Jennifer Brozek | All posts tagged 'Tell-me'

Tell Me - Ken Spencer

by Jennifer Brozek 18. September 2017 09:31

Sometimes, something happens to remind you why to work so hard at panels and at conventions. People come up and thank me for my advice. Ken Spencer (creator and owner of Why Not Games) is one of those people. He once told me, “I did what you suggested and now I have the career I’ve always wanted.” This sort of thing makes my heart soar. I’m helping people and I’m proving that you can do it. Ken put together a timeline of his career: ups and downs. He did the hard work. I just pointed him in the right direction to start.
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2009
Early in the year I decided to begin a career as a writer. I had been published before, but only in academic journals.

The first installment of “A Bit of History,” my monthly column on rpg.net concerning the use of history in role-playing games was published. The column would go on for four and a half years and see 57 entries. Much of my early success is owed to “A Bit of History” as it provided experience writing and served as an easy to access sample of my work. I ended the column and wrote a short-lived sci-fi themed column called “The Future.” Unfortunately, the demands of paying work caused me to bring the column to an end as well.

My first professional publication credits, the adventures “The Ransom” and “The Promise” appeared in Vini, Vidi, Vici for BRP Rome from Alephtar Games.

My adventure, “The King, The Maiden, and the Mad Man of Las Islas De Los Muertos” was published by Chaosium in The River Terror and Others as part of the 2009 BRP Adventure Contest. It is the only writing contest I have entered.

My first large contract, a piratical historical fantasy originally named Arrgh, Pirates! (before being changed to Bokors and Broadsides and published as Blood Tide) was signed with Chaosium. I complete the work and receive payment in installments as the finished manuscript sat in their files for months, then years.

2010
I attended the Writer’s Symposium at GenCon 2010 where I met Jennifer Brozek. Her advice, specifically about the financial side of a writing career and how to present yourself as a professional, resonated and was taken to heart. When I followed her advice things went well for me, and where I strayed there tended to be trouble. In short, be as creative as you can, but always, always keep an eye on the business and money side. Get a signed contract and remember this is a business, not just fun and games.

Also, my good friends and gaming buddies began a tradition of helping me run events at Gen Con, and Con Team Alpha was born. Together we have ran events to promote my freelance projects, my work at Cubicle 7 and Frog God Games, and most recently, Why Not Games. I could not have done this without their help and support.

My second large contract was for 120,000 words for a book to be called Interplanetary from Skirmisher Press. Despite completing the book, it never saw publication. However, Skirmisher utilized a clause in the contract to publish excerpts for promotional purposes to publish full chapters in their dInfinity Magazine, and did not pay me for the work. I also discovered that they did not have clear rights to the work they were having me adapt into a role-playing game. After some negotiations I walked away from the project with a small pay off.

This year also saw publication of the first Northlands Saga adventure, Vengeance of the Long Serpent by Frog God Games. This would grow into an adventure series and then a large campaign book/adventure path. My time working with Frog God Games has forged some lasting relationships that have benefited my career in numerous ways. They are also good people.

Pyramid published “Shovel Bums,” a short GURPS article. This was my first Pyramid article and would start a run of articles that lasted over a year. The pay was good and on time, two things you should always look for. However, GURPS is a complicated system and the fan base favors system mechanics over anything else. These articles took four times the work to produce than something for a different system. With my work for Frog God Games starting to increase, I made the decision to go with projects that were less time consuming.

2011   
Frog God Games published my adventure, Death in the Painted Canyons. Also published by the Frog in 2011 were The Death Curse of Sven Oakenfist and Beyond the Wailing Mountains, both for Northlands Saga. The rest of the year was spent in fruitless tasks as I learned what publishers could be trusted and which ones will make promises that they never can fulfill. After my initial surge in 2010, projects started to dwindle, but I began work on some larger projects that would prove to be very fruitful in the following years. There will be dry spells; you just have to have the resources and courage to ride them out.

Chaosium contracted a supplement for what was then still called Arrgh, Pirates!, and then decided after that was done they really wanted a larger book that combined the two. Contracts were revised; payment schedules increased and work progressed. Looking back, I should have been less flexible, but it all turned out good in the end, that is to say, the book was published and I was paid.

2012
For most of this year I worked on large Northlands Saga and Rocket Age projects, focusing my resources on these. It was a calculated choice to invest in product lines instead of small projects, and meant that we had to rely on my wife’s income for the entire year. It was tight, but we made it, and the investment has paid off. It could have easily gone the other way and seen the end of my career, and one major expense would have meant serious trouble. Thankfully, my contracts with Frog God Games included royalties and these quarterly influxes of money helped.
 
2013   
Rocket Age Corebook was launched at GenCon 2013. This was also my first year running a booth at a major convention, and was an eye-opening experience. I had my first face to face fan interactions, signed books, and learned more about the inside of the industry in four days than I had in the previous four years.

Blood Red Mars, as well as the adventures Bring “em Back Alive and Lost City of the Ancients were also published for Rocket Age later in the year. I oversaw my first product line and hired writers to complete five other products for Rocket Age, something that was fraught with challenges and risks, but also rewards. As there was little guidance as to what a line developer should do, I largely figured it out as I went. Mistakes were made and learned from.

I contributed to World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour from Cubicle 7, and the book saw publication.

2014   
Rocket Age Corebook won the 2014 ENnies Judge’s Spotlight Award. Bring ‘Em Back Alive was nominated for Best Free Product, but did not win an award. Heroes of the Solar System and The Trail of the Scorpion, as well as the adventure Rocket Racers, were published for Rocket Age. Trail of the Scorpion was my first large collaborative project as I finagled my own work as well as that of three other writers. I made many mistakes, but the end product is one that I am proud of.

2015   
Chaosium publishes Blood Tide, a RPG I wrote in 2009-2011 and that languished in their archives.

Frog God Games launches a kickstarter for Northlands Saga Complete, a compilation of my Northlands Saga adventures as well as campaign guide and short fiction. It was successful, raising $72,981, and saw publication. Additional authors were brought in to complete the book as I was busy with Rocket Age and could not dedicate additional resources to the project. Ed Greenwood wrote one of the stretch goal adventures, and being a fan of his work, I was inordinately proud that he came to play in my sandbox.

The Lure of Venus was published for Rocket Age.

2016   
Early in the year, Cubicle 7 Entertainment hired me in a full time capacity. As the contract was constantly delayed, there was no clear definition of my title, role, or expectations. Still, knowing that this was how the company tended to operate and trusting them after several years of generally good relations, I forged ahead. This was in clear violation of Jennifer Brozek’s advice on how to operate as a professional writer, and turned out to be, if not a terrible idea, not one of my better decisions.

This year saw a lot of work put into Cubicle 7 Entertainment’s Adventures in Middle Earth game. I wrote extensively for the Player’s Guide and Loremaster’s Guide, as well as ran the largest playtest of the game. Thankfully, both saw publication and have won multiple awards. Plus, I got paid, something that does not always happen in the writing business. In November, after only nine months as a staff writer, I parted ways with Cubicle 7 Entertainment, ending a four year relationship that saw me working as a writer and line developer on numerous projects.

2017
Early in the year, negotiations with Cubicle 7 began for me to purchase Rocket Age, all rights, products, art, and existing stock.

Cabal from Corone Games saw publication with my work on a nasty secret society.

Covert Actions for World War Cthulhu: Cold War was published with my adventure “Operation Header”.

Why Not Games was founded July 1. The final payment for Rocket Age was made and I now own the entire intellectual property, all existing products, art, writing, and stock.   

Why Not Games released our first in-house product, Caturday.

The rest of this year is one of high hopes and hard work. We are planning to hit a rate of one release per month by the end of the year, covering both Rocket Age and our Weird Races product lines. We have a long road ahead of us as we line up printers, manufacturers, distributors, and conventions. I am working harder than I ever have, but at the same time, I am happier with my work than I have been since the early days of my career.

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ENnie award winning creator of Rocket Age, Ken Spencer is the co-owner and creative director for Why Not Games. He has written for Cubicle 7 Entertainment, Chaosium, Frog God Games, Alephtar Games, and Steve Jackson Games. Educated as an archaeologist, geographer, and teach, Ken brings experience as a field scientist to his writing, adding a certain verisimilitude to exploring ancient ruins and traveling through unexplored wildernesses.


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Tell Me - Wendy N. Wagner

by Jennifer Brozek 22. August 2017 08:47

Wendy N. Wagner is one of those people who lights up a room when she walks in. Every time I’ve seen her, she’s been happy, outgoing, and welcoming. She is also an excellent storyteller and a fine editor. A pleasant triple threat in the publishing industry. I am always happy to see her.
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I thought An Oath of Dogs was going to be a short story about wolves. You see, people have had a tremendously complicated and unpleasant relationship with wolves over the millennia. They’ve killed us; we’ve killed them. They’ve eaten our livestock; we’ve destroyed their habitat. And before we pushed them to the very edges of our landscapes, we found a way to drown out their uncanny voices in the night: We started telling stories about them. From Norse mythology to Baltic folk legends to Grimms’ fairy tales, wolves have played an outsized role as the villain in human culture.

When we started writing novels, we brought the wolf along to fill up pages. If you’ve read JRR Tolkien, then you know about wargs: bigger, scarier, more evil wolves that pal around with orcs and goblins to terrify elves and hobbits. What you might not know is that the word “warg” comes from Old English and simply means “wolf.” That’s right: a regular old wolf. For people living in the northern parts of Europe before guns and electricity, that was scary enough. Wolf attacks, although probably far more rare than European records suggest, were a legitimate danger. (For a very thorough examination of wolf attacks on the human population, I recommend this report from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research: http://bit.ly/2uw5bjr. Editor’s note: clicking this link will download a PDF doc.) And a rabid wolf—rabies being one of the most common causes of a wolf attack—must have been far more terrifying and destructive than an ordinary wolf. Maddened with disease, frothing at the mouth, biting anything that stood in its path, a rabid wolf must have seemed much more like one of Tolkien’s wargs than the forerunner of man’s best friend.

But in Old Norwegian, “warg” doesn’t only mean “wolf.” It also means “outlaw” or “criminal,” and in some contexts even came to mean “evil.” Learning this little linguistic chestnut sparked a fire in my brain. I wanted to explore the connections between wolves and outlaws, between canids and evil, and between evil and humanity. The more I dug, the more I realized that if I wanted to talk about humanity, then I needed to write, not about wolves, but their domesticated brethren: dogs.

Dogs are not wolves, and people don’t treat the two species the same way. But dogs come from wolves, and like wolves, we’ve had a long, strange history with them. While today most dogs are beloved house pets, that wasn’t always the case. Feral dog packs have eaten humanity’s garbage for centuries, and even the Bible discusses the common occurrence of dogs disturbing dead bodies: “Him that dieth of Jeroboam in the city shall the dogs eat,” (1 Kings 14:11, King James version). In the United States alone, more than four million people are bitten by dogs every year, with nearly two dozen people dying from dog attacks. And roaming wild dogs are an even bigger threat in some places. For example, Australia has organized massive wild dog management programs to manage dog predation on livestock, going so far as to build the world’s largest fence to keep them out of Queensland’s sheep country. These dogs are not the furry little pals that ride around in our purses or pad alongside us while we’re out for a walk. These dogs are big trouble, and our relationship with them is toxic and complicated.

In fact, the more I thought about dogs and wolves and people, the more complicated my story became. My fantasy short story about wolves grew more characters, moved onto another planet, and acquired a cast of friendly tame dogs and vicious wild ones, as well as an entire community that had to deal with them. I drew on Norse mythology and philosophical discussions of evil to shape my story, and I wound up throwing my characters (dog and human) into some pretty terrifying situations.

I loved writing An Oath of Dogs. It was the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything, and I’m really happy I got to take that one odd bit of Old English and spin it into a web of mystery, science fiction, and the fantastic. It’s a book that’s not just for animals lovers, but word nerds, too.
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Wendy N. Wagner is a full-time nerd. She is the managing/associate editor Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines, and has published more than forty short stories about heroes, monsters, and other wacky stuff. Her third novel, a sci-fi thriller called An Oath of Dogs, was recently released by Angry Robot Books. She lives with her very understanding family in Portland, Oregon, and you can keep up with her exploits at winniewoohoo.com.

 

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Tell Me - Dawn Vogel

by Jennifer Brozek 15. August 2017 08:20

Dawn Vogel is one of those people who seems unassuming and sweet. Then you see the catnip eyeballs she’s created or read something she’s written, and know she’s anything but. I very much enjoy every time we meetup.
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Cross and Circle all started with a strange quote I found:

“Please inform me how many cars have now been marked with the cross on top or with the circle.”

This was in an actual memo from 1946. I know that it was some employee within the Bureau of Indian Affairs asking another BIA employee about goings-on on a southwestern reservation, but I didn’t record any more details than the quote and the year. Something about the quote struck me as odd, just the sort of thing that would make a good story seed. So it sat on my phone, in the notes, for a good long while.

I also wrote a little character description, possibly around the same time that I found this quote. It described an older gentleman I saw out and about, who had the sort of wrinkled, suntanned skin that told a story all its own. I didn’t originally connect these two pieces, but I dutifully added this character description to the pile of notes on my phone.

It took a while before I found the final piece that would turn these disparate ideas into an actual story, but at some point afterward, I read something about pecked crosses, which are a common petroglyph found in parts of the American Southwest, as well as in Mexico and points farther south. They can be found all over the world, though they’re sometimes called sun crosses or any number of other names. And with these three pieces in place, the rest of the idea clicked.

At first, I thought it would be a short story. But when my beta readers got to the end of the early drafts, they weren’t satisfied by the ending. And neither was I, when it came down to it. So I poked at the pieces a little bit more, and wound up with a REALLY long story—one that had reached a point of unwieldiness that went from “short story” firmly into “novelette” territory. This made it a hard sell for most magazines, who often set their upper limit for word count around 8,000 or 10,000 words, so I eventually settled on self-publishing it.

The story got a few more rounds of edits, and a new final scene, before it was really done. But I wound up pleased with what this one unusual quote, the older gentleman, and a random piece of information had spawned.

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Bio: Dawn Vogel writes and edits both fiction and non-fiction. Her academic background is in history, so it’s not surprising that much of her fiction is set in earlier times. By day, she edits reports for historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business, co-edits Mad Scientist Journal, and tries to find time for writing. She is a member of Broad Universe and an associate member of SFWA. Her first novel, Brass and Glass: The Cask of Cranglimmering, is available from Razorgirl Press. She lives in Seattle with her awesome husband (and fellow author), Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. Visit her at historythatneverwas.com, or follow her on Twitter @historyneverwas.

 

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Tell Me - Wendy Hammer

by Jennifer Brozek 8. August 2017 11:05

Wendy Hammer is one of the first authors I knew nothing about that I took a chance on. It paid off. Here she is talking about how she worked to overcome her technical writing weaknesses while writing the Cross Cutting Trilogy.
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One of my all-time favorite con panels compared writer skills to a deck of cards. They said every writer has been dealt a hand. These cards are things that seem to come to us naturally: the ones it’s hard to talk about or teach because it just flows. Some writers may have an ear for dialogue whereas others may have speed, or amazing organization, a way with character, a strong voice, and so on. The cards we don’t have in our hand are the things we have to study, practice, pay attention to, and work hard for.

I wasn’t given an action card.

Describing the complex geometry of movement, grasping physics, and navigating my characters through spaces are all tough for me. This made writing the Cross Cutting Trilogy the best kind of challenge. It was designed to be a fast read filled with action and motion. My main character’s magic depends to a great degree on walking and there are fights and chases in all sorts of spaces. I had to learn and stretch to get it on the page.

Your mileage may vary, but here are some things that help me.

Study is always first. When I find a story that handles action particularly well, I read it for enjoyment and then I analyze it. How did they do it? What kind of detail do they include? How is it arranged? Are there changes in style, sentence, and paragraph structure? For extra help, I took a fight scene writing class and I tracked down some craft books on action.

As much as it pains me to admit, sometimes reading isn’t enough on its own. There are times I need to see something to describe it. Movies are great and YouTube is a lifesaver. Need to know what it looks like when someone takes a beanbag round to the chest or puts Mentos in a two liter of diet soda? You’re golden. I found excellent videos of kalinda fighting and cultural pieces by Trinidadians, too—so there’s plenty of thoughtful videos out there.

Any map program with street view is invaluable, especially when you’re working with a real place as your base. I’m still delighted that if you go to the right underpass in Google maps you can see the vans that inspired The Thin.

Images on a screen can only go so far so I try to explore real places. I walked the trail in Indianapolis. I’ve been in the tunnels at Purdue and in nearby parks. I’ve driven by other spots I put in the novellas.

But what happens when I’m trying to build the actual action scene? I have to dig deep into my arsenal.

When I have trouble with staging a space, I build a rough replica of it out of LEGO and use mini-figs to represent the characters. It helps me devise plans, fix eyeline problems, and keep track of who is where doing what. Also, it’s fun.

When I need to figure out basic physics (often those things that people with more coordination and common sense would immediately grasp) and I don’t want to disturb my husband (or admit how clueless I am) a big poofy stuffed animal comes to my rescue and we...spar.  “If I punch here which way would the body turn? What would happen if…” It’s a little weird, but I’m not too proud to pass up any opportunity to make the work better.

I’m really pleased I didn’t shy away from the challenge. Sometimes the things you have to work for are the sweetest.

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Wendy Hammer grew up in Wisconsin and lives in Indiana. She has degrees in English from The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ball State University. Her research focus was in gender/identity studies and bodies. Her dissertation was about the intersections of twentieth century infectious disease narratives and imperialist discourse, with a particular focus on Africa. The diss was abandoned, but her interest remains.  She currently teaches introductory literature and composition at a community college.

She reads everything. She indulges in K-drama, horror, and cooking competition show marathons (especially the Great British Baking Show). She likes geeky cross stitch projects, classic punk music, and salted licorice. And finally, she considers both Cobra Commander and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl to be kindred spirits.

 

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Tell Me - Ivan Ewert

by Jennifer Brozek 1. August 2017 12:17

Ivan Ewert is one of those authors I enjoy hanging out with. He’s witty and erudite. He also writes some pretty horrific stuff and has the dubious honor of being the only AIP author to give the Husband nightmares with his writing.
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I’ve talked before about the seed of the Famished novels, a short story from 1920 carefully and intentionally set in an isolated, rural, quintessentially American setting. I read it in third grade and it messed me up properly, but that seed needed soil in which to grow. It needed some nightmare fertilizer, and I had just thing, because when I have nightmares they tend to come in a single flavor.

I find myself in a country which is under a dictatorship – a true, full-on fascist regime with serious secret police and border guards – and I have committed a crime. Not a physical crime, nothing which hurt anyone. A mindcrime. Wrongthink.

And somebody knows.

I’m trying to get out, legitimately, but somebody in a position of power knows what I’ve read, what I’ve said, what I’ve thought. I know they know, though I don’t know who; and I don’t know which of my friends informed on me.

Generally speaking I wake up drenched just as I’m approaching the border crossing, just as I see the guards beginning to smile at one another. I never, ever go back to sleep the night of one of these dreams.

What does this have to do with Famished: The Gentlemen Ghouls?

The insular structure of the Ghouls, the rigid adherence to hierarchy, the punishments which they mete out. I dream about them all.

Authoritarianism is a very real and very constant fear of mine. I admire and applaud people who recognize that the good of the many outweighs the needs of the individual, but authoritarianism demands the loss of the individual not in service to the many, but to the few. The blurring of lines between what’s good for a nation and what’s good for its elite.

The use of force to command obedience is abhorrent to me. The blind obedience of people unable to recognize that they are being used, or unwilling to see that they are penned in like lambs for the slaughter. The unwillingness to speak to power or break from tradition, which should be a quintessentially American trait, has been growing over time as our nation ceased to grow.

When I am afraid, I’m afraid that our country will devour itself, and has been doing so for generations. Feasting on the future to prop up the strength which is past.

Yes, on its surface, Famished is about very straightforward fears, but scratch its surface and you’ll find something more than sketchy dining practices.

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Ivan Ewert was born in Chicago, Illinois, and has never wandered far afield. He has deep roots in the American Midwest, finding a sense of both belonging and terror within the endless surburban labyrinths, deep north woods, tangled city streets and boundless prairie skies. The land and the cycles of the year both speak to him and inform his writing; which revolves around the strange, the beautiful, the delicious and the unseen.

In previous lives, he has worked as an audio engineer, a purchasing agent, a songwriter, a tarot reader, a project manager and, for a remarkably short stint, an accountant. In his spare time, Ivan occupies himself with reading, gaming, and assisting with the jewelry design firm Triskele Moon Studios. He currently lives near the Illinois-Wisconsin border with his wife of thirteen auspicious years and a rather terrifying collection of condiments and cookbooks.

 

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Tell Me - J. L. Gribble

by Jennifer Brozek 25. July 2017 11:46

I met J.L. Gribble at one of the many conventions I've attended. She's a smart, talented, author and editor who is wonderful to talk to. I've enjoyed her writing in the past and I'm sture I'm going to enjoy reading Steel Blood. Also, I'm all about the rule breaking. :)
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Though I only officially added “author” to my credentials two years ago, I’ve been involved in the publishing industry for much longer. And one thing I’ve noticed is that, like any profession, authors really like their rules.

In order to be a REAL author, you have to write every day. Writing should be your priority above all else. You must constantly be reading in your genre. Et cetera.

Something else I’ve learned is that rules are meant to be broken. I’d love to write every day, but I manage it when my time and spoons allow. Writing is a priority, but yesterday was dedicated to hacking an IKEA media stand with my husband, because life is a priority, too. And urban fantasy is always my go-to genre, but I’ll read anything that’s well-written, whether it’s as similar as epic fantasy or as different as a cozy mystery.

In that spirit, I’d like to propose a new “author” rule—and why you should break it.

Steal from the masters.

There are multiple ways to interpret this, which is why this rule is already easy to break. Craft books written by experts in the fields of writing, editing, and publishing are a great place to start. Take their advice, but put your own spin on it. Do what works for you and your own craft and creative process. Follow successful authors online, through blogs and their social media. Find out what seems to work for them, through both writing and marketing, and adapt it for yourself.

Or we could get a little more literal.

(This does not mean plagiarize from the masters. Plagiarism is a rule that should NEVER be broken.)

Have you heard of the Hero’s Journey? It’s a storytelling structure often used in mythological, heroic storytelling, boiled down to boring academic discussion by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. You’d probably recognize it from the Greek myths of Hercules.

But you’d also recognize it from Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope. Because it’s a storytelling structure that works, and it can be adapted numerous ways. Adaptation is the key word. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel, but you can, and should, put your own spin on it (pun not intended).

In my most recent novel, I realized that I’d set things up perfectly for a “Romeo and Juliet” relationship scenario between secondary characters through my previous world-building and where I wanted the political factions to go in the future. But since I’m not experienced in writing romantic story arcs, and I didn’t want the book to be primarily a romance, I decided to go right to the source. I sat down my battered college copy of Death by Shakespeare (okay, it’s really the Norton Shakespeare, but you could kill somebody with this sucker) and read the play. And read it again. And read it again, this time taking notes about what else was going on, outside of the “love” story. And discovered that I could literally craft my next novel based on the structure of The Bard’s original play, representing Nurse as my own main character (a perturbed vampire mercenary contracted to bodyguard my Juliet). Even though this wasn’t the first time I’d ever read this play, I learned so much this go-around about narrative structure and pacing, especially when adapted to the crazy alternate-history fantasy world that I’m playing in rather than a medieval Italian city.

If you’re a writer, or in any creative profession, go forth and steal from the masters. Make your own rules. And break them.

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By day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.

Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program. She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her online (www.jlgribble.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram (@hannaedits).

 

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Tell Me - Joe M. McDermott

by Jennifer Brozek 16. January 2017 16:57

Joe is spot on with one of my complaints about glorifying war and the military through fiction in his novel The Fortress at the End of Time. I come from a military family and background. His thoughts hit the nail on the head.
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The student loan crisis is also a spiritual crisis. We tell students this dream, sell them on the idea of a future where anything is possible. Then, we encourage them to sign up for the dream, and to take out loans. Then, after schooling and the promise of the bright, shining future arrives, it's not so bright, and not so shining, because wages have not kept up with the cost of tuition. That college degree becomes an anchor that holds aspirants down into the lower classes for the crime of trying to lift themselves up.

My family members all served in the military. (Yes, all of them. My parents met in the Army. My sister is a West Point graduate and decorated Iraq war veteran. My brother is a retired Marine. I got an MFA in Writing. I chose a different path than them. That is another story, though, for another time.) The military sells folks a dream of glory. There are all these videos of people jumping out of planes, and running, and shouting, and it's very exciting. On TV and Film, it all looks so vigorous and important and intense. Yet, that is not true to the stories I hear around the kitchen table. Even my sister, a decorated war veteran, an MP (the only combat MOS available to women at the time), who has jumped out of planes and all of that exciting stuff, will not tell you about shooting a weapon in the direction of an enemy. I will leave her stories for her to tell; they belong to her.

I just think that there's this huge disconnect between what is sold and what is experienced. In fact, from where I stand, military service looked like a lot of paperwork and a lot of training for something that, for most soldiers, never comes. The vast majority of military personnel will never stare down a gun barrel at the mythical enemy. The gunships will be kept ready, but rarely fire. What little extreme violence occurs will be rare, I hope, very short and precise. It's not a bad thing, that so few actually face down the guns and bombs, comparatively, but it is also the opposite of what is being sold to us in the stories of military service that are often not at all like 24 or Saving Private Ryan.

While I was reading Military Science Fiction, I felt that this fact of military life was not present. Very few members of the military actually train for combat. The rest live and work inside an exceptionally brutal version of a government bureaucracy. Inside this massive bureaucracy, the facade of war is maintained, and desk clerks shout HOORAH! but even in an actual war, most members of the service are not hopping between houses hunting after bad guys. The majority of the military is a bureaucratic support structure for those few and proud that do that dangerous, bloody, patriotic work. And, I did not see a lot of military science fiction about this side of the military: the soul-crushing bureaucracy that chews up bright, young, energetic people and dumps them out on the other side more broken than when they began, and nary a shot fired, nary a moment of the glory they dreamed about.

It's a hard career, and it isn't for everyone. And, everything around it, everything inside of it, sells this dream of glory; for an overwhelming majority, the glory never comes.

This is one of the things I was thinking about when I thought about writing an old-fashioned space opera. There are all these huge, beautiful exciting ships and battles and weapons. But, most of the people who spend their whole careers inside those ships will never get what they want. They will never experience the dream that they were sold when they were young.

That crisis of spirit, when the revelation comes, is what I wanted to write about inside this deep space universe, inspired by Ursula K. Leguin and Dino Buzzati and Julian Gracq. I wanted space to be the thing that strips the dreams away, to reveal the self, and the lengths that people will go to survive, mentally, the soul-crushing bureaucracy wrapped in a shell of the dream of glory. What happens at the deep space stations when the enemy is not imminent? What happens in those long stretches of darkness where nothing and everything is looking back, and you don't even know what you're looking for? What happens when you realize all those dreams you had are narrowed to a room more like a prison cell than a home?


Different characters deal with this crisis of spirit differently. Captain Ronaldo Aldo deals with this by committing a crime against every human colony in the universe, and calls his crime his triumph.

His confession is out in January from Tor.com, called FORTRESS AT THE END OF TIME, and I hope you check it out. Thanks, Jennifer, for letting me come around and talk about it.

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JOE M. McDERMOTT is best known for the novels Last Dragon, Never Knew Another, and Maze. His work has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He holds an MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Program. He lives in Texas.

 

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Tell Me - Glenn Rolfe

by Jennifer Brozek 10. January 2017 09:56

I've worked with Glenn in the past and I appreciate his deft story telling. I also like the way music inspired him unexpectedly. I love it when that happens.

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Three years ago, I began a short ghost story for a writing group. I was trying to come up with something when Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town” came through my headphones. Bruce is one of my favorite artists of all-time, and although I had listened to this song about half a million times, I heard a line in it that I’d never really heard before:  “tell ‘her there’s a spot out ‘neath Abram’s Bridge….and tell ‘em there’s a darkness on the edge of town.” The lyrics go on to tell about how “every man has a secret” and how they carry that secret with them “every step that they take.”  I took notice. I asked myself what kind of darkness, what kind of secret was out ‘neath Abram’s Bridge?

My short story quickly turned into something larger. The deeper I went, the more the mystery aspect of the story began begging to come out. At that time, I’d never written any kind of real mystery piece, and I wasn’t comfortable trying to do so, but at the end of the day, the story dictated where it wanted to go. I took a shot and let go of the reigns.

Aspects of the book are heavily influenced by two of my favorite writers: Mercedes Yardley and Ronald Malfi. Without Yardley’s Beautiful Sorrows and Malfi’s Floating Staircase, I’m not sure this story would have ever come to fruition. Yardley showed me it was okay to write something sweet into the horror we create, while Malfi showed me how to capture atmosphere, and how to funnel that swirling danger into an explosive and effective crescendo.

When I was finished writing, I knew I had something special. Abram’s Bridge is a about a twelve-year-old boy named Lil’ Ron, and Sweet Kate, the ghost girl he meets beneath Abram’s Bridge. Ron sets out to discover who or what is responsible for her death. He discovers is that the small Maine town his father has moved him to is full of secrets. When he starts asking about Kate, he disturbs a slumbering darkness that digs deeper and closer than he could ever know.

Part ghost story, part mystery, and part coming-of-age, this novella is still one of my favorite pieces in my catalog. Not the blood and gore horror of some of my other works, Abram’s Bridge is more of a supernatural-tinged thriller. I am extremely proud of this book and happy to see it back in circulation thanks to Crossroad Press.

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Glenn Rolfe is an author, singer, songwriter and all around fun loving guy from the haunted woods of New England. He has studied Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University, and continues his education in the world of horror by devouring the novels of Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Hunter Shea, Brian Moreland and many others. He and his wife, Meghan, have three children, Ruby, Ramona, and Axl. He is grateful to be loved despite his weirdness.

 

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Tell Me - Jean Rabe

by Jennifer Brozek 13. December 2016 09:33

Jean Rabe is a friend of mine whom I adore. She is kind, smart, generous, and talented. I've just started reading The Dead of Winter and I'm in love with it. The woman can write a mystery. If I didn't have revisions and a short story due, I'd be curled up in my comfy chair with some coffee, reading. Later. Work now, play later.

As an aside, this is the 100th “Tell Me" guest blog post. Woo-hoo!
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Tell me…

…I’ll tell you that I’m worried, nervous, downright frightened.

I’ve read mysteries for years, decades. Love them. Harry Bosch, Elvis Cole, and any investigator penned by Val McDermid are among my favorite characters. My bookshelves are filled with mysteries.

And now I’m writing mysteries. I’ve written 35 fantasy, urban fantasy, SF, and adventure novels. And one mystery, The Dead of Winter, which came out in November. And which has been getting awesome reviews. It even received a glowing review by Steven Paul Leiva in The Huffington Post. Floating, I am!

I received an email this morning: “So... Good time to be reading your book. :-) I'm a handful of chapters in, and really loving it. In fact, I think -- though you've done well in many genres -- you may finally have found your "thing." So far, this sings "Jean Rabe" to me more than any of your other stuff I've read. Of course, I've never read a bad book or story by you, but something about Piper and her cast strike me as "it."

I worked really really really hard on The Dead of Winter. I wrote and rewrote and polished until my fingers ached. I “knew” I had a good book. I was pleased with it. It was a finalist for the Claymore Award. I love my publisher, who asked that it become a series. Floating, I am!

And nervous. Worried. Downright frightened.

I fret that I can’t equal that effort. I suppose a lot of authors feel that way, but I hadn’t until this plunge into mysteries. The genre is tough because there are sooooo many mystery books out there. Can I equal the effort with the next book?

I’m working on it now, 10,000 words in. I should be 40,000 words in, but I’m writing, rewriting, polishing as I go. I’m the sort of writer who can’t keep going until I’m happy with what’s in the computer so far. I fiddle. I finesse. I fret.

And I keep going. Because I made the jump to mysteries. And this is where I want to be. This is the stuff I want to write. I’m determined to win at this. Losing isn’t viable for Piper Blackwell and her fellow cast members.

I’m hoping my readers will stay with me as I meander through the sleepy little county and spice it with murders and thefts and cold cases. Here’s an excerpt of The Dead of Night:

     The old man sat in the middle of a bench under a big oak, his shoulders hunched and back curved, reminding Piper of a turtle. Hard to make out more details from where she stood under the streetlight.
     The light didn’t quite reach his perch, and she suspected he’d picked the spot for that reason; there were closer benches. The clouds hindered, a dense gray dome that coupled with the hour had turned the stretch near the bluff into a mass of twisting shadows. Lights in houses at the edge of the park were flickering dots, will-o-the-wisps, she mused, more fitting for Halloween than spring.
     She started toward him as threads of lightning flashed. Maybe the rain would hold off for a little while. Despite the frequent storms of the past several days, Piper hadn’t brought an umbrella. The ground felt spongy, comfortable to walk on. She quickened her step.
     Maybe this wouldn’t take long and she could go home and crawl into bed with the latest Harry Bosch book.


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USA Today bestselling author Jean Rabe has written thirty-five fantasy and adventure novels and more than eighty short stories. The Dead of Winter is her first mystery, a cozy police procedural, of which she was told there is “no-such genre.” When she’s not writing, which isn’t often, Jean edits. She has edited more than two dozen anthologies and over one hundred magazine issues so far. She’s a former news reporter and news bureau chief who penned a true crime book with noted attorney F. Lee Bailey. Her genre writing includes military, science-fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery, horror, and modern-day adventure. Jean teaches genre writing courses at conventions, libraries, museums, and other interesting venues. Her hobbies include reading, role-playing games, visiting museums, dog-minding, and buying books to add to her growing stacks. She lives in central Illinois near three train tracks that provide “music” to type by, and she shares her home with three dogs and a parrot. Visit Jean at her website: www.jeanrabe.com

Jean has newsletter filled with tidbits about her upcoming books, reviews of things she’s reading, and writing advice. You can subscribe here.

 

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Tell Me - Jon Del Arroz

by Jennifer Brozek 16. November 2016 09:01

I am completely biased on this one. I edited Jon's new book, Star Realms: Rescue Run. I think it's a hoot. Especially the singing AI. A great tie-in novel.
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One topic I often am approached on for Star Realms: Rescue Run is regarding my artificial intelligence who bursts into song when he starts going haywire. I have a lot of lyrics interwoven throughout the text, and people ask if I wrote them myself, if they come from favorite bands, or if the songs in the story have any deeper meaning.
 
To the first question, yes I write all the lyrics myself. A lot of people don’t know that I write songs but I actually released an album in 2006 with the band Aprilsrain, and a couple of those songs were picked up by MTV’s Real World: New Orleans and actually play in the background of that show.
 
I love music. I am versed in piano and guitar, and can sing decently well. As of late I haven’t had a lot of time to play music, so sometimes I have to live vicariously through my characters, which I had a lot of fun with while writing this book.
 
The singing AI also served as a nod to one of my favorite writers, Anne McCaffrey, of which I tend to write a lot of references to her in my book. This particular one is in homage to her short story, “The Ship Who Sang,” which is one of the most powerful emotional stories ever written. As much as I hate to admit it, I cry every time I read that story. I wanted to have my main character have a reference to an emotionally powerful piece while she saw her best friend and AI slipping away.
 
Beyond that, I tried to put some thought into the lyrics, but wanted them to flow naturally as if randomly from an AI’s archive. Though most of the AI’s singing is couched in silly romance songs, as I imagine most pop songs from here to eternity will have those themes, I tried to have the lyrics match/mirror the story to some degree whether that be in the feel of the song or more directly what's going on around it. The AI has an awareness of what’s going on and is at least trying to communicate.
 
I started out with a longer verse to get the reader used to the fact that the AI would be singing, and then did short one-off lines from that point forward to try to highlight the glitchiness of the AI’s virus that slowly overwhelmed its programming throughout the course of the book. 
 
Lyrics and poetry have a long tradition in sci-fi and fantasy. Tolkien used them to great avail and another of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, weaves them into a lot of her work. I had a lot of fun continuing that tradition with these and hope to be able to work them into future pieces as well.

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Jon Del Arroz began his writing career in high school, providing book reviews and the occasional article for the local news magazine, The Valley Citizen. From there, he went on to write a weekly web comic, Flying Sparks, which has been hailed by Comic Book Resources as “the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with early Marvel comics.” He has several published short stories, most recently providing flash fiction for AEG’s weird west card game, Doomtown: Reloaded, and a micro-setting for the Tiny Frontiers RPG. Star Realms: Rescue Run is his debut novel. You can find him during baseball season with his family at about half of the Oakland A’s home games in section 124.

 

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Jennifer Brozek: Writerholic

Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award nominated editor and a Bram Stoker nominated author. Winner of the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited fifteen 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 acclaimed Melissa Allen series, she has more than sixty-five 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. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniferBrozek.