Jennifer Brozek | Wordslinger & Optimist!

The Case of the Mysterious Ottoman

by Jennifer Brozek 29. January 2020 14:18

I love the fact that I am often the person my friends think of first when they have something odd happen or a mystery occur. They know I make stories out of everything and appreciate it when they do the same. Thus, I present: The Case of the Mysterious Ottoman.

Friend: I have a mystery and it can only mean my life is about to become an action movie.

Me: Do tell!

Friend: Okay. So this is an ottoman. A designer one from what my googling has turned up. It arrived at my house today, addressed (correctly) to me. But I didn’t order it.

Me: Huh. If this were an action movie, the secret would be hidden inside.

Friend: A few years ago, I got a GoPro addressed to me. Turned out my card was used to buy it. So I checked all my accounts, but I didn’t find anything amiss. I do have a packing slip, again, with my name.

Me: I have heard that scammers will buy things on stolen credit cards and send things to people, then “return them” for cash or for payment on a different credit card. Have you checked your bank, your cards, and your Paypal?

Friend: Yes. This came via an import company in Florida.

Me: What about recent purchases on your Amazon account or Costco account? One of those could be compromised.

Friend: Hadn’t looked there. Just at my money places.

Me: BTW, very nice ottoman.

Friend: Is that sarcastic?

Me: No… it’s a very nice ottoman. Whoever did it has good taste. And makes me think it is a buy and return scam.

Friend: Yeah. I don’t know. Or…it’s packed with heroin or forged bonds or diamonds and someone will be by for it later.

Me: Did you check Amazon?

Friend: Yes. Not there.

Me: Right. I suppose you could ping your parents and find out if it is a gift.

Friend: Wasn’t them. Already called them. I found one website that listed a price and I don’t know anyone who would spend that much money on an unsolicited ottoman for me.

Me: How much?

Friend: $$$$.$$

Me: Damn. What does your husband think?

Friend: That it’s hideous. LOL. And that we have bullets if someone comes for it. I figure we can keep it for a couple of days in case the mystery is solved, but if you like it, you can have it if nobody claims it. We really don’t have room for it anywhere. BUT, I’m fully embracing the action movie explanation.

Me: Okay. I would like it. I’ve got the perfect place for it. But, once you give it to me, I become the protagonist…and you show the audience how good the assassin is.

Friend: Hahahaha. Anyway, I thought you’d enjoy the mystery, although I didn’t expect to find a home for the thing.

Me: I did enjoy it, and you’re welcome.

Friend: The fact that you’re so keen on getting it makes us suspicious that you’re after the diamonds.

Me: Maybe I’m just protecting you guys. Also, I’m so writing about this in a blog post.

I think the ottoman is very pretty, and it matches the curtains perfectly. I do have to cover it with a blanket or the cats will scratch it. For the record, I’ve picked the ottoman up and turned it over. I’ve discovered that the cover is velcro’d on and can be removed to be washed or changed out for a different cover. There were no diamonds. No noise when I moved it around and it is too light to have drugs. So, if there’s something hidden in it, it will stay hidden. 

But if me and the Husband disappear…look to the ottoman.

 

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Bubble & Squeek for 21 Jan 2020

by Jennifer Brozek 21. January 2020 12:36

Awards: Woot! A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods has been long-listed for the Bram Stoker award in superior achievement in an anthology.

Blog: A Decade in Review. How does one review a decade of growth, change, expansion, and experience in a single career? Start with the stats and end with the lessons learned.

Podcast: Dire Multiverse, part 5 – A Wild, Hopping Tale. Answers and alliances come at the point of a gun as our heroes try to make it out with their lives intact while learning more about what’s driving Dana Lessington — and one of their own. 

Publication: SEASONS, the latest Valdemar anthology, has my 7th Valdemar story in it, “One Town at a Time.” It's the opening story. I love having anchor stories in anthologies.

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.

Spike in snow.

 

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Going Forward in 2020

by Jennifer Brozek 3. January 2020 12:59

I found a digital set of journal entries from 1990. It was my first real attempt at journaling. It was also before I understood what the internet was and that things written in digital form are forever unless you make a specific effort to get rid of them. I read the journal entries, had a good laugh and a small cringe, then I deleted them. No one needs to have access to private journal entries from 30 years ago when I was thrashing about in my college years.

Talk about hindsight being 2020…(and every other 2020 joke out there).

I’ve already rounded up 2019…and logged my accomplishments from the last decade of 2010-2019. I guess the only thing left is to talk about my plans for 2020. Hard numbers:

  • Write: 1 BattleTech novel, 1 SF novella, 5 short stories, [other projects in the works].
  • Edit: 2 BattleTech novels, 1 anthology, 1 Shadowrun novella, all contracted short stories, [other projects in the works].
  • Publications: 2 BattleTech novels, 1 anthology, 1 Shadowrun novella, [other projects in the works].
  • Travel: 6 conventions (speaking at 5, dealers table at 4).
  • Podcasts: Continue to be voice talent on the Dire Multiverse.

Life is more than the publishing business. Fantasy Jenn is waiting in the wings to get things done, too, including…

  • Read 5 nights a week.
  • Learn to pick locks. (This one is mostly for Apocalypse Girl.)
  • Get better at Beat Saber. (IE: shift from easy to normal mode on all songs)
  • Declutter sentimental things.

Fantasy Jenn is an interesting concept for me to play around with. Fantasy You is the person you buy hobbies for but never get invested in. Fantasy You is the person who is going to scale mountains, and foster kittens, but you never find the time. The same person who is always going to lose 10 lbs. and start eating healthy, but can never get in the habit.

Last year, I decided to start feeding Fantasy Jenn in a deliberate fashion. I actually started this accidentally in late 2018 when I changed my diet to feel better. I’m happy to say that I’m still 25 lbs. down despite the trauma of last year. I also decided it was time to declutter. I decluttered twice last year and the household is better for it.

This year, I’ve decided that I’m going to pick one thing that Fantasy Jenn wants and work at it for a month. If I don’t find joy or skill or use in it, I’m going to stop, put it down, and say good-bye to that fantasy. When I say good-bye to that fantasy, I’m going to say hello to the next dream that Fantasy Jenn has and work on it. I think that’s going to be the key in 2020. Work on one fantasy at a time.

I don’t have new year’s resolutions. I have yearly goals and I tend to stick to them. I suppose it’s because it keeps me feeling like a successful and productive person.

What about you? What fantasies will you work on this year?

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A Decade in Review

by Jennifer Brozek 28. December 2019 11:34

How does one review a decade of growth, change, expansion, and experience in a single career? Much less in an industry like the publishing industry? I suppose by starting with some of the stats from 2010 – 2019. Note, this is an imperfect list of stats. It doesn’t mention the number of words written, the stories submitted then rejected, the novels written and trunked, the journals, articles, and blog posts. But, really, you’ve got to start somewhere. That is what I’ve done.

  • Short stories published: 65
  • Fiction collections published: 4
  • Novellas published: 5
  • Novels published: 11
  • Omnibuses published: 2
  • Podcasts produced and published: 2
  • Comic books published: 1
  • Anthologies edited: 16
  • RPG books contributed to: 7
  • RPG books written/co-written: 6
  • Award nominations: 18 (including 2 Bram Stoker awards and a Hugo award)
  • Awards won: 7 (including an AU Shadows award, an ENnie award, an Origins award, and a Scribe award)

Gotta admit, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. In 2010, if you’d told me that one day I’d be an internationally published author and editor who’d been nominated for both the Bram Stoker and the Hugo award, I would’ve laughed at you and said it was a nice idea. I thought those things were so far out of my reach that I couldn’t imagine it. If you’d told me that I’d get to write for some of my favorite non-RPG properties like VWars, Valdemar, and Predator, I would’ve wondered what you’d been drinking. Stuff like that didn’t happen to me.

Then again, I didn’t know I was going to start my own publishing house.
…Or serve a term as a Director-at-Large of SFWA.
…Or volunteer for the HWA.
…Or be a Guest of Honor at ten different conventions, including conventions in Sweden and Finland.
…Or get an agent after I’d given up the search.

In truth, this is no real way to quantify a decade of my career in a meaningful manner that gives the scope of “everything.” I’ve always been ambitious when it comes to my career. I’ve got plans for the next decade. I’m sure they’ll change. But, that’s all right.

I’ll leave you with some lessons I’ve learned along the way.

  • Share the love. Publishing is not a zero sum game. No one has to lose for you to win. Eventually we will work together on a project.
  • Default to being kind. Publishing is a small industry.
  • Write what you love and what you want to read. My greatest success has come from settling in to write exactly what I want to write and to love what I do.
  • Figure out what kind of writing career you want. Casual? Part-time? Full-time? Just hang out with other writers? It’s all good. The sooner you realize what you actually want, the better it will be for you.
  • You are allowed to change your mind and to change direction. Shift gears on the type of story telling you do. Flash? Podcasts? Epic novel series? One-off books? Tie-in work?
  • You are allowed to stop. To quit. To take a break. To rest.
  • You are allowed to start again. No one is going to take away your writing card.
  • There is no one path to a successful writing career. YOU determine what makes you a success. Self-pub? Big 5? Hybrid? It’s all fair game. This is one of the most exciting times in the publishing arena. Nothing is off-limits.


Of course, the last decade wouldn’t have been as successful as it’s been without the Husband’s support. He helped make it all possible. For that, I am ever-grateful.

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My 2019 Scorecard

by Jennifer Brozek 18. December 2019 14:21

In the annual tradition of every freelance writer’s need to justify themselves, here is my 2019 Scorecard. How did I do at what I do most? Overall, pretty good, I think. I succeeded more than I failed. Though, I didn’t complete everything I wanted to get done.

Short Story Submissions: 7

  • Acceptances: 5
  • Rejections: 1
  • Pending: 1

This is a very good look for me. Though, in truth, 5 of the 7 short stories were commissioned. I rarely have time to write for markets that are not guaranteed.

New Words Written: 125,130

  • Short: 24,130
  • Long: 101,000

That equates to 4 new short stories, 1 new RPG project, 1 novella, and 1 novel. In the grand scheme of things, this about 60% of what I normally write. However, life was not as kind to me as it had been in the past. The death of loved ones makes writing hard.

Published Projects: 7

  • 2 novels: BattleTech: Iron Dawn and Shadowrun: Makeda Red
  • 1 anthology: A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods
  • 3 short stories: “Between a Corp and a Hard Place” (Shadowrun), “Written in Red” (Emberwind), “One Town at a Time” (Valdemar)
  • 1 podcast: ShadowBytes (Shadowrun)


Awards: 2

  • 1 Won: 2019 Rainforest Writers Inspirational Award.
  • 1 Nomination: To Fight the Black Wind - finalist for the 2019 Raven Award for Horror/Thriller novel.


Conventions Attended: 5
This is less than half of the number of conventions attended in 2018…by design. I attended 12 in 2018 and that was too much. That’s one of my goals for 2019 succeeded.

Goals for the Year: 6
Succeeded: 4

  • Fewer conventions attended.
  • Declutter the House.
  • Expand my Creative Horizons (Twitch game and Voice talent on the Dire Multiverse).
  • Continue focus on my physical health.


Failed: 2

  • Figure out my crafting situation (All the crafts are still languishing).
  • Curious Fictions (This failed. I didn’t want to keep it up and Ko-Fi was easier and more people have brightened my day with it.)


Next up, a look at the last decade. I think I’ve come a long way and I should celebrate that.

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The ShadowBytes Podcast

by Jennifer Brozek 24. November 2019 14:27

It has been an eventful couple of weeks. I didn’t have a chance to cheer about the final ShadowBytes podcast episode being released. With that, the eight episode series is done. I wrote and recorded each of the ShadowBytes episodes after Damien from The Violent Life Shadowrun podcast asked if I would like to work with him. Three of the episodes were excerpts from my Shadowrun novella, DocWagon 19. The other five episodes were a loosely linked story that told the origin and motivation of a shadowrunner who’d once been a happy corporate wage slave.

There are a couple of little things in each episode that I really like. The short format of the stories leans itself to hint at a much greater world without spelling it out. In one episode, I foreshadow the end. In another, I get to use a character who starred in a Shadowrun story called, “Between a Corp and a Hard Place.” In another episode, I hint at the origin story of another shadowrunner… assuming she survives long enough to run the shadows. In still another, I play with the trope of an easy run. In the final episode, a take an emo trope and turn it on its head. It’s a fun series.

If you are interested in other podcasts by me, I have Five Minute Stories. All 26 episodes are online and free. Each one is a standalone modern day supernatural flash fiction piece. I am also voice talent in an urban fantasy podcast called the Dire Multiverse. I voice a couple of different characters.

I do like podcasting. I’d like to do more of it. I’m just not sure what. Yet.

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2019 Awards Eligibility Post

by Jennifer Brozek 18. November 2019 11:45

As the year moves into the last month of the year, it’s time to remind the world what you had published in 2019 and is eligible for the forthcoming awards season. For me, it was 1 anthology, 2 novels, 3 short stories, and 1 podcast. Not bad despite the horrendousness of my personal life this year.


Anthology: A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods. YA, Lovecraft.
Teenagers fighting Elder Gods in the modern ages. Sometimes they win. Sometimes they lose. Sometimes they fall to temptation.



Novel: BattleTech – Iron Dawn. YA, Military Scifi.
The first of a trilogy. Orphaned siblings need to take matters into their own hands when the enemy comes knocking on their adopted home world. This is where hard-bitten military veterans come from…if they can survive.



Novel: Shadowrun – Makeda Red. Adult, Science fantasy (the Matrix meets Tolkien meets Bladerunner).
An homage to Casablanca’s back story. It begins with a train heist across Europe and gets messy, complicated, and deadly in a hurry. High adventure, fun, and a bit sexy.

Short Story: Shadowrun – “Between a Corp and a Hard Place.” Adult, Science fantasy.
This one was a five part serial short story published in Gama Trade Magazine. It’s a kidnapping become willing extraction as two factions bargain with the same runner team for the same target. And, of course, nothing is what it seems to be.

Short Story: Emberwind – “Written in Red.” Co-written with John Helfers. Adult, Steampunk fantasy.
Available online, this story skims the top of the double and triple dealings that happen in the Red Market of Adriel. The question is…who controls who?

Short Story: Valdemar – “One Town at a Time.” Adult, Traditional fantasy.
For those who love the Heralds of Valdemar, sometimes it’s fun to go back to normal Heralds in the field, dealing with unexpected discoveries the best they can. One of my most upbeat Valdemar stories.



Podcast: Shadowrun – ShadowBytes. Eight episode series hosted by The Violent Life podcast.
Available online. Eight pieces of Shadowrun fiction. Three are excerpts from my novella, DocWagon 19. Five are linked flash fiction pieces that give you a glimpse into the hard life of running in the shadows. Dark and gritty.

Over all, I’m pleased. Every story was commissioned and contracted. These all came out in and around writing a novel, a novella, writing several short stories, attending multiple conventions, dealing with the death of my father, dealing with the death of a mentor, and one of my cats having surprise surgery.

 

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Days Go By

by Jennifer Brozek 13. November 2019 09:03

Days go by until days become weeks and weeks become a month. I’ve spent most of this last month writing hard on my BattleTech: Ghost Hour novel and mostly avoiding the internet. Now that I can see the end of it—four or five scenes left—I can say this novel isn’t going to be the death of me. But, I gotta tell you, it was a hard book to write. Mostly because of the circumstances in my life. I really hope Crimson Night goes easier. (Note: I finished the novel before I managed to post this blog post. :) )

I still think of my Dad a lot. I think of John, too. Less often though. John and I didn’t have a complicated relationship. We were writers, gamers, and dreamers. We had a lot in common—married, with pets, book collections, mutual friends. It was a good relationship. My Dad and me, the relationship was a lot more complicated and messy. But, I find myself thinking mostly of the good things about him these days. It makes things easier somehow.

For the first time in a long time, I’m going to spend Thanksgiving and my birthday with my mom. (Like a decade for Thanksgiving that I can remember, and longer than that for my birthday.) I’m going to help her with some house stuff. And, I think, since I’m staying with her, it’ll be a good visit to reconnect with her. (I still say “my parents’ stuff” about a lot of things and have to remember to change it to “my mom’s” thing.) It’s going to be mostly me, mom, and my sister. I’m looking forward to it.

The Husband won’t be coming with me. He’s got the cats, the house, and a couple of appointments to deal with in my absence. We’ve realized that this forthcoming trip is going to be the longest he and I have spent apart since we before we got married. I’m going to miss him. I know it. We’ll have Skype and Discord, and texting. But, I will miss him. And the kitties—who will believe I have abandoned them forevermore, I’m sure.

I think the visit is going to be a good life break. I’ll turn in Ghost Hour before I leave. I’ll get it back after I get home. My wrists will have gotten a break. So will my mind. Part of me has grand plans to write the rough of a novella while I’m in North Carolina. Part me of me has grand plans of sleeping a lot. We’ll see what actually happens. I suspect a little of column A and a little from column B. After all, the novella is already outlined.

We had another small tragedy in the last week. An abandoned kitten that Seanan was taking care of died. Nature sucks. It’s true. I’m sad about the kitten. She had a lot of life in her. I’m sad for Seanan. The whole situation was harder than it should’ve been…and I have nowhere to put this free floating anger that won’t hurt someone I care about. So, I’ve got to deal with it another way. Still working that one out, too.

Right now, I’m working to keep on keeping on. The staying calm part isn’t working so well, but I’m managing. Grief sucks, but little by little I get better. Baby steps.

I have an earworm because of this blog’s title: “Days Go By” – Dirty Vegas. You can have it, too.

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Tell Me – Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed

by Jennifer Brozek 16. October 2019 09:05

I’ve worked with Danielle many times. She’s one of the hardest working people in the indie and small press scene. This Kickstarter has just three days to go. I think you should check it out.

New Tales for Old…Retelling Classic Faerie Tales

It is always a challenge to rewrite a classic. You want to do it justice and capture the feel, but you also want to transform it and make it your own. When I had the idea to write a steampunk version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves one of the most important things for me was being culturally accurate. Not exactly easy when you are writing steampunk in an area not known for steampunk. I chose to approach this using two essential tools: a cultural consultant and history.

My cultural consultant—Day Al-Mohamed—ended up being my co-author. Not only did she help keep things accurate in terms of culture and faith, but also in capturing the essence of Middle Eastern storytelling conventions.

And the history…history offered a treasure trove of material that couldn’t have been more suited to our task if we’d written it ourselves. Both of us discovered many elements from the time period and before that supported our rendition of this story as a steampunk faerie tale.

Day and I would like to share with you a little of our experience writing Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn.

From Danielle Ackley-McPhail:

The East has a strong tradition of technological wonders. From puzzle boxes (Himitsu Bako)  to automatons to urban infrastructure, all of which we wove through our tale. One of the things I uncovered in my research was a Middle Eastern engineering book from the 13th century…yes, the 13th century. The title is The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices written by Al-Jazari. The book is significant enough to be republished even in modern times. What better foundation to support Ali’s interest in the art of building mechanical things. 

From Day Al-Mohamed:

I’m going to tell you about something that is in Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn but shouldn’t be.  Our book is based on the story  “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” from 1001 Nights (also referred to by many as Arabian Nights) and unlike the various Disney versions or even the famous Burton translation (trust me, that’s the version most people have read), we decided to be as authentic as possible and to go back to the sources: The first collection to ever be seen in Europe came from a 14th-century Syrian manuscript translated (very loosely) by Antoine Galland in the 1700s; and a second version, the Zotenberg’s Egyptian Recension, from the 1880s, which is the more “complete” version of the 1001 Nights. (Yup, big history nerding-out here.)

Here’s the big secret: Most people know the phrase “Open Sesame” from their own experiences or childhood familiarity with the 1001 Nights. They are the magic words to open the treasure cave.  What is interesting is that those words, as a magical means to open the cave, first appeared in Antoine Galland’s 1700s translation of the 1001 Nights. They did not exist in any earlier oral or written variants of the tale. It was completely made up by the Frenchman to make the tale seem more exotic.

“Open Sesame” is more fake than any modern interpretation or changes to the “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, but because it is so ingrained into Western society’s idea of a magical cave of wonders, we couldn’t get rid of it!

In Closing:

Five years ago Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn was released and immediately went out of print. We are thrilled to be able to rerelease the book through eSpec Books. We are currently running a campaign to fund the publication of this new edition, if you would like to check it out on Kickstarter.

 

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Good-bye My Friend

by Jennifer Brozek 10. October 2019 08:02

John A. Pitts AKA author J.A. Pitts has died of “amyloidosis of the heart”—an f’d up gene mutation that has no cure. I knew he was sick. I didn’t realize how sick until he reached out to a mutual friend and asked him to tell me so I could contact him. At the time, he had “six weeks” left to live. I’d planned to visit and tell him the whole story of the Rogue Academy trilogy. He loved BattleTech and my stories. Three days later he died.

I didn’t get to visit but I did get to text, to tell him how much he meant to me, and that I loved him. At least I got to do that. It’s hard telling people you love how much they mean to you when you know you’re telling them good-bye. I’ve done that twice now in the last six months. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. You have that tiny bit of closure to hold onto.

John (along with Jay Lake and Seanan McGuire) was pretty much my welcome wagon into the non-RPG publishing industry. I met him casually at Norwescon a couple of times. But I got to know him at the Rainforest Writers Retreat in 2010. Black Blade Blues was about to be released and he was nervous. He told me once, years later, that he was always nervous about a book release.

John exemplified one of my own personal mottos when it comes to the publishing industry: “Share the love.” Publishing is not a zero sum game. It’s a small world and, eventually, you will work with a lot of people—including your heroes. John always had a good word and an open ear to any writer he met. He was good about contacting me out of the blue, just to see how I was doing.

In my last face-to-face conversation with him, he asked me if I regretted not doing something due to my father’s illness and death. I told him no, because I hadn’t planned on doing that, I was going to do something else. I admitted to not handling my father’s death as well as I had wanted to. I think it was one of the reasons he didn’t tell me then and there how bad things were for him. He didn’t want to burden me with another impending death. That was how John was; always thinking about those around him first.

There are many things from our last text and face-to-face conversations that make sense in retrospect. Questions he asked me. Things we talked about. I will miss his messages, his hugs, and his advice. John was one in a million and I’m damned lucky to have known him. Also, I’m so very sad that memories are all I have left.

Good-bye my friend. I love you.

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Jennifer Brozek: Writerholic

Jennifer Brozek is a multi-talented, award-winning author, editor, and tie-in writer. She is the author of the Never Let Me Sleep, and The Last Days of Salton Academy, both of which were nominated for the Bram Stoker Award. Her BattleTech tie-in novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, won a Scribe Award. Her editing work has netted her a Hugo Award nomination as well as an Australian Shadows Award for Grants Pass. Jennifer’s short form work has appeared in Apex Publications, and in anthologies set in the worlds of Valdemar, Shadowrun, V-Wars, and Predator. Jennifer is also the Creative Director of Apocalypse Ink Productions, and was the managing editor of Evil Girlfriend Media and assistant editor for Apex Book Company.

Jennifer has been a freelance author, editor, tie-in writer for over ten years after leaving her high paying tech job, and she’s never been happier. She keeps a tight schedule on her writing and editing projects and somehow manages to find time to volunteer for several professional writing organizations such as SFWA, HWA, and IAMTW. She shares her husband, Jeff, with several cats and often uses him as a sounding board for her story ideas. Visit Jennifer’s worlds at jenniferbrozek.com.

"I see story ideas. All the time. They're everywhere. Just walking around like normal ideas. They don't know they're stories."