Jennifer Brozek | October 2021

Tell Me - Aaron Rosenberg

Today, Aaron Rosenberg tells us how he allows research to inspire his writing in other people’s worlds without getting bogged down in it. And how it inspires his original works.

I love research. Maybe it’s the failed academic in me (I have a Master’s in English Lit and had finished all my PhD coursework before I left the field) but I do, I love getting stuck into history and mythology and language and culture and clothes and so many other things you can read about and learn about. And of course the Internet makes that all so dangerously easy, you click on just one link and it leads to a dozen others and pretty soon you’ve spent the past three hours reading about some obscure headgear and the rites associated with it and your eyes are killing you and you’ve completely missed dinner.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Not the eyestrain and missing dinner part, that’s all bad. But falling down the research rabbit hole. Because it can lead to so many amazing story ideas.

That’s even more true when you combine it with my favorite way to come up with stories in an existing IP (or intellectual property), which is to “mind the gap.” When I start thinking up ideas for an IP, I like to look around, see what’s where, and see where the spaces are, the little chinks between the big bricks of worldbuilding and history and character development. Those chinks are missing material, spots that weren’t necessary to create the setting and the main story—but they often contain fun little moments a writer can exploit, throwaway mentions you can tease out into an interesting tale that helps fill in the space and make the wall that much more solid and believable. And fun.

Most of the time, I only use that technique for tie-in writing. After all, if it’s my own world I’m the one creating those big blocks in the first place.

But that’s not how things went with Time of the Phoenix.

When Steve Savile and I first had the idea, we just had the one setting, Elizabethan London, and the playwriting scene there in particular. But we knew we’d want more. So we started looking at history, and especially at major literary figures.

Hence the rabbit hole.

What we found initially, and what I found later as I continued the project on my own, were lots of little gaps, the kind that occur naturally all the time—a person’s life documented here and there but nothing between those two moments, a single brief mention of a strange incident with little context and no follow-up, a bit of folklore wrongly attributed but now indelibly linked to that person. All those fun little gaps that can lead to exciting, amazing stories that both fit into real-world history and are wholly original fiction at the same time.

I wonder if I should go back and thank my old professors for getting me hooked on that? Maybe I should just send them some of my books instead. They’re clever, they should see what I mean.

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Aaron Rosenberg is the author of the best-selling DuckBob SF comedy series, the Time of the Phoenix historical dark fantasy series, the Relicant Chronicles epic fantasy series, the Dread Remora space-opera series, and, with David Niall Wilson, the O.C.L.T. occult thriller series. His tie-in work includes novels for Star Trek, Warhammer, World of WarCraft, Stargate: Atlantis, Shadowrun, and Eureka. He has written children’s books (including the award-winning Bandslam: The Junior Novel and the #1 best-selling 42: The Jackie Robinson Story), educational books, and roleplaying games (including the Origins Award-winning Gamemastering Secrets). You can follow him online at gryphonrose.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/gryphonrose, and on Twitter @gryphonrose.

Surviving Cons in the Time of Covid

Two major conventions within three weeks is not something I wanted to do even before the pandemic happened. Imagine trying to navigate travel, talking to people, and handselling books after almost two years of limited contact. That was Gen Con (40,000 attendees) then Origins (8000 attendees).

It was both wonderful and horrifying. It was like slipping on a favorite pair of shoes and discovering too late a tiny rock jabbing your foot. It was way better than it was bad. It was worth doing despite my paranoia.

The Good:

Friends and Peers – It was so, so, so wonderful to see good friends and peers. So good to talk to people face-to-masked face (and occasionally, naked face). There is a connection in person that you cannot get online. It’s different. It’s indescribable. It’s one of the reasons I go to conventions.

People/Gamers taking this seriously – At Gen Con, I’d say that 98% of everyone was properly masked and making an effort to distance as much as you can at a con. We all know that we can roll a “1” on a con check. I’ve heard of only one case of covid from Gen Con. Nothing from Origins yet (early days).

Old convention friends – There are some people you only see at convention. You know them in the convention sense and that’s it. You may or may not recognize them outside of the convention scene, but there, in the right context, you know exactly what to expect. And it’s good. You remember about their pets. You know which of your books they’ve read. You know. There is a beautiful familiarity that is worth everything.

Hungry customers – The convention goers were hungry for product. For new books. For something they hadn’t seen. For something that had a touchstone to the author. As a business woman and an author, it was astounding. I felt like a rockstar half the time. I’ve never seen people come running to my booth at a convention before. To see me, in specific.

Exciting conversations – Though they were few, there were some exciting conversations and great networking for the next year. I got to talk to an excellent editor and plan some stuff. I had a conversation with an author that turned my brain inside out and I’m still thinking about it. This is why I go to conventions. It sets up success for the next year and it engages my brain in new and wonderful ways.

The Bad:

The rules don’t apply to me – There were, of course, people who flat out did not want to mask up, who did not care about any rules, and who got angry when you enforced it. One couple came to my table to look at my books. Another guy walked up in a gater that barely covered his mouth. The woman asked him to raise his mask, told him it made her uncomfortable. He flat out ignored her. My husband backed her up and told the man he needed to raise his mask. Now. It was making people uncomfortable. The man complied with a grump, but only because my husband insisted.

Chin warmers/naked faces/people are hell – Origins shared the convention hall with a dentist convention and those people didn’t give two shekels about the mask mandate. There were a LOT of masks warming chins and people carrying their masks instead of wearing them. They really didn’t care. Added insult to injury? Some of the dentists came by the Origins Library with a bemused and condescending attitude of “Oh, you write things? Isn’t that cute.” Some of them just wanted you to entertain them and had no actual interest in the books or the author. I compared it to being a zoo exhibit.

It’s all a LOT – The travel, the people, the convention, the messed up schedule. It was a lot. A whole lot. I enjoyed what I could, took the zen approach as much as possible, then was grateful when I hid in my room after working the booth. Most of the time, I didn’t have the energy to do anything else. My convention muscle has atrophied.

Paranoia – I was paranoid most of the time. I had a total of two meals with someone that wasn’t my husband. Both were at Origins. The first night there, a bunch of the Origins Library people were together at the Big Bar on 2. We confirmed we were all vaccinated. Big open space, very few customers. That was nice. The second was a meal with my Eberron GM. It was a nice quiet meal talking all things gaming/twitch/writing/etc. They were both good meals, but part of me was very, very aware that we were flirting with danger.

Overall:

Was it worth it? – Yes. Absolutely. There were way more successes than not. Way more good people than bad. I feel like I set myself up for success for next year. I did enjoy the convention. I also missed the interactions. They were worth the pain and paranoia.

Am I glad I’m done for the year? – Yes, Absolutely. Like I said, my convention muscle has atrophied. I don’t have the same kind of hunger/energy that I once did. I appreciate the travel, but I am glad to be home, safe and sound, in my own territory where I know what to expect, where I can go, and who I can see.