Jennifer Brozek | August 2017

Tell Me - Wendy N. Wagner

by Jennifer Brozek 22. August 2017 08:47

Wendy N. Wagner is one of those people who lights up a room when she walks in. Every time I’ve seen her, she’s been happy, outgoing, and welcoming. She is also an excellent storyteller and a fine editor. A pleasant triple threat in the publishing industry. I am always happy to see her.
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I thought An Oath of Dogs was going to be a short story about wolves. You see, people have had a tremendously complicated and unpleasant relationship with wolves over the millennia. They’ve killed us; we’ve killed them. They’ve eaten our livestock; we’ve destroyed their habitat. And before we pushed them to the very edges of our landscapes, we found a way to drown out their uncanny voices in the night: We started telling stories about them. From Norse mythology to Baltic folk legends to Grimms’ fairy tales, wolves have played an outsized role as the villain in human culture.

When we started writing novels, we brought the wolf along to fill up pages. If you’ve read JRR Tolkien, then you know about wargs: bigger, scarier, more evil wolves that pal around with orcs and goblins to terrify elves and hobbits. What you might not know is that the word “warg” comes from Old English and simply means “wolf.” That’s right: a regular old wolf. For people living in the northern parts of Europe before guns and electricity, that was scary enough. Wolf attacks, although probably far more rare than European records suggest, were a legitimate danger. (For a very thorough examination of wolf attacks on the human population, I recommend this report from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research: http://bit.ly/2uw5bjr. Editor’s note: clicking this link will download a PDF doc.) And a rabid wolf—rabies being one of the most common causes of a wolf attack—must have been far more terrifying and destructive than an ordinary wolf. Maddened with disease, frothing at the mouth, biting anything that stood in its path, a rabid wolf must have seemed much more like one of Tolkien’s wargs than the forerunner of man’s best friend.

But in Old Norwegian, “warg” doesn’t only mean “wolf.” It also means “outlaw” or “criminal,” and in some contexts even came to mean “evil.” Learning this little linguistic chestnut sparked a fire in my brain. I wanted to explore the connections between wolves and outlaws, between canids and evil, and between evil and humanity. The more I dug, the more I realized that if I wanted to talk about humanity, then I needed to write, not about wolves, but their domesticated brethren: dogs.

Dogs are not wolves, and people don’t treat the two species the same way. But dogs come from wolves, and like wolves, we’ve had a long, strange history with them. While today most dogs are beloved house pets, that wasn’t always the case. Feral dog packs have eaten humanity’s garbage for centuries, and even the Bible discusses the common occurrence of dogs disturbing dead bodies: “Him that dieth of Jeroboam in the city shall the dogs eat,” (1 Kings 14:11, King James version). In the United States alone, more than four million people are bitten by dogs every year, with nearly two dozen people dying from dog attacks. And roaming wild dogs are an even bigger threat in some places. For example, Australia has organized massive wild dog management programs to manage dog predation on livestock, going so far as to build the world’s largest fence to keep them out of Queensland’s sheep country. These dogs are not the furry little pals that ride around in our purses or pad alongside us while we’re out for a walk. These dogs are big trouble, and our relationship with them is toxic and complicated.

In fact, the more I thought about dogs and wolves and people, the more complicated my story became. My fantasy short story about wolves grew more characters, moved onto another planet, and acquired a cast of friendly tame dogs and vicious wild ones, as well as an entire community that had to deal with them. I drew on Norse mythology and philosophical discussions of evil to shape my story, and I wound up throwing my characters (dog and human) into some pretty terrifying situations.

I loved writing An Oath of Dogs. It was the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything, and I’m really happy I got to take that one odd bit of Old English and spin it into a web of mystery, science fiction, and the fantastic. It’s a book that’s not just for animals lovers, but word nerds, too.
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Wendy N. Wagner is a full-time nerd. She is the managing/associate editor Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines, and has published more than forty short stories about heroes, monsters, and other wacky stuff. Her third novel, a sci-fi thriller called An Oath of Dogs, was recently released by Angry Robot Books. She lives with her very understanding family in Portland, Oregon, and you can keep up with her exploits at winniewoohoo.com.

 

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Tell Me - Dawn Vogel

by Jennifer Brozek 15. August 2017 08:20

Dawn Vogel is one of those people who seems unassuming and sweet. Then you see the catnip eyeballs she’s created or read something she’s written, and know she’s anything but. I very much enjoy every time we meetup.
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Cross and Circle all started with a strange quote I found:

“Please inform me how many cars have now been marked with the cross on top or with the circle.”

This was in an actual memo from 1946. I know that it was some employee within the Bureau of Indian Affairs asking another BIA employee about goings-on on a southwestern reservation, but I didn’t record any more details than the quote and the year. Something about the quote struck me as odd, just the sort of thing that would make a good story seed. So it sat on my phone, in the notes, for a good long while.

I also wrote a little character description, possibly around the same time that I found this quote. It described an older gentleman I saw out and about, who had the sort of wrinkled, suntanned skin that told a story all its own. I didn’t originally connect these two pieces, but I dutifully added this character description to the pile of notes on my phone.

It took a while before I found the final piece that would turn these disparate ideas into an actual story, but at some point afterward, I read something about pecked crosses, which are a common petroglyph found in parts of the American Southwest, as well as in Mexico and points farther south. They can be found all over the world, though they’re sometimes called sun crosses or any number of other names. And with these three pieces in place, the rest of the idea clicked.

At first, I thought it would be a short story. But when my beta readers got to the end of the early drafts, they weren’t satisfied by the ending. And neither was I, when it came down to it. So I poked at the pieces a little bit more, and wound up with a REALLY long story—one that had reached a point of unwieldiness that went from “short story” firmly into “novelette” territory. This made it a hard sell for most magazines, who often set their upper limit for word count around 8,000 or 10,000 words, so I eventually settled on self-publishing it.

The story got a few more rounds of edits, and a new final scene, before it was really done. But I wound up pleased with what this one unusual quote, the older gentleman, and a random piece of information had spawned.

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Bio: Dawn Vogel writes and edits both fiction and non-fiction. Her academic background is in history, so it’s not surprising that much of her fiction is set in earlier times. By day, she edits reports for historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business, co-edits Mad Scientist Journal, and tries to find time for writing. She is a member of Broad Universe and an associate member of SFWA. Her first novel, Brass and Glass: The Cask of Cranglimmering, is available from Razorgirl Press. She lives in Seattle with her awesome husband (and fellow author), Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. Visit her at historythatneverwas.com, or follow her on Twitter @historyneverwas.

 

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Bubble & Squeek for 14 Aug 2017

by Jennifer Brozek 14. August 2017 08:30

Article: Another Word: The Subtle Art of Promotion by Cat Rambo. This is an article worth reading.

Blog: 10 Things I Learned While I Was A Director-At-Large for SFWA. There's a lot you can learn by volunteering with a 501(c)3 organization. Most of it unexpected.

Interview: With me on Black Gate Magazine by Elizabeth Crowens. One of my favorite interviews to date with one of my favorite magazines.

Released: Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales has been released! This one was a long time coming.

Convention: Gen Con: It's this week! I will be in the Dealer’s room Authors Avenue in booth H (Apocalypse Ink Productions) for 90% of the time I will be at Gen Con. If I’m not there, the Husband will know where I am and when I will be back. In the evenings, I’m most likely going to be at the Downtown Marriott in the lounge or the bar. (Usually called the Red Dragon Inn for Gen Con.) Come say hello, get a novel signed, or buy my convention only book or brand new AIP candle.

Hope to see you there!

 

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Tell Me - Wendy Hammer

by Jennifer Brozek 8. August 2017 11:05

Wendy Hammer is one of the first authors I knew nothing about that I took a chance on. It paid off. Here she is talking about how she worked to overcome her technical writing weaknesses while writing the Cross Cutting Trilogy.
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One of my all-time favorite con panels compared writer skills to a deck of cards. They said every writer has been dealt a hand. These cards are things that seem to come to us naturally: the ones it’s hard to talk about or teach because it just flows. Some writers may have an ear for dialogue whereas others may have speed, or amazing organization, a way with character, a strong voice, and so on. The cards we don’t have in our hand are the things we have to study, practice, pay attention to, and work hard for.

I wasn’t given an action card.

Describing the complex geometry of movement, grasping physics, and navigating my characters through spaces are all tough for me. This made writing the Cross Cutting Trilogy the best kind of challenge. It was designed to be a fast read filled with action and motion. My main character’s magic depends to a great degree on walking and there are fights and chases in all sorts of spaces. I had to learn and stretch to get it on the page.

Your mileage may vary, but here are some things that help me.

Study is always first. When I find a story that handles action particularly well, I read it for enjoyment and then I analyze it. How did they do it? What kind of detail do they include? How is it arranged? Are there changes in style, sentence, and paragraph structure? For extra help, I took a fight scene writing class and I tracked down some craft books on action.

As much as it pains me to admit, sometimes reading isn’t enough on its own. There are times I need to see something to describe it. Movies are great and YouTube is a lifesaver. Need to know what it looks like when someone takes a beanbag round to the chest or puts Mentos in a two liter of diet soda? You’re golden. I found excellent videos of kalinda fighting and cultural pieces by Trinidadians, too—so there’s plenty of thoughtful videos out there.

Any map program with street view is invaluable, especially when you’re working with a real place as your base. I’m still delighted that if you go to the right underpass in Google maps you can see the vans that inspired The Thin.

Images on a screen can only go so far so I try to explore real places. I walked the trail in Indianapolis. I’ve been in the tunnels at Purdue and in nearby parks. I’ve driven by other spots I put in the novellas.

But what happens when I’m trying to build the actual action scene? I have to dig deep into my arsenal.

When I have trouble with staging a space, I build a rough replica of it out of LEGO and use mini-figs to represent the characters. It helps me devise plans, fix eyeline problems, and keep track of who is where doing what. Also, it’s fun.

When I need to figure out basic physics (often those things that people with more coordination and common sense would immediately grasp) and I don’t want to disturb my husband (or admit how clueless I am) a big poofy stuffed animal comes to my rescue and we...spar.  “If I punch here which way would the body turn? What would happen if…” It’s a little weird, but I’m not too proud to pass up any opportunity to make the work better.

I’m really pleased I didn’t shy away from the challenge. Sometimes the things you have to work for are the sweetest.

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Wendy Hammer grew up in Wisconsin and lives in Indiana. She has degrees in English from The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ball State University. Her research focus was in gender/identity studies and bodies. Her dissertation was about the intersections of twentieth century infectious disease narratives and imperialist discourse, with a particular focus on Africa. The diss was abandoned, but her interest remains.  She currently teaches introductory literature and composition at a community college.

She reads everything. She indulges in K-drama, horror, and cooking competition show marathons (especially the Great British Baking Show). She likes geeky cross stitch projects, classic punk music, and salted licorice. And finally, she considers both Cobra Commander and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl to be kindred spirits.

 

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Tell Me - Ivan Ewert

by Jennifer Brozek 1. August 2017 12:17

Ivan Ewert is one of those authors I enjoy hanging out with. He’s witty and erudite. He also writes some pretty horrific stuff and has the dubious honor of being the only AIP author to give the Husband nightmares with his writing.
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I’ve talked before about the seed of the Famished novels, a short story from 1920 carefully and intentionally set in an isolated, rural, quintessentially American setting. I read it in third grade and it messed me up properly, but that seed needed soil in which to grow. It needed some nightmare fertilizer, and I had just thing, because when I have nightmares they tend to come in a single flavor.

I find myself in a country which is under a dictatorship – a true, full-on fascist regime with serious secret police and border guards – and I have committed a crime. Not a physical crime, nothing which hurt anyone. A mindcrime. Wrongthink.

And somebody knows.

I’m trying to get out, legitimately, but somebody in a position of power knows what I’ve read, what I’ve said, what I’ve thought. I know they know, though I don’t know who; and I don’t know which of my friends informed on me.

Generally speaking I wake up drenched just as I’m approaching the border crossing, just as I see the guards beginning to smile at one another. I never, ever go back to sleep the night of one of these dreams.

What does this have to do with Famished: The Gentlemen Ghouls?

The insular structure of the Ghouls, the rigid adherence to hierarchy, the punishments which they mete out. I dream about them all.

Authoritarianism is a very real and very constant fear of mine. I admire and applaud people who recognize that the good of the many outweighs the needs of the individual, but authoritarianism demands the loss of the individual not in service to the many, but to the few. The blurring of lines between what’s good for a nation and what’s good for its elite.

The use of force to command obedience is abhorrent to me. The blind obedience of people unable to recognize that they are being used, or unwilling to see that they are penned in like lambs for the slaughter. The unwillingness to speak to power or break from tradition, which should be a quintessentially American trait, has been growing over time as our nation ceased to grow.

When I am afraid, I’m afraid that our country will devour itself, and has been doing so for generations. Feasting on the future to prop up the strength which is past.

Yes, on its surface, Famished is about very straightforward fears, but scratch its surface and you’ll find something more than sketchy dining practices.

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Ivan Ewert was born in Chicago, Illinois, and has never wandered far afield. He has deep roots in the American Midwest, finding a sense of both belonging and terror within the endless surburban labyrinths, deep north woods, tangled city streets and boundless prairie skies. The land and the cycles of the year both speak to him and inform his writing; which revolves around the strange, the beautiful, the delicious and the unseen.

In previous lives, he has worked as an audio engineer, a purchasing agent, a songwriter, a tarot reader, a project manager and, for a remarkably short stint, an accountant. In his spare time, Ivan occupies himself with reading, gaming, and assisting with the jewelry design firm Triskele Moon Studios. He currently lives near the Illinois-Wisconsin border with his wife of thirteen auspicious years and a rather terrifying collection of condiments and cookbooks.

 

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Jennifer Brozek: Writerholic

Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award nominated editor and a Bram Stoker nominated author. Winner of the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited fifteen anthologies with more on the way, including the acclaimed Chicks Dig Gaming and Shattered Shields anthologies. Author of Apocalypse Girl Dreaming, Industry Talk, the Karen Wilson Chronicles, and the acclaimed Melissa Allen series, she has more than sixty-five published short stories, and is the Creative Director of Apocalypse Ink Productions.

Jennifer is a freelance author for numerous RPG companies. Winner of the Scribe, Origins, and ENnie awards, her contributions to RPG sourcebooks include Dragonlance, Colonial Gothic, Shadowrun, Serenity, Savage Worlds, and White Wolf SAS. Jennifer is the author of the YA Battletech novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, and the Shadowrun novella, Doc Wagon 19. She has also written for the AAA MMO Aion and the award winning videogame, Shadowrun Returns.

When she is not writing her heart out, she is gallivanting around the Pacific Northwest in its wonderfully mercurial weather. Jennifer is a Director-at-Large of SFWA, and an active member HWA and IAMTW. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniferBrozek.