Jennifer Brozek | March 2024

"Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980" Has Launched!

Running a kickstarter is not for the faint of heart, lemme tell you that. I am one giant Muppet flail right now. But Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980 is 31% funded as of the uploading of this blog post. I am beyond thrilled that we’ve come so far. Of course, I’m nervous as hell that we won’t make it. I just gotta believe in this passion project of mine.

The Husband wrote his own blog post for our launch that I didn’t see until it went live. It made me feel a little sappy (Facebook link). I have the best husband ever!

Also, I have a post over on Cat Rambo’s blog, “On Eating Frog Legs and White Asparagus.” It’s all about me learning to be fearless when encountering foreign food while I lived in Belgium.

As I’ve said before, this project is near and dear to my heart. I’m excited to be able to send you my epistolary story and to bring joy to your mailboxes. Yes, actual snail mail that’s not spam, bills, or politics! Keep spreading the word. I know we can make it to $5,000 and I hope we get to unlock some fun stuff for everyone with our stretch goals.

Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980 is a cozy, middle grade-appropriate, ghost story, loosely based on fictionalized me at ten years old while living in a 300-year-old manor house in Belgium. The story will be told through 24 physical letters (already written) over a one-year period. This is the kind of odd project I could never sell traditionally, so I’m rolling up my sleeves and doing it myself. Won’t you be my penpal?

Leeloo is waiting for you to support her servant so her servant can get back to servant duties…

Norwescon, Dear Penpal, and Still Flailing

First up, I have a convention next week. Norwescon…where I will be in the Dealer’s Room and on panels. I hope to see you there. Remember, there’s a no shyness zone around me. Say hello and get a book signed!


Norwescon Schedule (If I’m not in panels, I’m in the Dealer’s Room.)

Thursday, 4:00pm - 5:00pm @ Cascade 10, That’s What She Said

Friday, 12:00pm - 1:00pm @ Cascade 10, A Dash of Dread
Friday, 1:00pm - 2:00pm @ Cascade 7 & 8, A Story is Forever
Friday, 2:00pm - 3:00pm @ Cascade 9, Horror as Comfort Food
Friday, 4:00pm - 5:00pm @ Cascade 10, How to Write for Audio Formats

Saturday, 2:00pm - 3:00pm @ Evergreen 3 & 4, Horror of the 1980s
Saturday, 4:30pm - 5:00pm @ Cascade 3, Reading: Jennifer Brozek

Sunday, All day, Dealer’s Room


Next up, “Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980” goes live on March 26th at 9am, Pacific. I’m a bundle of nerves and super excited. I’ve posted the KS video out and about on social media and I’m really happy with it. Won’t you be my penpal?


It’s been less than two weeks since I turned in the latest Shadowrun novel—the sequel to Shadowrun: Auditions. The fact checker has been as diligent as ever and he’s already turned it around with a couple of things I need to fix. Nothing major, thank goodness. But I don’t have the bandwidth to look at the manuscript until early April.

In the meantime, I’m still flailing about. Yes, I’m working on those contracted short stories, but one is paused to make sure it needs to be written. (Multiverse of Mystery kickstarter, please make me write my Sherlock and Watson story as MUSHers who discover a crime in progress through their game…) The other story has a co-author who needs to weigh in on her part of it now before I can continue the rest of the story. Thus, flapping because I have a convention and a kickstarter next week and thus cannot get into something deep.

Everything will be fine. Just fine. Breathe. So, how are things with you?

Tell Me - Xan van Rooyen

Today Xan van Rooyen tells me why a book may need to be re-written multiple times before the writer grows into the author the novel needs them to be. Then, and only then, can that story be told as it needs to be.


Silver Helix took me 12 years and 5 rewrites before it was ready for publication and found a home with Android Press.

This book became the YA novel that landed me my first agent, but never sold, possibly because it was a little too odd and a lot too queer for the industry back then. At the time I began writing this book, I had no idea I was non-binary. I knew I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin despite how hard I tried to embrace my assigned sex at birth. For years I thought if I could just perform ‘girl’ better, then happiness and validation would follow. Thus the only reason I wasn’t happy being ‘girl’ was because of my own failings.

I shelved the book and wrote other stories, all queer, all helping me explore aspects of myself I was struggling to name. “Write what you know” is an adage attributed to Mark Twain, a statement sometimes erroneously taken literally when really it means to be aware of appropriation and to write authentically, doing due diligence when writing characters with identities different from your own. Thing is, for years I was writing what I didn’t know I knew. Deep down I knew I wasn’t cis but I didn’t have the vocabulary or the self-awareness to find a label adequately describing who I was.

It took years of self-discovery and writing a variety of queer characters, inserting myself into their bodies and minds, to understand my non-binary identity. While I remain wary of labels, I eventually started using non-binary and bisexual to describe myself, and later realized I needed to add demi-ace and possibly pansexual to the mix since identity can be fluid as people change, evolve, and gain better understanding of themselves.

When I proudly displayed these labels on my social media pages, I thought I was done. The self had been realized. This was the truth I’d always secretly known, but not been able to articulate. This was why I’d been writing queer stories for as long as I could remember while masquerading as cis and mostly het.

Turns out, I’d not only been writing queer characters before I knew I was queer, but I’d been writing autistic characters (or at least characters with autistic traits) long before I ever imagined I was autistic, too.

Struggling with sudden and debilitating mental health issues, I self-diagnosed myself with everything from a brain tumor to psychosis, but eventually connected with a therapist who recognized autistic traits in me and recommended an evaluation. Almost 18 months later, I had officially been diagnosed with autistic burn out and my identity had once again been altered.

It was only with diagnosis in hand that I remembered all the times editors had called my characters quirky or idiosyncratic with peculiar habits (all little pieces of myself I had inadvertently written into my stories). I realized I’d been writing autistic characters for years the same way I’d been writing queer characters.

So, back to Silver Helix, which I rewrote a fifth and final time while getting diagnosed. It was simultaneously a source of escapism and a way for me to process a potential new identity. I never meant to write an autistic character in Silver Helix, but I’m so glad I did. I’m so glad my journey of self-discovery is reflected in my character as they grapple with their own identity, and I’m so grateful I will get to write a sequel in which my character will learn to love and accept themself the way I am still learning to love and accept myself.


Climber, tattoo collector, and peanut butter connoisseur, Xan van Rooyen is an autistic, non-binary storyteller from South Africa. You can find Xan’s stories in the likes of Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Daily Science Fiction, and Galaxy’s Edge among others. They have also written several novels including YA fantasy My Name is Magic, and adult aetherpunk novel Silver Helix. Xan is also part of the Sauutiverse, an African writer’s collective with their first anthology Mothersound out now from Android Press. Feel free to say hi on socials @xan_writer. Linktree: