believe they deserve. But they also have work to do. They’re hot on the trail of a murderous gang that explodes spaceships in the Black Void of space—killing all the souls onboard.

Mass murder in the Black Void is a hideous crime. But in the far-flung systems of the Alliance of the Peoples, trafficking in sapient beings is the most-reviled crime of all.

Inspectors from the Alliance of the Peoples are headed to Rana, to test the XK9s’ sapience claim. The leaders of the XK9 Project that created Rex and his Pack deny wrongdoing. And the system-dominating Transmondian Government that sponsored the XK9 Project will do anything they must to protect themselves.

Even if it means destroying every XK9 in the universe.

Updates to “Almost There”

This post contains a lot more information than I usually give on “Artdog Adventures” or even “The Weird Blog,” about my projects-in-progress. Those blogs generally cover more wide-ranging topics. (These blogs have featured the same material in recent months, presented simultaneously. Both my sister and I found ourselves stretched too thin to write multiple blog posts each week and cover all the other things we needed to do.)

Why not take a look?
XK9s Petunia, Crystal, Cinnamon, Scout and Shady invite viewers to take a look at ways to get updates. Illustration artwork © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

If you like more “behind-the-scenes” information about what I’m writing and how it’s going, the place to look is my monthly newsletter. Its readers get sneak peeks, bonus materials, and free giveaways that our blog readers never see. If that interests you, please give it a try!

Here on this blog, you’ll see more about A Bone to Pick when we get closer to the September 15, 2021 release date. Meanwhile, next week I’ll return to one of my favorite blog subjects—space stations, in science fiction and real life.

IMAGE CREDITS

Admiration, honor, and thanks to my marvelous illustrators, Jody A. Lee and Lucy A. Synk. See cutlines on individual images for copyright notices. You may feel free to reblog or repost any images used in this post if you want, but please show respect: link back to this post and acknowledge the image creators and their copyrights. We appreciate it!

The covers of “What’s Bred in the Bone” and “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt.

Writing “A Bone to Pick”

By Jan S. Gephardt

After I finished What’s Bred in the Bone and published it in 2019, I thought writing A Bone to Pick would be lots easier than writing the first book in the Trilogy. After all, I had an outline. I had scenes, cut from the first novel, all ready to go into the second one. It was partly written already! I should easily have it ready to go by 2020. A year, maybe 18 months, tops, because I know I’m a slow writer. But seriously. What could possibly go wrong?

Right? Easy-peasy!

Except, not so much. I published What’s Bred in the Bone (accidentally early) at the very end of April, 2019. I’ve now passed the 2-year anniversary, and I’m still waiting for the Brain Trust to deliver final thoughts on A Bone to Pick. So, what the heck happened?

The covers of “What’s Bred in the Bone” and “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt.
Cover artwork for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019, and artwork for A Bone to Pick is © 2020, both by Jody A. Lee.

As much Room as it Takes

I learned a lot of things about my craft while writing A Bone to Pick, for one. I also ran up against an immutable “natural law,” that I used to think was self-indulgent foolishness: a story takes as much room as it takes, to tell it well. Some story ideas naturally fit the “short story” length. Others need more room. Some need a lot more room.

One of my earliest mentors often said “there’s no manuscript that can’t be cut.” He was trying to help me be more succinct, and in that sense he was absolutely right. There is no manuscript that can’t be cut. Often, judicious cutting makes for a much better, more readable manuscript.

But “can be cut” and “should be cut” turn out to be two different things. In a recent blog post, I addressed some of the issues that can arise when a story is cut too ruthlessly. The short version of that post: if you try to squeeze a story into too short a length, you risk destroying the readers’ experience.

First-Draft Blues

I also discovered that in writing A Bone to Pick‘s outline I had made some leaps of logic that didn’t apply. Turns out, thinking that you have an outline all figured out, and even that you already have the book partly written . . . may or may not be a good thing.

It can be good, because revising is (sometimes) faster than writing from scratch. But it also can be bad, because working from previously-written scenes can partially constrain my thinking and make me miss things. It is likely that many of the partly-written scenes will end up more like writing prompts than recognizable scenes in the final draft.

When I first start working on a plot, For me it’s actually not so much like the Shannon Hale quote about scooping sand into a box that I’ve used in earlier posts. It’s more like I know how I think I want some parts to go.

But there are other parts where it’s a complete mystery.

“Then a Miracle Occurs”

Two cartoons. The first, by Sidney Harris, shows two men at a chalkboard. They stare at a long, complex equation, in the middle of which it says, “Then a miracle occurs.” One says to the other, “I think you should be a little more specific, here in Step 2.” The second, by Jessie Liu titled “How to Write Good Code,” shows a complex diagram for creating a project. At the top it says “Start project.” Next: “do things right or do them fast?” There’s a sequence branch for “right,” and one for “fast,” but no matter which steps you take, the arrows eventually lead to “Throw it all out and start over.” Next to that diagram is a smaller one. In it, an arrow leads from a large question mark to “Good Code.”
Turning a collection of rough ideas into an enjoyable novel involves similar processes. (See credits below).

Quite often, the “complete mystery” parts, the parts where “a miracle occurs,” or where the big question-mark somehow becomes “good code,” turn out to be the best scenes. But getting to them is a matter of feeling one’s way along.

In truth, it’s a difficult process to extrapolate a first draft out of initial ideas, partially-written scenes, and a vague sense of the novel’s general shape.

I’m reminded of the parable of the blind men trying to describe an elephant. Outlining is fine, in its place. But I’m not smart enough to discern all of the realities that writing through the events will reveal to me. I’m lucky to go five chapters before I stumble on something that takes me into new and interesting territory.

To use a different metaphor, it might be a scenic turnout on the “highway” of the novel. It might be a detour that takes me around a terrible wreck or a place where the road becomes impassable. Or maybe it wanders off into the hinterland to a dead end.

Clockwise from top: a scenic pullout, a detour, and a dead end.
When a writer deviates from the outline, it might be a scenic pullout (top) along the path of the story. Perhaps it’s a necessary detour (lower R) to avoid a problem. Or maybe it’ll turn into a dead end (lower L) in the middle of nowhere. It’s not always clear (See credits below).

A Context-Changing Midpoint

In plot structure, the Context-Changing Midpoint comes very nearly exactly in the middle of the book. Something happens, or the protagonist has an important revelation, and it changes everything.

While I was writing A Bone to Pick, I experienced a Context-Changing Midpoint of my own. Perhaps ironically, it came at what turned out to be almost the exact mid-point in my process of writing this novel.

A member of my Brain Trust told me that the first half of my book was a disaster (she used nicer language). Boring in some places I’d hoped were intense, the pacing dragged, the story didn’t seem to be going anywhere. What was wrong with me? I was a better writer than that, she said (angrily).

The Front End needs a Little Repair

The results of a crash test: the little yellow car’s front end is basically annihilated.
This was kind of how I visualized my project, after a member of my Brain Trust reacted badly to the first half (Green Car Reports).

Bottom line, however: I needed to trash it. Start in a completely different place, beginning after the part she’d identified as bad.

First reaction: The heck I do! (I didn’t use language that nice).

Second reaction: But this is a member of my Brain Trust! She has excellent judgment!

Third reaction: The heck I do! (I didn’t use language that nice).

Fourth reaction: Oh, damn. She might have a point.

So, I looked at it again. I realized, first of all, that I was really committed to starting the book where I had started it, and including (somehow) the part she’d objected to. She was right about the pacing and drama in that part, however. It was too static.

How do I fix this Thing?

The realization gradually dawned on me that the problematic part wasn’t so much inherently boring, as that I’d handled it badly. For one thing, I’d robbed it of conflict. I’d placed the entire burden of carrying those scenes on one character. But the conflict he confronted was the sort that in most contemporary books demands two point-of-view characters.

Should I break from my original, three-POV pattern in the first book, and add a fourth POV in this one? I forget which Brain Trust member advised me that readers don’t care how many points of view there are. They care if it’s a good story.

Got that right, whichever one it was. So, okay.

Racing the Ticking Clock

XK9 Rex runs above a ticking clock.
I felt as if Rex and I were racing against time in more than one way (See credits below).

But if I added a whole new point of view, I’d have to do a major revision. A new POV would require more words, and the book was already running “on the long side.” Worse, I had already hit the date on the calendar when I’d planned to be completely finished with writing A Bone to Pick!

But did any of those objections mean I should stick with the version I had?

No. Of course not. So I sucked it up, hid all the calendars, and took another run at it. The book will be as long as it needs to be, and take as long as it needs to take, became my operating guideline. My objective was to write the best book I could. Any other consideration wasn’t relevant, because it didn’t have anything to do with that central objective.

The Denouement

I guess we’ll soon see how I did.

Early returns from the Brain Trust have been encouraging. Ultimately, we’ll have to see what readers think.

Next week I’ll write about the presale offer. Once the Brain Trust has had their say, I’ll try to get everything finalized so I can send out Advance Reader Copies in July (subscribe to my newsletter, to learn how you can get one!).

The Official Release Date is September 15.

So! When will we see Bone of Contention?

To answer the next question, yes, I’m already at work on the third book of the Trilogy. When will it be finished?

Well, I already have a partial outline. There’s a whole section of scenes I cut from earlier versions of earlier books, that I plan to use in this one. So, it’s partly written already! I should easily have it ready to go in 2022. A year, maybe 18 months, tops, because I know I’m a slow writer.

But seriously. What could possibly go wrong?

IMAGE CREDITS:

BOOK COVERS:

First of all, I owe deep gratitude to my wonderful cover illustrator, Jody A. Lee, who has created both covers for the Trilogy so far. The cover for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019, and the one for A Bone to Pick is © 2020, both by Jody. She persevered, even when the undulating terraces and weird perspective of Wheel Two in the background threatened to drive both of us crazy.

A MIRACLE AND GOOD CODE:

Deepest thanks to Sidney Harris and his original publisher, The New Yorker, for the “Miracle equation” cartoon, and to Amor Mundi where I found a decent-quality version of this much-memed classic image (and thanks to the Cleveland Centennial, for guiding me to the original credits). I offer up yet more thanks to Jessie Liu 刘翠 @jessiecliu on Twitter, for the “Good Code” diagram.

DEVIATING FROM THE ROAD:

For the gorgeous shot of the scenic pullout along the Oregon coast, I am grateful to AAA. Moving clockwise on the “Deviating from the Road” montage, I want to thank New Jersey 101.5 for the “Detour” sign, and Andrew Capelli’s Active Rain blog, for the photo of the “Road Ends” sign. I think it metaphorically did all of these things while writing A Bone to Pick.

EVERYTHING ELSE:

Many thanks to Green Car Reports for the photo of the crash test of the unfortunate little yellow car. In the final graphic, I am grateful to Lucy A. Synk for her © 2020 illustration of XK9 Rex at a full-out run, and to Dirk Ercken via 123rf, for the “Time is Running” illustration. All montages were assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.

The Author portraits of the indie women of science fiction featured in this blog post are Cheree Alsop, Amy DuBoff, Lindsay Buroker, Jennifer Foehner Wells, and M. D. Cooper.

Indie Women of Science Fiction

When G. and I planned out this month’s blog posts, I eagerly volunteered to write about indie women of science fiction. That was before I realized how few of us there are. Ironically, it was not that hard to find female sf writers among the traditionally published. I highlighted several of my favorites in the “First Impressions” post at the beginning of the month.

But until I actually looked beyond my two favorite indies, I hadn’t paid much attention to the “indie gender gap.” Here’s a challenge for you: run a search for independently-published science fiction, and see what you find.

Kirkus Reviews, for one, publishes annual lists of their top-reviewed books by category (they have a separate category for indie authors). I looked at their lists for 2018, 2019, and 2020, to discover with one exception (K. E. Lanning) that the sf titles were written by male authors, while fantasy and paranormal titles were split between men and women.

It’s even more lopsided on Amazon Top 100 lists in sf. Almost no Indie women of science fiction. But lucky for us, there are at least a few. And they are awesome! Here are five for your consideration:

Jennifer Foehner Wells

Jennifer Foehner Wells with her book covers: Fluency, Remanence, Inheritance, Valence, Vengeance, and the Confluence Codex 1.
Jennifer Foehner Wells and her Confluence Series (See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

For me, no list of indie women of sf would be complete without Jennifer Foehner Wells, AKA @Jenthulu” (her Twitter handle). I discovered her several years ago. Her first book, Fluency, turned me into a fan for life, and everything she’s published since has gone straight onto my “insta-buy” list.

As some faithful followers of my “Artdog Adventures” blog may recall, I’ve written about her books before. I’m delighted to do so again here. If you have not read this woman’s excellent Confluence Series, do yourself a favor. Remedy this egregious shortfall in your science fiction background, and start the series now!

Lindsay Buroker

Planet Killer, Home Front, and Layers of Force, with a photo of author Lindsay Buroker.
Lindsay Buroker with her “Star Kingdom” Series. (See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

I discovered Lindsay Buroker last year when her books started showing up in my “Also-Boughts.” That’s Amazon’s counter-marketing list under the idea of “people who liked your book also bought . . .” or “Products related to this item” on a book’s detail page.

I decided to read her novel Shockwave to see what I thought—then promptly ordered every other book in the Star Kingdom Series available at the time. Had to wait for the last two, after I caught up with the series-to-date. Indeed, I was so eager to get my hands on them I preordered the Kindle versions (I now have the full set in paperback, my preferred format). The prolific Buroker also writes fantasy series, and has well north of 70 books in her catalogue.

M. D. Cooper

M. D. Cooper and her Aeon 14 Orion War Series. (See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

When it comes to indie women of science fiction, M. D. Cooper is kind of a one-woman industry. She is the creator of the Aeon 14 Universe—in which a number of other authors sometimes co-write. She’s produced 161 works so far. Check in a week or two, and there might be more.

I regret to say that I had somehow not discovered her until I started writing this blog post. But from the “Look Inside” samples I’ve read (on Amazon), this woman knows how to write! I chose to highlight her Aeon 14 “Orion War” series because it’s one of her biggest, but small enough that you might be able to actually distinguish the book covers from each other.

Cooper doesn’t stop with series after series of books, however. She’s produced a music album (provided lots of input, but she’s not the composer), The Outsystem Original Score, and a trailer for the Aeon 14: Orion War series.

A. K. DuBoff

A. K. Duboff with Cadicle Series covers for Rumors of War, Web of Truth, Crossroads of Fate, Path of Justice, and Scions of Change.
A. K. Duboff and her Cadicle Series(See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

A. K. (Amy) DuBoff promotes herself as a “Space Opera Author” on her website, and has a Facebook group that dubs her “Queen of Space Opera.” Unlike many indies she belongs to both SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America), and IASFA (International Association of Science Science Fiction and Fantasy). Also unusual for an indie, she was a Nebula finalist in 2018 for the Andre Norton Award. She’s also a USA Today bestselling author.

I discovered her in the course of researching this blog post, so I can’t claim to have read any of her books yet. But the sample chapters in the “Look Inside” glimpse from Amazon look promising. Her “Serenity” duology is set in the “Aeon 14 Universe” created by M. D. Cooper, who is listed as a co-author. (Guess how I found DuBoff). But I chose to illustrate her original Cadicle Universe series, of which there are considerably more books.

She also has a book series trailer (with background music by my favorite contemporary composer, Thomas Bergersen of Two Steps from Hell. The excerpt is part of the composition Our Destiny.).

Cheree Alsop

Cheree Alsop with her “Girl from the Stars” series and a “Pirate from the Stars” novel. (See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

Like Buroker and DuBoff, Cheree Alsop writes both science fiction and fantasy. And, llike Cooper and DuBoff, I found her during my research for this post, then checked out her writing skills via the Amazon “Look Inside” opening glimpse feature. I’m looking forward to reading more!

In the illustration, I featured covers from her Girl from the Stars” series, which is her longest sf series. She also has written a similarly-titled sf novel, Pirate from the Stars: Renegade. According to her website, her newest science fiction is the Rise of the Gladiator” trilogy.

She is a member of the DFW Writers Workshop and the League of Utah Writers. Like M.D. Cooper, Cheree has a musical side—she is a former high school music teacher, and plays bass in a rock band appropriately called Alien Landslide.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my survey of five awesome indie women of science fiction. Please share your reflections on any of them (please keep it positive and relevant) in the Comments section below. Or, if you’d like to suggest other great indie women of science fiction whose work we should know and read, please add their names to the comments, too! Thanks.

IMAGE CREDITS for Indie Women of Science Fiction:

I have tons of acknowledgements to make, between all the author portraits and book covers! I myself assembled all of the photo montages. If you’re interested in a particular image within a montage, I’ve tried to help by dividing these image credits into subsections by author:

Jennifer Foehner Wells:

Many thanks to Goodreads for the photo of Wells. I am indebted to Amazon for the cover images of Fluency, Remanence, Inheritance, Valence, and Vengeance. Thanks also to Barnes & Noble for the Confluence Codex 1 cover.

Lindsay Buroker:

I need to thank Amazon and Lindsay Buroker’s Author Page for the photo of her in the Southwest USA with a happy Vizsla. Goodreads gets the kudos for the book covers this time. Many thanks for the following Star Kingdom covers: Shockwave, Ship of Ruin, Hero Code, Crossfire, Gate Quest, Planet Killer, Home Front, and Layers of Force.

M. D. Cooper:

This time around, Amazon gets almost all the hugs and kisses. M. D. Cooper’s official author portrait came from her Amazon Author Page. Amazon provided all the 13 book covers for the Orion War Series, too. Many, many thanks for: Destiny Lost, New Canaan, Orion Rising, The Scipio Alliance, and Attack on Thebes. Also for War on a Thousand Fronts, Precipice of Darkness, Airthan, Ascendancy, The Orion Front, Starfire, and Race Across Spacetime. The series wraps up with the two Return to Sol books, Attack at Dawn, and Star Rise. Finally, many thanks to YouTube and Creative Edge Studios for the Aeon 14: Orion War Trailer.

A. K. DuBoff:

Here’s another round of hoots and hollers for Amazon, the “home of choice” for a lot of these authors. The official portrait of Amy DuBoff is from her Amazon Author Page. Amazon also provided the cover images for her original Cadicle Series: Rumors of War, Web of Truth, Crossroads of Fate, Path of Justice, and Scions of Change. I also want to thank Amy DuBoff’s YouTube Channel for the Book Trailer – Cadicle: An Epic Space Opera Series.

Cheree Alsop:

Many thanks to Alsop’s website for the author portrait. I’ll wrap up with another round of thank-yous to Amazon for book covers from Alsop’s Girl from the Stars Series. This includes: Daybreak, Daylight, Day’s End, Day’s Journey, and Day’s Hunt. I filled in the hole at the bottom with a similarly-titled (so far) single book, The Pirate from the Stars: Renegade.

Shady and Ace

Hints and glimpses

To anyone who asks, “Can you tell me about your book?” I can only offer hints and glimpses. Of course, that’s all any of us can offer, short of a full read.

But which hints and glimpses?

It becomes marketing

It becomes marketing, whether we authors and our might-be-readers care to think of it that way or not.

The quote from Cassandra Clare reads, “I thought . . . that we could at least talk about books.”
(PictureQuotes)

We not only want to give the asker a good idea of what our story’s about—we want them to think it’s interesting. That it could be a fun and fulfilling read.

That they really need to read it (buy it) right now.

So the hints and glimpses can’t be any old snippets. We want to give our might-be-readers the good stuff. The most intriguing glimpses. The best provocative hints to pique their curiosity. We want to give clues to “What kind of story is this?” To make our ideal readers sit up and think, “Oh, that sounds promising!”

And then, crucially, to click through and make it their own.

What goes into good hints and glimpses?

Oh, man, if we could formulate that and bottle it, no ad campaign would ever fail again! The fact is, no one quite knows. Each book is different. Each reader is different. The variables go fractal real fast.

It’s not that people haven’t tried. For instance, I’ve gotten some helpful guidelines from teachers such as Bryan Cohen (full disclosure: I’ve only taken his free “Challenge” courses so far). Alex Wong has some good suggestions. And I’ve heard great things about Robert J. Ryan’s guidelines from trusted friends in the business.

But after a while no formula, if followed too closely, yields fresh results. Every blurb, every tagline, every story sentence will start to sound the same. It’s kinda like watching too many movie trailers in a row, when they’re all built on the same structure.

(Auralnauts)

Wait. Nostalgia moment! Remember movies? In, like, theaters? With surround-sound and a huge screen and sometimes even kinetic effects built into the seats? *Sigh!* Will there be any movie-theater survivors after Covid-19?

Visual + verbal cues

I’ve been thinking about this question of what makes for good hints and glimpses, a lot recently. My design work over the last couple of weeks for Weird Sisters Publishing focused on ways to create a single image that might rouse someone’s curiosity about one of our stories.

Maybe you’ve followed my “creating a cover with . . .” posts. (for Deep Ellum Pawn with Chaz Kemp, for The Other Side of Fear with Lucy A. Synk, and most recently for Deep Ellum Blues, once again with Chaz).

If so, you’ll recognize some of the elements I used: developmental images from Chaz augmented the messages of words and cover art, as in this one for Deep Ellum Pawn.

The picture shows a Hell Hound next to the cover of “Deep Ellum Pawn,” with the words: “The Golden Fiddle is back. The Hell Hounds are Ms. Eddy’s problem now.”
(Deep Ellum Pawn artwork ©2019 by Chaz Kemp)

Likewise, you may recognize Mudcat from the cover-creation post for Deep Ellum Blues.

This picture shows Mudcat playing his tobacco-burst Strat next to the cover of “Deep Ellum Blues,” with the words, “Will Ms. Eddy intervene when an old adversary threatens a young musician in Deep Ellum?”
(Deep Ellum Blues artwork ©2020 by Chaz Kemp)

Chaz Kemp creates his images purely digitally, building up the image in layers. This makes it easier to change the sizes and positions of the elements in the composition. It also makes it possible to use the developmental images for purposes such as the blog posts and ads.

New visuals for the XK9s

But both of our XK9 cover artists, Jody A. Lee for What’s Bred in the Bone, and Lucy A. Synk, for The Other Side of Fear, are painters. They might make sketches beforehand (see the cover-creation post about Lucy’s work). They also may go back into the image with Photoshop to adjust small aspects. But they don’t produce the same kind of digital images in layers.

It makes the sketching and developmental phases more crucial! I can hardly wait to tell the story of how Jody and I worked together on the cover for A Bone to Pick.

It also creates a need for a different kind of character-developmental image. Lucy and I have been working on a series of “Pack portraits.” These are individual images of each XK9 in the Orangeboro Pack. I plan to use them for a variety of things, including “Character Profile” blog posts in the future.

This is a screen-capture of the sign-up form, which features Lucy’s painting of XK9 Petunia at the top with the words, “Join the Pack!” There’s an actual sign-up form you can use at the bottom of this page if you’d like to receive my monthly newsletter.
(Artwork © 2020 by Lucy A Synk; form by ConvertKit)

But you might already have spotted XK9 Petunia Yeller-Melody on my newsletter subscription form (sign up at the bottom of this post, to get first looks at things like the cover artwork Jody just delivered for A Bone to Pick!)

Incorporating covers with characters

Here’s what I put together for What’s Bred in the Bone. It uses Jody’s cover, Lucy’s “running Rex” image, and a tagline built from successful Amazon ads.

A full-body image of Rex gallops toward the cover of “What’s Bred in the Bone.” Below, the text reads, “In his quest to share an important clue with human investigators, XK9 Rex lands himself and his Packmates in mortal danger. How can he save them?”
(What’s Bred in the Bone artwork ©2019 by Jody A. Lee and ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk)

Finally, here’s the picture for The Other Side of Fear. All the artwork here is Lucy’s. The tagline is taken from a successful Amazon ad. Since then, I’ve rewritten the book description. Read it on multiple platforms.

In this picture, XK9 Shady play-bows next to the cover of “The Other Side of Fear” and the words, “A voyage of self-discovery with an uplifted sapient police dog, “The Other Side of Fear” is a science fiction novella set just before the events in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy.”
(All artwork for The Other Side of Fear is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look “under the hood” at some of the ways we at Weird Sisters Publishing develop our pictures and messages. Please sign up for my newsletter if you’d like to receive monthly “insider scoops” and first looks at new projects and art.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to PictureQuotes for the Cassandra Clare quote, and to Auralnauts, for the “How to make a Blockbuster Movie Trailer” video. Weird Sisters Publishing and I are deeply grateful to Chaz Kemp, Jody A. Lee, and Lucy A. Synk for all the wonderful pictures they’ve blessed us with.

Four books from Weird Sisters Publishing in the order of release: What’s Bred in the Bone, Deep Ellum Pawn, The Other Side of Fear, and Deep Ellum Blues.

Gotta have a newsletter!

Everyone says, “You’ve gotta have a newsletter!”

Newsletters are a vitally important tool that authors can use to connect with readers.”

An author newsletter is an invaluable tool for authors.”

The data is in, and the guidance is out there, easy to find. Every Indie author needs a newsletter. So, yes, it’s clear. I’ve gotta have a newsletter.

Email “envelope symbols” above an electronic tablet visually describe sending emails.
Photo from Bigstock Photos, via The Book Designer blog.

As a former direct marketer, I already know this. Back in pre-Internet days, I was one of the people trying to convince tight-fisted small business owners to create a newsletter (and, incidentally, to hire me to produce it!).

So, then. Why haven’t I created one till now?

Because: Reasons.

I tried to set one up almost a year before I released my first book, What’s Bred in the Bone. I went with MailChimp, which is a reputable service that several friends use. The service starts the small folk out for free. I installed their plugin . . . and nothing happened.

Since I apparently had no one to send it to, I never wrote a newsletter. Then I got busy with several dozen other things. I always meant to come back to it, but it seemed a low priority. Zero subscribers, and low energy to go out and pursue any, kept that project on the back burner.

Finally, another friend who understands coding a lot better than I do looked at it. She’d tried to sign up and it sent her into cyber la-la land. It had done that to me, too, but I had no idea how to fix it.

She discovered the plugin interface was corrupted. She also found evidence that several hundred people had tried to sign up–but instead of going to my landing page, they took the same “nowhere” trip she had.

Oops! Is my face red!

If you’re one of the several hundred, I’m really sorry about that! Yikes. We uninstalled the plugin, I said goodby to MailChimp, and I vowed to try the whole thing again in the future “when I have more time.”

At that point I was hip-deep in creating a small press, Weird Sisters Publishing, with my sister. Also, getting What’s Bred in the Bone into print, which at the time I compared to wading through a swamp. (So far, alas, I’m still not a very adept Swamp Thing, but practice does help).

Book covers for “Deep Ellum Pawn,” “The Other Side of Fear,” and “Deep Ellum Blues.”
Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues cover art © 2019 and 2020 respectively by Chaz Kemp. The Other Side of Fear cover art © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

After that I got busy making the rounds of conventions (this was before Covid-19). After that, producing Deep Ellum Pawn.

And then working on A Bone to Pick and The Other Side of Fear.

And most recently, producing Deep Ellum Blues.

So, why now?

Because it’s way past high time. Since I didn’t start one several years ago, the next-best time is now. And besides, I’ve started getting all these cool pictures from my artist friend, Lucy A. Synk.

Lucy Synk has painted four of the male Pack members in running poses.
Portraits of (L-R) Tuxedo, Victor, Razor and Rex are all © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

Lucy and I have embarked on a mission to create portraits of all the XK9s in the Orangeboro Pack (I inform and finance; she paints). This has been a dream of mine, ever since I first realized how beautiful the Pack would be, all assembled together. Each has a unique coat color and personality. I can’t wait to introduce them to you visually!

That starts with this newsletter, but introducing Pack members is only the beginning.

What’s in the newsletter that you can’t get on the blog?

I’ve created blog posts about working with artists to develop cover artwork for Deep Ellum Pawn, The Other Side of Fear, and Deep Ellum Blues.

But glimpses of the “backstage” part of my work don’t show up too often on the blog.

In the October newsletter, Jan describes her efforts to visualize the environment inside Wheel Two of Rana Station.
Models and photos © 2017-2020 by Jan S. Gephardt.

They’ll be a regular feature of the newsletter. I’ll talk lots more about my works-in-progress. I’ll offer glimpses of ideas I’m developing for future work, character sketches, maps, and timelines.

I’ll also get a little more personal about what’s going on in my life, and how it informs my work.

Early glimpses and preview-previews

Lucy Synk painted a calico cat with a sweet expression.
This not-quite-finished
painting of Kali (for
one thing, no whiskers yet)
is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

Newsletter readers will get the “scoops.” The early glimpses. First looks at early scenes, ideas, and more. And newsletter readers will get to tell me what they think, especially if there’s something I haven’t yet decided, and I’m not sure which way to go.

For instance, when I was deciding on a name for Hildie’s cat, I asked my Facebook followers for ideas, and they voted (her name is Kali). Readers will get to meet her in A Bone to Pick.

From now on, I’ll be asking my newsletter readers such questions, instead.

Newsletter readers also get the first crack at presales and special offers, whenever I or Weird Sisters Publishing come out with something new. So. Are you interested? I sure hope so!

Shall we try this again?

I’m really doing it this time! I’ve signed up with a different mail service, ConvertKit, this time. Their interface makes more sense to me, and I think I’ve gotten all of the components loaded and turned on. I not only gotta have a newsletter, I now have the first one written!

It’s full of information on several current topics, including a look at some of the models I’ve made, to help me visualize the environment inside Rana Station better.

I have lots more things to share in future months, and I’d really like to include you in the audience I share it with! Will you please sign up for my monthly newsletter?

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