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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!

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

Call me Irresponsible

By Jan S. Gephardt

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

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

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

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

Order versus Chaos

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

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

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

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

“Blog-Or-Die” Day

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

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

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

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

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

Marketing Day

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

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

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

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

Random Variables

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

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

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

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

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

The Story Digs in its Claws

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

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

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

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

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

Call me Irresponsible

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

I wrote the story instead.

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

I wrote the story instead.

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

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

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

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

IMAGE CREDITS:

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

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

* = “by not sleeping much and posting late”

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!

Several signs promote a growing push to defund and demilitarize the police.

Rethinking policing on Rana Station

Rethinking policing has always been an important part of my world-building  for the futuristic world of my science fiction novels. Recent protests and calls to abolish or defund the police have given me fresh material to work with. But they haven’t changed my plans for the series.

Jan S. Gephardt’s current “XK9” books are “The Other Side of Fear,” and “What’s Bred in the Bone.”
At the time this post went live, these were the “XK9 books” available. Cover art for The Other Side of Fear is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk; Cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee.

Balancing reality and fiction

One of the joys of speculative fiction is that you get to make up your own world. That makes it possible to explore all sorts of thought experiments. How would this or that work out, if this or that other thing happened? The challenge that comes with the joy is making your world believable.

I wanted to combine my love of science fiction, dogs, and mystery stories into a science fiction series. 

But I couldn’t assert spontaneously sapient, talking dogs (sure, that’s believable . . . or is it?). No, they’d need to be engineered and equipped. Most people probably wouldn’t do that for a pet. Contemporary smart dogs are already sometimes too smart for their own good. Plus it would be expensive, and take a long time. My fictional dogs needed a job that required the development. I already knew I wanted to write a mystery in this futuristic settingso K9s–police dogs–were a natural choice

A German Shepherd places its paws on a computer keyboard in a police station office. The meme reads, "Saw bad man, bit same. End of Report."
They aren’t using computers yet, but dogs are smarter than we think. (GSCSafety/Donna Clayton/Pinterest)

I set my story on a space-based megastructure built on designs actual rocket scientists thought might work. My canine-cognition, robotics, and other research led me to other extrapolations. I hoped I’d figured it out so my readers could suspend their disbelief, and enjoy the story.

Reality and fiction in policing for Rana Station

But how to portray the police? I knew from the start that TV and movies were no guide. They tend to show cops as good-guy protagonists. They’re frequently wildly erroneous.They often glorify, erase, or excuse terrible misconduct for the sake of drama. 

My original goal was to portray a style of policing that a real police officer could read and think, “yes, this is right. This is how it really works.” 

Never having been a police officer or worked in that world, I had a lot of learning to do. But the more I’ve learned about the way it really worksthe less I think it fits with the rest of how Rana Station is conceived

Several signs held by protesters promote a growing push to defund and demilitarize the police.

The society on Rana Station is yet another thought experiment. This one is steeped in my roots as a teacher in urban schools. I built it on understandings from working on my Master’s degree in Multicultural Education. As one of my characters says in a later chapter of What’s Bred in the Bone, Rana’s “governmental aim is to support the realization of each and every inhabitant-being’s full potential.”

The rest of the surrounding universe looks more like systems we’re unfortunately familiar with. In some ways Ranans themselves don’t live up to their ideals. In others, they do better. Part of the fun is speculating about what might happen when social systems, values, and priorities collide.

Rethinking crime 

One thing about humans: crimes happen. People screw up. They fight. Greed gets the best of them. Con artists run their scams. Passions rise, and sometimes people die. There are plenty of cases to solve, even on Rana Station

But a society built on respect for everyone, and dedicated to supporting their achieving full potential, isn’t going to criminalize many of the things our society uses the police to address.

Members of the Pinellas Sheriff’s Department Forensics Team and St. Petersburg Police gather evidence at a murder scene in St. Petersburg, FL in 2017.
When murders occur, they must be investigated. Members of the Pinellas Sheriff’s Department Forensics Team and St. Petersburg Police gather evidence at a murder scene in St. Petersburg, FL in 2017. (Uncredited/Tampa Bay Times)

Addiction isn’t illegal on Rana Station. People can have small quantities of controlled substances. But authorities regulate potentially dangerous substances and try to stifle smugglingSapient-trafficking is illegal pretty much everywhere (but which beings are sapient?).

Digital thievery plagues everyone. Rana’s “second-story men” (and women) sometimes intrude on residence towers. As in Chapter One of What’s Bred in the Bone, people sometimes get mugged.

Assaults, rapes, and murders do still occur (although there are lots more conflict mediation efforts on Rana Station than in the USA right now).

And the XK9s, along with their human allies, are on the case.

Rethinking policing in more ways than one

But a social system designed to support every inhabitant-being reaching their full potential would not look like our reality. That means not only is the agriculture different. The schools are different. Ranan mental and physical health-care infrastructure is different (to name just a few).
And Ranan policing is different, too.

Today’s “defund” advocates demand some changes that already were planned features on Rana Station. Even before our collective consciousness raising on police use of force. For instance, police won’t be the first responders called for most mental health crises. Mental health professionals called “Listeners” will. Many current “de-criminalize” issues are handled outside of the justice system on Rana.

Police prepare to clear a camp set up by people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, in 2017.
The criminalization of poverty reaches an extreme when it comes to people experiencing homelessness. Police prepare to clear a “homeless” camp in San Francisco, in 2017. (Judith Calson/San Francisco Public Press)

Readers of What’s Bred in the Bone may recall that the Orangeboro Police Department has a STAT Team (for “Special Tools and Techniques”). I originally called them a “SWAT” Team, but “Special Weapons and Tactics” recalls the old-fashioned militarized unit of contemporary practice. That’s not what I intend to portray.

In very special circumstances some SWAT-like tactics may be needed. Think sharpshooters, or psychologist-trained negotiators. But Ranan STAT teams also embrace what we think of as search-and-rescue,  bomb squads and communications and surveillance specialists. They’re known for saving lives, not kicking doors.

Rethinking police mental and physical health

One major area where my police research appalled me is the real world of police officer/first-responder stress. Rather than write in generalities, I’ll share a summary of an all-too-typical case study. This one’s from the March 2016 AA Grapevine, but unfortunately none of it seemed unusual, or out of step with other cases I’ve studied. 


Erika J.’s story

The writer was a young woman who’d wanted to be a police officer since she was in high school. Right at the start of her first rookie year she had a “suicide by cop” call. Although it was devastating, she felt compelled to “lie my butt off” to the department psychologist so she wouldn’t lose her job

There are so many wrong things, just in that one element of her story.

From the beginning, this young employee understood if she was honest she’d be fired (like most people, she needed her job). She didn’t feel supported, and that pattern continued. Later promoted to detective, she was “the only police officer in town assigned to juvenile cases.” Not surprisingly, the caseload overwhelmed her. She asked for a reassignment after six years, unsure how many more autopsies of abused babies she could handle. Her request was denied.

So she “boarded out” and qualified for a promotion. Later, as a now-sergeant with a 3-month-old breastfeeding infant, they denied a reassignment that would make it easier to care for her baby. “I was told to quit whining and do my job.” There’s more. But if you’re like me you’ve seen enough already. It’s really not surprising this woman developed a problem with alcoholism. The way she was treated–by her brothers (and sisters?) in blue–ought to be criminal.

Mitchell, SD Police Officer Mici Bolgrean does paperwork.
Stress and feelings of isolation can build up for cops if they’re not given adequate support. Mitchell, SD Police Officer Mici Bolgrean does paperwork. Only 5% of South Dakota officers are female. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

So many wrong things

Instead, it’s not uncommon. She probably got more grief because she was a woman (way to diversify, people!!). But male officers don’t get much less pressure. That old-school police culture is toxic, no matter who’s on the receiving end. As other pressures in society build virulence, police officer suicides have hit an upward trend.

Cops also work long hours with few breaks and little access to healthy food. That’s why you see so many fat officers after they’ve been on the job for a while. They’re usually not so much lazy as stressed-out and overextended. You won’t be surprised that police officers are at 30-70% more risk of sudden cardiac arrest than others, when thrown into stressful situations.

It’s not an acceptable reason, but it’s easy to see how some officers grow jaded, callous, or abusive. That kind of job environment is practically a formula for inappropriately-displaced aggression. Give that human powder-keg a racist system to work in, a history of oppression, and a gun, and you have a police brutality offense just looking for some “uppity” brown-skinned person to trigger it. 

Rethinking policing in a better way

Ranan culture doesn’t put up with any of these ways of doing things. They are stupid, counter-productive, and deeply destructive. Excuse me while I’m “unrealistic,” and explore a better way.

We need to ask why our own contemporary society puts up with those stupid, destructive ways of doing things. Must we abolish the police and start over from scratch to get rid of rampant, racist old-school police culture? If so, it might be a better way of rethinking policing than many people believe.

IMAGE CREDITS:

The covers of my books are from my Jan S. Gephardt’s Artdog Adventures website. Many thanks to Greater St. Cloud Public Safety Foundation, via Donna Clayton’s Pinterest Board, for the K9-making-a-report meme. I’m grateful to The Hill, for the photo of the “defund” protesters. Many thanks to the Tampa Bay Times for the photo of the murder scene investigation. I am grateful to Judith Calson of the San Francisco Public Press, for the photo of the police outside the “homeless camp.” and thanks also to the Mitchell (SD) Republic and photographer Sean Ryan for the photo of Mitchell, SD Police Officer Mici Bolgrean at work.

A city worker power-washes "Defund the Police" from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta.

How (and why) might we defund police?

It appears that when people say, “Defund the Police!” they often don’t mean completely. They usually appear not to mean “dismantle the police force and don’t replace it,” although some do. I started examining the ideas of abolishing or defunding the police in the previous post on this blog.

Defund the Police, like Abolish the Police, is an arresting (sorry), but inadequate slogan. Like most ideas, if you take the logic to its farthest extreme, it’s a terrible idea (hint: for real-life applications, never go to the farthest extreme). But people have begun to have valuable discussions about the way forward.

In this Kevin Siers cartoon, two protesters carry a large banner, emblazoned with a very long slogan that takes up several lines and goes off the edge of the cartoon. Part of it says, "Defund reform repair reeval ... improve rework reenvision ...reinvent cleanse reshape recreate ... Police." One says to the other, "We need a new slogan!"
(Kevin Siers cartoon courtesy of Charlotte Observer/McClatchey)

Deciphering what they actually mean

In the simplest statements I’ve heard, the idea is to reallocate some funds from the local police department. Then to spend them building up departments that would be more appropriate responders to certain kinds of situations. Police solutions often end with someone arrested or ticketed, possibly taken to jail. That’s appropriate for some things, but not for others.

For example, if it’s a mental health crisis, deploy some kind of mental health equivalent of EMTs (and yes, I know we don’t have those yet). This would radically reduce the number of incidents in which a mentally ill person in crisis (but mostly a danger only to themselves) isn’t confronted, further agitated, and then eventually killed by police.

Another example we often hear cited is when police are called to deal with persons experiencing homelessness. What do these people need? Certainly a better place to live. Many also need mental health counseling, physical health care, possibly addiction treatment, additional education so they can find a job, or other services. What can police do about them? Usually none of those things. They can arrest them, or force them to go somewhere else. That’s pretty much it.

A large, multi-spout teapot labeled "Defund the Police" pours tea into cups marked "education," "universal healthcare," "youth services," "housing," and "other community reinvestments."
(Illustration courtesy of Aleksey Weintraub, @LAKUTIS via Twitter)

Why many say policing itself needs a re-think

Diversity training is only as good as the trainer who teaches, and the personal investment of the people who show up. Until individual officers take the messages to heart–and until there’s greater diversity and cross-cultural understanding in most police departments, cultural clashes will continue to fuel bad outcomes.

If the overall culture of the department doesn’t change (and changing police culture is an uphill climb), street-level outcomes won’t, either. Many American police are actively trained to distrust their communities, and to believe every encounter could end in violence against them. They are taught to “fear for their lives” almost as a default-setting. The “warrior” mindset of increased police militarization isn’t helping any of us.

Even when radical overhauls happen, there’s often still a gap between desire and result. It’s discouraging. But allowing ourselves to feel defeated and saying, “I give up” isn’t a sustainable solution. Sweeping problems (and problem officers) under the rug doesn’t work. Perpetuating and doubling-down on “how we’ve always done things” doesn’t cut it. We’ve been doing that for decades, and the results keep getting more extreme.

A city worker power-washes "Defund the Police" from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta.
A city worker power-washes “Defund the Police” from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta. When the protests subside, will calls for reform be as easy to erase or ignore? (Photo by Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

What is policing supposed to do?

It gets down to questioning the very purpose of policing. Why do we have police? To keep public order, so we feel safer in our neighborhoods? To respond to (or ideally limit/prevent) crimes such as murder, assault, rape, fraud, and similar invasions of property and person

Do they have a role in limiting vandalism, truancy, and roving bands of unoccupied youths, or should other programs address those ills?

Do we want police to prioritize our privacy and personal autonomy at the expense of the privacy and personal autonomy of others? How much governmental intrusion is acceptable, and are we okay with knowing that some people experience more heavy-handed treatment than others?

De-criminalizing our society

Many proposals start with a laundry-list of things to de-criminalize. I’ve already mentioned de-criminalizing homelessness in this article. A strong case also can be made for de-criminalizing addiction and drug possession

Much is made, in gun-violence arguments, of the urgent need for better mental health services. Yet we are a very long way from de-criminalizing mental illness and creating a robust safety net of mental health services.

De-criminalizing poverty is another consideration. We could do this in part by examining all proposed statutes, civil codes, and local ordinances to see which disproportionately afflict poor people. Another good starting place might be not over-policing poor and minority neighborhoods.

This cartoon by artist Barrie Maguire makes the point that de-criminalizing drug addiction would free up jail space.
Decriminalizing addiction, drug use and other “offenses” that could better be handled by other agencies would also free up jail space (Barrie Maguire cartoon courtesy of the Philadelpha Inquirer).

Where do we go from here?

Some”de-fund” arguments focus, not on policing itself, but on problems that perpetuate the conditions that encourage crime

Even before the pandemic threw them into glaring prominence, inequalities in educational opportunities, in health care, in food security and economic opportunity were major concerns. So it’s not surprising inequities claim prominent places on many people’s “to-reform” lists. Yet all of those things get less money from local governments than policing. Many cities’ biggest budget item is its public safety budget.

Some observers fear we’re rushing into things with half-baked approaches to revamping police forces or radically altering them. Others fear we’ll only use half-measures, then reluctant politicians will have an “out” to declare, “well, that didn’t work!” a few weeks or years from now.

But what if we were really serious about this? What if we actually tried a well-thought-out plan to readjust the way we do social well-being, including efforts to ensure law, order, and justice for everyone? For real.

I think we’re all still trying to figure out how that would look. But next week in this space, I’ll take a stab at relating my own vision and thoughts to my stories about policing in the future on Rana Station.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to the Charlotte Observer/McClatchey, for the Kevin Sierscartoon. The “Defund the Police Teapot” illustration is from Aleksey Weintraub, @LAKUTIS via Twitter. It appears to be a clever adaptation of a photo of an actual, multi-spout teapot from Tea Exporter India (now a defunct link) via Alobha Exim’s Pinterest board. The photo of the city worker power-washing the street in front of the Atlanta Police Department is by the formidable Alyssa Pointerof the Atlanta Journal-Constitution The remarkable Barrie Maguire (who also did a stint at Kansas City’s own Hallmark) is a marvelous fine-art painter of Irish-inspired work, but he also created cartoons for the Philadelphia Inquirer for a while, including this one dramatizing prison overcrowding.

This meme shows police violently throwing a protester on the ground. The superimposed words read "Protect and serve Yer doin it wrong"

Abolish the police?

If we abolish the police in the 21st Century, why should people need XK9s in the future? 

Wait! That wasn’t the question at the top of your mind?

Here are Jan's XK9 books, that she'd published by June 2020: "The Other Side of Fear," and "What's Bred in the Bone."
Learn more about Jan’s XK9 Books on her website. She writes science fiction police procedurals about sapient police dogs on a space station. Cover artwork for The Other Side of Fear is © 2020 by Lucy A. SynkCover artwork for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee

Actually, it wasn’t my first question, either (although I do have answers). When I originally learned about the movement to abolish the police, my first question was why would we do that? 

Then I realized that by asking that question I had already marked myself as a person who owns property and benefits from white privilege

Clearly, there was a disconnect happening. I needed to remedy it by educating myself.

Why would we abolish the police?

Let’s start with my “Why would we abolish the police?” question. The answer depends on why the questioner thinks the police exist. Well, their motto is “to protect and serve.” But protect what? Serve whom? That’s where it starts to get dicey

This meme shows police violently throwing a protester on the ground. The superimposed words read "Protect and serve Yer doin it wrong"
(Meme courtesy of Cheezeburger.)

Functionally, throughout their history police forces have existed to protect the property and persons of some of the people from basically everyone else (except when they don’t protect property or the personal safety of civilians). And in recent days we’ve heard many authorities cite “protecting property from destruction” as a reason for cracking down on protesters who linger past curfews.

They also don’t exist to protect public safety in all the ways we tend to believe they do. Did you know that according to the Supreme Court, the police are not obligated to protect a person from physical harm, even when it is threatened? 

Above all, they primarily exist to serve the current power structure, for well or ill. And that’s a big part of the problem. If you have a racist or corrupt power structure, police exist to support it

Police in riot gear advance in a line through billowing blue tear gas smoke, with their batons out.
Minneapolis police advance through tear gas on a group of protesters. (Photo courtesy of Scott Olson/Getty Images, via NPR).

Do we have a racist or corruptible power structure in the USA?

I feel kind of silly, even writing that question. Of course we do.

We certainly have a racist power structure in the USA. If anyone can have lived through the last several years and still doubt that, they probably live in a gated community, are relatively wealthy, white, and only watch Fox News. In other words, they very carefully tune out many distressing aspects of reality

But you can’t close your eyes, cover your ears, yell “La-la-la-la!” and magically transport yourself into a post-racial America. No such place exists.

Do we have a corruptible power structure in the USA? A look at the situation in Ferguson, MO, in 2014 offers a window on such a power structure. It was a community mostly run by the minority population of white people, with a mostly white police force.Racial profiling led to repeated arrests for petty infractions, and jail time when fines weren’t paid. The city basically criminalized poverty, as well as driving or doing almost any other action while black.

A person holds a poster that lists all kinds of things people weren't safely able to do "while black."
The most discouraging part? This list only hits the “famous ones.” (photo courtesy of KISS).

But wait! The police are the “good guys!” Right?

Well, they’re certainly supposed to be. Both in real life and in our mediathey’re portrayed as (and quite often are)braveself-sacrificing, and strong protectors of the weak or vulnerable

A white DC police officer interacts pleasantly with several black kids, in a demonstration of community policing.
The District of Columbia has been at the forefront of the “community policing” effort. But is it enough? Many don’t think so. (Photo courtesy of Governing)

But again, whether you view them as good guys or not depends on your experiences. After some of the experiences and understandings explored in this blog post, you may be starting to feel less happy with the police.

But . . . abolish the police? Entirely? Is that realistic? And is it even remotely desirable? Don’t we actually need the police for a lot of important things?
What about murders? What about armed robbery? Car theft? Rape? Human trafficking? Fraud? How would we deal with those things, if there were no police? I have yet to find comprehensive answers from the “abolish” advocates, other than promoting a decentralized approach that parcels out some duties to other agencies. 

But unpacking many of the angles will take at least another blog post or so. I’m looking forward to examining how the “abolish” and “defund” advocates may turn out to inform (or not)the process of reforming, reducing or in some cases completely dismantling the ways policing is done–as well as implications for the future (both ours in reality, and in my science fiction).

IMAGE CREDITS:

The covers of Jan’s books are from her website. The meme about protecting and serving “the right way” is from Cheezeburger. The photo of the cops and the tear gas is courtesy of Scott Olson/Getty Images, via NPR. The very long list of unsafe things to do “while black” is from KISS, and the photo of the officer doing “community policing” is from Governing. Many thanks to all!

color study for "The Other Side of Fear" cover by Lucy A. Synk.

Creating a cover with Lucy A. Synk: a cover reveal

This is the cover of "The Other Side of Fear," a novella about the XK9s. Cover art is copyright 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.
(Cover Artwork © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk)

Creating a cover with Lucy

Lucy painted the first Wizards’ Worlds cover. She corresponded with Andre Norton several times while the author was living. (artwork © by Lucy A. Synk)

I sort of wandered sideways into creating a cover with Lucy A. Synk. Lucy’s a wonderful fantasy and media-portrait artist whose work I discovered at science fiction convention art shows in the 1980s. She also painted professional illustrations and book covers back in the day.

She and I were friendly acquaintances when she lived in the Kansas City area. But ironically our friendship really took off after she moved away. We discovered how much fun it was to talk with each other on the phone, and the rest is history.

Although she and I haven’t lived in the same town in decades, today I count her as one of my dearest friends. We travel to places “partway between” to meet for the occasional face-to-face gabfest, and we’ve shared many adventures over the years.

Lucy’s been there since the beginning of the XK9s

In Lucy's color drawing "Doggie-Back Rides," XK9 Rex gives his partner's 3-year-old niece a ride on his back.
Lucy created “Doggie-Back Rides,” featuring Rex with Charlie’s niece Lacey, mostly for fun.
(artwork © 2018 by Lucy A. Synk)

Naturally, she reads drafts of my writing projects in their developmental stages. She offered insights and unflagging encouragement throughout the many, many, many, many early drafts of What’s Bred in the Bone (that’s why her name is on the dedication page).

But she had by then moved into other realms with her artwork, and expressed no interest in illustrating my stories, other than the occasional, small whimsical drawing. Ever creating a cover with Lucy seemed out of the question.

Until one day it wasn’t, anymore. I started in my role as Art Director for Weird Sisters Publishing, Lucy’s job situation changed, and I finished the manuscript of my soon-to-be-released novella The Other Side of Fear.

The novella depicts events that happened before the action in What’s Bred in the Bone, when the XK9s and their future partners met on the planet Chayko. The story’s action follows Shady’s eventual partner, Pamela Gómez, and her personal evolution. Lucy had been reading each draft, advising me on the development of the story . . . and cooking up visual ideas.

A creative collaboration

My favorite way to work with a cover artist is to have them read the manuscript, consider the story and how to visually express it, then tell me how they’d like to approach it.

I generally have my own ideas, but the artist knows his or her own vision and capabilities best. The folks I’ve worked with so far also understand the “postage-stamp poster” nature of a book cover. Creating a cover with Lucy or any other artist becomes a creative collaboration.

In this case, Lucy had a very clear idea. There are two pivotal scenes in the story that happen near a bonfire at night. She wanted to use the dramatic lighting at these important moments to create a dynamic cover.

Lucy's pencil rough of the bonfire scene.
Here’s Lucy’s first sketch of the “bonfire scene.” (artwork © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk)
This is the black-and-white tonal study for the bonfire scene.
With the concept approved, Lucy moved to the tonal study. (artwork © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk)
This is the first color rough of the bonfire scene.
Next she created the first color rough of the most important part of the scene. (artwork © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk).

What does an “ashasata” look like?

Most of the action in The Other Side of Fear takes place on Planet Chayko, under the watchful eyes of the XK9 Project’s trainers and officials. Chayko is an exo-Terrestrial planet that humans were allowed to colonize because repeated meteor bombardments had reduced the native life-forms to pre-sapient levels. But it still has a breathable atmosphere, a similar mass (thus, gravity), a G-type star, and many other Earth-like aspects that allow humans to flourish there.

The humans installed a shield to repel the meteor-strikes, then settled in. They brought Earth plants and animals, but never completely terraformed the planet. Instead, it’s a patchwork of native, more “primordial” organisms alongside the imports from Earth.

Lucy, with her decade of work in natural history illustrations, has been having a wonderful time advising me and co-conspiring with me about how native Chaykoan life-forms look. One general type of organism that is mentioned repeatedly in The Other Side of Fear is the ashasatas. They are brachiated life-forms that fill a niche similar to Earth’s trees.

But what do they look like? The bonfire scenes take place in a rustic setting at the edge of an ashasata forest. We could’ve blurred the details back into the shadows and “faked it,” but Lucy wanted to explore the idea. Ashasatas, she suggested, would look more like the earlier treelike plants on earth. She led me on a journey through the paleobotany of conifers, to the Chilean Monkey Puzzle Tree (yes, this is how nerds have fun).

Monkey puzzle trees at night. Perfect for our bonfire! Creating a cover with Lucy.
Monkey Puzzle Trees (Araucaria) at night, lit from below–living fossils that provided a perfect model for our Ashasatas at the bonfire. Note: they are the Chilean national tree (Lucy found this photo somewhere. I haven’t been able to locate the source).

Pulling it all together

Once we figured out what ashasatas look like, Lucy was able to finish the cover painting in the correct proportions. Here’s a look at the painting without the words all over it.

Here’s the finished painting, before I put in all the typography. Lucy can tell you who every person in the background crowd is. (artwork © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk)

She ultimately reduced the size of the crowd behind Shady. For those of you who’ve read What’s Bred in the Bone, can you guess which of them are Dr. Ordovich, Dr. Imre the Breeding Coordinator, and Chief Klein?

Other characters whom you’ll meet in The Other Side of Fear are Randy the Education Director and other partner-candidates. Lucy can tell you who everyone is.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the process of creating a cover with Lucy A. Synk. We’ve discussed a lot of other ideas and projects, so look for more artwork from her in the future!

Weird Sisters Publishing released The Other Side of Fear in wide distribution on March 31, 2020. If you’d like a FREE e-copy, you can get one if you subscribe to Jan’s monthly newsletter!

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Lucy A. Synk for all of these images.

This is the title quotation.

The best part of writing

The Artdog Quote(s) of the Week

Last week’s quote(s) addressed my need (parallel with those who participated in NaNoWriMo) to revise the manuscript for A Bone to Pickthe second book (still very much in progress) of the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. And I’m trying to cultivate Mabel Wetherbee’s attitude that “the best part of writing is editing.”

This quote-image from Mabel E. Wetherbee via Authors Publish reads: "Goig back and editing is the best part of writing; it's like reading an interactive novel. 'Oh I wish the author used this word here or had this dramatic reveal there . . . oh that's right! I am the author!'"

The beta-reading review

I’ve been reading through comments from my beta-readers who’ve read my first “finished” draft. I’m preparing notes and girding up my loins, because clearly, “finished” badly needed those quote-marks. I get it. No first draft is perfect (EVER). Every writer knows that, going in. And while writing a first draft is exciting and interesting and it definitely has its thrilling moments, I’m not sure I’d call it “the best part.”

Reviewing betas’ comments about where they connected and where it fell flat is both helpful and a little daunting. More helpful than daunting, because I’m an optimist with a high opinion of myself, and I like a writing challenge. But I would definitely say reading a critique is not “the best part of writing,” either.

This quote from  Marian Dane Bauer reads: "Never think of revising as fixing something that is wrong. That starts you off in a negative frame of mind. Rather think of it as an opportunity to improve something you already love."

The best part of writing

No, the best part of writing, for me, is the feeling that “okay, this time I really nailed it” in the finished draft. This is the one that passes muster with the editor, and comes out on the other end of the long process of rewrites, reviews, corrections, and more rewrites. The refining process can be tedious and humbling, but it’s worth it.

I’m still a fair stretch down the road from that goal, at present. There are still a lot of dead-wrongs, ho-hums, near-misses, and partial hits to work through. But I must go through all of them, no matter how challenging they are, to get to the best part of writing.

This unattributed quote says, "Don't get stuck in your past, use it to fuel your future."

Fuel for the future 

As with any creative project, there are parallels between this editing project with how we live our lives. Unlike writing a story, it’s not possible to go back and change the things we’ve done in real life. They’re in the past. They’re done. But we can learn from them. We can look back and think, “if I had done this one thing differently, what would have changed? How could I have inspired a better outcome?”

I think if we are self-reflective, we (a) are prepared to confront life “ahead of the game,” and (b) are in a better position to learn from the past. It’s not exactly “editing the past to suit ourselves,” but more like interrogating the past to learn as much as possible from it.

In life, as in writing, the best part is how we mine the past for the materials with which to build a new and better future.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Authors Publish, for the quote from Mabel E. Wetherbee (whom I can’t track down online! She’s allegedly the author of Whisper of the Hare and The Illusionist’s Pinbut I can’t find a primary source); to AZ Quotes, for the quote from Marion Dane Bauer, and to QuotesGram, via Pinterest (note QuotesWarehouse no longer seems to exist), for the unattributed quote about not getting stuck in the past, for the unattributed quote about not getting stuck in the past.

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