Jennifer Brozek | All posts tagged 'Tell me'

Tell Me - Marsheila Rockwell

Marsheila Rockwell and I share a TOC for the forthcoming Turning the Tied anthology that will benefit the World Literacy Foundation. Today, she tells me her thoughts on how Ozma connects her the Ojibwe.

 

The story I have in IAMTW’s upcoming Turning the Tied anthology is called “A Prisoner Freed in Oz” and features Ozma of Oz. For those not familiar with her story (as detailed in L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz), Ozma was born a girl, but as a baby was magically transformed into a boy named Tip, and lived as a boy until her teens, when she was finally transformed back into her true self. Modern readers will no doubt see a parallel to the transgender experience, although the book was first published in 1904, before that word was coined and well before it was an acceptable experience to write about in a children’s book.

Many people mistakenly believe that gender variance is a new idea, perhaps born out of the Sexual Revolutions of the 1920s or 1960s. But the character of Ozma hints that gender variance has existed for much longer than that, though perhaps not as openly expressed as it is today.

I am a reconnecting Chippewa (Ojibwe)/Métis (I’m not changing the subject, I promise). Broadly, ‘reconnecting’ in this context refers to an Indigenous person who was denied access to their tribe’s culture and heritage while growing up and is trying to rectify that situation as an adult, without the benefit of parents or grandparents to bridge the gap. Part of that effort (at least for me) includes trying to educate myself about and become active in Indigenous causes. It was during that process that I learned that many Indigenous tribes/nations recognized and accepted the concept of gender variance long before colonizers ever set foot on Turtle Island.

Specific beliefs and terminology varied from tribe to tribe—for instance, the Navajo called such people nadleeh and the Lakota used the term winkte. Gender variants included feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, masculine man, and sometimes both, or neither. Roles for such individuals varied depending on their tribe/nation, as well. Being Chippewa, I’ll focus on those beliefs.

According to Anton Treuer (Ojibwe), professor of Ojibwe linguistics at Bemidji State University, “the Ojibwe accepted variation. Men who chose to function as women were called ikwekanaazo, meaning ‘one who endeavors to be like a woman.’ Women who functioned as men were called ininiikaazo, meaning, ‘one who endeavors to be like a man.’” He goes on to say that the part played by these individuals, “was considered to be sacred, often because they assumed their roles based on spiritual dreams or visions.”

Today, ‘Two-Spirit’ is used as an umbrella term to try to capture the Indigenous gender variant experience. The word was coined in 1990 to replace the anthropological term berdache, which had traditionally been used to identify gender-variant Indigenous individuals. The etymology of that word, however, stems from the French bardache, which can be taken to mean “male prostitute,” and is patently offensive. While no experience is universal to all Indigenous people, and one word cannot possibly be used to frame an experience which differs across 574 federally recognized tribes, ‘Two-Spirit’ has, as its Wikipedia article notes, “generally received more acceptance and use than the term it replaced.”

So, long story short (ha!): Gender variance has been part of humanity for probably as long as there have been humans. Sadly, Ozma and the Ojibwe notwithstanding, acceptance of gender variance has been around for a much shorter time. But I look forward to the day when acceptance of all our differences will be the norm. Maybe my story will help with that. I hope so.

#TurningTheTied

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Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell is the author of twelve SF/F/H books, dozens of poems and short stories, several articles on writing and the writing process, and a handful of comic book scripts. She is also a disabled pediatric cancer and mental health awareness advocate and a reconnecting Chippewa/Métis. She lives in the Valley of the Sun with her husband, three of their five children, two rescue kitties (one from hell), and far too many books.

Tell Me - Natania Barron

Natania Barron tells me just how accurate Monty Python and the Holy Grail is and how it relates to her latest book, Queen of None. It surprised me.

Queen of None

The first time I became aware of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it was because my parents were trying to explain it to me. They were both giggling so hard just trying to get the words out. I might have been thirteen or so, and I was pretty well convinced they’d lost their marbles. They kept talking about bloodthirsty rabbits. Which, quite frankly, didn’t seem very funny to me at all.

I didn’t quite grasp the humor until I finally saw the whole film later in high school. Then it became very much a thing. My nerd friends and I, as the eldest of the millennials, found the entire script of Monty Python and the Holy Grail on a BB somewhere, printed it out, and carried it around to every class. We began spouting quotes, particularly, “Very small rocks,” “I feel happy!” and “Help, help, I’m being repressed!” much to the sincere annoyance of just about everyone else.

It wasn’t until college, however, when I was deep into my own study of the Middle Ages, that I learned just how good this movie really was. And not just because of the humor. It turns out that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is weirdly, bizarrely, wonderfully… historically accurate in a number of ways.

Okay, but how?

Terry Jones is how. The late writer, actor, and comedian was also a seasoned medievalist. You might be familiar with his Medieval Lives series, from the BBC, but he was known as quite the scholar even outside of the glamor of film. His enthusiasm, humor, and joy had everything to do with what made Holy Grail so good.

And those rabbits? Totally historically accurate. There’s a really good overview about evil rabbits here from Jon Kaneko-James that will do it more justice than I can, but let’s just say that murderous, blood-thirsty rabbits are a very prolific theme in the Middle Ages. I studied illuminated manuscripts at length during my college days, and I found numerous examples. Now, with digital age in full swing, you can peruse thousands of manuscripts and do your own Where’s Waldo: Evil Rabbit Edition.

So, don’t even get me started on butt trumpets. Yes, butt trumpets. And snail men. And furious archer monkeys. Not to mention cats getting into everything some of the most beautiful, strange, and creative chimera monsters you’ll ever see (my favorites are from the Luttrell Psalter—which doesn’t just include monsters, but also depictions of daily life in beautiful, humorous detail). We may think that Terry Gilliam just sort of procured the images from his very original brain, but so much of the animation in the film is also directly adapted from illuminated manuscripts.

Perhaps that’s what’s always brought me back to the Medieval Period again and again. I never believed in a “Dark” age, really. Yes, of course, there were all kinds of very nasty things that happened in the period, from oppression to plague, from Church domination to war, from class exploitation to famine. It wasn’t an easy time to be a human being. But, regardless of the trials and tribulations, what illuminated manuscripts show us is a glimpse into the medieval mind, a mind capable of critique, humor, nuance, and vivid, technicolor imagination. Maybe we aren’t so different. Perhaps what makes existence tolerable now is what made it tolerable then.

It’s also the same reason that I haven’t given up on my studies. You’ll not just find my studies in medieval literature and history influence my work, but also my Twitter account. I’m a big fan of delving deep to find strange marginalia to share with my audience. Sometimes, they’re a little traumatized. Other times, they’re just thoroughly amused. We have a great deal more in common with people in the Middle Ages than we don’t, and it’s important that we learn from them.

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Natania Barron has been traveling to other worlds from a very young age, and will be forever indebted to Lucy Pevensie and Meg Murry for inspiring her to go on her own adventures. She currently resides in North Carolina with her family, and is, at heart, a hobbit–albeit it one with a Tookish streak a mile wide. Be sure to check out Queen of None.

Tell Me - Loren Rhoads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell Me - Adam Gaffen

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

 

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

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

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

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

That would be unexpected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell Me - Bryan Young

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

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

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

Honor’s Gauntlet was the end result.

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

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

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

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

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

Tell Me - Kris Katzen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell Me - Rusty Zimmerman

Rusty Zimmerman is a friend and peer of mine, working in the word mines of Catalyst Game Labs. Today, he tells me what he’s done to try to change the perceptions of Shadowrun fans (and wanna-be gatekeepers) about what “does” and “does not” belong in the Sixth World.

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The catalyst for my latest Jimmy Kincaid yarn, Chaser, came from the real-life political climate and how it all-too-often shows itself in geek spaces. I’m a moderator for a sprawling (8,000+ member) Shadowrun Facebook community, the Shadowrunner’s Union. While the vast majority of our users are terrific, and while we do everything we can to keep the place inclusive and welcoming, sometimes a little ugliness seeps through the cracks.

That’s what happened when someone posted some artwork of their character in this magic-rich, cyberpunk/transhumanist setting; a catgirl. Only a few people commented on the artwork itself, or asked our intrepid poster for more about his character. The majority of the memorable conversation was, instead, the dully predictable attacks of angry geeks against someone they thought was a little geekier than them. A pack of nerds descended on someone they thought was having fun wrong, and the joy of an artwork post was taken away as gamer after gamer insisted catgirls and furries have no place in ‘their’ game (and that’s without even mentioning that he was a male-presenting player with a female-presenting character).

First, I swung the banhammer around and took out the garbage. Next, I politely reminded everyone that Changelings—people affected by SURGE, Sudden Recessive Genetic Expression, who mutated due to a spike in magic—had been a part of Shadowrun since 2001, nineteen years ago in real-life and nineteen years ago in-universe, and that the first artwork AND first in-character lore about them both featured a catgirl. After that, I reminded people that furry-style cosmetic modifications had also always been an option in Shadowrun (and even in Cyberpunk 2020), literally for decades, even prior to Year of the Comet introducing SURGE.

But then? Then I decided to really show that catgirls belonged in Shadowrun more than gatekeepers. I messaged the original poster, and asked him to tell me more about his character.

I’d had the idea for a Kincaid story brewing for a while, you see, where our hard-boiled paranormal investigator shows that not all of the classic noir-PI tropes hold true. Like a lot of aging media, some of the original private dicks are, well, kind of dickish. Not every genre ages well, not every trope is the same almost a hundred years later, and maybe it was time to be a little clearer that Jimmy Kincaid—and Shadowrun and I—want readers to feel welcome, regardless of their gender, orientation, skin color, or, yes, even their other fandoms.

It was time for Jimmy to work on some hate crimes, and to tackle head-on the metaracism and bigotry that’s so often sidestepped in Shadowrun work. This submachinegun-firing catgirl from some artwork, then, was the last ingredient I needed. With my new friend’s blessing and a few new notes, I got to work making a bullied player’s favorite character into a canon character, and the final puzzle piece fell into place, completing the story I’d had idly bouncing around in my skull for a while.

I hope everyone will enjoy Chaser, not just because it’s an important reminder that Shadowrun has room for everybody, but because it’s a heck of a story, too. We find Jimmy racing all over his Puyallup neighborhood, staking out, interviewing, roughing up, and being roughed up by all manner of Shadowrun troublemakers—from troubled priests with dark secrets to racist cops, Humanis policlub bigots to the mutated shadowrunners they target.

It adds to the existing Jimmy Kincaid stories, Neat and Shaken (and includes the first chapter of Stirred, my next novel), and it does so in a way that I think readers will have a great time with.


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Rusty Zimmerman (“Russell” when he’s writing, so he sounds less like a dog) is a Texan who took the long way getting there from California, then Kentucky. He, his wife, and their princess-pupper Bodie can be found in the DFW Metroplex, slinging dice, playing Overwatch, and telling stories with their friends. When he’s not gaming face-to-face, he can be found on Discord and Twitch at all hours of the day and night, hanging out with his geeks and, as he insists on calling it, “researching for work.”

He is a full-time freelance writer in the gaming industry, known for credits ranging from the Warmachine and Spinespur wargames to the award-winning Satellite Reign PC game, but most of all for his work in role-playing games in particular. While he’s always eager for another game world to play in and another notch on his gunbelt, he’s still investing most of his word count into Shadowrun, particularly writing novels, novellas, and anthology fiction in the Sixth World.

 

 

Tell Me - Marie Bilodeau

Today’s Tell Me comes from the ever fabulous, incredibly talented Marie Bilodeau. She is a storyteller, author, gamer, and so much more. She tells me how she borrowed from her gaming experience to write The Guild of Shadows series. Also, she seems to have a small obsession with baked goods.

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Roll for perception. Sneak attacks. Curse damage…after more than a year of playing our regular Dungeons and Dragons campaign, I didn’t want it to end.

Around the table, gathered by writer and podcaster Brandon Crilly, were some of my closest friends: Jay Odjick, Derek Künsken, Evan May, Nicole Lavigne, and Tyler Goodier. All of these people are writers and creators, so the creative energy around the roleplaying table reached stratospheric levels of high.

So much so that our campaign somehow built itself in arcs, and we knew we were in the final arc. My character Tira Misu was cursed. One of our good friends, the druid Gwriad, was gone. The Spider Queen was about to be reborn (deities are often bored in D&D).

It was all coming to an end, and I started blogging about it, wanting to keep our Sunday gaming sessions going for a bit longer. 

This wasn’t because the world was so amazing (it’s basic secondary fantasy), nor the gameplay mechanics unforgettable (I love D&D and many other systems, too). It was because the characters were so well fleshed out. Because the amazing group of creatives around the table were giving them motivations, thoughts, catch phrases…forming a ragtag crew of wanna-be-heroes.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and so did our campaign.

But the characters lived on in my head. I wanted more of their adventures, their company and insanity. I decided to base a story on them, but didn’t want to fall into the trap of “writing my campaign.”

First thing I did was look at the setting, which is so important to speculative fiction, subgenres leaning completely on magic vs tech vs both(!). Not to mention earth vs. the plants are eating people vs. kingdoms warring all the time. Also now (leather) vs. future (jumpsuits) vs. past (hoop skirts). …I’m oversimplifying, but you get the idea.

I looked at my main character, Tira Misu, and focused on her since I knew her best. I decided to import her into our world (leather!), but a different version of it. I quite literally imported her and her buddies via portals appearing all over the world, replacing babies in their cribs, a play on the old changeling stories.

So now it became urban fantasy, a comfortable departure from secondary world fantasy RPG.

Next were the arcs. Story and character arcs in D&D are flexible and at times messy, depending on character rolls and other players around the table to define characters and events. For a fiction book, which needs a strong narrative and motivations to entice the reader to flip the page, I needed to clean it up, pick a few traits of each character, and go from there.

I plotted and schemed even, and ended with a six-book arc. Some characters don’t show up until halfway through the arc. And not all will necessarily make it to the end. The central mystery pulls the characters along the whole way through, but there are side mysteries and adventures demanding their immediate attention in each book, too. So, six mini-story arcs all feeding one giant arc.

That one felt more like the game, in a way. Side quests on the way to the main reveal.

Because I already knew the characters’ emotional beats and personalities, the first book in The Guild of Shadows series, Hell Born, practically wrote itself. It kept me up. I couldn’t shake it. Same with the second book, Hell Bent, and now the third, Raising Hell (coming soon!).

Once all six books are done, I’m not sure what will happen. But I do know that we’re about to start a new arc in our campaign. Most characters are returning to the table. The players are all geared up. Characters have evolved and changed. New adventures await.

And, in their dusty, potentially bloody wake, I have a feeling that more books will follow.

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Marie Bilodeau is an Ottawa-based author and storyteller, with eight published books to her name. Her speculative fiction has won several awards and has been translated into French (Les Éditions Alire) and Chinese (SF World). Her short stories have also appeared in various anthologies.

In a past life not-so-long ago, she was Deputy Publisher for The Ed Greenwood Group (TEGG). Marie is also a storyteller and has told stories across Canada in theatres, tea shops, at festivals and under disco balls. She’s won story slams with personal stories, participated in epic tellings at the National Arts Centre, and adapted classical material.

Marie is co-host of the Archivos Podcast Network with Dave Robison, co-chair of Ottawa’s speculative fiction literary convention CAN-CON with Derek Künsken, and is a casual blogger at Black Gate Magazine.

 

 

Tell Me – Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed

I’ve worked with Danielle many times. She’s one of the hardest working people in the indie and small press scene. This Kickstarter has just three days to go. I think you should check it out.

New Tales for Old…Retelling Classic Faerie Tales

It is always a challenge to rewrite a classic. You want to do it justice and capture the feel, but you also want to transform it and make it your own. When I had the idea to write a steampunk version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves one of the most important things for me was being culturally accurate. Not exactly easy when you are writing steampunk in an area not known for steampunk. I chose to approach this using two essential tools: a cultural consultant and history.

My cultural consultant—Day Al-Mohamed—ended up being my co-author. Not only did she help keep things accurate in terms of culture and faith, but also in capturing the essence of Middle Eastern storytelling conventions.

And the history…history offered a treasure trove of material that couldn’t have been more suited to our task if we’d written it ourselves. Both of us discovered many elements from the time period and before that supported our rendition of this story as a steampunk faerie tale.

Day and I would like to share with you a little of our experience writing Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn.

From Danielle Ackley-McPhail:

The East has a strong tradition of technological wonders. From puzzle boxes (Himitsu Bako)  to automatons to urban infrastructure, all of which we wove through our tale. One of the things I uncovered in my research was a Middle Eastern engineering book from the 13th century…yes, the 13th century. The title is The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices written by Al-Jazari. The book is significant enough to be republished even in modern times. What better foundation to support Ali’s interest in the art of building mechanical things. 

From Day Al-Mohamed:

I’m going to tell you about something that is in Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn but shouldn’t be.  Our book is based on the story  “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” from 1001 Nights (also referred to by many as Arabian Nights) and unlike the various Disney versions or even the famous Burton translation (trust me, that’s the version most people have read), we decided to be as authentic as possible and to go back to the sources: The first collection to ever be seen in Europe came from a 14th-century Syrian manuscript translated (very loosely) by Antoine Galland in the 1700s; and a second version, the Zotenberg’s Egyptian Recension, from the 1880s, which is the more “complete” version of the 1001 Nights. (Yup, big history nerding-out here.)

Here’s the big secret: Most people know the phrase “Open Sesame” from their own experiences or childhood familiarity with the 1001 Nights. They are the magic words to open the treasure cave.  What is interesting is that those words, as a magical means to open the cave, first appeared in Antoine Galland’s 1700s translation of the 1001 Nights. They did not exist in any earlier oral or written variants of the tale. It was completely made up by the Frenchman to make the tale seem more exotic.

“Open Sesame” is more fake than any modern interpretation or changes to the “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, but because it is so ingrained into Western society’s idea of a magical cave of wonders, we couldn’t get rid of it!

In Closing:

Five years ago Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn was released and immediately went out of print. We are thrilled to be able to rerelease the book through eSpec Books. We are currently running a campaign to fund the publication of this new edition, if you would like to check it out on Kickstarter.

 

Tell Me - Dawn Vogel

Dawn Vogel is one of those authors and editors working in the publishing trenches that most people don’t know about but should. Here, she tells me how she incorporates real world history that is stranger than fiction into her writing.
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The stories I included in my collection, Denizens of Distant Realms, are all secondary world fantasy stories. They didn't all start out that way, however. The first version I wrote of "Dry Spell" was a historical fantasy story, set in Colonial Virginia. In doing some research related to Roanoke (one of my favorite unsolved mysteries of history), I found an article that talked about extreme drought in the Virginia Tidewater in the late 1500s and the early 1600s. The earlier drought, which lasted three years, might have been a reason behind the disappearance of the Roanoke colonists. (article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/04/980428075409.htm)

I also researched the presence of Romani slaves in the American colonies, and found that though their numbers were few, the Romani had been enslaved and brought to the Americas as early as 1492, and then again later by the Spaniards. With these elements in place, I pulled together a historically accurate story that included a little bit of magic on the side for the fantasy portion of the historical fantasy story.

The problem with writing historical fantasy that revolves around little-known facts is that it sometimes winds up unbelievable, because oftentimes, history is a whole lot weirder than people think it is. There are all sorts of strange facts and incidents you can find if you dig into the history books, but if you put them in a story, they wind up throwing the reader out of the narrative because they seem so implausible. So, even though my Romani slave helping to free other enslaved people during an extended drought in Colonial Virginia was historically plausible, it didn't work as a believable story.

Instead, what I had to do was turn it into a secondary world fantasy story, changing the names of locations, the ethnicity of the main character, and the language she and her friend had to struggle to translate. At that point, the story suddenly became plausible fantasy, because readers were no longer in need of knowledge about droughts in Colonial Virginia and the colonial slave trade including Romani slaves. But those elements of my research helped me pull together the plot, and the details could be swapped out like a scarf on an outfit, changing the entire feel of it.

If you like writing historical fantasy, I've found it's often easier to stick to the bits of history that people know a little bit better, rather than the obscure portions. You may still have to get rid of some of the really outlandish (though historically accurate) bits, but you can still use the general time period. Failing that, you can always take the weird parts of history and reskin them into something more solidly within the realm of fantasy, like I wound up doing with "Dry Spell."

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Dawn Vogel's 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, SFWA, and Codex Writers. She lives in Seattle with her awesome husband (and fellow author), Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats.