Jennifer Brozek | All posts tagged 'Tell me'

Tell Me - Iori Kusano

I had the joy of meeting Iori Kusano by being on a podcast (about Shin Kamen Rider) with them. I found them interesting, exciting, and worth listening to. Then I found out they wrote Hybrid Heart, a novella about a pop idol pursuing fame while trying to keep the heart of who she is as a person. What Iori has to say about quitting is profound. I’ve always said it: you are allowed to stop.

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I am a quitter. Jobs, romances, grad school, hobbies, gym memberships: I’ll walk out on anything. If it sucks, hit da bricks, as the skeleton says.

 
(photo credit: dasharezone)

 This is not a trait that the rest of the world generally considers a virtue.

In both real life and fiction, our heroes are usually the ones who don’t give up—people who press forward no matter what obstacles or opponents stand in their way, those whose determination outweighs their sense of self-preservation. A good person sticks to their chosen path, keeps chasing their dreams, follows through on their commitments.

The final structure and plot of Hybrid Heart changed considerably from my first half-draft, but I knew from the first scene that it was going to be a story about the life-changing magic of just goddamn quitting.

 

The Japanese entertainment industry is almost universally brutal, but pop idols have it worst: the longest hours, the strictest and most unrealistic beauty standards, the sub-minimum wages. Whether it’s legal to ban idols from dating as a condition of employment is debatable (more judges rule in favor of the idols these days), but regardless of whether it’s written down, it’s commonly understood that to be caught in a romantic relationship is a career killer.

My protagonist, Rei, has to learn how to quit because her commitment to her career is actively hurting her. When we meet her, she’s so close to breakthrough success that she can taste it. All she needs is another couple of hits to cement her place in the public’s heart. In the meantime, she has no friends, she’s dieted herself halfway to death, and she lives in a smarthome panopticon that tells her boss how many minutes she spends in the shower and how hot the water is.

I think most of us wind up in a situation like that at some point in our lives—those moments when you’ve sunk-cost-fallacied yourself so far down some road that you don’t know how you’ll ever find an offramp again. We may not have brain implants reporting our social media browsing history straight to our manager yet, but everyone eventually becomes familiar with the sweaty-palmed fear of having to admit that you made the wrong choice.

And once you’ve admitted it, how do you go about fixing it?

I wrote Hybrid Heart while I was still feeling my way through the emotional fallout of quitting grad school. I’d struggled to make that decision because it felt like I was throwing away not only my own hard work, but the effort of everyone who had invested their time and knowledge in mentoring me. I couldn’t talk myself out of believing that I was letting other people down, so I had to learn how to make peace with having done so. (Fun fact: I am still too scared to talk to my former professors!)

What I wanted to communicate with Rei’s character arc was the terrifying, empowering feeling of learning how to quit. It’s heart-level stakes, but in the moment it feels apocalyptic. How do you decide to prioritize yourself when you’re sure that doing so will overturn your entire life? I don’t think there’s a definitive answer, but with Rei I put forward my answer: flipping the proverbial table and then accepting the consequences. Like my protagonist, I had to teach myself to move forward in an irrevocably changed world with compassion for myself.

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Iori Kusano is a queer Asian American writer and Extremely Ordinary Office Gremlin living in Tokyo. They are a graduate of Clarion West 2017. Their novella Hybrid Heart is available from Neon Hemlock Press, and their short fiction appears in various magazines. Find them on Twitter @IoriKusano and Instagram as iori_stagram, or at kusanoiori.com.

Tell Me - Weston Ochse

Today Weston Ochse tells me why poetry and how much wordplay means to him. I know Weston from his military fiction. This departure from his norm reveals his depths—and what a hellion he was as kid.

 

Okay. Okay. As long as you asked me why I wrote a short story collection, I will come clean. I cut my teeth on poetry. My first published works were poetry. I grew up with the snapping of fingers and husky-voiced women sipping Mogan David telling us bad poetry over a door spread across boxes as our dining room table when I was six. Well, that’s not fair. No poetry is really bad if fueled by the heart.

Plus, I thought I might have an interesting childhood. From drinking turpentine, to biting the heads off gold fish, to chasing old men down the street with dead snakes until they paid me a dime to leave them alone, to making a fake Rutger Hauer cry—all comically juxtaposed with a father who didn’t want me, being sexually manipulated, seeing friends die, and hardly knowing myself.

Just when I think my story is my own, I get emails about how others experienced many of the same feelings of inadequacy and valuelessness, only under different circumstance. For instance, I doubt many of the people I know bite the heads off goldfish, but it doesn’t make them any less fantastic.

When I was four we had gold fish. For some reason, I loved the feeling of biting their heads of-it was so pleasing. The way the flesh parted between my new sharp teeth and the slight tang of the fish-scented water. Then, afraid I might get into trouble, I put the bodies back into the water and the heads into a plant on an end table with poetry by Walt Whitman. My mother was so busy being a single mom, she didn't notice the floating dead fish until the smell fermented properly.

I suppose nowadays I’d be arrested and thrown into a padded cell. They say that serial killers began at home by killing small animals. Do fish count? Was that one of my possible destinies? I never felt like I was going to be a serial killer. Then again, which killer ever thinks they might be wrong?

“Wait. What? Why not simply write a short story collection?”

That’s a good one. I love the immediacy of poetry. I also love the style. Poems don’t need to rhyme, but many readers expect rhyming poetry. Yet, that’s such a small fragment of poems once popularized in the pre-Victorian Age. Now we have many styles such as Villanelles, free verse, sestina, lyrics, epics, narrative, pantoums, rondeaus, tankas, haikus, and all of those limericks your drunken uncle might have inappropriately said at Thanksgiving Dinner. There are many more, but you get the idea.  I tend to concentrate on free verse and narrative, although I have dabbled and had published some of the others.

But that really doesn’t answer your question. I suppose I wanted to open my literary aperture so that I might expand on my ability to communicate my inner self to the outer realm in a more dynamic mode. Prose is one way. Creative non-fiction is another, but neither lack the immediacy of a great poem.

I am a disciple of the Beat Poets, especially William Carlos Williams, Theodore Roethke, Alen Ginsberg, and Ishmael Reed from whom I have some of his words tattooed on my forearms.

Reed’s Poem “I Am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra” begins with I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra, I bedded down with Isis, our lady of the Boogaloo. Then there is this section that appears halfway through the poem:

I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. Lord of the lash,

the Loup Garou Kid. Half breed son of Pisces and

Aquarius. I hold the souls of men in my pot. I do

the dirty boogie with scorpions. I make the bulls

keep still and was the first swinger to grape the taste.

 

Or Ginsberg’s “Howl” which helped a generation storm forth. It opens with:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,

starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through

the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly

connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.

 

Can you feel the energy of those poems? The intensity? My god, if harnessed, we could change the world. Then there is my opening salvo in my short story eponymous collection Ziggy Stardust Turpentine Koolaid. It opens with these lines:

Riotous sun cooking my brain

as I sit and stare longingly at the

white liquid resting in a mason jar,

Delicious and deadly on a hard-baked stoop.

 

Half-crazed from boredom I glare at this world.

 

Do you know who I am? What I'm about?

 

Me, grand master of the bamboo rod, eater of

goldfish, head spitter and hider of bodies.

 

Me, Tow-headed maverick of the Great Plains,

I once even saw a buffalo, flick its tail like a

Great Fuck you to Buffalo Bill

before I even knew what Fuck You meant.

 

Me, chaser away of fathers, hated of all sons,

five-year-old testament to the fact that love

is a Cracker Jack lotto.

 

Me

Solitary

Bored

Thirsty

Crazed

 

Convicted to a one parent family

Yeah. I dig poetry. Wait? What was the question again? Oh yeah, the reason I didn’t make this a short story collection was simple and selfish. I didn’t want to. I wanted to write a book of poetry. And I wanted to do it old school. Self-published.

And, uh, sorry. I think I might have overshared.

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USA Today Best-selling author Weston Ochse has been hailed by the American Library Association as “one of the major horror authors of the 21st Century.” His work has won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won four New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. The author of more than forty books, his franchise work includes the X-Files, Predator, Aliens, AVP, Hellboy, Clive Barker’s Midian, and Joe Ledger. He was one of the founding authors of the NETFLIX TV series V-Wars. Living Dangerously: www.westonochse.com

Tell Me - Raven Oak

Today’s Tell Me is from author Raven Oak. She talks about dealing with trauma, illness, emotions, and writing—how they all intermix—and one of the most important things a writer can do for themselves.

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Forgive yourself.

Seems simple, right? But for a neurodivergent, disabled author like me, not so much. The past three years have been a study in patience as I am immunocompromised aka high risk. Since 2020, I’ve carried this knot in my stomach that my career might be over.

Most authors sell more books when they’re visible, e.g. attending conventions/conferences, having in-person book signings, and teaching workshops. Without being “seen,” people forget you exist. They move on to other books and other authors. But being seen in person is something I can’t do, at least not until we have better vaccines and fewer variants. How does one continue in the face of something scary and new?

Many people aren’t honest or open enough about mental illness, let alone physical illness, but I am trying to be better about both. Getting COVID twice (from my doctors no less) kicked my ass. It physically changed me with its organ damage, not to mention the cognitive symptoms. Long COVID is not just long but brutal.

For years, I was lucky if I could work an hour without needing an hour nap in response. (Even today, I tend to take an afternoon nap, and my kitties help encourage that.) I used to type between 90-110 wpm (words per minute), but now, I’m lucky if I manage 50 wpm. My editors find simple grammatical mistakes now that I never used to make—and as a former English teacher, this galls me. I know, I mean, I knew better. Then there’s blanking on word choices and names. When did I get so forgetful?

Writing is harder. Editing is harder. Life is harder.

 

This past January, many of my colleagues and friends were posting articles about how much writing they’d accomplished in 2022. After the depressing look at my taxes, I said, “What the hell! Let’s see how little I wrote in the pandemic.” But I surprised myself. Looking at the number of short fiction I’d sold and written through the years helped me understand that progress isn’t the same for every writer, and I had made progress.

Piecing together the stories for not one but two collections helped me step back and find ways to accommodate this new me. To learn what I am still capable of accomplishing. While everything has changed, nothing that matters has changed at all.

I’m still an author, and I can still tell stories. How I present them to the world may look different. For example, my “book releases” will be virtual for a while, and the length of time it takes me to finish a novel may be longer, but I’m still a writer.  

Now, I don’t mean to imply everything’s fine because it isn’t. There’s an anxiety and depression that comes with long COVID. A feeling that the world’s gladly leaving you behind. It’s the Great Wall of China, and I’m an ant at the base of it looking up in a wild panic. Being a realist, I’m not a fan of toxic positivity, but during three years of hell, I managed to write.

With these stories I’m sharing with the world, I’m giving myself permission to slow down when I need to do so, and in this acknowledgement, I forgive myself. Better than that, I realize that there is no need to forgive myself.

This is who I am now, and maybe that’s okay.

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Multi-international award-winning speculative fiction author Raven Oak (she/they) is best known for Amaskan’s Blood (2016 Ozma Fantasy Award Winner, Epic Awards Finalist, & Reader’s Choice Award Winner)Amaskan’s War (2018 UK Wishing Award YA Finalist), and Class-M Exile. She also has many published short stories in anthologies and magazines. She’s even published on the moon! Raven spent most of her K-12 education doodling and writing 500 page monstrosities that are forever locked away in a filing cabinet.

Besides being a writer and artist, she’s a geeky, disabled ENBY who enjoys getting her game on with tabletop games, indulging in cartography and art, or staring at the ocean. She lives in the Seattle area with her partner, and their three kitties who enjoy lounging across the keyboard when writing deadlines approach. Her hair color changes as often as her bio does, and you can find her at www.ravenoak.net.

 

Dragons Springs releases 6/1 and Space Ships 7/1. Pre-Orders live now. Print & eBook

Sell links for Dragon Springs & Other Things:
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Springs-Other-Things-Collection-ebook/dp/B0C3PKX9MX
B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dragon-springs-other-things-raven-oak/1143408348?ean=2940167533332
Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/book/dragon-springs-other-things/id6448645370
Etc: https://books2read.com/u/3nNYvx

Sell links for Space Ships & Other Trips:
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Space-Ships-Other-Trips-Collection-ebook/dp/B0C3PQZTB9
B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/space-ships-other-trips-raven-oak/1143408363?ean=2940167323162
Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/book/space-ships-other-trips/id6448645777
Etc: https://books2read.com/u/bxNZ8k

Tell Me - Brandon Crilly

Brandon Crilly, author of Catalyst, talks about when characters do the unexpected and how it can benefit the writer. I’ve had this happen. In the third book of the Karen Wilson Chronicles, a tertiary character unexpected sacrificed himself, changing the course of the book and the rest of the series. Yeah, Brandon, *sage nod* I understand.

 Cover of Catalyst by Brandon Crilly

Characters have minds of their own once you flesh them out—and while it sounds bizarre to some people, we writers know that sometimes they’ll take control of the story while you’re drafting.

I tend to think of myself as an outliner, but really, I’m halfway to a pantser. My outline is part scene description for a play and part predictions about what will push my characters one way or another, and I don’t know everything that’s going to happen until I start drafting. That’s part of the fun for me—if I know everything ahead of time, there’s no need for me to write the draft because I won’t be surprised. (Maybe I’m secretly a writer chaotician. I do enjoy wearing a leather jacket.)

Because I’ve only outlined as much as I need and there’s lots of room for play, drafting sometimes means my characters react in ways I don’t expect. Small scale, it’s a particular line that comes across snarkier or more heartfelt than I would’ve thought, or one character turns to face the onrushing horde of spiders instead of leaping through the portal with their friends. But occasionally, as I’m drafting, one of my characters reacts in such a fundamentally different way than what I expect that it changes the entire path of that scene, if not the whole novel, and all I can do is watch. Like they’re directing my fingers on the keyboard.

Eerie, right? Unless you’ve had this moment, in which case we can nod sagely at each other across the table and ignore the folks giving us weird looks.

This happened during the drafting of Catalyst, in what’s become one of my favorite scenes of the book. Avoiding spoilers, my three central protagonists—street magician Mavrin, self-professed heretic Eyasu, and ex-soldier Deyeri—have their first moment of genuine quiet together after one dangerous or fast-paced moment after another, which started with being reunited after more than a decade. Starting to draft that scene, I thought it would be light and comfortable, as these three remember why they were friends for so long and realize that, even now, they have each other’s backs. Maybe even with a couple in-jokes.

Nope.

Partway through, Deyeri makes an offhand comment that makes Mavrin and Eyasu laugh – but as I was writing that laughter, suddenly I saw Mavrin start to come apart. He’s someone who’s not used to adventure, and carries around a lot of guilt, and the act of genuinely laughing at something for the first time in days suddenly let out a bunch of other emotions I’m not sure I realized he was carrying. And all I could do was figure out how Eyasu and Deyeri would react to what quickly became one of the most heartfelt moments in the entire novel.

Had I tried to force the scene in a different direction, it would’ve produced something awkward and probably not as good. Instead, drafting that scene felt like alchemy more than writing—which means that when it happens again, I’ll know to trust my characters and let them take charge for a bit.

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Brandon Crilly has been published by Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, Fusion Fragment, Haven Spec and other markets. He’s also an Aurora Award-winning podcaster, reviewer, conference organizer, and snake parent to a delightful corn snake named Bob. His debut fantasy novel Catalyst came out in October 2022 from Atthis Arts.

Tell Me - Gregory A. Wilson

Greg Wilson, an author, professor, and friend of mine, has a kickstarter going for his Grayshade novels and RPG—a worthy endeavor. Today, he tells me about the eponymous Grayshade character of the series and why he would write about such a person.

 

The thing about Grayshade is: he’s a killer.

This is a pretty clear conclusion from the get-go, when you’re dealing with an assassin. And Grayshade is no ordinary assassin; he’s an elite Acolyte in the Order of Argoth, tasked with eliminating targets assigned to him by his superiors, and uplifted and stabilized by his faith in Argoth, the Just God. But he’s also a man with a conscience, who for years has shielded himself from the full consequences of his actions with routine and ritual. Grayshade sees himself as a surgeon with a scalpel, not a butcher with a cleaver; he only kills his assigned targets, and only when (and as much as) his faith, the tenets of which are taught and conveyed by the Order, demands it.

Yet as I try to show in the book and have discussed elsewhere, this is ultimately a fool’s game. You cannot have a conscience and be protected from monstrous actions. You cannot face trauma after trauma and not pay a price for facing them. For all of the rituals and mantras and meditations, in the end Grayshade is a killer, plain and simple, no matter what the motivations behind his actions are. It’s not until those motivations are stripped away, until he’s shown what’s actually at the core of his faith, that he’s forced to confront who he actually is, knowledge which almost destroys him.

Why write about someone like this? Surely we get enough stories/movies about killers, and beyond the constant drumbeat of stories of real life murderers, the inner life of someone willing to (repeatedly) kill others is actually terrifically boring—on a basic level, a murder is the ultimate act of petty selfishness, the elimination of the most fundamental right to fulfill a individual desire driven by hatred, or vengeance, or “justice” (which in Grayshade may amount to the same thing). I was conscious of all of this when writing the novel, and in the beginning, I wasn’t particularly interested in Grayshade as killer, but Grayshade as thinker and planner, one elite operative up against an organization with far superior resources and motivation to get their people into line. Yet as I continued to write and revise, I became more interested in what drove someone like Grayshade to become what he was…and more important, what could drive him away from it again, and keep him on that path back to better action.

Grayshade himself knows that on one level there’s no redeeming what he’s done in the past. No matter what he thought were the reasons for what he does, no matter how much a potentially good person might have been manipulated into becoming a tool for the evil acts of others, the acts are what they are. But in a way, the journey forward, away from the evil, is more important than whatever the destination is. Like The Equalizer’s Robert McCall or Jason Bourne or Nikita, Grayshade’s decision to seek a new path is, to me, a fundamentally human act of hope, driven by a desire to be better tomorrow than he was today…and it was both fascinating, and even moving, to document that journey. As to where the journey ultimately concludes?

Well, like Grayshade, that’s something you’ll only know when you get there. Until then, I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I have.

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Gregory A. Wilson is Professor of English at St. John's University in New York, where he teaches creative writing and speculative fiction. Outside academia he is the author of the epic fantasy The Third Sign, the award-winning graphic novel Icarus, the dark fantasy Grayshade (with a just launched IP Kickstarter), and the D&D adventure/sourcebook Tales and Tomes from the Forbidden Library, plus a number of published short stories. He co-hosts the actual play podcast Speculate! (speculatesf.com) and is co-coordinator of the Origins Authors Alcove. Under the moniker Arvan Eleron, he runs a Twitch channel focused on narrative, with many sponsored TTRPG campaigns featuring authors, editors, actors, and artists. He lives with his family in Connecticut; his virtual home is https://www.gregoryawilson.com/.

Tell Me – Chris McKinney

Today, Chris McKinney tells me how finally including his childhood loves and memories into his fiction gave him a breath of new life—personally and professionally. As a child of the eighties, I can see myself in him. As an author who had her own rediscovery of self, I empathize with him.

 

Blade Runner, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Road Warrior, Heavy Metal—when I was a child, these were among my favorite things. Then, later, when gaming emerged, Baldur’s Gate, Final Fantasy, Fallout, Everquest, Bioshock, Mass Effect—I couldn’t get enough to the point where I had to stop (my last brief relapse was Red Dead Redemption II—but I digress). However, despite all these influences, their impact on my writing was minimal for years. After all, I was taught in graduate school that fiction writing is serious business.

It took a couple of decades for me to understand that, sure, fiction is serious, but it can be fun, too. I wanted to have fun, so I decided to delve into speculative fiction that paid homage to my childhood loves. I didn’t want to copy these things, but I didn’t shy away from their influence either. The result is Midnight, Water City, the first book in a trilogy. It’s set in 2142, and is a mash up of murder mystery, cyberpunk, noir, and eco-fiction. It’s fusion like I’m fusion. I’m a Korean, Japanese, Scottish American who was born and raised on an island in the middle of the Pacific. I live three blocks away from a huge Chinese graveyard. I live one mile away from a waterfall next to an arboretum that fights to preserve endangered Hawaiian plant species. My Japanese American stepfather is an aging vet who was a LRRP in Vietnam. So guess what? Graveyards, waterfalls, indigenous plant life, and an old war vet—I threw all this in the trilogy, too.

I’ve also spent just about my entire life in, and near, the ocean, so I figured, why not? Let’s toss in an underwater city as well. Books that I’ve written in the past, “serious” regional fiction that has been well-received over the years, really only revealed parts of me. My first book, a semi-autobiographic novel that ignores the childhood loves that I mention above. My second, loosely based on some of my grandparents’ experiences during and after the Korean War. A couple of novels about addiction, which I’ve struggled with in the past. But I revealed more of myself in Midnight, Water City than any other book. My love of the ocean and my anxiety of the future. My lifelong jones for sci-fi and fantasy. The looming sensation and fear that I don’t see things the way most others do and that a big part of my life has been me barreling through existence and leaving wreckage behind. These books, are, in fact, the most personal and “serious” I’ve ever written. They also pressed my imagination more than it had ever been pressed before.

But they’re meant to be fun, too. I hope some of the joy that I felt while worldbuilding is reflected on the page. I also sadistically hope that readers feel the twinge of terror that one can feel when underwater. We’ve all been there, some literally, most figuratively, drowning and on the verge of swimming ourselves to death. Perhaps some of us emerge from the water gasping and decide that it’s time to rethink past choices, that it’s time for a rebrand. We lean on our childhood loves and catch our breaths. Midnight, Water City is a rebrand like that for me. One that I, personally and professionally, very much needed.

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Chris McKinney was born in Honolulu and grew up in Kahaluu on the island of Oahu. He is the author of Midnight, Water City, book one of the Water City trilogy. It was named a Best Mystery of 2021 by Publisher’s Weekly and a Best Speculative Mystery of 2021 by CrimeReads. The paperback edition will be released June 14, 2022 and includes the first two chapters of Eventide, Water City, book two of the Water City trilogy. Book two will be released summer 2023.

Chris has written six other novels: The Tattoo, The Queen of Tears, Bolohead Row, Mililani Mauka, Boi No Good, and Yakudoshi: Age of Calamity. He currently resides in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Tell Me - Loren Rhoads

I’ve known Loren Rhoads for years online and I don’t know if I’ve ever told her that cemeteries fascinate me. Today, she tells me how she fell in love with this macabre subject.

The first time I visited a cemetery on vacation was an accident. I’d discovered a lovely book of cemetery photos — who knew such a thing existed? — in the bookshop at London’s Victoria Station. My husband Mason decided he would rather see beautiful, overgrown Highgate Cemetery than the Tower of London. Once we were there, surrounded by angels clothed in ivy, I fell in love with cemetery statuary.

One of my friends in San Francisco recommended I stop by the Rand McNally store and pick up a cemetery guidebook (my first!) called Permanent Parisians. At her suggestion, we’d already planned to work Pere Lachaise Cemetery into our trip to Paris, because Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, and so many other famous people were buried there. Permanent Parisians led us to the cemeteries of Montparnasse and St. Vincent and the Paris Municipal Ossuary. That was an amazing trip!

After that, I simply stumbled across cemeteries everywhere I traveled. My mom saw a sign for the Pioneer Cemetery in Yosemite while I was looking through the anthropology museum. Jack London just happened to be buried at the State Historical Park that bears his name. A friend was touring St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans and encouraged me to come along.

Other places had such an impact on history that I wanted to see them for myself. When Mason and I went to Japan for the first time, I wanted to see Hiroshima and the Peace Park. When my mom took me to Honolulu, I went alone by tour bus on Easter morning to see Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. I ducked out of a family trip to Washington DC to visit Arlington National Cemetery.

Then I started to get a reputation. Japanese friends took us to the old capitol of Kamakura to show me a monks’ graveyard. A friend who’d grown up in Westchester County said I shouldn’t miss the Old Dutch Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow. Other friends gave us a private tour of the Soldiers National Cemetery and battlefield at Gettysburg.

By the time Mason and I went to Italy in 2001, we built our vacations around cemeteries. In Rome, I targeted the Protestant Cemetery, final home of Keats and Shelley. In Venice, I wanted to see the island set aside as a graveyard, where Stravinsky is buried. In Florence, we managed to score an hour alone in the English Cemetery, where Elizabeth Barrett Browning is buried. That cemetery had the most amazing iconography: hourglasses and ouroboros and a life-sized skeleton with a scythe.

Despite the occasional death figure, I don’t find graveyards at all frightening. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing better than sunshine and birdsong, green grass and trees, cemetery statuary and epitaphs. Especially these days, we could all use a moment alone with our thoughts, remembering what is important. As I always say, every day aboveground is a good day. Cemeteries help me keep that in mind.

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Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. She’s also the editor of Death’s Garden Revisited: Personal Relationships with Cemeteries, an anthology of 40 essays from tour guides and travelers, genealogists and geocachers, horror authors, ghost hunters, and pagan priests about why they visit cemeteries. Death’s Garden Revisited is funding on Kickstarter from March 17-April 14, 2022.

Tell Me - Russell Zimmerman

Today, Rusty Zimmerman tells me what it’s like to put together a collection of game fiction that was written over many years. It’s a walk down memory lane.

 

Down These Dark Streets is a Shadowrun first-ever; a collection of a writer’s short fiction, gathered up from across all the various sourcebooks, setting books, rule books, magazines, and where ever else it first showed up.  A lot of Shadowrun fiction is spread out in intro pieces, short, punchy, stories that separate big chapters in sourcebooks, and that sort of thing, and The Powers That Be took a shot at gathering mine all together between one set of covers.

Readers can follow along as a handful of threads and characters weave from story to story, a sort of universe-within-a-universe that started with my very first piece of Shadowrun work, intro fiction for Attitude, two editions and *mumble* years ago.  The protagonist of that short piece shows up as part of a team in some later intro fics I published, that team shows up alongside Jimmy Kincaid in Dirty Tricks, Jimmy Kincaid’s entangled with Ms. Myth and the Shadowrun Fifth Edition crew in his novels, their nemesis Rook first showed up in some adventure intro fic, etc, etc. 

I’ve long felt like Shadowrun works best when the shadows feel small, tangled, and reputation-centric – everyone knows everyone, word gets around, and when you’re looking for reliable talent, the odds are good they’ve worked together before.  I wanted that feeling, and a sense of continuity, even in my seemingly-unrelated pieces that were initially scattered across books (and even editions).  Getting to see them all side by side in this book was a lot of fun.

What else was a lot of fun?  Writing intros!  In addition to a sappy love letter to Shadowrun that kicks off the whole collection, each and every piece has a small writer introspective from me.  In them, I talk about what the original pitch for the story was, I talk about cover art (sometimes changing cover art!) that inspired the piece, or I just share my thoughts on how it came together and what I think about the finished product.  Having the chance to open up and ‘chat’ with readers was a lot of fun, and I hope I’m not too cringe-worthy when I talk about what fun, and what an honor, it’s been to get to do what I do.

Also included among the already-published sourcebook and Game Trade Magazine-exclusive pieces are four brand new, never before published, short stories.  Some of them spun out of the ‘enhanced fiction’ line before finding a home here instead, but the largest story in the collection was written just for this book.  It’s a novella-length Jimmy Kincaid story, set as an ‘in-betweener’ in his novel trilogy, fitting in there any place before his latest novel, On The Rocks.

Assembling this collection was a good time, and the short walk down memory lane for the dozen years, now, I’ve been writing Shadowrun stories.  I was very excited to get to share a little bit of the creative process with readers, I was excited to hear there are paperback and hardback versions available right off the bat, and I’m excited for the future, to hear what fans think of the whole kit and caboodle. 

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Russell Zimmerman got started in writing as a freelancer for wargames like Warmachine, and since then has contributed to dozens of projects including fan-favorite fiction in Shadowrun and writing the international award-winning PC game Satellite Reign. His most noteworthy work has been for the Shadowrun role-playing game and associated properties, but he's spilled some ink in the universes of Vampire 20th Anniversary, Earthdawn, Wrath & Glory, and Mutants & Masterminds, and more!

Tell Me - Kat Richardson

Kat Richardson is a friend of mine and I could not wait to pre-order her new fiction collection. Today, she tells me why no writing ever goes to waste.

 

I’d been thinking about putting out a collection of short stories for a couple of years, and all my previously-published pieces had reverted to me, so late in 2020 I got in touch with  John Hartness, who owns and operates Falstaff Books, about the idea, and he said “Yeah! Throw it at me!” Et voilà!

Well, not quite. See, I shut down the Greywalker series in 2014 partially because I was tired (which turned out to be cancer) and the characters were at a good place to pause. And the sales numbers were falling, so it seemed the timing was right to do something else. So, after the cancer thing, I sent out a big, fat SF novel that got published and won an award, and then sold so badly that the potential series was dropped by the publisher. Note: Don’t change pseudonyms when the old one still works. Whoops...

So, back to the drawing board, which produced another novel—historical dark fantasy crime (there’s a strange beast...)—that is doing the rounds. But I kept coming back to the idea of a collection of shorts, partially because I had two I really liked that had never been published, and several good ones that had come out in small, obscure volumes that are now out of print. I figured there wouldn’t be a better time, so I put all of the shorts into a file and sent a note to John, who graciously agreed to look over all fifteen. He chose ten—including the two that had never been published before (“Shatter,” and “Single-Edged”) and one that had only been on my website (“Reindeer Games”). Interestingly, one of the stories he didn’t take was in an out-of-print anthology that got re-released on audio in October, so that was a really smart call on John’s part, since that would been a problem contract-wise. (I think John is secretly clairvoyant. He’s also incredibly funny and a good writer, but that’s off-topic.)

Through the Grey is a pretty eclectic collection—science fiction, high fantasy, crime, fairy tales, urban fantasy, dark comedy, maybe a touch of magical realism, some comic satire, three stories from the Greywalker universe, and my usual mashup of mystery-plus-spec fic. I want it to do well, of course, not just because it’s my stuff, but also because John’s been a joy to work with, took a chance on this collection, and I want that to pay off for him, too. And, you know, after a while, I forgot that I’d written some of these, and it’s been fun to go through my old work and discover it’s still pretty good stuff. I hope other people think so too.

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Kat Richardson is currently wandering loose through the mountains of Western Washington in a trailer with two dogs and a husband. It's even her own husband. Along the way she has been an actor, singer, costumer, Renaissance Faire performer, dancer, writing instructor, seller of beanie babies, and a freelance editor. She is the author of nine bestselling novels in the Greywalker series, one award-winning SF novel, and a few unspeakable things that live in an electronic trunk. Trust me, it's better that way....

Tell Me - Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo tells me all about how even old writers can learn new writing tricks. In this case, it was about writing fast. No. Faster than that. And now double it. There you go, you get the idea…

 

One of the things I learned from this book is that writing fast, and doing so in a (mostly) chronological fashion worked beautifully for me, and paid off so much when it came time to edit. But man, it was hard work.

I wrote You Sexy Thing over the course of a month, in which every weekday I got up at 5:30 AM, went to the gym and worked out while thinking about what I was going to write, and then came home and wrote furiously in half hour sprints that were a mix of rapid typing and sometimes dictation when the words were coming too quickly for my fingers to put them down. And—this is a key point—I did not allow myself the Internet in any form till I was done. No checking email, no looking at social media, nothing in virtual space until the words were done, which was usually sometime between noon and one.

I averaged 5-6 thousand words each day, and every day I amazed myself by being able to hit my target. I did give myself the weekends off from writing, since I teach most Saturdays and Sundays, and the respite was welcome. I made myself go out to enjoy the world.

It was exhausting. I snagged more than one 15 minute nap midway through mornings when my energy flagged. It wasn’t a pace that would be sustainable for me on a daily basis, but I used a similar process to write the second book, and I know I’ll do it again with the third. I have an inchoate idea, a vision of a blue and steel installation hanging in space, and once I am done jotting down notes and embark on my journey, I’ll find out what the crew is doing there.

Something about that pace helped me hold the book in my head much better than happens when I’m writing slower, picking various scenes to focus on according to my interest rather than where they fall in the text. That’s what I’ve done with the Tabat books and they are a much harder edit, pulling out repetitions and echoes, removing places where I’ve contradicted myself.

It is perhaps that immersion in the book that happens with this process that has enabled something to happen with these characters than has with other, past ones. These characters live in my head and express their opinions much more readily—and frequently—than any other cast I’ve dealt with, and I love them for it. I know these characters, but they also have plenty to tell me in forthcoming books, and that is truly exciting.

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Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Their 250+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In 2020 they won the Nebula Award for fantasy novelette Carpe Glitter. They are a former two-term President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Their most recent works are space opera You Sexy Thing (Tor Macmillan, November, 2021), as well as an anthology, The Reinvented Heart (Arc Manor, February, 2022),  co-edited with Jennifer Brozek.