Jennifer Brozek | April 2024

Tell Me - J.W. Donley

Today J.W. Donley talks about how limits can give you the freedom you need to write. I know, personally, that I work better within guide rails. When I have too many options, I get stuck trying to create my own limitations.

Writer’s block sucks. As a writer, there is nothing more stressful than staring at the blank page and then the sense of self defeat when the page is still blank after hours and hours of mental strain.

Some writers claim that writer’s block does not exist. And I get that sentiment. You can always write something. Just start putting down pointless words until something useful pops out. While this is great to get going at times, I don’t find that sort of writing to be the most helpful. It usually leaves me with more of a mess than workable prose. But, if that’s your vibe, you do you.

And if you feel the same way or would like to explore another option, I have a different idea when it comes to the blank page.

What intimidates me most is the absolute scope of what I could write. So many options that I just shut down as my brain bounces from idea to idea without developing any of them enough to really get ink to paper.

How do you control your brain and help direct it down a workable path?

What works best for me is the limitation of scope.

I love limitations when it comes to starting a writing project. They help to scale down the universe to something manageable. Or at least manageable enough to squeeze out a story.

I’ve used prompts since the very beginning of my writing endeavors, but I really didn’t take them seriously until after I participated in the NYC Midnight Short Story contest a couple years back. The way their contest works is they assign you a random character, genre, and object each from a small list. For instance, I think I got a security guard with a stapler in a heist story. I had never written a heist story before, but after a quick bit of research I picked up the major tropes and then I was off to the races. The story ended up being my first professional sale. I’m still in slight shock that this story was my first pro sale. What made this story work is that I was able to limit the scope of possibilities enough to quiet my brain and get down a full story idea in a short amount of time.

Some might worry that limitations like this can water down your own creative voice, but I do not support that at all. My story was very much a J.W. Donley story after it was finished. It was of course a horror story in the end, but it was also still a heist. And I didn’t end up using a stapler, but I did put in a typewriter. It just worked! It was much shorter than what I usually end up with, and thus easier to find a market for.

Now, after you have that first draft and have a full story, you can let go of the limitations if you wish. Feel free to mold the story in any direction, let the universe speak to you and cajole new spice into the prose. But, do not let go of the reins of rules and limitations until you have that complete idea finished.

So, the next time you get stuck, find some way to limit your choices. Be it tarot cards to toy with your subconscious, randomized Wikipedia articles, or a good book of writing prompts, find something that works for you.


J.W. Donley—HWA and HOWL Society member—lives with his family in the Pacific Northwest where the Cascade Mountains meet the Salish Sea. J.W. is the author of the novelette Cats of the Pacific Northwest and the brand new 100 Unusual Prompts for Writers of Horror, Weird, and Bizarro Fiction with contributions from John Langan, Carlton Mellick III, Shane Hawk, and many more. His short stories have appeared in anthologies from Dim Shores, HOWL Society Press, PIT, Chuckanut Editions, and on Creepy, a Horror Podcast.

The Final Countdown

We're down to the FINAL 24 hours of the Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980 campaign, and what an incredible journey it has been! Thanks to your amazing support, we've reached $7200+ surpassing our initial goals and unlocking one stretch goal so far. I'm really happy we reached the coloring book goal.

Tomorrow, Thursday, April 25th from 11am - 12pm Eastern / 8am - 9am Pacific, I will be live on Twitch with Rem to celebrate and countdown to the final moments of my first Kickstarter campaign. Come join us at there:

Last Chance to Back Dear Penpal
With less than 24 hours left, now's the perfect time to back Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980 or increase your pledge. Don't miss out on some of our unique rewards and the chance to be part of the Dear Penpal community.

I am grateful for each and every one of you who has backed, shared, and cheered us on throughout this campaign.

Which One is for You?

Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980 is in its last full week. The campaign ends at 9am (Pacific) on April 25th. We are funded, and the first stretch goal has been met. Coloring pages in every letter! I’m excited, and I know my artist, the talented Elizabeth Guizzetti, is excited as well. Other stretch goals include, a 25th letter from present-day me (and maybe my sister Shannon) and a 30-day emailed ghost story set to run in Oct 2024 called “The Old House on Highway 109” that will be free to Spooky Fun Pack tiers and above or available as an add-on for the lower tiers.

I thought I’d talk about some of the different packages and who they are for.

Paranormal Package – All 24 letters in a single package. This is for the person who prefers “one and done.” It is a single mailing, mailed when the 24th letter is mailed. You want the story. Then you’re good because you get to choose when to read each letter.

Bimonthly Phantom Post – 2 letters a month for 12 months. This is the core experience of Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980. You will receive two letters a month for a year and will experience the story as it was originally conceived. Plus, you get to come to the Zoom calls and find out what actually happened because a lot of the story is true.

Spooky Fun Pack – 2 letters a month for 12 months and all the extras. This includes the core experience, but if you are a curious person like me and want to know more esoteric details of life in Belgium, you get to hear the songs I listened to, see some of the photos and items I still have from Belgium. Plus, there are stickers! Who doesn’t love stickers? This tier will also get extra bits from the stretch goals we reach.

Haunted House Calls – This is the highest tier with limited spots available. At the time of the posting, 2 of 4 slots were still available. Backers get everything in the Spooky Fun Pack and this tier includes 24 one-on-one calls (2 a month). This one is for the backer who wants my full attention. Want me to be your mentor for a year? Or want to give the gift of a writing mentorship to a loved one? That could happen. Want me to teach a writing class for homeschoolers? I can do that. Run co-writing sessions for you and your writing group? Be your critique partner? All of these things are possible. We’ll talk about it and come to a happy accord. (Note: If this is a gift for a minor, their guardian/parent needs to be present for the opening discussion at a minimum.)

I hope this gives you a better idea of what you will receive when you back my passion project. I’m so happy to have this kickstarter funded. I’ve got so much to share with you. Won’t you be my penpal? Thank you.

Bubble and Squeek for 16 March 2024

Interview: Over on Marie Bilodeau’s blog, A Coffee Break with Jennifer Brozek where I answer three simple questions.  

Interview: Roll with Rem Alternis on GenConTV. YT video. 3-53 minutes. We kind of talk all over the place. Rem is a great interviewer.  

Kickstarter: “Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980.” Looking for something unusual for you or a loved one? How about a cozy ghost story told by snail mail? It's the gift of escape tunnels, ghosts, and adventure told over 24 letters that will ship worldwide. Appropriate for 8+. The campaign has funded and met its first stretch goal, so I added a new one! “The Old House on Highway 109” is a 30-day emailed ghost story to run in Oct 2024. Check it out! #ProjectWeLove #DearPenpal

Spotlight: Spring into Horror Author Spotlight: Jennifer Brozek. I will be at the HWA Seattle Chapter Barnes & Noble Event (Totem Lake) on May 11th, 2024 along with so many other awesome authors!

Shoutout: From Amazing Stories about “Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980.”  We’re funded and our first stretch goal is met!

Shoutout: Marie Bilodeau. There is no Church of Writing. Do not listen to the Evangelists. No truer words. All writing advice is just opinion based on the experience of the writer.  

Shoutout: E. A. Hendryx. Falling Through the Black, a no-spice, romantic YA Science Fantasy adventure. Funded! Kickstarter ends on 27 April.

Shoutout: Jason Matias, local PNW artist. I absolutely love his artwork. I really want to own one of his pictures: Ice Cave with a View.

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.

Tell Me - Emily Bell

Today, Emily Bell tells us why she and her publishing house stepped into the world of foreign language translations and what she learned in the process.

Hello – I’m Emily, a fantasy writer as well as an editor for Atthis Arts in Ferndale, Michigan. And of all the projects I ever saw myself taking on in a strange and uncertain future, I did not see Ukrainian translations. I’m not Ukrainian, or of Ukrainian culture or descent. So how did our little press in Ferndale get involved with Ukrainian translation? And what have I learned from it?

My spouse was pulled aside at Can*Con in 2022, to talk about a collection of stories hoping to raise money for Ukrainian charities. It had stories, it had a grant, but it had lost its publisher. We looked into it, knew the need for Ukrainian independence, and agreed to help.

I will not get into the details, but the more we learned, the more it unraveled. We lost the grant, we lost the editors, there were issues with the stories. Right as it was about to disintegrate, Chicago writer Valya Dudycz Lupescu, my spouse, Chris Bell, and I had a serious talk. This was too important, and we would not go back to the Ukrainian editors with the sound of explosions outside of their windows and tell them this wasn’t happening, after all their work, because it got too hard. We weren’t in a position to continue it as a direct fundraiser, but we would share these stories. We would make it work.

This is where the world stepped in. Ukrainian translators got us connected to the Ukrainian Book Institute, who offered us a grant. More than 1000 backers from over 30 countries helped fund the rest of the costs. Volunteers helped us get the book done on the grant schedule, reviewing, editing, proofreading. Embroidered Worlds: Fantastic Fiction from Ukraine and the Diaspora, edited by Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Olha Brylova, and Iryna Pasko was born. I sometimes lightly refer to this collection as “the book that made people fall asleep on their laptops all around the world.” But truly, it is a triumph; of  Ukrainian art, spirit, and culture—and the power of global solidarity.

What have I learned from all this? Human translations are vital. They cost money, yes, as they should, but they are vital. There are nuances and choices to translation, much more than right or wrong or literal meaning. Thoughtfully translated stories share culture, share hearts, connect us. They are always, always underfunded. The people who advocate for them exhaust themselves appealing to those with resources.

If you are reading this, I ask you: please advocate for translations. Read them. Fund them. Talk about them.

As a personal note, if I had life to do over again, I would have been a translator. I was taught I had to do something that “made money,” hence my two engineering degrees. But, now I can give back. Now I can do something I never expected. This experience (and other personal issues) have also revived my passion for language. I’m currently learning and practicing four languages other than my own, and it is making me a happier, fuller person. It is helping me connect with the world.

Once the book was done, we shelved our exhaustion and moved on to a now packed release schedule, and vowed: no more surprise projects. Then we learned, within a couple days of another grant timeline, that Ігор Мисяк, a poet, a writer, and a combat medic now volunteer solider, had recently published a novel, Завод, before being killed by Russia. And it was available for translation.

The project, which will be The Factory by Igor Mysiak translated by Hanna Leliv, spoke to me. In the language of poets, the language of sorrow, and the language of hope.

I hope it will speak to you, also.

To Igor, I see you. And I look forward to reading your words. They will stay with me.

To the world, keep writing. We will find ways to share our stories.
E.D.E. Bell (she/her or e/em) is a fantasy writer and small press editor. A passionate vegan and earnest progressive, she feels strongly about issues related to equality and compassion. Her works are quiet and queer and often explore conceptions of identity and community, including themes of friendship, family, and connection. She lives in Ferndale, Michigan, where she writes stories, revels in garlic, and manages the creative side of her indie press, Atthis Arts. You can follow eir adventures at

A Most Stellar Experience

I, like many, got to experience the total solar eclipse on Monday, the 8th. The Husband and I traveled to Indianapolis for this event as a make up trip for my aborted aurora trip for my 50th birthday. As a bonus, I got to meet up with Cat and her girlfriend, Sheri. That made for a fun visit to go along with the eclipse experience.

There are so many small things that made me smile, brought a sense of wonder and awe to my world, and made me appreciate the moment.

  • Perfect ambient weather for the eclipse. Comfortable in the shade. Sunny and warm in the sun.
  • The Husband running around the neighborhood with our extra eclipse glasses to make sure everyone got the experience.
  • Watching tulips close their petals in real time as the light of the sun dimmed.
  • Feeling the change in the weather, the temperature dipping, and the birds trying to figure out if it was time for bed or not.
  • Seeing the sun slowly disappear until it was gone and, suddenly, I could see the “ring of fire” without any eye protection.
  • Realizing that I could see sun flares with my naked eyes.
  • Bathing my eclipse coin in the light of the eclipse and the totality. A memory in tangible form.
  • Counting the moments of totality and sensing the passing of time.
  • Keeping the image of totality in my mind and seeing it with the orange flare at the bottom of the ring every single time I think of the experience.

I am so glad I got to experience the eclipse. It was a magical feeling. I understand the science behind it, but the way the air felt and what we could see. It was pure magic.

Also, while we were in Indy, we found an awesome coffee shop. It’s called Black House Café (FB link) and it is horror themed. Not only did they have a great vibe, the coffee was damn good. I tell you, if I was local, that would be my new home away from home. I enjoyed the heck out of it. 

It was a very nice mini-vacation that I will appreciate for the rest of my life. But now, back to work. In the meantime, looking for something unusual for you or a loved one? How about a cozy ghost story told by #snailmail? It's the gift of escape tunnels, ghosts, and adventure told over 24 letters that will ship world-wide. #ProjectWeLove #DearPenpal


Bubble and Squeek for 4 April 2024

I'm in-between trips and still catching up. This Bubble & Squeek is dedicated to "Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980." Won't you be my penpal? 

Kickstarter: I have an active Kickstarter (26 Mar 2024 – 26 Apr 2024) called “Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980.” It 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. We are 71% funded!

Article: On Eating Frog Legs and White Asparagus. Cat Rambo wanted to know about the food I ate while I was in Belgium. This is how I became fearless about trying new food.

Interview: This was a very good interview with the Horror Writers Association. Nuts & Bolts: Career Planning for Writers – Interview with Author and Editor Jennifer Brozek. This one is all about how to choose your mountain and head for it.

Interview: Crashing ‘Mechs With Jennifer Brozek, Author Of The Rogue Academy Trilogy. This is the interview you want to read if you want to know what I'm like when I'm excited and I'm speaking very candidly.

Interview: What Makes a Project a “Passion Project”? In this interview with Black Gate Magazine, I answer "Why letters?" and "Why Belgium in 1980?"

On Conventions and Car Crashes

I will not bury the lede—I’m fine, the Husband is fine, the car is not. But that is at the end of the story. (Also, per the In-law Courtesies Act of 2008, I have already spoken to the Husband's parents...)

This past weekend was Norwescon. This is my home convention, and I dearly love it. I’ve been paneling and/or vending at this convention for well over a decade. I had some really good panels. I think my favorite ones were “Horror as Comfort Food” and “Horror of the 1980s.” Both were high energy and a lot of fun.  Also, I picked up a baby dragon friend for my copper dragon. I guess I need to find names for them now.

This is the last year I will be vending at Norwescon. I have decided to wind down the focused vending part of conventions because I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to. This doesn’t mean I won’t ever vend again. Far from it. It just won’t be a focus. I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older, my spoons and spell slots have become more and more limited. I need to pick and choose my focus or pay for it for a week after the convention.

When you do a lot of conventions, they tend to blend together in one big memory of sound, light, and conversation. There were a couple of standout moments this Norwescon: Meeting Lezli Robyn and Shahid Mahmud from Arc Manor. Both are lovely, lovely people. Dinner with a friendly fan, Brian, and his wife, Melissa, Beth, and Amanda. He is at the beginning of his career and I’m really looking forward to seeing him grow into his stride as an author. Such a fun conversation.

But the most favorite moment came when a woman at my table couldn’t remember if she had one of the books in front of her or not. She called her son and asked, “Have we moved the Brozek books yet? If not they should be on the dresser.” Not only was I an adjective (one of my favorite milestones), this woman knew who I was, which books I wrote, specifically collected MY books, and is a completist. I have never felt more seen as an author before. It was just the loveliest feeling in the world and one I wish for all authors out there.

This Norwescon was specifically stressful because I also have a kickstarter going on right now. “Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980” is currently 65% funded and I’m so pleased. So there was that.

However, as this is my home convention, the Husband likes to drive home to take care of the kitties at night. Wednesday evening of the convention (set up day), I received this text: “First, I am ok. Second, I wrecked the car.” There was a lot more to that conversation, but it didn’t get any worse than that. However, that was enough. The Husband is shaken and bruised (contusions and not a hematoma) and the bruises are extensive. Yes, he has gone to the hospital. He sent me “proof of life” of his face before he sent me pictures of the car. One of them is below.

I am grateful I have friends I can vent at. I have learned I can be mad and furious at the same person at the same time. I am glad that we have good insurance. We’ve been paying into the car insurance for decades and it now comes in handy. I am grateful we are in a position to deal with this. But, good gravy, I do not like it when the Husband reminds me of how mortal he is.

So, that was the weekend. Fairly high stress with some great moments. Life feels like one big plot twist right now. Between con, the kickstarter, the crash, and the upcoming Eclipse trip...I feel like I’m either on the beginning of my protagonist storyline or I'm about to show the audience how the monster works.