Jennifer Brozek | All posts tagged 'Tell me'

Tell Me - Michael Pogach

by Jennifer Brozek 21. September 2015 08:46

Spiders, Gods, and Monsters

“What’s your book called?” I’ve been asked a couple dozen times since I announced its upcoming release.

The Spider in the Laurel.”

“Oh. Is there a real spider in it?” is the inevitable next question.

This is where I get stuck. I want to say, “Yes, there is a real spider in it, insomuch as the gods and monsters we write about in sci-fi and fantasy are real.”

But I see the look. Spiders are creepy. Scary. I’m not buying a novel with a spider in the title, and on the cover, and in the damn book.

So I say, “No, the spider is a metaphor. A part of a fairy tale actually.”

“I like fairytales. Which one?”

Now I’m stuck again. If I say that it’s a brand new fairy tale that I made up, I get a new look. I’ll believe you wrote a hundred thousand word novel. But a brand new fairy tale. Come on, author-man. I’m not buying it.

I take the easy way out. I change the subject. I start talking about the novel’s title. It spent more than half its life being called Genesis Lied. I liked the title. It came out of a spit-balling session with my writers group at California Pizza Kitchen. I like it, but I didn’t love it. I stayed on the lookout for something better.

That something better arrived in the form of a 120 year old Herman Melville poem I found while searching for epigraphs for the book. The line, sort of the poem’s volta, just sang. I snatched it like a six year old pocketing a three pound gummy bear in a candy store – no thought for result or consequence.

The new title vanquished the old. But a new trouble arose. My novel had nothing to do with spiders, laurels, or Herman Melville. I had to take a step back. Re-see and reevaluate.

I’d already built an entire new mythos for the book by reinterpreting Mesopotamian and Minoan mythology, weaving this through Biblical tradition, and tying it to a little-known (at least, little-known outside of Europe) Dark Age relic called the Vase of Soissons.

But the thing about mythology is that it’s macro, by definition. It’s all about explaining origins and defining archetypes. That sense of scale, that aloofness, had pervaded the entire story. It had turned my characters into types, not people. I needed to re-humanize them.

The solution came to me while I was shopping in a bookstore with my wife, choosing which fairytale collections we wanted for our soon-to-be-born (at the time) daughter.

I set to, right away, thumb-typing into my phone’s ‘memo’ app. Fairytales, you see, are the next step in any mythology. They break from explaining the universal, and focus instead on teaching the individual. What better way is there for a parent to teach a child not to judge a book by its cover, or to beware strangers, or perhaps – as Simon teaches his daughter MacKenzie in my novel – to trust her heart most when the danger of betrayal is at its highest.

“Long ago, when it was still good to wish for a thing,” I wrote, “there was a red-haired princess in a kingdom by the sea.”

I wrote the whole fairytale in a day. I gave it to MacKenzie for safe keeping. And yes, there is a spider in it. But it’s only as real as gods and monsters. And when have they ever prevented a good night’s sleep or a happily ever after?

Michael Pogach is the author of the sci-fi thriller The Spider in the Laurel. He began writing stories in grade school. He doesn’t remember these early masterpieces, but his parents tell him everyone in them died. He’s gained some humanity since then, and has been known to allow characters to survive his tales these days. You can find his stories in journals such as New Plains Review, Third Wednesday, and Workers Write, as well as the chapbook Zero to Sixty. He is hard at work on two more novels, countless more stories, and keeping his infant daughter from eating everything she can reach. Michael's website is:

Release date for The Spider in the Laurel is Sept 21.


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Tell Me - Wendy Hammer

by Jennifer Brozek 31. August 2015 10:35

Wendy Hammer is the newest Apocalypse Ink Productions author. She's an excellent writer and a fun person to be around. Here's is what she has to say about THE THIN.

Three Things about THE THIN: Cross Cutting (Book One)


  I started the first Cross Cutting story with a clear image of the main character—her personality, appearance, and magic ability. Trinidad’s name didn’t come together until I figured out her history.

That choice started with setting. Her magic is tied to place, but she doesn’t have a permanent bond with one. When I start thinking about stories, contested spaces, displacement, identity, and power, my mind turns to postcolonial theory and literature. I teach literature, so it’s an occupational hazard, I suppose.

My graduate school research had a lot to do with Africa in literature so I turned there first. Then I became interested in the relationship between her magic and island territories, and I eventually turned my attention to the Caribbean. Trinidad, in particular, stood out for its history, culture, and beautiful language. I chose Ireland to pair with it for similar reasons.

Once I could pinpoint where my character came from, the name Trinidad O’Laughlin didn’t take long to come up with.



I like to create music playlists for inspiration. I’ll drive or walk around and listen to that music while I think about character and plot points. I usually have to stick to instrumentals for the actual writing part, but anything goes the rest of the time. The list for the first Cross Cutting novella was a mix of calypso, soca, rapso, chutney, Irish folksongs, contemporary Irish bands, and random songs featuring variations of the word walk. I threw in a few punk songs for good measure—and because I’m a longtime fan.



The inspiration for THE THIN came from walking along the Cultural Heritage trail in Indianapolis. My imagination was fired up by the sight of a bunch of vans parked in a garage at the corner of Virginia Ave and Maryland Street.

Though I fudged a few details here and there, I did use Google Maps’ Street View while I was writing the novella. One of the best surprises was when I noticed that the vans are there.

It gave me shivers. I love that kind of thing.

Wendy Hammer grew up in Wisconsin. She has degrees in English from The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ball State University. She teaches literature and composition at a community college. Thanks to her job, she's heard all the usual MC Hammer jokes, but figures someone will surprise her with a new one someday. She's mostly cool with that. She writes speculative fiction (fantasy, horror and science fiction) and is an affiliate member of HWA. Wendy lives in West Lafayette, Indiana with her husband.



Tell Me - Ari Marmell

by Jennifer Brozek 24. August 2015 09:45

Ari is a friend of mine and someone who has written for me. He’s a great guy and an even better writer. I’m happy to have inspired him in some small way. I really like the Mick Oberon books.


It's both funny and highly appropriate that I'm writing this "Tell Me" post about HALLOW POINT for Jennifer's web site. See, she doesn't know this—or I guess she does by the time you're reading this, but she didn't before I sent this to her—but in a small way, she's part of the reason that my character of Mick Oberon exists at all.

Real quick, first, for those of you who don't know. Mick Oberon is a PI in Chicago in the 1930s, very much in the model of a Chandler of Mammett protagonist. He's also, however, one of the aes sidhe, and a noble-in-exile from the Seelie Court. The books about him—both the new one, HALLOW POINT, and the first one, called HOT LEAD, COLD IRON—are a mixture of gangland/noir mystery and urban fantasy.

Now, I've been asked before how I came up with Mick, and what I tell people is that he's basically an "Athena character," by which I mean he sprang full-grown from my head one day. And that's true, so far as it goes; he really did just pop to mind. I didn't set out tp envision any such character, nor was I planning to write a noir/fantasy mix. It all just came to me.

But part of the reason it came to me is that I was already thinking about fairy tales. And the reason I was thinking about fairy tales is that I'd just been invited to contribute to an anthology of short stories called HUMAN TALES, a book of "reverse" fairy tales. (That is, where the faeries or other supernatural creatures with the protagonists, and it was the humans who were the monsters or the mysteries.) The story I wound up writing for that book, called "Tithe," had nothing whatsoever to do with Mick Oberon; he wasn't really an appropriate character for what I wanted to do with that project.

He stuck with me, though, and wound up developing into a character and an idea for which I've already written two novels, and hope to write a great many more. It's not quite like anything else I've written, and it's not quite like most of the other urban fantasy out there. These books are their own thing, Mick's his own character, and maybe I'd have come up with him even if I hadn't been contemplating fairy tales that evening. But then again, maybe I wouldn't.

So thanks, Jennifer, for this opportunity to talk to him—and just possibly for spurring me to come up with him in the first place.

Read more Ari at his website: Mouseferatu: Rodents of the Dark.



Tell Me - Russ Pitts

by Jennifer Brozek 18. August 2015 12:46

Russ Pitts 
President, Flying Saucer Media 
Project: Stage of Development Kickstarter ( 

I was in my first year as Features Editor for when I sat with Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio in Austin, Texas for an interview about their game, Dishonored. The game was coming out in a few months and nobody at studio Arkane or at publisher Bethesda was sure how well it would be received. Tracey Thompson from Bethesda had called me to ask if I would write a thing about Harvey and Raph to drum up interest in the game’s creators (and by extension the game) and I said yes and so there I was. 

We had just gotten back for lunch. I’d eaten a small salad to be polite, but I wasn’t hungry. I’d stopped for tacos on the drive down from Dallas, because I’d forgotten to eat breakfast and was starving. This made me late, and Harvey and Raph had looked a little pissed off when I arrived, but these things happen. I think they were hungry. Now we were settled comfortably in a small room at Arkane, Harvey and Raph had finally eaten, and they were starting to talk. 

The interview opened with the usual stuff about how they got their respective starts in games, where they first met and so on. It turned out they had an interesting history of casual encounters and similar life circumstances before ever working together. They could almost have been the same person, apart for one being Texan and the other French. I felt like there was a good story there, and kept asking questions and listening to answers. 

Then, without warning, Harvey launched into this miserable and sad tale about how he grew up in a nothing town on the Texas Gulf Coast and his mother died of an overdose and his father commit suicide. How he joined the military to escape a dead-end future. How he barely survived both experiences. And how he now channels this tragedies into his video games. I was in shock. I had never heard such a real, raw and emotional story in a video game interview. 

I looked over at Tracey as if to ask “Is this on-record? ” 

She looked back, eyes wide and shrugged. She had no idea. Maybe? 

So I kept the material, wrote it intro the piece and the result is one of my favorite stories about video games of all time. It got a lot of people talking about Polygon, and Dishonored, and a few months later both endeavors would become hugely successful.
But the whole time I was talking with Harvey and Raph, writing that story and publishing it I was thinking, “F- - -, we should have had a video camera in there. ”
A few months later I got the chance to develop a web series based on what I wish I could have done with Harvey and Raph. Human Angle was just that — the human angle of video games. It featured people whose stories were at an intersection of humanity and video games. People of all kinds. We produced 12 episodes, but I always felt like we had just barely scratched the surface. 

Stage of Development is my chance to get back to that, and finish what I started with human Angle. Starting with the stories of Brenda and John Romero and Spry Fox, two stories that are a lot alike in spite (or perhaps because of) their differences. 

I’ve been following both stories for some time. I’ve been interested to see how John Romero has handled a transition from making big-budget games to more indie stuff. Seeing how his relationship (and then marriage) with Brenda Brathwaite, now Brenda Romero influenced his work, and vice versa. And now how the two of them, with the launch of Donovan Romero’s game Gunman Taco Truck, have truly crated a family business. To be able to capture their passion for family and video games, and — for them — how the two are inseparable was a privilege. 

Spry Fox is a different beast. You probably don’t know much about them unless you’ re a game developer. If you are, though, you know they’re one of the most influential studios in the business. Principals David Edery and Dan “danc” Cook are both highly regarded and well known in the industry. Dan especially is considered one of the brightest developers there is. So many people have told me they look to him for advice and guidance, I’ve often wondered why his own company had yet to see a truly blockbuster game. 

When I reached out to Spry Fox about Stage of Development, they were just finishing what they called “a little mobile game” that would become surprise hit Alphabear. I genuinely believe their success story is yet to be fully written, and I wanted to be there to capture it. 

If Stage of Development fully funds at Kickstarter, these are only the first of the stories we’ll be able to tell.


Tell Me - Abner Senires

by Jennifer Brozek 10. August 2015 10:43

Cyberpunk Sisters-in-Arms

It began in college. A series of ongoing stories about a wandering swordswoman. My version of Red Sonja.

I read through the first three Ace/Lancer Conan books for inspiration and began preparing the world of my swordswoman. The kingdoms and villages and lands she'd wander. The kinds of magic she'd encounter.

Halfway through the third Ace/Lancer collection I stumbled across Lieber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, either from a comment in that collection's introductory essay or in some other reading I was doing at the time. Something about that caught my attention. I can't recall if it was a idea of TWO wandering warriors or something else, but it sent me around to local used bookstores to track them down.

After a few hours of wandering between stores, I finally located the first two story collections of those tales. Over the next week or so, I read through Swords and Deviltry and Swords Against Death and my solitary swordswoman took on a companion. Now I had pair of wandering women warriors. By then I had a vaguely sketched out map of a world, a series of names of exotic fantasy cities and towns, and a rough history of the world. I even had some likely scenarios for my adventuring duo.

But I didn't get beyond that.

As it was, Xena and her sidekick, Gabrielle, were already swinging swords on TV. Warrior women duos appeared to be already taken care of so I shelved the premise for the time being.

Fast forward a few years.

1996, if I remember correctly.

I was reading a Gunsmith Cats graphic novel when the wandering women warrior duo leaped back into my mind and the following train of thought occurred to me: Gunsmith Cats was about a pair of female bounty-hunters working the mean streets of present-day Chicago. Xena was about a pair of female warriors in a Greek-myth/medieval-esque/fantasy world. Then an anime series came to mind: Dirty Pair, about a pair of female agents in the far future.

What about a pair of female warriors in the near-future? In the world of cyberpunk?


Enter Kat and Mouse.

I remember the idea grabbing me by the shorthairs in a vice-grip, yanking me close, and a low, breathy voice saying, "Write me. Write me now."

I then remember diving into my bookshelves for my copies of Neuromancer and Burning Chrome, the Mirroshades anthology, and my dog-eared copies of the Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun RPG manuals, followed by furious scribblings as ideas rushed out in a flood. Movies and anime came to mind. RoboCop. Demolition Man. Blade Runner. Bubblegum Crisis. Appleseed. Akira.

It took another four years before the duo's first escapade appeared in an online zine.

Eight years before I decided to turn it into an online serial.

Since it premiered in December of 2008, I've written somewhere around 150,000 words over 25 episodes and 160-something blog posts depicting the pistol-packing, katana-swinging, butt-kicking escapades of these two Sisters in Arms.

Yes, it may be cliche-ridden, trope-filled, and escapist.

But you know something?

It's the most fun I've ever had writing.

I'm not out to change the world or examine the human condition with these stories.

I just want to take you on a slam-bang, catch-your-breath, roller coaster ride with chills, spills, and thrills.

And if you walk away from reading these tales with a smile on your face and the potential thought of "Hey! Let's ride that again!", then I have done my job.

Abner Senires. Fed on a steady diet of SF/Fantasy novels, genre movies and television, videogames, comic books, Saturday morning cartoons, anime and manga, and role-playing games as a youth,  the man who would be king   Abner Senires eventually grew up into a wombat   a tea cosy   a strange little brown man.

He  has now waged war on   has laid siege to   laid an egg   writes sci-fi pulp adventure (and sometimes ventures into regular science fiction, fantasy, and possibly horror).

He confesses to being a SF/Fantasy/movie/genre TV/comic book/RPG/anime/manga/weapons/firearms fan.
One day he hopes to become a firetruck.   He has never stayed at a Holiday Inn Express.

He lives  in his own deranged imagination   just outside Seattle, WA with his wife and a pair of rambunctious cats.


Tell Me - Jason Sizemore

by Jennifer Brozek 30. June 2015 09:32

For the first time, someone has turned the tables on me in these Tell Me guest blogs. When I asked Jason Sizemore to tell me something about For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher, I didn't expect him to talk about me. I won't lie, this post made me a little teary-eyed.

Also, I've read For Exposure. It is laugh out loud funny, informative, and a very good look on the inside of a small press publisher. It is very much worth the read.


For Exposure: Jennifer Brozek

You’re reading this because I wrote a book titled For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher. It’s a behind the scenes look at the business of publishing, some of the more outlandish predicaments I’ve landed in, and an ode to all the hardworking authors, artists, and editors who have helped me over the years. One such person is Jennifer Brozek.

Jennifer—you are about to be exposed.

If I recall properly, Jenn Brozek started her editorial journey working as an Apex Magazine slush reader. For the uninitiated, a slush reader is a publication’s first reader. In publishing circles, these hardworking first readers are almost always unpaid interns, volunteers, or friends you can talk into sorting the submissions chaff from the diamonds. I admit with some degree of sadness that Apex is no different—the company has never been solvent enough to pay slush readers in anything other than experience, free books, and my undying gratitude. Back when Jenn joined our crew, we have 10 to 12 people fighting the slush.

Once in a while, a slush reader will stand out from the rest—just like how a great story that finds its way out of the submissions pile to the editor-in-chief. The stories I was receiving from one of my first readers consistently impressed me in terms of quality and style. This newbie, Jennifer Brozek, had obviously studied the type of work I liked to publish in Apex Magazine. I got to know Jenn better via email and Gchat and found her to be highly motivated, responsible, and career driven. She was (and still is) a strong, professional woman. I immediately liked her, and impressed by her skills, I asked if she would take on more responsibility for Apex. She said “Yes” and before long, Apex was benefitting immensely from Jenn’s presence on my editorial team.

A couple of years passed and our friendship grew. My professional estimation of Jenn also grew. I figured it was only a matter of time before she left to pursue the next, bigger steps in her career.

It came to be that Jenn and I would be in attendance at GenCon. She had asked for a private meeting with me. “Uh oh,” I thought. “Here it is. The big kiss off. The parting of the ways. The thanks for everything but I’m out of here.”

We had our meeting. I was braced to hug her and wish her well. Instead, she caught me completely off guard. She politely outlined all the ways she had helped Apex over the previous three years. I nodded in confused agreement. Finally, the shoe dropped.

“I want you to make me your senior editor.”

I was stunned into momentary silence. At first, I found such a bold request to be off-putting. But as my brain analyzed the situation, it became obvious that this wonderful, career-oriented, intelligent, and charming lady absolutely deserved to be my senior editor.

I accepted her offer. [Editor's note: I thought he was going to fire me for being so audacious.]

If you get a chance to read For Exposure, you’ll recognize that Apex has a knack of finding incredibly skilled young editors to be part of the company. Jenn is one of the best examples of this knack.

So here we are, several years later, and she has earned a much-deserved Hugo Award nomination. When I heard she was a nominee, I was filled with pride and happiness. The woman has worked her butt off for every one of her many successes.  She selfless and pays it forward to anyone who needs help. In an awards season filled with petty bitterness, endless debates of merit, and slate-based cheating, Jenn’s nomination is a bright spot. A nice person who is extremely talented made the final ballot, and that is good.

Thank you to Jenn Brozek for all that she’s done for Apex Publications and for giving me a guest spot on her blog. I only hope that she didn’t mind being exposed!


Jason Sizemore is the author of For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher. It is available now from Amazon, B&N, and Apex Publications. For more information about the author, visit his website at, or follow his Twitter feed @apexjason.


Tell Me - C.A. Suleiman

by Jennifer Brozek 22. June 2015 08:31

I've not yet met C.A. Suleiman but I have met a lot of the contributors to THE LOST CITADEL, all of whom are worth reading. This is one reason why they decided to do a shared world anthology. One I can get behind.


"The city is called “Redoubt”... and so far as anyone knows, it is the last.

Seven decades ago, there were cities upon cities; kingdoms and nations, the remains of ancient empire. Cultures at war, cultures at trade. Races with varying degrees of alliance and distrust. Humans, elves, dwarves, and others; magic and monsters, rare but real. Regions of desolation, certainly, but also regions of plenty; forests, farmlands, and fields. And so it was for millennia, through two dynamic ages the lorekeepers and scribes called Ascensions.

Until the world ended. Most call it the Fall, but whatever term a given people choose to use, it marked the point where everything—everything—changed. Nations crumbled. Races died. Magic sputtered. Nature sickened.

The Dead woke."

The Lost Citadel is a shared-world horror fantasy edited and developed by yours truly, based on an idea I percolated with my longtime collaborator, fantasy and horror novelist Ari Marmell. The first project in the world of the Lost Citadel is an anthology of short stories called Tales of the Lost Citadel (now live on Kickstarter), featuring some of the most acclaimed voices in fantasy and horror fiction

The idea of the Lost Citadel is more ambitious in scope than a single collection of words. Both Ari and I grew up on, and were pretty strongly inspired by, the shared-world fantasy explorations of the late '80s, especially the setting of Thieves' World and its signature city, Sanctuary. That series was formative for more than a few fantasy writers, but Ari and I had what we feel is a 21st-century vision of the shared-world approach to world-building and narrative, and that's what really got us excited.

With this setting, we're trying to re-define the idea of what it means to “share” a fantasy world, to have different voices and talents come together to build, express, and explore a world with a particular set of themes and aesthetics. We're working with writers, yes, but also fine artists, musicians, graphic designers, cartographers, and more; anyone whose gifts might help flesh out and embolden the world of the Lost Citadel.

Like in all the best stories, the written word is just the beginning.

C.A. Suleiman has contributed scores of books to some of fandom's top properties, including Dungeons & Dragons and the World of Darkness. Along with being the developer of the award-winning Mummy line, he co-authored the flagship game Vampire: The Requiem and created the Egyptian-fantasy world of Hamunaptra (first published in boxed set form by Green Ronin Publishing). He’s especially proud to have shepherded development of the world’s first fantasy campaign setting – Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor – and to have worked alongside its storied creator until his passing in 2009. In addition to the books he’s written and developed, C.A. has written material for board games, hobby periodicals, and of course fiction. C.A. is a long-standing member of the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design (GAMA), for which he has served for years and as jury foreman for the annual Origins Awards, and is a regular Guest of Honor at hobby and fandom conventions around the world, including a two-time diamond Guest of Honor at Dragon*Con and Fan Expo U.K.

C.A. lives in the Washington, D.C. area, where his band (Toll Carom) is busy toiling away at its latest concept album. Despite the many and varied protestations of his better judgment, he finds himself a regular contributor to the Facebook.



Tell Me - Angélique Jamail

by Jennifer Brozek 10. June 2015 15:53

As a writer, I have, on occasion, been accused of pulling my punches.

Not often, but that criticism has been levied once or twice in feedback on a WIP. And like most writers, I’ve fallen into the hateful trap of obsessing over negative details (valid or not), rather than seeing what actually works in a manuscript. Some might call this counterproductive. Usually they’d be right, but paying careful attention to critiques that stick in my craw has helped me improve my work. And grow a thicker skin.

One time, though, this fixation led to a change in me, not in the manuscript. I was going through final edits of my novelette, FINIS.. In it, a character considers drowning herself. I knew in my gut the end of her arc was the right one. I wasn’t trying to be Kate Chopin or Shakespeare; nor was I writing realistic fiction. FINIS. is magic realism, a fantastical type of literary fiction. I could make anything happen to this character that I wanted, John Updike and the laws of nature be damned.

“You want nice things to happen to your characters,” one workshop partner insisted, her nose crinkling just slightly above her smile. “You love tidy endings.”

I didn’t roll my eyes.

But while finishing the edits for FINIS., I did wonder if I had a problem.

That week, I got a call from a friend I’d gone to college with. Another of our contemporaries, Heather, whom I hadn’t seen in a few years, had died. She’d drowned. Tethered to a paddleboard in a calm-looking but swiftly moving river, snagged underwater by some fallen tree branches, her board got lodged, and she got held under. Her ten-year-old daughter screamed and screamed for help, but when it arrived, Heather was dead.

Every part of this, from the unnecessary loss of my friend’s life to the trauma of her young daughter’s watching it happen, is horrifying. There’s no getting around that, and no amount of condolences, though appreciated, will ever change a single detail.

In my grief, I put my story away. I couldn’t even look at it. But deadlines don’t care about the dead, and eventually I had to bring it back up and smooth out those final line edits.

I considered changing the story, but I knew that wouldn’t be right for the character. I fixed a comma splice and changed a few more words around. I tweaked a metaphor and added a line of wry dialogue. In places, I’m told, FINIS. is funny, but I couldn’t feel it anymore. I couldn’t take pleasure in the craft of writing. All I could hear was Heather’s daughter crying for help, and all I could think about was that the child’s anguished shriek was the last thing her mother ever heard.

I’m told that drowning is a peaceful way to go. The senses dull, everything fades into a heavy quiet, a liquid thrumming. Like going to sleep on a boat, maybe like going to sleep in the womb. I don’t know, but the idea that there is peace, that one goes back to the beginning of things, was strangely comforting.

I added that detail to the story. That was the extent to which I changed my manuscript as a result of Heather’s death.

But the more I worked on those edits, the more I let the story wash over me, the more I submerged myself in it––the more my grief subsided, like ripples on a lake growing wider, gentler until indistinguishable from the lake itself. No longer a disturbance, but a feature of the world. I will never lose this grief. I don’t have to. It simply is.

Tim O’Brien, in The Things They Carried, speaks of writing as unintentional therapy. I don’t think that’s what was happening to me, not really, not in the way writing about the Vietnam War arguably staved off his PTSD. But in the chapter “The Lives of the Dead,” he writes about a nine-year-old girl named Linda, whom his character Timmy loved and lost to brain cancer in elementary school. Later, in his adult life, he dreams her back into existence. She speaks of the afterlife as if being dead were like being a book on a shelf that no one is reading at the moment. It’s not some agony or paradise, it just is. And he realizes that writing a book about a character who is himself is like trying to save his own young life “with a story.”

I don’t know if something could have saved my friend’s life. I don’t know whether it’s better or worse to think that her accident could have been prevented. I look at my own ten-year-old daughter, on the cusp of middle school, and worry preemptively about the things she’s going to deal with in her world, and I hope that the worst tragedy she ever encounters is the death of our ancient cat. We cannot save everyone, after all.

But we try. We are writers and we destroy lives and worlds and ideologies. And sometimes, we don’t.

And sometimes, that choice is the right one.

Angélique Jamail’s poetry and essays have appeared in over two dozen anthologies and journals, including Time-Slice (2005), Improbable Worlds (2011), Pluck Magazine (2011), and The Milk of Female Kindness – An Anthology of Honest Motherhood (2013). Her work was selected as a Finalist for the New Letters Prize in Poetry in 2011. Her magic realism novella Finis. (2014) has been praised by fiction writer Ari Marmell as having “some of the most real people I’ve encountered via text in a long time,” and by poet Marie Marshall as “a witty tale of conformity, prejudice, and transformation, in a world that is disturbing as much for its familiarity as for its strangeness.” She teaches Creative Writing and English at The Kinkaid School in Houston. Find her online at her blog Sappho’s Torque (



Tell Me - Russell Proctor

by Jennifer Brozek 9. March 2015 09:15

The Spark of Inspiration

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Heard that one before? That’s nothing. I found a picture that has so far been worth over 270,000 words.

I can’t show you the picture, unfortunately, since I don’t know who drew it or where it came from and I don’t want to breach any copyright that the artist may be entitled to. It landed on my Facebook page one day and caught my attention.

Let me describe the picture to you. It shows little Alice Liddell from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Dorothy Gale from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz sitting under a tree drinking tea. Alice is contemplating her tea cup with a rather thoughtful expression on her face. Toto the dog and Dinah the cat sit at their feet. The caption reads, ‘I’ve seen some weird shit.’

This picture got me thinking. What if Alice and Dorothy really did meet up? What would happen? I know there had been Alice and Dorothy mash-ups before, and certainly other books using the characters, but I was struck with the idea of an adult-oriented, horror story in which Alice and Dorothy join forces to combat some evil of a very deadly nature.

So I sat down to write what I thought was going to be a novella of about 40,000 words. Half-way through writing it Permuted Press became interested in the work and negotiations with them led to a series based on the idea. It took off from there and the story became what is now a trilogy of full-length novels collectively titled The Jabberwocky Book.

A single image led to an idea that led to two years of writing. You never know where inspiration is going to take you.

The work now consists of three books, the first of which, The Red King, is due out this month. The second book, An Unkindness of Ravens, and the third, The Looking-Glass House, will be published later this year and next year.

It was fun extrapolating the characters, and researching the time in which the series is set, Edwardian England. There was a real Alice Liddell, on whom the fictional character in Carroll’s books was based, and I thought about what sort of woman the fictional Alice might grow up to become, and also how her adventures might have affected her psychologically and emotionally. That was a lot of fun, too.

But none of that would have happened if that image hadn’t landed in my computer. I didn’t ask for it, it was just a picture someone (probably illegally) shared around. But it set something off in my brain that had me tapping away at a keyboard for a long time. Of course, if Permuted Press hadn’t put up their hand and indicated interest it would probably have stayed a novella and been less detailed and far less of a challenge.

Inspiration doesn’t just come from many sources – it can come from any source. Unexpectedly. That light-bulb moment where the writer asks the most magical question in the world: “What if…?”

Recognising the inspirational idea is the first thing. Hammering away at it until it resembles what you want is the hard part. That takes time and sweat and tears and not a little frustration. But if that initial spark of inspiration is there, it becomes easier, and (hopefully) a  source of joy to others.

Russell Proctor is an Australian writer, but has also been many other things in his working life, including a lawyer, teacher, professional actor, medical project manager and even a pizza delivery boy. At present he is semi-retired, tutoring school and university students in the evenings and writing during the day. His interests include hiking, astronomy and cats. He has travelled extensively throughout the world, preferring out of the way places to modern civilization, for example having visited Antarctica, walked the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. He does not describe himself as a thrill-seeker, but certainly prefers his travels to include adventures rather than just “tourist traps”. A skeptic and futurist, Proctor has examined the methods and ideas of science and pseudo-science in his  novel Plato’s Cave, which satirizes humanity’s endless quest for meaning in life and conflicting beliefs about the nature of reality. His professional acting days included working in film, TV and stage productions. He has also written and directed plays and musicals. Further information about him and his work can be found at his website,



Tell Me - Andrew Williams

by Jennifer Brozek 15. December 2014 10:09

Andrew Williams from Journeys in Color Photography is a local Seattle photographer who recently did my new, amazing headshots. He travels. He's wonderful. He's open to new clients. I can't recommend him enough. Below, he talks about taking photographs of cosplayers.

On Cosplay Photography

I first got serious about photography around four years ago. As a writer, I frequently wrote about places I traveled, and I wanted good pictures to accompany articles and blog posts.

Among the places my travels took me was science fiction and fantasy conventions. I’ve always been a fan, but I missed out on conventions in my childhood, mostly because I wasn’t aware of them—or if I was, I’d been conditioned to think of them as places for total geeks. (This was back before being a geek was cool, and I didn’t yet have the self-confidence to revel in being different.)

But as I began writing fiction, I got involved in the writing community, which meant going to conventions. And not only did I discover a huge community of people who passionately loved the same things I did, I was astonished by their creativity, as people took their geeky passion and channeled it in ways I hadn’t even considered.

Among those people were cosplayers—people who put in huge amounts of work to create costumes and even whole identities, which they then wore about in broad daylight! Now these were people who quite literally wore their geekiness on their sleeves.

As a budding photographer, I naturally turned my camera in their direction. It was my first real opportunity to take photographs of people—I’d been taking plenty of pictures of landscapes and flowers, but an ongoing case of Social Awkwardness had kept me from engaging much with actual humans. Taking pictures of cosplayers not only helped me practice photography, it helped me make friends with people I might not otherwise have met. And as my skill improved, photography became not just want a way to complement blog posts, but a creative end all its own.

When we write, we take temporary ideas from our head and transcribe them to the page, where they gain permanence. There’s a magic to that which I also find in photography—capturing a fleeting moment in time and transcribing it to a picture. Like stories, pictures are ways of taking what’s in our head and making it more permanent, not to mention easier to share with others.

Whereas a writer or a photographer can take their idea and transcribe it by themselves, the creative act of cosplay is a bit different. On its own, it’s temporary. At the end of the day, or the end of the convention, the cosplayer resumes their everyday guise. Their real life transformation ends, and the idea—briefly brought to life through makeup, clothing, and props—turns back to an idea.

But a photographer can capture the cosplayer’s transformation, their “story,” and help give it permanence. Sometimes a photographer might be more like a reporter, giving a straightforward nonfiction account of what’s in front of them. Sometimes they might be more of a creator, collaborating with the cosplayer and adding their own style or ideas, through setting, lighting, and more. I like these occasions the best, when two people work together to create something that neither could have done alone.

Now that I’ve started a photography business, this is an attitude that I apply not just to cosplay photography, but to portrait photography in general. As a photographer, I’m a collaborator, helping someone to create something memorable, something neither of us could create by ourselves.

But cosplay photography will always be one of my first creative loves; not only does it make for great pictures, but it’s taught me a lot about confidence, creativity, and passion.

My chosen author photos. In case you were interested in seeing some of Andrew's work without clicking links.


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Jennifer Brozek: Writerholic

Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award-nominated editor and an award-winning author. Winner of the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited fourteen anthologies with more on the way, including the acclaimed Chicks Dig Gaming and Shattered Shields anthologies. Author of Apocalypse Girl Dreaming, Industry Talk, the Karen Wilson Chronicles, and the Melissa Allen series, she has more than sixty published short stories, and is the Creative Director of Apocalypse Ink Productions.

Jennifer is a freelance author for numerous RPG companies. Winner of the Scribe, Origins, and ENnie awards, her contributions to RPG sourcebooks include Dragonlance, Colonial Gothic, Shadowrun, Serenity, Savage Worlds, and White Wolf SAS. Jennifer is the author of the YA Battletech novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, and the Shadowrun novella, Doc Wagon 19. She has also written for the AAA MMO Aion and the award winning videogame, Shadowrun Returns.

When she is not writing her heart out, she is gallivanting around the Pacific Northwest in its wonderfully mercurial weather. Jennifer is a Director-at-Large of SFWA, and an active member HWA and IAMTW.