Jennifer Brozek | All posts tagged 'Tell me'

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.

Tell Me - Kris Katzen

Today Kris Katzen talks about what it is like to discover you share a Table of Contents with one of your favorite authors.

Dreams, Fantasies, then Beyond...

To quote my bio, I wrote my first ‘novel’ (seven handwritten pages!!) at age seven. As a kid, the only thing I did more voraciously than write, was read. Ok, maybe they tied. Either way, I lost myself in books. Drove my mom nuts. She’d be standing literally right beside me and I would not hear her calling my name until the third time. Drove. Her. Nuts.

So I read. Tons. And among my most favorite authors, Andre Norton loomed large. I favored science fiction and fantasy even then and loved her wonderful novels.

The older I got (and the more I learned about the publishing business) my idea of making a living as a writer…shifted. But that didn’t bother me. I write for the love of it and always will. Sales count as an added bonus. If whimsical thoughts of the New York Times Bestseller list moved from dream to fantasy, that never dulled my love of writing.

Another added bonus: all the wonderful writers I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting. They fall on every part of the spectrum, running the gamut in what they write, why they write, where they are in their careers, and what they aim to accomplish. Some are even on that New York Times Bestseller list. Many are acquaintances; some are close friends. I’ve learned a great deal from all of them.

Also the older I got, the more I realized Andre Norton’s standing in the history of science fiction. It made perfect sense to me that I wasn’t alone in absolutely adoring her stories. As time passed, I found many, many new authors I enjoyed, but I always retained a special fondness for and admiration of Norton.

Which brings us to present day. Most of the time, I write my own novels and short stories. Some end up in anthologies, which is always fun. I’ve even collaborated on a few novels, which completely changes the process of writing. I enjoy the change of pace. Basically, though, I write in my own worlds. That works just fine, seeing as I make most hermits and recluses look like extroverted party-animal social butterflies.

I’ve had the good fortune to band together with a bunch of incredible authors in the form of a StoryBundle. I jumped at the chance because I’m a huge fan of the other writers. Even better, one of the volumes included is a cat anthology. My own beloved swarm of felines approves!

So I knew the StoryBundle included the anthology. After a day or two, I got around to checking out the table of contents.

One of the names leapt out at me!

ANDRE NORTON!

Wait, what??

Andre Norton!

A novel of mine is in a collection that includes Andre Norton.

When I say “Dreams, Fantasies, then Beyond”, I truly mean beyond. I never imagined this, never even conceived of it, that my writing would ever in any universe in any timeframe have any association—however ephemeral—with that of Andre Norton.

The seven-year-old ‘novelist’ in me is gleefully, joyfully dancing among the stars.

The present-day author is too.

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Kris Katzen wrote her first novel—all of seven! pages!—at age seven and hasn’t stopped since. Now with more than twenty novels and eighty short stories published, she writes mostly science fiction and fantasy. Occasional forays into other genres include action, romance, historical, and even a hockey novel. Her most recent novel Escapes is book one in the Interstellar Exiles series. Other series include Tales of Mimion and Sorcery & Steel. Visit www.BluetrixBooks.com/bibliography for a complete list of titles including those under all her pen names.

Tell Me - Aaron Rosenberg

Today, Aaron Rosenberg tells us how he allows research to inspire his writing in other people’s worlds without getting bogged down in it. And how it inspires his original works.

I love research. Maybe it’s the failed academic in me (I have a Master’s in English Lit and had finished all my PhD coursework before I left the field) but I do, I love getting stuck into history and mythology and language and culture and clothes and so many other things you can read about and learn about. And of course the Internet makes that all so dangerously easy, you click on just one link and it leads to a dozen others and pretty soon you’ve spent the past three hours reading about some obscure headgear and the rites associated with it and your eyes are killing you and you’ve completely missed dinner.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Not the eyestrain and missing dinner part, that’s all bad. But falling down the research rabbit hole. Because it can lead to so many amazing story ideas.

That’s even more true when you combine it with my favorite way to come up with stories in an existing IP (or intellectual property), which is to “mind the gap.” When I start thinking up ideas for an IP, I like to look around, see what’s where, and see where the spaces are, the little chinks between the big bricks of worldbuilding and history and character development. Those chinks are missing material, spots that weren’t necessary to create the setting and the main story—but they often contain fun little moments a writer can exploit, throwaway mentions you can tease out into an interesting tale that helps fill in the space and make the wall that much more solid and believable. And fun.

Most of the time, I only use that technique for tie-in writing. After all, if it’s my own world I’m the one creating those big blocks in the first place.

But that’s not how things went with Time of the Phoenix.

When Steve Savile and I first had the idea, we just had the one setting, Elizabethan London, and the playwriting scene there in particular. But we knew we’d want more. So we started looking at history, and especially at major literary figures.

Hence the rabbit hole.

What we found initially, and what I found later as I continued the project on my own, were lots of little gaps, the kind that occur naturally all the time—a person’s life documented here and there but nothing between those two moments, a single brief mention of a strange incident with little context and no follow-up, a bit of folklore wrongly attributed but now indelibly linked to that person. All those fun little gaps that can lead to exciting, amazing stories that both fit into real-world history and are wholly original fiction at the same time.

I wonder if I should go back and thank my old professors for getting me hooked on that? Maybe I should just send them some of my books instead. They’re clever, they should see what I mean.

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Aaron Rosenberg is the author of the best-selling DuckBob SF comedy series, the Time of the Phoenix historical dark fantasy series, the Relicant Chronicles epic fantasy series, the Dread Remora space-opera series, and, with David Niall Wilson, the O.C.L.T. occult thriller series. His tie-in work includes novels for Star Trek, Warhammer, World of WarCraft, Stargate: Atlantis, Shadowrun, and Eureka. He has written children’s books (including the award-winning Bandslam: The Junior Novel and the #1 best-selling 42: The Jackie Robinson Story), educational books, and roleplaying games (including the Origins Award-winning Gamemastering Secrets). You can follow him online at gryphonrose.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/gryphonrose, and on Twitter @gryphonrose.

Tell Me - Loren Rhoads

Loren Rhoads tells me where her morbid sensibilities come from and they led to her memoir.

Putting together a memoir is a very strange thing. There are so many stories from you that have to pick though and choose which to tell. A book by its nature seems to indicate some kind of thread to tie them all together—but you have to decide which thread you’re going to follow. My thread is summed up pretty well in the title: This Morbid Life.

It took me a long time to own up to being morbid. I discovered horror movies on TV as a kid and spent my Saturday afternoons watching the old black & white Universal monsters. Eventually my mom, who’d been a ninth-grade English teacher, pointed out that a lot of the monsters I loved had started out as characters in books. That led me to Dracula, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and Frankenstein.

That led me to writing. I wrote short stories for years to escape from the farm where I lived, the small town where I grew up, the dying city where I went to college. Nothing about my life seemed interesting enough to write about until I moved to San Francisco in the late eighties.

Before I really got settled, I met the owners of RE/Search Books just before they released Modern Primitives. It’s hard to recapture that time now. Before Modern Primitives was published, very few people had tattoos. Most tattoos weren’t artistic. Body jewelry was limited to the S/M underground. RE/Search didn’t create the movement, but they documented it at exactly the right moment. And I was there, standing on the fringes, watching.

The first essay I ever wrote about my life was about accompanying my friend Christine to get her labial piercing. Christine had been my roommate when we attended the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop. She introduced herself by asking me to shave her head and touch up her mohawk. She was brave and fierce and I was honored when she asked me to come to her piercing. The experience was so amazing that I had to record it.

Once the essay was written, I sent it to a zine I loved called File 13. The best part of File 13 was the editor’s introductory essays, which were smart and honest. He inspired me to risk sharing my life with the world. To my amazement, he accepted the essay. He even featured it on the cover of the next issue.

I wrote for other zines after that: Cyber-Psychos AOD and Tail Spins, Gothik Voluptuary, Chaotic Order, and Zine World. Each one had its own focus, but they all allowed me to record and examine my life from facing my best friend’s HIV diagnosis to the days I spent exploring a cadaver lab to dealing with my dad’s catastrophic heart attack to my thrill at donating blood.

I started my own zine in 1996. The only name I ever considered for it was Morbid Curiosity. It collected first-person confessional essays from contributors around the world. It also gave me a platform where I could follow the inspiration of File 13’s introductions and talk about my own life.

My memoir This Morbid Life collects all those essays and more. It opens with a piece I wrote for Gothic.Net about taking prom pictures in two cemeteries in Flint, Michigan. It explores what it was like to publish Morbid Curiosity. It goes on to celebrate following my curiosity wherever it led.

In the end, being morbid is the thread that stitches my life together. It’s the element that brings joy to the darkness. It makes every sunny day that much sweeter. Every day above ground is a gift, which is exactly what This Morbid Life is about.

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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/