Jennifer Brozek | Wordslinger & Optimist!

Round One of Slush Reading

It’s been years since I did an open call anthology. 99 Tiny Terrors will be my 19th anthology and I thought it was about time to remind myself what it was like to wade into the slush pile. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered but there were some zingers. Here are some of the things I posted to twitter while I was reading.

 All of these started with, “Today's #editor #ProTip from the slushpile:”

-- Please remember to accept all changes in Track Changes so I don't see your editing thoughts and just see your story.

-- When the submission guidelines say 500-1000 words, that does not mean you should turn in a 100 word story. Or 5 stories under 1000 words. Also, saying your word count is 1000 when is 1200 also disqualifies the work.

-- When the guidelines say "no sexual assault" stories that means NO sexual assault stories. Not against any race, gender, or age. Ignoring that makes me notice your name in a bad way and wonder what other boundaries you'd ignore.

-- Often times when the author tries to be clever, the work ends up trite, boring, or cliché. Example: Using the whole story just to tell a pun that is neither horror nor funny.

-- A wonderful beginning will never save a story with a terrible ending and vice versa. Endings are as important as beginnings.

-- The casual lack of consent is horrifying. Especially when that part isn't supposed to be the horror part of the story. "I did X to my sleeping girlfriend and Y happened..." So many writers just don't see it in their stories. Ditto with the casual off-screen, but still mentioned, rape/pedophilia. It's just there like a dead fish in the middle of the hall. Authors really need to look at their writing to see what they're implying with every sentence and why.

-- When you only have 500-1000 words to tell a story, head-hopping is hard to do well. Be sure of your narrative take.

-- Gore for gore's sake in horror flash fiction is boring and is not a story. Give me sharp and subtle. Give me atmosphere. Give me something to remember.

-- When allowed to submit two stories to an open call, you should make sure you don't submit the same story twice.

-- When an editor tells you specifically what kinds of stories they prefer in the guidelines, your best bet is to try to give them exactly that. When you sub a story that is what the editor is specifically NOT looking for, your chances of success are slim to none. Read and comprehend the guidelines.

-- While I admit using no punctuation and no capitalization on purpose is daring, it's a really hard sell. Ditto with capitalized words throughout every sentence. Breaking conventional writing rules can work, but rarely does.

 

Now that I’ve done my first readthrough, I’ve saved 84 pieces as “yes” and 71 as “maybe” for the anthology. I will need to narrow down this 155 tiny terrors into an anthology of 99. Reading through 613 submissions has given me a much better understanding of the shape of the anthology I want. The second readthrough will be in conjunction with the stories I have and whether or not it fits the vision I have for this anthology.

In a week or two, I will reread all 155 pieces of flash fiction, categorizing them and forming the work that will become more than the sum of its parts. That means some of the “yes” stories will be shifted to “no” and some of the “maybe” stories will be shifted to “yes.” Once all of the decisions are decided, all acceptances and rejections will be emailed within a day or two of each other.

 All this is to say…no one is going to hear anything until mid-December 2020 at the earliest.

 

Bubble & Squeek for 11 Nov 2020

I am elbow-deep in the 99 Tiny Terrors slushpile with about 300 read and 300 to go. Also, I'm editing my latest Shadowrun novella so I can turn it in on time in December. There is no Jenn, only editing and some cool news.

Awards: Holy fork, I got shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award for editing A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods. I hadn't even realized I could be a finalist for this award.

Classes: Cat Rambo is hosting me for three classes in early 2021: Working in Other Worlds: Writing for Franchises, Pitches and Synopses Workshop, and a new one: Project Management for Writers.

Video: A 3 Minute Neck Drill That Will Change Your Life by Mark Wildman. Excellent for writers and all people who hunch over keyboards. I've been doing these every day and I can feel the difference.

Podcast: The Paper Flower Consortium. I am the voice of Lady Agata for all the holiday specials. Soon there will be a blog post about how difficult it is to get the correct conditions to podcast fiction at home.

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. Especially with my lack of convention sales this year.

Tell Me - Loren Rhoads

Loren Rhoads is a friend of mine and she’s in one of my critique groups. I love her research stories. If you haven’t read any of her stuff—fiction or non-fiction alike, you have a treat waiting for you. Today, she’s got one hell of a research story to tell you.

One of the stories in Unsafe Words, my new collection, features Alondra DeCourval, a witch who travels the world to protect people from supernatural monsters and vice versa. I’ve written a series of stories about her over the years.

While I haven’t yet finished a novel about Alondra, I know a lot about her life. Many of the stories I’ve written take place in the year after her teacher suffers a catastrophic heart attack. Alondra panics, unable to face living in the world without Victor’s protection. She goes to more and more extreme lengths to save his life. Although “Valentine” — the story in Unsafe Words — was written early in the cycle, it actually takes place toward the end of Victor’s life.

Of all the Alondra stories, “Valentine” had the most hands-on research. I was lucky enough to have a friend whose brother taught at a small university in Northern California. When I wished someone would teach a human anatomy class for writers, Tom invited me to visit his gross anatomy lab. For two days, he gave me private lessons, using his teaching cadavers.

It had been eighteen years since I dissected a fetal pig in ninth-grade Biology. Just stepping into a science classroom after so many years was strange. The room full of rows of black countertops, tall stools pulled alongside, felt like a dream from childhood.          

The bodies weren’t kept in refrigeration units. Instead, they waited in the front of the classroom, lying in a long stainless steel bin with a hinged two-piece top. One of the memories still clear from ninth-grade dissection was the headache-inducing smell of formaldehyde. Thank goodness preservative technology improved.

When Tom folded open the stainless steel lid, a length of muslin floated atop the brownish red liquid inside. I recoiled but couldn’t look away. Too thin for blood, the liquid reminded me of beef broth. Pools of oil slicked its surface.

Tom moved to the far end of the tank. “See that handle there? You can help me by turning it.”

There should have been scary music as we cranked the cadavers out of the fluid. The bodies rose slowly until the muslin took on their outlines. Two corpses lay head to feet. Through their shrouds, I saw bared teeth and the flensed musculature of jaw.

If Tom had made them twitch, I would have leapt out of my own skin.

He pulled on some heavy turquoise rubber gloves, then folded back the muslin so it shrouded both faces and one entire body. The other woman lay naked and revealed. Her skin had been stripped away. The muscle fibers of her chest were very directional and clear, the raw color of a New York strip steak. Some of the muscles on her arms had been removed to display the bones and tendons beneath. Her fingertips still had skin and nails. Her flesh was the color of dried blood.          

Over the next two days, Tom patiently led me through a semester’s worth of anatomy. Toward the end, he lectured me about cardiac structures. Without warning, he reached out to put a human heart in my hand.

The heart was smaller than I expected, about the size of my fist. I turned it over in my gloves, peering into every opening. I felt like Hamlet with Yorick’s skull. I knew instantly that I was gazing at my own death. My father will die of heart disease, like his father before him. I don’t see how I can escape destiny.

That moment — holding a stranger’s heart in my hand — led directly to writing “Valentine.”

---

Loren Rhoads is the author of a space opera trilogy, a duology about a succubus who falls in love with an angel, and a collection of short stories called Unsafe Words. You can find out more about her work at https://lorenrhoads.com/

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

There are some simple joys in life that you forget about until you unexpectedly experience them again. The one that I recently got to experience is the simple joy of coming home after a trip.

The Husband and I sequestered ourselves in a cabin in the woods by a lake with very little internet (those who know, know) for five days for his birthday. We took every precaution we could: not stopping on the way there, masks, sanitizer, social distancing, etc… We kept it up on our hikes. There was only one person we did not see at least carrying a mask on the hike.

The week away was needed. We spent time in the woods, listened to Old Gods of Appalachia podcast, watched pre-downloaded videos and I watched the Husband play a LOT of HADES—which is spectacular. The writing is amazing, the lore is parceled out, the story opens like an onion, not only do you never have to fight Cerberus, you can pet the puppy, and I am so here for a Thanatos/Zagreus pair up. The replay value on the game is super high, especially for what is basically a looping rogue-lite dungeon crawler.

However, five days away was enough. We both enjoyed the break but we were ready to come home. It was a good feeling after seven months in the house with brief grocery runs to break it up.

On the way home, I felt the blossoming of joy and reveled in the moment. It was me and the Husband driving up the last long leg of the trip. Homebound within the hour. I thought, “Heaven is us driving home, being together, anticipating the joy of our cats, our familiar comforts, and our own territory.”

I hadn’t felt that feeling in over a year.

I’d missed it.

Now I appreciate everything I have all the more.

Bubble & Squeek for 2 Oct 2020

As I'm going to be taking next week as a social media break, here's a bubble and squeek for you.

Call for Submissions: 99 Tiny Terrors. This is my 19th anthology and is the first open call in a long time. I like creepy and atmospheric. All guidelines are here. Call closes EOD, Oct 31.

Cool Distraction: Window Swap FTW. Sometimes you just have to stare out someone else's window. If you need an interesting distraction, this is the website for you.

Workshop: Writing for Franchises, Oct 24, 1-3pm. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to write fiction for your favorite RPG, movie, TV series, videogame, or comic book? The Writing for Franchises workshop can give you an idea of what it is like to write in a universe you do not own—the benefits, the pitfalls, and some of the details you should be aware of. This workshop is focused around writing short stories, novellas, and novels for popular franchises such as Shadowrun, V-Wars, Predator, Master of Orion, and Valdemar.

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 - Adam Gaffen

I met Adam Gaffen while participating in the DragonCon mentoring sessions. He’s got a process to learning all about his novel’s characters and how that informed his decisions on the novel’s universe.

 

Today, I’d like to tell you about how I came to meet Cass and Ken, and how the process of getting to know them led me to creating an entire universe for them.

It all started with a name – Aiyana Cassidy. I knew, immediately, that nobody called her Aiyana, that her friends, her family, they all called her Cass. Once I knew that, I started to get a picture in my mind: red hair, glasses, very serious. A woman who could have traded on her looks, but instead relied on her brains. Proved herself over and over, and is now professionally respected. She does something that requires lots of both practical and theoretical knowledge, how about quantum mechanics tied to optical engineering? Then what? Well, who does she hang out with? Kendra, of course. Kendra Foster-Briggs, a friend from her childhood. Friend? No, more than a friend. Wife? Not yet. Fiancée? Yes.

So Kendra’s her fiancée, and…what? Who’s Kendra? Well, she’s blonde and beautiful and a former movie star. She and Cass grew up together in, in, in the Northern Imperium. What’s a Northern Imperium? It’s one of the countries that has replaced the current United States. How did that happen? Gee, I don’t know, and I don’t think they know either. Kendra was too busy chasing boys in school, and Cass was more interested in science than history. And then, and then, what? Cass went to MIT, of course, while Kendra went to get into the movies. No, not movies, sensies. She was the ‘bad girl’ of the two, and ‘sensies’ seems more interactive than ‘movies’. Now it’s years later, and they reunite because Kendra’s retired and Cass is working in Los Alamos. They fall in love, no, they fall back in love, and move in together.

Gee, what a cozy, domestic scene. But it’s not going anywhere yet; it’s static. Gotta move things along, right? What if they didn’t just fall in love with each other, but another person? Who’s that? Derek seems like a good name. Strong, reliable. Rich? Why not? Doesn’t have to work, so he does light sculpture, and that’s how Cass met him and started seeing him casually. Then seriously. Then introduced him to Kendra and was terrified, but they all hit it off, and finally Cass decides to propose to them both. That leads to a wedding. But, let’s see, what would you not expect from a 22nd Century wedding? How about the minister trying to assassinate Cass?

That would be unexpected.

So Cass and Ken and Derek are going to get married, and the minister pulls out a gun, no, a flechette gun, gotta remember it’s 2113, and then they Run Like Hell – hey! That’s a good title for a book! And we’re a going concern!

Now for more complications, and explanations. Figure out what Cass actually does for work. Kendra can’t just be an ex-actress, right? Has to be more to her. Maybe it was a cover? What if she’s semi-retired, but not as much from sensies as her other profession? And now the banter comes out, the snappy wit, the ease and familiarity between Cass and Ken. Kendra’s a fan of late 20th Century/early 21st Century pop culture, did you know that? No, I didn’t, but it makes sense, given some of the things she says.

Now that I knew more or less who they were, I could start putting together some more ideas, more explanations. Cass specializes in optical engineering and quantum mechanics, what if she put the two together and solved the problem of teleportation? That would make some people in the transportation industry very unhappy, wouldn’t it? Definitely! And if Kendra worked for an outfit that did protection for geniuses like Cass, that not only gives a plausible reason for her to go back to them but also tension between Cass and Ken – was it all just a job? And the outfit would also explain Kendra’s ability to deal with hiding in plain sight, and how to cover their tracks, and all sorts of issues.

And their stories just kept coming! So far I’ve written a quarter-million words in their universe, and they’re nowhere near done!

Thanks for dropping by! Now, if you’ll excuse me, Kendra’s tapping on my shoulder.

***

Adam Gaffen hates writing about himself and does so as little as possible. He's spent most of his life dreaming about other times and places, but when he's on this planet he's with his wife, Michaela, and being plagued by their cats and dogs. He's a trained chef who won't work in restaurants, is seeking a degree in Philosophy (Politics, Morality and Law) at Arizona State University, and is busy writing the third volume of The Cassidy Chronicles. He currently lives in Maine but will be relocating to southern Colorado soon, where he's heard the snow actually melts on occasion.

Tell Me - Bryan Young

Bryan Young is a convention friend of mine who also does a lot of media tie-in writing. Today, he tells me about tackling an unexpected BattleTech project and everything he had to overcome with it.

I wasn’t supposed to be writing about the Clans in BattleTech. Everything I’d pitched for BattleTech over the last few years had been in wildly different directions. And the few ideas I had involving the Clans, none of them involved the Jade Falcons. That didn’t mean I didn’t like the Clans or the Jade Falcons. I just knew that as a brand-new BattleTech writer, Clans would be the hardest thing to get right.

So when I got my first book assignment to tackle a BattleTech book and was informed it would be Clan Jade Falcon, maybe I panicked a little. I’d really focused a lot of my research on mercenaries, on the Davions, on the Kell Hounds, on the Jihad. I’d only skirted around the Clans. But now I had a tight deadline and a lot of catching up to do.

Honor’s Gauntlet was the end result.

I crammed everything I could and was incredibly grateful for the fact check team to help me through everything else. I’d avoided the Clans to my peril, because I found so much interesting material to work with The Jade Falcons are currently tearing up the Inner Sphere in their march to Terra in hopes of becoming the ilClan and they’re doing it in the most horrific ways possible. But some Jade Falcons stand against the war crimes and I got to tell a story about a Warrior who worked his hardest to thread that needle. How do you serve your clan that has clearly got an unethical bloodlust and still remain true to the actual tenets of honor in combat?

That’s the central question I tried to throw at Archer Pryde, the man who would become the lead character in my book. He’s different than other Jade Falcons and Clan Warriors. He commands with respect for competency and encouragement rather than the fear endemic to the Jade Falcon command structure and he gets results. But the leadership of the Falcons, starting with Malvina Hazen, right at the top, didn’t really like that. And that’s what built the political drama of my story. The big stompy ’Mech action was the easy part.

And now that it’s done, I’m proud of the result. I think I was able to create something unique and interesting in a sprawling universe that sometimes takes a while to get your bearings in. And I had to do it fast, which just goes to show that deadlines spur creativity rather than stifle it.

I hope people enjoy it, but whether they do or not is secondary to the fact that I had a great time and learned a lot doing it.

***

Bryan Young works across many different media. He worked as a writer and producer of documentary films, which were called "filmmaking gold" by The New York Times. He's also published comic books with Slave Labor Graphics and Image Comics. He's been a regular contributor for the Huffington Post, StarWars.com, Star Wars Insider magazine, SYFY, /Film, and the founder and editor in chief of the geek news and review site Big Shiny Robot! He co-authored Robotech: The Macross Saga RPG in 2019 and in 2020 he wrote a novel in the BattleTech Universe called Honor's Gauntlet.

Tell Me - Kris Katzen

Today Kris Katzen tells me about fighting imposter syndrome to take on one of her favorite genres: Superheroes.

I've always loved superheroes.  I like the action and the adventure, the humor and the camaraderie, and the good guys winning—most especially the good guys winning.  I don't do dark or dour or grim.  Nothing wrong with any of that, it's just not my thing. I'd wanted to write a superheroes novel for a long time, and finally I took the plunge.  Then—in the best tradition of superhero stories—stuff got in the way, and the project didn't go nearly as fast as I'd wanted. 

Although I eagerly dove in, Escapes ended up on the back burner for quite a while.  By that, I mean for years, not just for weeks or months.  Life and a bunch of other writing projects intervened, so once I could take it off the back burner,  I was looking at it with a fresh eye.  What I read shocked me.

Brief tangent: every writer I know is their own worst critic.  Every single one suffers from bouts of Imposter Syndrome—however briefly or sporadically.  We're never satisfied with what we write, and never consider it finished or good enough.  Yes, writers are also often proud of their work, but at times the doubt creeps—or crashes—in. But enough digression.

I read this Work in Progress of mine and—to my great pleasure and relief, and more than a little astonishment—I liked it!  No Imposter Syndrome at the moment.  The story contained humor and excitement.  The characters came across as vivid and distinct, and just really cool, appealing characters.  I loved it that so much of my concept had translated so well to the page.  That encouraged me and made it much easier and faster to finish. 

I ended up with the origin story of how this group of incredibly disparate individuals came together and decided to stay together.  The ensemble 'cast' of seven needed to be distinct, dynamic, and delightful, not to mention radically different from each other.  A former soldier is wanted for being a traitor.  A erstwhile priest has been sentenced to death for speaking out against her order's dogma.  A deposed empress is fleeing a trial for her mismanaged reign.  A beyond-brilliant scientific genius comes from a world where the bulk of the population regards science with benign contempt.  An explorer comes from a world of homebodies, and a pair of con artists comes from one of the most law-abiding, honor-system planets around.

Their backgrounds made uniting them the biggest hurdle.  Why would a disgraced soldier, a heretical priest, a overthrown monarch, a renegade scientist, a solitary explorer, and two outcast con artists stay together?  How would they even meet? As if their backgrounds and personalities didn't present enough of a challenge, they also needed to deal with an additional obstacle:  vastly diverse sizes.

The tiniest member of the team is an inch tall.  Yes, an inch.  Think Ant Man and the Wasp, except that that is her permanent and natural size.  At the opposite extreme, the most gigantic person in the group is over two hundred feet tall.  Yes, a twenty-story-building-tall person.  The five remaining characters range in height from two feet to twenty feet.  Nothing like variety!  The seven of them need different ships suited to their physiology—not to mention their incredibly different tastes.

So, seven characters with absolutely nothing in common who don't even like each other, let alone trust each other. 

But . . .  "Escapes", you ask?  How?  Why?  From whom?  The better question is, who isn't after them?  Their respective former compatriots are.  Law enforcement personnel are.  Bounty hunters are.  Evil scientists are.  As are any individuals they might run into who would happily turn them in for a huge reward.  They'd gladly just remain in hiding, but that's far easier said than done.  If one group of adversaries hasn't found them, another has.  Other times, they're forced to choose between remaining out of sight, or potentially revealing themselves to help someone in need or prevent an all-out catastrophe.  The only thing never an issue for them is boredom.

And that's my entry in the superhero field:  action-packed fun zooming among the stars, and trying to not get killed.

***

At seven years old, Kris Katzen wrote her first novel—all of seven pages!—and hasn't stopped since.  She writes mainly science fiction and fantasy, but (under various pen names) has published in almost every genre.  She loves astronomy, history, all things cinematic and theatrical, speaks fluent German and earned a black belt in Shotokan.  Most importantly, though, she is the doting mom of her beloved, astronomically adorable swarm of felines.

Bubble & Squeek for 24 Aug 2020

Upcoming Class: Pitches and Synopses with Jennifer Brozek (me). This is a repeat of my super popular WorldCon panel, September 13 @ 9:30 am - 11:30 am PST

Event Recording : Here is the recording of JulyCon - all 6 writer panels. I'm on two of them.

Audiobook Releases: YA'LL! They are finally out…not one but two #Shadowrun works in audio! DocWagon 19 (novella) about a high threat response team as told by a novahot reporter.  AND... Makeda Red (novel) about an adventure across Europe that starts with a train heist.  Both are narrated by the fabulous Liisa Lee!  

Helpful YouTube: The Four Organizing Styles - Breakdown and FAQs. Since more of us are using our houses differently because of working from home or homeschooling, this could help.  

Helpful YouTube: How to Be Alone. Four areas that you can, and should, control: Environment, Body Upkeep, Productivity, Relaxation. If quarantine is getting to you, you're not alone.

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.

Nine Gentle YouTube Channels

Things are not fine in 2020. We know it. There are a lot of things to worry about. There is also a distinct need to be able to disconnect or distract from our problems. One of the ways I do that is having a series of YouTube channels to watch. I’ve listen nine of them below that are what I consider to be “gentle.” They are happy, have little in the way of stress, and are interesting.

Cute Animals

MilkyBokiTan – This is a channel about a Samoyed dog (Milky), a Norwegian Forest cat (Goboki), and a recent adopted orange rescue cat (Tan). It is super cute. The owners adore their pets. In fact, at this point, it appears their job is taking care of the pets and giving them interesting enrichment. This channel posts almost every day. English subtitled.

ChooChoo's Story – This is a quiet channel about a woman who has semi-tamed a colony of chipmunks around her house by a lake. She feeds them, pets them, and keeps you up-to-date on their lives. It’s super cute. This channel posts a couple times a week. English subtitled.

Walter Santi – This channel is about a colony of cats in a guy’s backyard in Bulgaria (I believe). This is the closest I’ve ever seen to a living Court of Cats in the real world. Every cat has a name and a personality. They feed the cats, make up stories about them, and build shelters for them. The most persistent sounds are the cats and the guy laughing. He also has two indoor cats and a dog. This channel posts about about once a week or so. English subtitled.

 

Got Skills

LockPickingLawyer – This channel is about what it is named: a lawyer who is a champion lockpicker. I watch this dude because he’s fast, has a nice voice, and his videos are short. The writer in me loves this. So does Fantasy Jenn. You don’t see his face. And you won’t have faith in locks after this. Updates several times a week.

Gardeners Cottage Blakeney – Set in the UK, this is a new channel for me. This channel visits seaside cottages, English flower and vegetable gardens, and other such pleasant places. Updates several times a week, the host has a nice, quiet English voice, and shows the viewer just places of beauty and interest.

Renovation East – Set in Germany, this is one of those channels that blew up overnight. It is about a guy buying and renovating a house next to his by the lake. He’s not a professional renovator, but he’s pretty good. He explains what he’s doing, why, and where he makes mistakes. It’s a once-a-week channel and is weirdly interesting and soothing to watch.

 

Knowledge and Information

The British Museum – The official channel for the British Museum. It posts about once a week about something intriguing found in the museum. It’s random. It’s interesting. It’s informative. The video lengths vary. Bonus, British voices which I find soothing.

The B1M – This is the “definitive” channel for construction all over the world. It has a regular weekly post on some topic involving construction. This is one of those really neat channels that inspires my writer brain. Especially for near future stories. There’s so much that’s really interesting about how skylines are constructed and the technology involved.

Launch Pad Astronomy – Science for the win! This channel is run by one of the two main professors for the Launch Pad Astronomy for writers workshop. Christian puts out 2-3 videos a month about something in-depth about astronomy, telescopes, NASA, or the like. Super interesting and informative. Bonus because I know Christian personally.

 

These are not all the video channels I watch. There’s a lot more on PokemonGO, animal rescue, DYI channels, tiny houses, minimalism, and a variety of vloggers. These were the ones I chose because they soothed me. 

As a bonus, I’m going to leave you with my Slow TV Playlist. This is a YouTube playlist of train rides (driver’s view), snowfall, the ocean shore, a campfire at night, and a birdfeeder. This is the kind of thing I like to put on in the background for ambient noise and pretty moving pictures. You don’t have to pay a lot of attention to it. It’s more to keep you company than anything else.

 

I hope you’ve found something gentle and soothing for you to enjoy in this list.