Jennifer Brozek | Wordslinger & Optimist!

Looking Ahead to 2021

While I am aware that 2021 will not become magically “back to normal” (whatever the new normal is), I have hope that it will be better; that I will be able to visit friends and family. Hell, that I will make it to at least one convention in person. I’m enough of a realist to know that none of that might happen, but optimistic enough to believe some of it will.

In the meantime, I have projects scheduled for 2021. Here’s what’s known and forthcoming.

Editing:

  • Full edit of the 99 Tiny Terrors anthology.
  • Full edit of The Reinvented Heart anthology (with Cat Rambo).
  • Editorial novel edits for BattleTech: Crimson Night.
  • Editorial novella edits for Shadowrun: See How She Runs.
  • Alpha edits for original near future SF novella (this one has been waiting for a year).
  • Proof audiobook for release.
  • Freelance ebook proofing.


Writing:

  • After the contract is done, new Shadowrun novel.
  • One contracted short story.
  • Figure out the next original novel I’m going to write.

Most of the editing is scheduled for the first quarter of 2021. Most of the writing will be in the second and third quarters of the year. I think. This is the first year in a long time that I haven’t gone into it with a novel contract and a due date. I’m okay with this because of the two anthologies.

I guess, the short version is: I don’t really know everything I’m going to do in 2021. There are too many unknowns and “secret” possible projects in the air. And who knows about conventions. The ones I’m already going to for sure are all virtual.

I think I’m going to stick with this. This seems like a good plan to start with. Maybe I’ll update it in the second quarter of 2021.

 

My 2020 Scorecard

2020 AKA “The Great Pause” is almost over. Time for me to look back at what I’ve accomplished for the year. While I am a full time writer and editor…and I work mostly at home, I did suffer the ennui of being required to stay at home for most of the year. Which I have done since I got back from Rainforest 2020 in early March. I miss seeing friends, going to coffee shops, having my writing group over, gaming in person, and attending conventions.

I hope to be able to do that again sometime in 2021.

Short Story Submissions: 14

  • Acceptances: 6
  • Rejections: 6
  • Pending: 2

I’ll accept a 50% acceptance rate. That’s not bad.

New Words Written: 125,130

  • Short: 18,580
  • Long: 118,300

Two novellas and a novel. Again, not bad for the year.

Published Projects: 9

  • 1 novel: Rogue Academy Two: Ghost Hour (BattleTech)
  • 1 novella: A Kiss to Die For (Shadowrun)
  • 1 anthology: Last Cities of Earth
  • 3 short stories: “Rising to the Occasion” (Valdemar), “The Librarian's Handbook” (Mythos), and “When a Patch Won’t Do” (SF-military)
  • 2 audiobooks: Makeda Red and DocWagon 19 (Shadowrun)
  • 1 Podcast: Voice Talent on the Paper Flower Consortium podcast (Lady Agata).

I’m gonna count this as a win. I was productive despite 2020 and missing my father.

Awards: 3

  • Finalist for the Bram Stoker award for Superior Achievement in an anthology and finalist for Best Anthology – both for A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods.
  • Finalist for the Scribe award for Best YA Tie-in for Rogue Academy One: Iron Dawn.

I’ve already lost 2 of the 3 awards, but it really is an honor to be nominated for both editing and writing. Especially the BFA. It’s the first time for that award.

Next year is going to be a lot more editing heavy. I’ve already got two anthologies in the works as well as a novel and two novellas to edit on the docket. We will see how things go.

Tell Me - Natania Barron

Natania Barron tells me just how accurate Monty Python and the Holy Grail is and how it relates to her latest book, Queen of None. It surprised me.

Queen of None

The first time I became aware of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it was because my parents were trying to explain it to me. They were both giggling so hard just trying to get the words out. I might have been thirteen or so, and I was pretty well convinced they’d lost their marbles. They kept talking about bloodthirsty rabbits. Which, quite frankly, didn’t seem very funny to me at all.

I didn’t quite grasp the humor until I finally saw the whole film later in high school. Then it became very much a thing. My nerd friends and I, as the eldest of the millennials, found the entire script of Monty Python and the Holy Grail on a BB somewhere, printed it out, and carried it around to every class. We began spouting quotes, particularly, “Very small rocks,” “I feel happy!” and “Help, help, I’m being repressed!” much to the sincere annoyance of just about everyone else.

It wasn’t until college, however, when I was deep into my own study of the Middle Ages, that I learned just how good this movie really was. And not just because of the humor. It turns out that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is weirdly, bizarrely, wonderfully… historically accurate in a number of ways.

Okay, but how?

Terry Jones is how. The late writer, actor, and comedian was also a seasoned medievalist. You might be familiar with his Medieval Lives series, from the BBC, but he was known as quite the scholar even outside of the glamor of film. His enthusiasm, humor, and joy had everything to do with what made Holy Grail so good.

And those rabbits? Totally historically accurate. There’s a really good overview about evil rabbits here from Jon Kaneko-James that will do it more justice than I can, but let’s just say that murderous, blood-thirsty rabbits are a very prolific theme in the Middle Ages. I studied illuminated manuscripts at length during my college days, and I found numerous examples. Now, with digital age in full swing, you can peruse thousands of manuscripts and do your own Where’s Waldo: Evil Rabbit Edition.

So, don’t even get me started on butt trumpets. Yes, butt trumpets. And snail men. And furious archer monkeys. Not to mention cats getting into everything some of the most beautiful, strange, and creative chimera monsters you’ll ever see (my favorites are from the Luttrell Psalter—which doesn’t just include monsters, but also depictions of daily life in beautiful, humorous detail). We may think that Terry Gilliam just sort of procured the images from his very original brain, but so much of the animation in the film is also directly adapted from illuminated manuscripts.

Perhaps that’s what’s always brought me back to the Medieval Period again and again. I never believed in a “Dark” age, really. Yes, of course, there were all kinds of very nasty things that happened in the period, from oppression to plague, from Church domination to war, from class exploitation to famine. It wasn’t an easy time to be a human being. But, regardless of the trials and tribulations, what illuminated manuscripts show us is a glimpse into the medieval mind, a mind capable of critique, humor, nuance, and vivid, technicolor imagination. Maybe we aren’t so different. Perhaps what makes existence tolerable now is what made it tolerable then.

It’s also the same reason that I haven’t given up on my studies. You’ll not just find my studies in medieval literature and history influence my work, but also my Twitter account. I’m a big fan of delving deep to find strange marginalia to share with my audience. Sometimes, they’re a little traumatized. Other times, they’re just thoroughly amused. We have a great deal more in common with people in the Middle Ages than we don’t, and it’s important that we learn from them.

--
Natania Barron has been traveling to other worlds from a very young age, and will be forever indebted to Lucy Pevensie and Meg Murry for inspiring her to go on her own adventures. She currently resides in North Carolina with her family, and is, at heart, a hobbit–albeit it one with a Tookish streak a mile wide. Be sure to check out Queen of None.

Early 2021 Classes at the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers

For those of you who have missed my writing classes in the past, Cat Rambo has me scheduled up for the first quarter of 2021 with the following classes. Two of them are repeats of popular classes but the third, Project Management for Writers, is new. People ask me all the time how I get so much done in a year without burning out or dropping balls. That’s what this class is about.

Currently, all classes have openings and scholarships available.

3 Jan, 9:30am, Writing for Franchises
http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/class-working-in-other-worlds-writing-for-franchises/
Have you ever wondered how writers find work writing in other people's worlds and what it would be like to write fiction for your favorite RPG, movie, TV series, videogame, or comic book? What credentials do you need, how do you get started, and how do you build the writing credits that can lead to tie-in work? The Writing for Franchises workshop can give you an idea of what it is like to write in a universe you do not own—the benefits and the pitfalls, as well as how to find opportunities to do such work. This workshop focuses on writing short stories, novellas, and novels for popular franchises such as Shadowrun, V-Wars, Predator, Master of Orion, and Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar.

7 Feb, 9:30am, Pitches and Synopsis
http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/pitches-and-synopses/
What makes an agent interested in a pitch and how do you prepare to give one? What needs to go into a book synopsis, and what should stay out? How long should a synopsis be? Does it need to include the ending or should it finish with a hook that intrigues the reader? What are the things a pitch should cover and what are the basic mistakes you can commit while making one? What are comps and why might they matter to publishing market companies? And—how can you use your pitch to help write your book?

7 Mar, 9:30am, Project Management for Writers
http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/class-project-management-for-writers/
How do you stay on top of the daily demands of being a writer? How do you plan—and carry out that plan—for a novel? How do you make sure one aspect of writing doesn't swallow up all the rest? Basically, how can a writer stay in control of the daily chaos of existence even when you have multiple projects going at once? Join Jenn Brozek for a workshop about how to create a plan that helps you get where you want to go and how to do it without burning out.

Round One of Slush Reading

It’s been years since I did an open call anthology. 99 Tiny Terrors will be my 19th anthology and I thought it was about time to remind myself what it was like to wade into the slush pile. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered but there were some zingers. Here are some of the things I posted to twitter while I was reading.

 All of these started with, “Today's #editor #ProTip from the slushpile:”

-- Please remember to accept all changes in Track Changes so I don't see your editing thoughts and just see your story.

-- When the submission guidelines say 500-1000 words, that does not mean you should turn in a 100 word story. Or 5 stories under 1000 words. Also, saying your word count is 1000 when is 1200 also disqualifies the work.

-- When the guidelines say "no sexual assault" stories that means NO sexual assault stories. Not against any race, gender, or age. Ignoring that makes me notice your name in a bad way and wonder what other boundaries you'd ignore.

-- Often times when the author tries to be clever, the work ends up trite, boring, or cliché. Example: Using the whole story just to tell a pun that is neither horror nor funny.

-- A wonderful beginning will never save a story with a terrible ending and vice versa. Endings are as important as beginnings.

-- The casual lack of consent is horrifying. Especially when that part isn't supposed to be the horror part of the story. "I did X to my sleeping girlfriend and Y happened..." So many writers just don't see it in their stories. Ditto with the casual off-screen, but still mentioned, rape/pedophilia. It's just there like a dead fish in the middle of the hall. Authors really need to look at their writing to see what they're implying with every sentence and why.

-- When you only have 500-1000 words to tell a story, head-hopping is hard to do well. Be sure of your narrative take.

-- Gore for gore's sake in horror flash fiction is boring and is not a story. Give me sharp and subtle. Give me atmosphere. Give me something to remember.

-- When allowed to submit two stories to an open call, you should make sure you don't submit the same story twice.

-- When an editor tells you specifically what kinds of stories they prefer in the guidelines, your best bet is to try to give them exactly that. When you sub a story that is what the editor is specifically NOT looking for, your chances of success are slim to none. Read and comprehend the guidelines.

-- While I admit using no punctuation and no capitalization on purpose is daring, it's a really hard sell. Ditto with capitalized words throughout every sentence. Breaking conventional writing rules can work, but rarely does.

 

Now that I’ve done my first readthrough, I’ve saved 84 pieces as “yes” and 71 as “maybe” for the anthology. I will need to narrow down this 155 tiny terrors into an anthology of 99. Reading through 613 submissions has given me a much better understanding of the shape of the anthology I want. The second readthrough will be in conjunction with the stories I have and whether or not it fits the vision I have for this anthology.

In a week or two, I will reread all 155 pieces of flash fiction, categorizing them and forming the work that will become more than the sum of its parts. That means some of the “yes” stories will be shifted to “no” and some of the “maybe” stories will be shifted to “yes.” Once all of the decisions are decided, all acceptances and rejections will be emailed within a day or two of each other.

 All this is to say…no one is going to hear anything until mid-December 2020 at the earliest.

 

Bubble & Squeek for 11 Nov 2020

I am elbow-deep in the 99 Tiny Terrors slushpile with about 300 read and 300 to go. Also, I'm editing my latest Shadowrun novella so I can turn it in on time in December. There is no Jenn, only editing and some cool news.

Awards: Holy fork, I got shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award for editing A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods. I hadn't even realized I could be a finalist for this award.

Classes: Cat Rambo is hosting me for three classes in early 2021: Working in Other Worlds: Writing for Franchises, Pitches and Synopses Workshop, and a new one: Project Management for Writers.

Video: A 3 Minute Neck Drill That Will Change Your Life by Mark Wildman. Excellent for writers and all people who hunch over keyboards. I've been doing these every day and I can feel the difference.

Podcast: The Paper Flower Consortium. I am the voice of Lady Agata for all the holiday specials. Soon there will be a blog post about how difficult it is to get the correct conditions to podcast fiction at home.

Support: As always… if you appreciate my work and would like to support me, I love coffee. I am made of caffeine. This is the quickest way to brighten my day. Especially with my lack of convention sales this year.

Tell Me - Loren Rhoads

Loren Rhoads is a friend of mine and she’s in one of my critique groups. I love her research stories. If you haven’t read any of her stuff—fiction or non-fiction alike, you have a treat waiting for you. Today, she’s got one hell of a research story to tell you.

One of the stories in Unsafe Words, my new collection, features Alondra DeCourval, a witch who travels the world to protect people from supernatural monsters and vice versa. I’ve written a series of stories about her over the years.

While I haven’t yet finished a novel about Alondra, I know a lot about her life. Many of the stories I’ve written take place in the year after her teacher suffers a catastrophic heart attack. Alondra panics, unable to face living in the world without Victor’s protection. She goes to more and more extreme lengths to save his life. Although “Valentine” — the story in Unsafe Words — was written early in the cycle, it actually takes place toward the end of Victor’s life.

Of all the Alondra stories, “Valentine” had the most hands-on research. I was lucky enough to have a friend whose brother taught at a small university in Northern California. When I wished someone would teach a human anatomy class for writers, Tom invited me to visit his gross anatomy lab. For two days, he gave me private lessons, using his teaching cadavers.

It had been eighteen years since I dissected a fetal pig in ninth-grade Biology. Just stepping into a science classroom after so many years was strange. The room full of rows of black countertops, tall stools pulled alongside, felt like a dream from childhood.          

The bodies weren’t kept in refrigeration units. Instead, they waited in the front of the classroom, lying in a long stainless steel bin with a hinged two-piece top. One of the memories still clear from ninth-grade dissection was the headache-inducing smell of formaldehyde. Thank goodness preservative technology improved.

When Tom folded open the stainless steel lid, a length of muslin floated atop the brownish red liquid inside. I recoiled but couldn’t look away. Too thin for blood, the liquid reminded me of beef broth. Pools of oil slicked its surface.

Tom moved to the far end of the tank. “See that handle there? You can help me by turning it.”

There should have been scary music as we cranked the cadavers out of the fluid. The bodies rose slowly until the muslin took on their outlines. Two corpses lay head to feet. Through their shrouds, I saw bared teeth and the flensed musculature of jaw.

If Tom had made them twitch, I would have leapt out of my own skin.

He pulled on some heavy turquoise rubber gloves, then folded back the muslin so it shrouded both faces and one entire body. The other woman lay naked and revealed. Her skin had been stripped away. The muscle fibers of her chest were very directional and clear, the raw color of a New York strip steak. Some of the muscles on her arms had been removed to display the bones and tendons beneath. Her fingertips still had skin and nails. Her flesh was the color of dried blood.          

Over the next two days, Tom patiently led me through a semester’s worth of anatomy. Toward the end, he lectured me about cardiac structures. Without warning, he reached out to put a human heart in my hand.

The heart was smaller than I expected, about the size of my fist. I turned it over in my gloves, peering into every opening. I felt like Hamlet with Yorick’s skull. I knew instantly that I was gazing at my own death. My father will die of heart disease, like his father before him. I don’t see how I can escape destiny.

That moment — holding a stranger’s heart in my hand — led directly to writing “Valentine.”

---

Loren Rhoads is the author of a space opera trilogy, a duology about a succubus who falls in love with an angel, and a collection of short stories called Unsafe Words. You can find out more about her work at https://lorenrhoads.com/

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

There are some simple joys in life that you forget about until you unexpectedly experience them again. The one that I recently got to experience is the simple joy of coming home after a trip.

The Husband and I sequestered ourselves in a cabin in the woods by a lake with very little internet (those who know, know) for five days for his birthday. We took every precaution we could: not stopping on the way there, masks, sanitizer, social distancing, etc… We kept it up on our hikes. There was only one person we did not see at least carrying a mask on the hike.

The week away was needed. We spent time in the woods, listened to Old Gods of Appalachia podcast, watched pre-downloaded videos and I watched the Husband play a LOT of HADES—which is spectacular. The writing is amazing, the lore is parceled out, the story opens like an onion, not only do you never have to fight Cerberus, you can pet the puppy, and I am so here for a Thanatos/Zagreus pair up. The replay value on the game is super high, especially for what is basically a looping rogue-lite dungeon crawler.

However, five days away was enough. We both enjoyed the break but we were ready to come home. It was a good feeling after seven months in the house with brief grocery runs to break it up.

On the way home, I felt the blossoming of joy and reveled in the moment. It was me and the Husband driving up the last long leg of the trip. Homebound within the hour. I thought, “Heaven is us driving home, being together, anticipating the joy of our cats, our familiar comforts, and our own territory.”

I hadn’t felt that feeling in over a year.

I’d missed it.

Now I appreciate everything I have all the more.

Bubble & Squeek for 2 Oct 2020

As I'm going to be taking next week as a social media break, here's a bubble and squeek for you.

Call for Submissions: 99 Tiny Terrors. This is my 19th anthology and is the first open call in a long time. I like creepy and atmospheric. All guidelines are here. Call closes EOD, Oct 31.

Cool Distraction: Window Swap FTW. Sometimes you just have to stare out someone else's window. If you need an interesting distraction, this is the website for you.

Workshop: Writing for Franchises, Oct 24, 1-3pm. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to write fiction for your favorite RPG, movie, TV series, videogame, or comic book? The Writing for Franchises workshop can give you an idea of what it is like to write in a universe you do not own—the benefits, the pitfalls, and some of the details you should be aware of. This workshop is focused around writing short stories, novellas, and novels for popular franchises such as Shadowrun, V-Wars, Predator, Master of Orion, and Valdemar.

Support: As always… if you appreciate my work and would like to support me, I love coffee. I am made of caffeine. This is the quickest way to brighten my day.

Tell Me - Adam Gaffen

I met Adam Gaffen while participating in the DragonCon mentoring sessions. He’s got a process to learning all about his novel’s characters and how that informed his decisions on the novel’s universe.

 

Today, I’d like to tell you about how I came to meet Cass and Ken, and how the process of getting to know them led me to creating an entire universe for them.

It all started with a name – Aiyana Cassidy. I knew, immediately, that nobody called her Aiyana, that her friends, her family, they all called her Cass. Once I knew that, I started to get a picture in my mind: red hair, glasses, very serious. A woman who could have traded on her looks, but instead relied on her brains. Proved herself over and over, and is now professionally respected. She does something that requires lots of both practical and theoretical knowledge, how about quantum mechanics tied to optical engineering? Then what? Well, who does she hang out with? Kendra, of course. Kendra Foster-Briggs, a friend from her childhood. Friend? No, more than a friend. Wife? Not yet. Fiancée? Yes.

So Kendra’s her fiancée, and…what? Who’s Kendra? Well, she’s blonde and beautiful and a former movie star. She and Cass grew up together in, in, in the Northern Imperium. What’s a Northern Imperium? It’s one of the countries that has replaced the current United States. How did that happen? Gee, I don’t know, and I don’t think they know either. Kendra was too busy chasing boys in school, and Cass was more interested in science than history. And then, and then, what? Cass went to MIT, of course, while Kendra went to get into the movies. No, not movies, sensies. She was the ‘bad girl’ of the two, and ‘sensies’ seems more interactive than ‘movies’. Now it’s years later, and they reunite because Kendra’s retired and Cass is working in Los Alamos. They fall in love, no, they fall back in love, and move in together.

Gee, what a cozy, domestic scene. But it’s not going anywhere yet; it’s static. Gotta move things along, right? What if they didn’t just fall in love with each other, but another person? Who’s that? Derek seems like a good name. Strong, reliable. Rich? Why not? Doesn’t have to work, so he does light sculpture, and that’s how Cass met him and started seeing him casually. Then seriously. Then introduced him to Kendra and was terrified, but they all hit it off, and finally Cass decides to propose to them both. That leads to a wedding. But, let’s see, what would you not expect from a 22nd Century wedding? How about the minister trying to assassinate Cass?

That would be unexpected.

So Cass and Ken and Derek are going to get married, and the minister pulls out a gun, no, a flechette gun, gotta remember it’s 2113, and then they Run Like Hell – hey! That’s a good title for a book! And we’re a going concern!

Now for more complications, and explanations. Figure out what Cass actually does for work. Kendra can’t just be an ex-actress, right? Has to be more to her. Maybe it was a cover? What if she’s semi-retired, but not as much from sensies as her other profession? And now the banter comes out, the snappy wit, the ease and familiarity between Cass and Ken. Kendra’s a fan of late 20th Century/early 21st Century pop culture, did you know that? No, I didn’t, but it makes sense, given some of the things she says.

Now that I knew more or less who they were, I could start putting together some more ideas, more explanations. Cass specializes in optical engineering and quantum mechanics, what if she put the two together and solved the problem of teleportation? That would make some people in the transportation industry very unhappy, wouldn’t it? Definitely! And if Kendra worked for an outfit that did protection for geniuses like Cass, that not only gives a plausible reason for her to go back to them but also tension between Cass and Ken – was it all just a job? And the outfit would also explain Kendra’s ability to deal with hiding in plain sight, and how to cover their tracks, and all sorts of issues.

And their stories just kept coming! So far I’ve written a quarter-million words in their universe, and they’re nowhere near done!

Thanks for dropping by! Now, if you’ll excuse me, Kendra’s tapping on my shoulder.

***

Adam Gaffen hates writing about himself and does so as little as possible. He's spent most of his life dreaming about other times and places, but when he's on this planet he's with his wife, Michaela, and being plagued by their cats and dogs. He's a trained chef who won't work in restaurants, is seeking a degree in Philosophy (Politics, Morality and Law) at Arizona State University, and is busy writing the third volume of The Cassidy Chronicles. He currently lives in Maine but will be relocating to southern Colorado soon, where he's heard the snow actually melts on occasion.