Jennifer Brozek | Wordslinger & Optimist!

Tell Me - Brandon Crilly

Brandon Crilly, author of Catalyst, talks about when characters do the unexpected and how it can benefit the writer. I’ve had this happen. In the third book of the Karen Wilson Chronicles, a tertiary character unexpected sacrificed himself, changing the course of the book and the rest of the series. Yeah, Brandon, *sage nod* I understand.

 Cover of Catalyst by Brandon Crilly

Characters have minds of their own once you flesh them out—and while it sounds bizarre to some people, we writers know that sometimes they’ll take control of the story while you’re drafting.

I tend to think of myself as an outliner, but really, I’m halfway to a pantser. My outline is part scene description for a play and part predictions about what will push my characters one way or another, and I don’t know everything that’s going to happen until I start drafting. That’s part of the fun for me—if I know everything ahead of time, there’s no need for me to write the draft because I won’t be surprised. (Maybe I’m secretly a writer chaotician. I do enjoy wearing a leather jacket.)

Because I’ve only outlined as much as I need and there’s lots of room for play, drafting sometimes means my characters react in ways I don’t expect. Small scale, it’s a particular line that comes across snarkier or more heartfelt than I would’ve thought, or one character turns to face the onrushing horde of spiders instead of leaping through the portal with their friends. But occasionally, as I’m drafting, one of my characters reacts in such a fundamentally different way than what I expect that it changes the entire path of that scene, if not the whole novel, and all I can do is watch. Like they’re directing my fingers on the keyboard.

Eerie, right? Unless you’ve had this moment, in which case we can nod sagely at each other across the table and ignore the folks giving us weird looks.

This happened during the drafting of Catalyst, in what’s become one of my favorite scenes of the book. Avoiding spoilers, my three central protagonists—street magician Mavrin, self-professed heretic Eyasu, and ex-soldier Deyeri—have their first moment of genuine quiet together after one dangerous or fast-paced moment after another, which started with being reunited after more than a decade. Starting to draft that scene, I thought it would be light and comfortable, as these three remember why they were friends for so long and realize that, even now, they have each other’s backs. Maybe even with a couple in-jokes.

Nope.

Partway through, Deyeri makes an offhand comment that makes Mavrin and Eyasu laugh – but as I was writing that laughter, suddenly I saw Mavrin start to come apart. He’s someone who’s not used to adventure, and carries around a lot of guilt, and the act of genuinely laughing at something for the first time in days suddenly let out a bunch of other emotions I’m not sure I realized he was carrying. And all I could do was figure out how Eyasu and Deyeri would react to what quickly became one of the most heartfelt moments in the entire novel.

Had I tried to force the scene in a different direction, it would’ve produced something awkward and probably not as good. Instead, drafting that scene felt like alchemy more than writing—which means that when it happens again, I’ll know to trust my characters and let them take charge for a bit.

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Brandon Crilly has been published by Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, Fusion Fragment, Haven Spec and other markets. He’s also an Aurora Award-winning podcaster, reviewer, conference organizer, and snake parent to a delightful corn snake named Bob. His debut fantasy novel Catalyst came out in October 2022 from Atthis Arts.

Thinking About Thinking as an Author

Here’s something I do as an author: I think. A lot. About pretty much everything in regards to writing any length of work. Admittedly, the shorter the work, the less I have to think about it unless it is something in a very, very specific format or is on something I am not super familiar with.

Right now, I’m thinking about my next YA Shadowrun novella, The Kilimanjaro Run. It is the fourth in the series (even though each novella is standalone, there is a throughput line). It’s taken me weeks to figure out what POV this novella should be written in. Partly because I’m not familiar with the physical location where the novella will be taking place. Partly because I couldn’t decide who would be the best point of view character. That difficulty has come down to not having the confidence/experience to write the story from the POV character I would like to write it from. Thus, after much internal debate (and my editor’s approval), I will write it from the POV character I am most comfortable with, and the one the readers would be most likely to forgive should I muck things up. I have already hired a sensitivity reader. Hopefully, that will help with the not-mucking-up part of things.

In the meantime, I’m thinking…about the story…about the characters…about specific scenes. Basically, thinking about everything I’m going to write. I haven’t written much yet. Art notes for the cover (talk about putting the cart before the horse). An nascent outline. Character names with 1-3 lines of background. Facts about hippopotamuses and Tanzania. The first paragraph in the story (which I’m sure I’m going to toss out and start over, but it’s easy to start with a brief edit than to stare at the tyranny of the blank page). Probably about 600 words in total.

What does thinking about writing look like? For me, it looks like playing PokemonGO, cleaning my house, folding laundry, or doing some other bit of busy work that keeps most of me occupied while my creative part churns. I’m making inspired butter out of creative cream (or is that creative butter out of inspired cream?). Today, thinking looks like updating every single one of my apple devices because I bought more music for the first time in forever. It also looks like processing author bios for my anthology 99 Fleeting Fantasies. And eating lunch. And staring off into space, occasionally having an argument with myself or with the characters in my head. Not to mention writing this blog post.

While it doesn’t look like much, it is hard work. It is mentally taxing. It can be physically tiring. But it’s not the “sexy” part of writing. It’s not really a thing you can show without being stereotypical—and what you “show” is what writer’s block looks like. It’s funny how a writer thinking looks like writer’s block to someone who doesn’t write. It shows the fundamental disconnect between the writer and the reader.

The best way I can describe an author thinking to a reader who is not a writer is an earworm. An earworm of the literary kind in the best, most distracting, way. You don’t know the complete tune, nor do you know all the words, but it is enticing. You know it. But you don’t really know it, yet. You will…but only after it is on the page and has been edited a half a dozen times. Then you will know what the song/story really was all along.

So, that’s what and how I’m doing. What about you?

 

Mena being adorable in the cat tower.

Bubble and Squeek for 13 Oct 2022

Today's Bubble & Squeek is brought to you by the letter "E" for edit because that's what my main focus is on right now.

Publication: Tales of Nightmares anthology edited by Loren Rhoads with my story “Twenty Questions” in it. It’s getting some nice reviews!


Pre-Order: Truumeel’s Light. Space opera novel. Part one of the Tears of Perseus story written with five other fabulous authors, including Kevin J Anderson.  

Review: What a lovely and in-depth review of The Reinvented Heart anthology from http://www.llamareadsbooks.com/. I really do like this anthology.

Review: Cannonball Read reviews The Reinvented Heart anthology and likes it! Another good one.

Review: A great, detailed review of Tales of Nightmares anthology. One of my oldest stories is reprinted in this one.

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.

Time is Moving Again

Every single year I swear I’m not going to do this to myself again…and yet…here I am. 3.5 months left to the year and I’ve got 4 decently-sized projects due before the end of the year (2 novellas, 2 anthologies). I’m also teaching a couple more classes and I’m attending Can*Con virtually. I suppose the difference is the fact that I took two months off in the middle of summer to rest. And by “rest” I mean “not writing.” I think it helped.

In the last 5-6 weeks or so, I’ve attended Gen Con in person, attended Chicon virtually, Queen Elizabeth II died (feelings are complicated on this one) and I got my omicron booster/flu shot. I’m settling in for a whole lot of butt-in-the-chair-fingers-on-the-keyboard. I have no scheduled or even planned “travel” until next year April. There is a bit of relief in that.

Of course, part of me is itching to get my signature on a new contract. As of now, I don’t know exactly what I’m doing next year. I mean, there’s Secret Project A, Secret Project B, and Secret Project C in the works. All of which would take a whole lot of time. I still have two more Shadowrun novels to write to finish out my unofficial trilogy and the YA series. Not to mention, I’m also itching to work on my own stuff—a languishing SF novella and a “men’s soap opera” series I’ve been thinking about for years now...

And yet…there is security and comfort in having signed contracts.

Thus, it feels like time is running away with me. I know it’s not. I know if I keep working at a steady pace, everything will come together and I should even have a couple weeks of “nothing” at the end of the year. But, we all know that deadlines and projects slip and slid until they bunch up against each other in the same two week period. 

Until then, slow and steady wins the day.

Here's a shelfie of densely packed dark academia fancy.

My Chicon Virtual Panel Schedule

Gen Con in person was really good. I’m so glad I went. I got to see people I hadn’t seen in years as well as make new friends. Also, all Covid tests for me and the Husband were negative.

I will be attending Chicon 8 / Worldcon virtually this year. They’ve put me on a series of interesting virtual panels, hosted by Airmeet. I’ve used the virtual conference software before and think it does a pretty good job.

Space/Time: Airmeet Table Talks Thursday, September 1, 2022, 1:00 PM CDT / 11AM PDT
Title: Virtual Table Talk - Jennifer Brozek
Participants
: Jennifer Brozek
Description: Jennifer Brozek talks about the anthology editing process—solo and collaborative. With 20+ anthologies published and nominations for the BFA, Stoker, and Hugo awards, come hear how she chooses stories and how your story can stand out from the rest. Happy to answer questions.

Space/Time: Airmeet 5 Friday, September 2, 2022, 2:30 PM CDT / 12:30PM PDT
Title: The Final Girl
Participants
: Jennifer Brozek (m), She/her; Bitter Karella, He/Him, She/Her, or They/Them; John Wiswell, He/Him; L. Marie Wood, She/her; Tania Chen, She/Her, or They/Them
Description: In slasher and haunted house stories, it's a trope that the last surviving character is a woman—often a modest, virginal, and frequently white woman. But lately, creators have been confronting this idea and subverting it. We'll talk about our favorite classic examples of the trope, question its problematic framings and assumptions, and discuss our favorite works that twist or outright reject the idea. Will "The Final Girl" itself survive, and should it?

Space/Time: Airmeet 1 Saturday, September 3, 2022, 5:30 PM CDT / 3:30PM PDT
Title: How Horror and SFF Blend
Participants
: Cora Buhlert (m) She/her; Bob J. Koester, He/him; Emma Osborne, They/them; Jennifer Brozek, She/her; L. Marie Wood, She/her
Description: Horror has often overlapped with SFF—hello, Frankenstein! Lately it seems like we're seeing a rise in horror elements in popular SFF, including many recent Hugo winners and nominees. What makes horror blend well with science fiction or fantasy? Are there challenges or problems with mixing the genres? And how do cosmic horror, the Weird, and New Weird fit into this discussion? Come find out whether or not anyone can hear you scream . . . in space!

Space/Time: Airmeet 2 Sunday, September 4, 2022, 1:00 PM CDT / 11AM PDT
Title: Short and Sweet: Crafting an Elevator Pitch
Participants
: Jennifer Brozek (m), She/her; Dan Koboldt, He/him; John E. Stith, He/him; Leah Cypess, She/her; Tabitha Lord, She/her
Description: Success is equal parts preparations and luck—so be prepared when luck puts you in the right place at the right time! How do you get ready for a pitch opportunity with an editor or producer, when you may have less than a minute to sell your dream project?

Space/Time: Airmeet 4 Sunday, September 4, 2022, 4:00 PM CDT / 2PM PDT
Title: The Glories of the Tie-In Novel

Participants: Kate Heartfield (m), She/her; Jeffrey A. Carver, He/him; Jennifer Brozek, She/her; Marie Brennan, She/her; Suyi Davies Okungbowa, He/him
Description: Often-scoffed at, but supporting many a writer, and sometimes a secret way to develop ideas and voice: let's talk about media tie-in novels! What's it like working within those boundaries? Let's talk about "capturing the feel of the original" versus "finding a way to do something new in a familiar setting."

Gen Con Bound

I will be at Gen Con this year, in person, in the Writers Symposium and in Authors Avenue (Booth U) in the Dealer’s Room. My schedule is all over the place and I suspect I will spend a lot of time running between the Downtown Marriott where the Symposium is held and the Convention Center Dealer’s Room(PDF).

That said, there is a “no shyness” zone around me. If you see me and want to say hello, please do so. Though, you may have to keep up with me if I’m moving from one area to another.

If I’m not at a panel, I’m at my booth. If I’m not at my booth, the Husband will know where I am. Hope to see you there!

My Symposium Schedule

Thursday

  • 11:00 AM, Marriott : Atlanta - The Full-Time Myth
  • 2:00 PM, Marriott : Atlanta - Rated R: Writing Sex Scenes
  • 5:00 PM, Marriott : Ballroom 1 - Blank Page Blues
  • 8:00 PM, Convention Center : Wabash 1 - Meet the Pros Party

Friday

  • 11:00 AM, Marriott : Ballroom 1 - Spit and Polish
  • 2:00 PM, Marriott : Ballroom 1 - Gamifying Stories and Storifying Games
  • 4:00 PM, Marriott : Austin - Writing in 3D

Saturday

  • 11:00 AM, Dealers Room, Booth 1611, Catalyst Game Labs Author Signing
  • 1:00 PM, Marriott : Atlanta - When One Book Becomes Many
  • 5:00 PM, Marriott : Austin - Defining Traits in Writing

 

Authors Avenue Map

Bubble and Squeek for 29 Jun 2022

As the world continues to spin and time slips away, life happens. I'm back to writing as well as editing while trying to ignore social media. In the meantime, here's what's crossed my desk.

Awards: BattleTech: Crimson Night, Rogue Academy Three, has been nominated for a Scribe award! It's always an honor to be nominated, but just look at that lineup. I'm in such good company.

Interview: I was interviewed on the Douglas Coleman show. This was a fun one. Listen to it on Youtube or in Podcast form.

Open Call: Announcing the 99 Fleeting Fantasies anthology open call. All genres of flash fiction fantasy. One month open call from July 15-Aug 15. (Also, might I  direct your attention to: Round One of Slush Reading from the 99 Tiny Terrors call. Or The Reinvented Detective Slushpile Tweets round up for insider tips and hints on making it through a slushpile.)  

Publication: For the HWA Of Horror and Hope anthology: Words to Fill the Well. I wrote this one because I was in a terrible mood and needed to write it out. It did me so much good.

Released: New thing I edited now for sale from Priebe Press... 2d6 Superfast One Shot character sheets and game mechanics! It's a fun, quick system to use.

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.

Leeloo in my suitcase, trying to make sure I don't leave without her.

 

Tell Me - Gregory A. Wilson

Greg Wilson, an author, professor, and friend of mine, has a kickstarter going for his Grayshade novels and RPG—a worthy endeavor. Today, he tells me about the eponymous Grayshade character of the series and why he would write about such a person.

 

The thing about Grayshade is: he’s a killer.

This is a pretty clear conclusion from the get-go, when you’re dealing with an assassin. And Grayshade is no ordinary assassin; he’s an elite Acolyte in the Order of Argoth, tasked with eliminating targets assigned to him by his superiors, and uplifted and stabilized by his faith in Argoth, the Just God. But he’s also a man with a conscience, who for years has shielded himself from the full consequences of his actions with routine and ritual. Grayshade sees himself as a surgeon with a scalpel, not a butcher with a cleaver; he only kills his assigned targets, and only when (and as much as) his faith, the tenets of which are taught and conveyed by the Order, demands it.

Yet as I try to show in the book and have discussed elsewhere, this is ultimately a fool’s game. You cannot have a conscience and be protected from monstrous actions. You cannot face trauma after trauma and not pay a price for facing them. For all of the rituals and mantras and meditations, in the end Grayshade is a killer, plain and simple, no matter what the motivations behind his actions are. It’s not until those motivations are stripped away, until he’s shown what’s actually at the core of his faith, that he’s forced to confront who he actually is, knowledge which almost destroys him.

Why write about someone like this? Surely we get enough stories/movies about killers, and beyond the constant drumbeat of stories of real life murderers, the inner life of someone willing to (repeatedly) kill others is actually terrifically boring—on a basic level, a murder is the ultimate act of petty selfishness, the elimination of the most fundamental right to fulfill a individual desire driven by hatred, or vengeance, or “justice” (which in Grayshade may amount to the same thing). I was conscious of all of this when writing the novel, and in the beginning, I wasn’t particularly interested in Grayshade as killer, but Grayshade as thinker and planner, one elite operative up against an organization with far superior resources and motivation to get their people into line. Yet as I continued to write and revise, I became more interested in what drove someone like Grayshade to become what he was…and more important, what could drive him away from it again, and keep him on that path back to better action.

Grayshade himself knows that on one level there’s no redeeming what he’s done in the past. No matter what he thought were the reasons for what he does, no matter how much a potentially good person might have been manipulated into becoming a tool for the evil acts of others, the acts are what they are. But in a way, the journey forward, away from the evil, is more important than whatever the destination is. Like The Equalizer’s Robert McCall or Jason Bourne or Nikita, Grayshade’s decision to seek a new path is, to me, a fundamentally human act of hope, driven by a desire to be better tomorrow than he was today…and it was both fascinating, and even moving, to document that journey. As to where the journey ultimately concludes?

Well, like Grayshade, that’s something you’ll only know when you get there. Until then, I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I have.

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Gregory A. Wilson is Professor of English at St. John's University in New York, where he teaches creative writing and speculative fiction. Outside academia he is the author of the epic fantasy The Third Sign, the award-winning graphic novel Icarus, the dark fantasy Grayshade (with a just launched IP Kickstarter), and the D&D adventure/sourcebook Tales and Tomes from the Forbidden Library, plus a number of published short stories. He co-hosts the actual play podcast Speculate! (speculatesf.com) and is co-coordinator of the Origins Authors Alcove. Under the moniker Arvan Eleron, he runs a Twitch channel focused on narrative, with many sponsored TTRPG campaigns featuring authors, editors, actors, and artists. He lives with his family in Connecticut; his virtual home is https://www.gregoryawilson.com/.

Tell Me – Chris McKinney

Today, Chris McKinney tells me how finally including his childhood loves and memories into his fiction gave him a breath of new life—personally and professionally. As a child of the eighties, I can see myself in him. As an author who had her own rediscovery of self, I empathize with him.

 

Blade Runner, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Road Warrior, Heavy Metal—when I was a child, these were among my favorite things. Then, later, when gaming emerged, Baldur’s Gate, Final Fantasy, Fallout, Everquest, Bioshock, Mass Effect—I couldn’t get enough to the point where I had to stop (my last brief relapse was Red Dead Redemption II—but I digress). However, despite all these influences, their impact on my writing was minimal for years. After all, I was taught in graduate school that fiction writing is serious business.

It took a couple of decades for me to understand that, sure, fiction is serious, but it can be fun, too. I wanted to have fun, so I decided to delve into speculative fiction that paid homage to my childhood loves. I didn’t want to copy these things, but I didn’t shy away from their influence either. The result is Midnight, Water City, the first book in a trilogy. It’s set in 2142, and is a mash up of murder mystery, cyberpunk, noir, and eco-fiction. It’s fusion like I’m fusion. I’m a Korean, Japanese, Scottish American who was born and raised on an island in the middle of the Pacific. I live three blocks away from a huge Chinese graveyard. I live one mile away from a waterfall next to an arboretum that fights to preserve endangered Hawaiian plant species. My Japanese American stepfather is an aging vet who was a LRRP in Vietnam. So guess what? Graveyards, waterfalls, indigenous plant life, and an old war vet—I threw all this in the trilogy, too.

I’ve also spent just about my entire life in, and near, the ocean, so I figured, why not? Let’s toss in an underwater city as well. Books that I’ve written in the past, “serious” regional fiction that has been well-received over the years, really only revealed parts of me. My first book, a semi-autobiographic novel that ignores the childhood loves that I mention above. My second, loosely based on some of my grandparents’ experiences during and after the Korean War. A couple of novels about addiction, which I’ve struggled with in the past. But I revealed more of myself in Midnight, Water City than any other book. My love of the ocean and my anxiety of the future. My lifelong jones for sci-fi and fantasy. The looming sensation and fear that I don’t see things the way most others do and that a big part of my life has been me barreling through existence and leaving wreckage behind. These books, are, in fact, the most personal and “serious” I’ve ever written. They also pressed my imagination more than it had ever been pressed before.

But they’re meant to be fun, too. I hope some of the joy that I felt while worldbuilding is reflected on the page. I also sadistically hope that readers feel the twinge of terror that one can feel when underwater. We’ve all been there, some literally, most figuratively, drowning and on the verge of swimming ourselves to death. Perhaps some of us emerge from the water gasping and decide that it’s time to rethink past choices, that it’s time for a rebrand. We lean on our childhood loves and catch our breaths. Midnight, Water City is a rebrand like that for me. One that I, personally and professionally, very much needed.

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Chris McKinney was born in Honolulu and grew up in Kahaluu on the island of Oahu. He is the author of Midnight, Water City, book one of the Water City trilogy. It was named a Best Mystery of 2021 by Publisher’s Weekly and a Best Speculative Mystery of 2021 by CrimeReads. The paperback edition will be released June 14, 2022 and includes the first two chapters of Eventide, Water City, book two of the Water City trilogy. Book two will be released summer 2023.

Chris has written six other novels: The Tattoo, The Queen of Tears, Bolohead Row, Mililani Mauka, Boi No Good, and Yakudoshi: Age of Calamity. He currently resides in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Bubble and Squeek for 6 June 2022

There is much that goes on in a writer's life. Here's some of things I've been working on in the background.

Open Call: Announcing the 99 Fleeting Fantasies anthology open call. All genres of flash fiction fantasy. One month open call from July 15-Aug 15. (And might I also direct your attention to: Round One of Slush Reading from the 99 Tiny Terrors call. Or The Reinvented Detective Slushpile Tweets round up.)  

Interview: The ever-talented Cat Rambo interviewed me for Horror Tree and I got to tell one of my most favorite stories about frightening an entire room of convention goers.

Interview: My Favorite Bit about The Reinvented Heart anthology. Sometimes, the best part of the project is the people we work with.

Interview: Bookish Brews asked me and Cat Rambo what we love about The Reinvented Heart anthology. There is so much to love in this anthology.

Interview: From Nerds of a Feather… Six Books with Jennifer Brozek. Six is not enough. Some many books have touched my life.  

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.

Three kitties who did not want to get off my lap.