Jennifer Brozek | May 2023

Tell Me - Raven Oak

Today’s Tell Me is from author Raven Oak. She talks about dealing with trauma, illness, emotions, and writing—how they all intermix—and one of the most important things a writer can do for themselves.


Forgive yourself.

Seems simple, right? But for a neurodivergent, disabled author like me, not so much. The past three years have been a study in patience as I am immunocompromised aka high risk. Since 2020, I’ve carried this knot in my stomach that my career might be over.

Most authors sell more books when they’re visible, e.g. attending conventions/conferences, having in-person book signings, and teaching workshops. Without being “seen,” people forget you exist. They move on to other books and other authors. But being seen in person is something I can’t do, at least not until we have better vaccines and fewer variants. How does one continue in the face of something scary and new?

Many people aren’t honest or open enough about mental illness, let alone physical illness, but I am trying to be better about both. Getting COVID twice (from my doctors no less) kicked my ass. It physically changed me with its organ damage, not to mention the cognitive symptoms. Long COVID is not just long but brutal.

For years, I was lucky if I could work an hour without needing an hour nap in response. (Even today, I tend to take an afternoon nap, and my kitties help encourage that.) I used to type between 90-110 wpm (words per minute), but now, I’m lucky if I manage 50 wpm. My editors find simple grammatical mistakes now that I never used to make—and as a former English teacher, this galls me. I know, I mean, I knew better. Then there’s blanking on word choices and names. When did I get so forgetful?

Writing is harder. Editing is harder. Life is harder.


This past January, many of my colleagues and friends were posting articles about how much writing they’d accomplished in 2022. After the depressing look at my taxes, I said, “What the hell! Let’s see how little I wrote in the pandemic.” But I surprised myself. Looking at the number of short fiction I’d sold and written through the years helped me understand that progress isn’t the same for every writer, and I had made progress.

Piecing together the stories for not one but two collections helped me step back and find ways to accommodate this new me. To learn what I am still capable of accomplishing. While everything has changed, nothing that matters has changed at all.

I’m still an author, and I can still tell stories. How I present them to the world may look different. For example, my “book releases” will be virtual for a while, and the length of time it takes me to finish a novel may be longer, but I’m still a writer.  

Now, I don’t mean to imply everything’s fine because it isn’t. There’s an anxiety and depression that comes with long COVID. A feeling that the world’s gladly leaving you behind. It’s the Great Wall of China, and I’m an ant at the base of it looking up in a wild panic. Being a realist, I’m not a fan of toxic positivity, but during three years of hell, I managed to write.

With these stories I’m sharing with the world, I’m giving myself permission to slow down when I need to do so, and in this acknowledgement, I forgive myself. Better than that, I realize that there is no need to forgive myself.

This is who I am now, and maybe that’s okay.


Multi-international award-winning speculative fiction author Raven Oak (she/they) is best known for Amaskan’s Blood (2016 Ozma Fantasy Award Winner, Epic Awards Finalist, & Reader’s Choice Award Winner)Amaskan’s War (2018 UK Wishing Award YA Finalist), and Class-M Exile. She also has many published short stories in anthologies and magazines. She’s even published on the moon! Raven spent most of her K-12 education doodling and writing 500 page monstrosities that are forever locked away in a filing cabinet.

Besides being a writer and artist, she’s a geeky, disabled ENBY who enjoys getting her game on with tabletop games, indulging in cartography and art, or staring at the ocean. She lives in the Seattle area with her partner, and their three kitties who enjoy lounging across the keyboard when writing deadlines approach. Her hair color changes as often as her bio does, and you can find her at


Dragons Springs releases 6/1 and Space Ships 7/1. Pre-Orders live now. Print & eBook

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Puzzle Puzzling

One of the things I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that stereotypes exist for a reason. For me, the “little old lady” stereotype is coming true. I mean, I’m not that old nor that little, but I am falling into some of the tropes—I like my British murder mysteries, I like to watch my backyard birdfeeder, I prefer lemon or vanilla as a sweet flavor, and I really like my physical, analog puzzles. In specific, these days I like Ravensburger puzzles—500 or 750 pieces.

I discovered my love of analog puzzles because I needed something to occupy me…away from the computer…that I could spend some time working on but also get the dopamine hit for finishing the project. It’s one of the reasons I used to crochet. Unfortunately, I discovered that crocheting, along with typing, made my wrists hurt and that just wouldn’t do as a relaxing fill-the-well type of activity—and I needed one of those activities. Something to rest the brain while keeping the hands busy.

I never thought I would be one of those people who have a strong preference for the brand of puzzle I play with. I do. It started with the InGooooD brand of 1000 piece wooden jigsaw puzzles. Mostly because they were sturdy, beautiful, easily found on Amazon, and had a reference grid on the back, breaking up the puzzles into eight 125 piece sections. I would take the time to sort them by grid letter then put them together a single 125 piece section at a time. It would take me a week of casual play. I realized I like them because they were easy to put together, even though they were tedious to sort and not as fun or challenging as I like.

That’s why I dropped down from doing 1000 piece puzzles to 500 and 750 piece puzzles. They were easier to do but also allowed me to sort out the edges and to put together the puzzle in a more satisfying, challenging, and organic manner. I bought a bunch of cheap puzzles before I found a Ravensburger puzzle by accident. The quality and thickness of the cardboard makes a difference. More than I expected. So much so that I’ve now become a bit of a puzzle snob. Or at least, one with strong preferences on how the puzzle pieces feel and fit together.

However, puzzles can be expensive. Thus, I limited my buying of them. Then, about three weeks ago, I realized that, just like I can get my favorite Torrid jeans for cheap on eBay, people sell puzzles for cheap(er) prices on eBay, too. I’ve been buying some rare or out-of-print Ravensburger puzzles in lots of three or five. My mark of a decent find is to get the puzzle and shipping for $18-$20 per puzzle. Good is for $13-$17 per puzzle. Great is for less than $12 per puzzle. If we go over $20 for a puzzle, then I might as well buy it new and not risk a missing puzzle piece. Then again, I prefer the sustainability aspect of buying used puzzles.


Long story short…I’ve got a bunch of new-to-me Ravensburger puzzles to keep me happy for a while. By the time I’m done with them, I can try out one of my older 1000 piece InGooooD puzzles to see if I like them enough to keep…or if I should go ahead and eBay them for someone else to enjoy.

External Forces Can Be A Writer’s Best Friend

Once upon a time, almost three years ago to the day, I got the urge to write a near future SF mystery story set in a subaquatic city involving robotic pets. I had been inspired by a mini-documentary about the AIBO robotic dogs in Japan. It only took me a couple of weeks to write the novella. I knew it was good, but it wasn’t great. I needed another set of eyes on it.

Then, the awesome Marie Bilodeau offered to edit it. She did so in short order and had some insightful things to say about it. While she did love it, there were some definite, specific issues—some of which she outlined in her email to me. The rest she left as comments in the manuscript. I knew she was right about it all, but by that time, the shine had worn off the project, it was just a personal story I had written with no market in mind, and I had other contracted novels to write.

Thus, it languished in my email for three years.

It’s no secret that I’ve been taking the first quarter of this year easy. I’ve pushed myself hard for the last five years (five novels and six novellas and everything else), thus when this year’s contracts got delayed, I decided to relax a little. Until I remembered I had several personal projects I wanted to work on. Which I did…sorta. None of them had due dates or markets in mind. Still, I wanted to work on them while I waited.

Thus, I did—on one of them: Dear Penpal. But mostly I tinkered at it. What should have taken merely a month to write is only 1/3 written in the last four months. As a full-time writer, this won’t do. If I don’t have contracts or deadlines, I still need to write. I have an agent and cats to feed.

Coming to this conclusion, two things in the universe conspired to help me. First, another publishing professional like me (author/editor/RPG writer/media tie-in writer) asked for an accountability buddy on a discord we’re both on. As someone who never wants to be the smartest person in the room, I knew her by her considerable reputation and jumped at the chance.

(As an aside, I’ve discovered the perfect accountability buddy for me is someone I know in a professional capacity, am friendly with on acquaintance terms, and respect, but not someone I hang out with on a regular basis. We chat during our meetings, but it is all work related chat. There’s something about wanting to impress this familiar stranger that really pushes my “get it done” button. But I digress…)

The other thing that happened is that Uncanny Magazine opened up for novellas from May 1-15. At the time I read that, I had about two-to-four weeks to whip my languishing novella into shape and submit it. Suddenly, I had a deadline. Not only that, I had a professional author I was now meeting with weekly to talk about what I did that previous week—did I meet my goals? Why or why not and what’s next?

Long story short—I revised, edited, and polished that SF novella in just under three weeks and submitted it to Uncanny Magazine. Whether or not they accept it (and I hope they do), I’m pleased to have finally finished it. It’s a wonderful story. Thanks to Marie’s astute observations from three years ago, I think the novella turned out pretty good.  

Now, I have Dear Penpal to work on while I wait for the various (editing and writing) projects that are on my radar but haven’t landed yet. After all, I have an accountability buddy to answer to and time to do it. No excuses left.