Jennifer Brozek | All posts tagged 'Tell me'

Tell Me – Miss Violet DeVille

My introduction to burlesque happened when a friend asked if I wanted to go see a show. It was the Von Foxies' "Bye Bye Bush" right after the 2008 election. Now imagine three full figured women standing with their backs to the audience. In each of the women's right hand is a can of shaving cream. In the other hand they make a mound of shaving cream and apply it to, well, their mound. The razors come out and in long dramatic stokes the shaving cream is quickly removed. In unison, they turn to face the audience in nothing more than heels, pasties, and little American flag merkins*. From the moment of that first reveal a small fire started to burn deep inside my soul.

A little over four years later, my love for this amazing art form hasn't waned in the slightest. I have met amazing and beautiful women and handsome men of all shapes and sizes, orientations and expressions. This feminist art form with glitter and rhinestones, tantalizing teases and bawdy humor has been the best thing I have ever done for me. Margaret Cho wrote in her forward to Jo Wheldon's The Burlesque Handbook, "I learned that happiness wasn't a dress size." I couldn't agree more.

So what does a girl like me like to do in a show like this? It depends on the show really. The inspiration for my acts comes from a variety of places. Sometimes it's a fact of life that drives me forward, but usually it's some geeky topic that gets my blood pumping. From steampunk to Star Wars, film noir to the Muppets, romance to Legos, and so much more.

This week, I'm giving two performances of my ode to my favorite scoundrel, Han Solo. The first will be this Thursday at Lily Divine Productions' Debauchery, a show I've done many times that benefits the LGBT community in the process by giving grants to queer health and social organizations. The second show is on Saturday with the Tempting Tarts as they return to RustyCon to perform for members of the convention in what is sure to be a fun show.

The word "burlesque" comes from the Italian "burla", meaning to mock, joke about, or parody. This particular act-The Fastest Piece of Junk in the Galaxy-has multiple reveals with at least one jab at the Special Edition of the original trilogy and a whole lot of love. There are references to Darth Vader and our favorite wookiee. And perhaps even an accordion serenade, if you can call it that.

Since I started performing burlesque in July of 2010, I've been in over 60 shows in four states on both coasts and almost twice as many performances. With one show down, Captain Royale, produced by my production company, Purple Devil Productions, and three more to go in January alone with travel plans already on the calendar, 2013 is getting off to a fine start for this nerdy show girl.

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Miss Violet DeVille is a trans woman and a class act from a history that never was. She's a steampunk who has found a love of dance, performing, and taking her clothes off for other people in raunchy and entertaining ways! Miss DeVille broke out onto the Seattle stage in 2010 and began creating memorable and entertaining shows in 2011. She is the executive director at Purple Devil Productions in Seattle. Since then she has toured both coasts and is planning more national and international tours. When this national performer is not producing and performing in burlesque and cabaret shows, she belly dances, works both in front and behind the camera lens, and spends far too much time in her workshop building devices to make the world a better place for her. You can find more about her on her website, violetdeville.com or her twitter feed: @violetdeville.

*A merkin, also called a pubic wig, is a small and usually bedazzled piece of clothing to cover the crotch of the performer.

Tell Me - Jody Lynn Nye

I have never had the pleasure of meeting Jody Lynn Nye but I have had the pleasure of reading and editing her in the past. Entertaining writer and consummate professional, Jody talks about how a painful reality was used as inspiration fodder for her book Myth-Quoted.

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The frustration that gave rise to my novel, Myth-Quoted, started out long before the current election, though this one seemed to slot painfully well into the ongoing angst. Didn’t the rest of you feel as though the campaign was never going to end?

That’s how story ideas come into being. You feel passionate about something, and it begins to cause synapses in your brain to fire, and story ensues. In this case, I had become so frustrated that the previous presidential election seemed to have started three years before Election Day that I came to despise both parties and everything they did. Rather than affirming my pride in the democratic process, it made me yearn for something else, perhaps like the British system where, though voters vote for parties but not candidates, the campaign begins only three weeks before Election Day. Wouldn’t that have been nice? If I could just go about my business undisturbed for a few years, then pay reasonable attention to the candidates’ statements a couple of months before the election, I would be a lot happier. In the meanwhile, the elected officials can buckle down and do the darned job for which we elected them. I suspect I’m far from alone in my feelings. (The press is already beginning to speculate about 2016. Nooooo!)

So, the “What if?” that came into my mind was, “What if the election just never got around to happening? What if the campaign went on and on and on and ON until the posters clinging to the sides of buildings faded, and the candidates distributed copies of their speeches in advance to the press because they never had anything new to say? What if – and here’s the important part – what if Aahz, Skeeve, and the other characters of the Myth-Adventures series got caught up in trying to straighten out an endless campaign in (in this case) an openly corrupt election?” This is how Myth-Quoted evolved.

Once I got to make fun of the process, I began to enjoy the real-life drama a little. I watched news reports with an eye out for ridiculous things I could incorporate into the plot. There was plenty. Please let me say right here that none of my characters is based on any of the people who ran for office. I exaggerated and caricatured, employed antiquated clichés, and added a handful of absurd hoops that I sincerely hope no person with an ounce of pride would jump through, even to be elected to high office.

(My characters, of course, had no choice. They have to do what I make them. There’s no democracy in writing. I like to think of myself as a benign dictator, but it’s my way or the DELETE key.)

Naturally, the ending of my book was nothing like real life. After all, I have magik (yes, that’s the way we spell it in the Myth-Adventures), puns, running disasters and, of course, Aahz. It turned out to be a lot of fun, and let me blow off steam about the real situation in the process.
 
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Jody Lynn Nye lists her main career activity as “spoiling cats.”  She lives northwest of Chicago with one of the above and her husband, author and packager Bill Fawcett. She has published more than forty books, including seven contemporary fantasies, five SF novels, four novels in collaboration with Anne McCaffrey, including Crisis on Doona and Treaty at Doona; edited a humorous anthology about mothers, Don’t Forget Your Spacesuit, Dear!; and over a hundred short stories. Her latest books are Dragons Deal (Ace Books), the third in Robert Asprin’s Dragons series, View From the Imperium (Baen Books), and Myth-Quoted, nineteenth in Robert Asprin’s Myth-Adventures series. (Ace Books).  Her website is www.jodynye.com.

Tell me – Ripley Patton

The last "Tell Me" for 2012! I’m running a little late. I’ve been out and about with family. Ripley is a fab author who discovered that something she made up is now real. How cool is that?

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I made something up, and now it's real.

I made up a rare birth defect; not the most helpful thing to invent, I'll admit, but it was necessary for the sake of story.

I came up with this idea for my new YA paranormal thriller, Ghost Hand, that someone could be born with a missing limb, without a hand or a foot or a nose, but that their soul, the immaterial counterpart to their material flesh, would still manifest as that missing limb. Born with a mass of ethereal energy where their flesh should be, they have to learn how to control and manipulate that energy to navigate their disability. I named this birth defect Psyche Sans Soma which means "life without flesh," (PSS for short) and I bestowed it upon babies across my novel's world like some kind of disgruntled fairy or avenging angel. And the babies grew up to be teenagers. And life got complicated.

I have long had this theory that if human imagination can conceive something, it can be real. Throughout history, we've seen countless inventions and crazy dreams made manifest simply because man first imagined them. Airplanes, jet packs, robots, space travel, and I don't think this phenomenon is limited to the tropes of science fiction alone. Dragons don't exist right now. Maybe they never existed in the past (though that is debatable). But humans have begun to play with cloning, and DNA, and genetic engineering. I don't think it is a stretch to think that someday a dragon may exist. Or a unicorn. Or a werewolf.

But I wasn't thinking about that theory when I invented a birth defect. I mean, I knew it was real to me, in my mind and in my book, but I didn't think about how it might become real to others.

Then one day I got an e-mail from one of my beta readers. She'd begun reading Ghost Hand and had looked PSS up on the internet, surprised that she couldn’t find anything about it. She hadn't realized I'd made it up.

Then a friend sent me a link to a news story from New Scientist titled; Woman's missing digits grow back in phantom form.

And now that Ghost Hand is out in the world in e-book and paperback (and getting great reviews, I might add) the instances of PSS becoming real should be even more frequent.

A couple days ago, a fan e-mailed me and said, "I looked up PSS on the internet, and there were tons of links about it, all leading back to you and your book."

I'm proud of that.

I'm made something up, and now it's real. That's all a writer can ever really hope for.

Tell Me - David Colby

Today, David talks about story inspiration and goes on to prove that anything and everything can be an inspiration. In this case, it is a line from a movie.

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When someone asks you about the inspiration of your novel, you are expected to talk about that one thing that struck you like a lightning bolt. For me, that’s not so simple.

But each part of my novel has an inspiration somewhere.

I’m going to talk about a single line and how it completely changed the fate of mankind in my book.

That line is a simple one. And it is stolen from my second favorite movie of all time, Terminator 2. John Conner and the Terminator are going to a mental asylum to rescue Sarah Conner. The Terminator has been ordered by John to not kill anyone, but the first thing he does is pull out his gun and blow the kneecaps off of a security guard. John, outraged, shouts, “I told you not to kill anyone.”

Then the Terminator turns to face him and - with the most perfect deadpan delivery ever – says the line.

“He’ll live.”

Of course, deciding a line had to go into a book and actually having it be in there takes a lot of steps. I couldn’t just arrange for a scene wherein my main character says the line. Well, I could, but it’d change the context and meaning behind and around the line. I love the line, not just because of the deadpan humor, but also because of what is going on behind it: A machine, slowly coming to terms with the value of human life and not exactly being that good at it.

So, I needed a ‘machine’ character.

And thus…Shiva: The AI manager of the Forge, a massive space based factory. I decided he’d work best there, as manufacturing in microgravity is a complex, delicate and perpetual task. Then I had to give him a personality to build up to that line. I had to add in scenes wherein people talked to and conversed with Shiva.

In these scenes, I gave Shiva a deadpan sense of humor, gave him observations to make about humanity, and I worked in discussions of the famous Asmiov’s Laws of Robotics (you know, A robot shall not harm, nor through inaction, cause a human to come to harm and so on). I actually think that the laws are a good idea, but I personally think forcing them on people – even robot people – is tantamount to slavery.

In the end, I had a character with snark, with a philosophical stance on Asimov’s Laws, and finally…I had a chance to use the line in the book. Like in the movie, the line has more going on behind it than it might seem.

But now, almost a year after I first wrote down the beginning of Debris Dreams, I reflect on all that I have planned and schemed and created for the Debris Dreams universe and future history. Shiva factors largely into that.

So, when you are reading my book and groan at my one liner, remember that without it, the entire book and the future books I have planned would be completely different.


Born in Sunnyvale, California, David Colby has recently graduated from Sonoma State University after four years of telling people that, no, Buffy the Vampire Slayer came from SunnyDALE. Equipped with a BA in English and an obscene amount of pop-culture esoterica, David is ready to make his mark in the world of young adult literature.

Tell Me – Amanda Pillar

I've had the great pleasure of working with Amanda Pillar in the past on our award winning anthology, Grants Pass. She’s a talented editor and her anthologies are always word reading. I’ve read Bloodstones and it’s a darned good book. Today she talks about her kind of urban fantasy.

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I’ve wanted to edit an urban fantasy anthology for quite some time. I’ve worked on horror, post-apocalyptic, dark fantasy and thematic collections, but never a true urban fantasy. I’ve loved every book I’ve ever helped produce, but the genre I tend to read when not editing or writing...well, you’ve guessed it.

Urban fantasy.

But I didn’t want something that involved vampires, werewolves or witches. I love a good vampire story, it has to be said, yet I wanted to pull together an anthology that was different. Unique. And so I needed a theme, something that would interest me and hopefully the future readers of this book. A collection that would make you think; where love and hate and death all danced upon a stage with monsters that may never be popular, may never be truly appreciated, but their appeal unable to be denied.

So, perhaps a little surprisingly for some, I turned to mythology. For me though, it seemed a logical choice. I am an archaeologist in my day job, and have spent far too many hours reading and researching ancient religions and mythologies. From my work, it seemed clear that there would be no end to the inspiration found from old myths and tales; that the authors who submitted to my collection would have a rich field to harvest from.

And I was right. The authors delivered. More than I could have hoped for. The final stories that made the cut were sown from cloth threaded with new takes on old creatures. There were gorgons, minotaurs, ghosts, kraken, faeries, toyols and even a mummy. There were new creatures, too, beings that were inspired by old myths: the foam born, gravelings and killers with odd histories.

The authors involved in this collection searched far and wide for their new – or in some cases, very old – ‘monsters’. There was never one source of inspiration, with the depth and grit of the stories showcasing the authors’ talent.

I’m pleased to say this collection is unique, and that I was truly lucky to work with such a talented group of authors. Without them, after all, this book wouldn’t exist.

Bloodstones TOC:

Dirk Flinthart – ‘The Bull in Winter’
Nicole Murphy – ‘Euryale’
Penny Love – ‘A Small Bad Thing’
Jenny Blackford – ‘A Moveable Feast’
Pete Kempshall – ‘Dead Inside’
MLD Curelas – ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’
Joanne Anderton – ‘Sanaa's Army’
Richard Harland – ‘A Mother's Love’
Christine Morgan – ‘Ferreau's Curse’
Thoraiya Dyer – ‘Surviving Film’
Kat Otis – ‘And the Dead Shall be Raised Incorruptible’
Karen Maric – ‘Embracing the Invisible’
Dan Rabarts – ‘The Bone Plate’
Alan Baxter – ‘Cephalopoda Obsessia’
Erin Underwood – ‘The Foam Born’
Vivian Caethe – ‘Skin’
Stephanie Gunn – ‘The Skin of the World’

Tell Me – Richard Iorio

I met Richard at his Colonial Gothic booth during a GenCon a few years back. The name caught me, the RPG kept me, and then Richard hired me to write for him. I’ve been working off and on for Colonial Gothic ever since. My newest book with them is Colonial Gothic: Locations. I think this is a really interesting RPG and that’s why I’m pleased to present this special 12-12-12 edition of Tell Me.

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It was a sunny, warm September day (9/7/2011 for those keeping score), when I posted the following on the Rogue Games’ website:

You are not ready. The countdown has begun, and the Rogue of Rogues Games are plotting.
For some, it might be an end, but for us, it is only the beginning. Grab your dice and get ready.


This was the last I said anything, and in secret I continued working on a project that I had been working on since 2010. As of this afternoon, 12:12:12 to be precise, the secret has been revealed, and the world knows I was working on Colonial Gothic 2nd Edition. By now, the some have bought the book and have gotten the PDF. They have noticed the changes.

This is not about the changes, this is about why I did what I did.

Colonial Gothic is a labor of love. This is the game I have always wanted to play, and since I could not find it, I created it. A game like Colonial Gothic does not come about by itself. It is the sum of experiences and ideas I received from others who listened to me prattle on about history, gaming ideas, and how to make everything work. What you hold in your hands is a product of years of work. Many players have played in variations of campaigns based upon the ideas found here. Something about this period always attracted me to running games in it.

The first time I ever thought about running a game set during this period was in 1985, as an eighth grader. My family had just moved to a small Midwestern town at the start of summer. Being a new face in a new town, and not knowing anyone, I had a lot of time to think about new campaigns and new games. Tired of fantasy and having just read Last of the Mohicans for the eighth time, I wanted to try something more “real.” Armed with a library within in biking distance, I spent many days reading and taking notes on the period. As luck would have it, I found some gamers who were interested in my creation and I unleashed it to uneven success.

A year later I found myself in another new town and this time I was about to start high school. Undeterred from the previous summer experiment, I revised the campaign and let it loose on a new group of players. They liked it, but they were not ready for something so different from the orcs, rogues, and dungeon crawls that were so popular at the time. Reluctantly I put the campaign aside and returned to the lands of dragons, fuzzy footed diminutive creatures and magic.

Fast-forward to college, with its huge libraries and new opportunities. Unlike my earlier attempts, in college I was even more versed in the subject because of the resources I had on hand. I was also a little more experienced with kit bashing different game systems and ideas into something playable for myself and others. Each new discovery I made, or historical bit I uncovered in my reading and endless research, was applied to my campaigns. Through the years, numerous players have walked the footpaths and forest trails of Colonial New England or the Southern Colonies searching for the evil haunting the land.

Those people gave me something, the will to keep going to produce this game. What you have in your hands is a labor of love, a project worked on by people that are as equally passionate as I am about good role playing games.  As such, Colonial Gothic would not have been possible without the help of many people.

As much as I tried, it always seemed as it Colonial Gothic never got the attention it deserved. It was always rushed, and it always suffered from being something that I worked on, while I tried to do so many other things. Things changed when Graeme Davis decided to help me out, and he kicked me in the butt to rethink and rework the game. It was during a phone call in January 2010 that I finally agreed that the game needed to be rethought, and I began working on the 2nd edition. I thought the project would be faster, but it turned out to be two years of playtesting, writing, rewriting, and rewriting.

Finally it was 9/7/2011 I had a draft that I was proud of, and a yearlong playtest begun. Every rule was examined, every system rethought, and the guts of 12° were pulled apart, put together, and pulled apart. There were times I wanted to stop, and call it quits, but I didn’t. This game means too much to me, and I wanted it to be what I always felt that it should be.

Colonial Gothic 2nd Edition is a game that I always wanted, and now I have it.

Tell Me – Erin M. Evans

I’ve met up with Erin off and on at various conventions. She is a great person to talk to and I’m pleased to know she, like me, has a fascination with villains and the point of view of the villain. Lesser Evils is the sequence to Brimstone Angels.

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I can remember watching G.I. Joe as a child—four or maybe five years old—and wondering about Cobra. “They can’t,” I remember thinking, “just be evil.” No one would waste that many resources or poorly aimed red lasers on just being jerks. Not when being good, like G.I. Joe, clearly worked better.  Perhaps, I thought, Cobra believes they are being good. Perhaps they think G.I. Joe are the bad ones.

And there began my fascination with villains.

It’s a level of characterization that I won’t argue that old cartoon earned, but the idea of perspective affecting morality is one I love to read about and write about. Conflict is king, so far as I’m concerned, and nothing makes a conflict rule the page quite like the complexity of different people’s goals, prejudices, and desires coming together as if they’re a united force.

In Lesser Evils, Farideh, a tiefling warlock, is faced with a whole flock of villains. From the devils of the Nine Hells to the representatives of the shadowy City of Shade; from the ancient secrets of a mad arcanist to the fractious mercenaries of the secretive Zhentarim, she’s beset on all sides by people who could be labeled “evil.” Including Farideh herself—as a tiefling some portion of her blood is devilish and it shows in her horns, tail, and strange eyes; as a warlock, she draws powers from the Nine Hells. Put her in a line-up and not a few people would call her evil on that alone.

But in some cases, those evil-doers are allies, or allies of allies, or enemies of enemies—which can be as good as an ally. In some cases the “good” people on her side, aren’t so firmly on her side at all—can you trust someone who sees you as a rival and an impediment? Anyone could be a traitor or a valuable ally, and the line between “with me” and “against me” is one that shifts as the stakes rise and new foes appear. Even Farideh’s goals aren’t all pure and good, as she hunts for a spell to free the half-devil who fuels her warlock pact from his prison in the Nine Hells.

The best part of so many colliding factions? Characters. If I’m fascinated by villains, I’m deep-down, crazy in love with conflicted characters, and Lesser Evils stole my heart.

In their clashes and reflections, the shape of whole organizations can be seen.  Between the three Zhentarim characters, you have a power-hungry leader risen up from the streets, dodging assassinations and following risky rumors of powerful weapons; a merciless assassin as happy to train a starstruck girl as to turn around and run her through; and an archaeologist turned thief willing to do almost anything to keep the Zhentarim happy and funding her discoveries…even return to someone she’d long left behind.  And I hope you can find in that a secret society of people willing to do a lot to get what they want, capable of supporting each other as they build something massive and unstoppable…or undercut themselves by lashing out at the people who should be on their side. A tricky place to be.

So if you love conflict, villains, and alliances that stand the test of great strain as much as I do, be sure to check out Lesser Evils.

Tell Me – Dave Gross

The one time I met Dave, he described himself as "the evilest nice guy you'll ever meet" AKA an author and a GM. He was right, he really was a nice guy. Thus, I am please to present what it was he wanted to tell me about pitches.

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Pitching the Pitch
 
Most of my writing in the past few years has been for Pathfinder Tales, always with the same pair of mismatched protagonists. Count Varian Jeggare and his hellspawn henchman Radovan first appeared in the novella “Hell’s Pawns” (my love letter to film noir), but since then their travels have included four short stories, another novella, and three novels. Queen of Thorns is the latest.
 
For almost every story with “the boys,” I try to do something a little different, often inspired by my latest film binge. I even pitch them Hollywood style. For Prince of Wolves, I told my editor it would be “Indiana Jones in Transylvania.” I described Master of Devils as “Varian and Radovan vs. every Kung Fu movie ever.”
 
While my original idea for Queen of Thorns also had a Hollywood angle, the outline soon drifted far from movie inspirations. Rather than drawing on films, I found myself using the Pathfinder setting as my principal and almost sole source of inspiration.
 
Part of that inspiration comes from the map of Kyonin. Ages ago the elves fled the world of Golarion to avoid a cataclysmic event. By the time they returned, demons had claimed their land, and they have fought ever since to reclaim it. Now and then, they stumble upon an ancient ruin—obviously of elven design—that not even their eldest sages can remember.
 
From the start I knew my plot involved the search for a missing person. After researching the map and sourcebooks for Kyonin, I traced a path through sites with evocative names like Omesta, Erithiel’s Hall, the Walking Man, the Wandering Spheres, and the Endless Cairns. Finding a common thread in their histories, I wound it around the personal story of the elven father Count Jeggare had never met.
 
Besides the map, the most important influence from the Pathfinder setting came from its depiction of elves. Except their enormous irises and ears, they resemble Tolkien’s famous version of the fey folk. Under the surface, however, there are a few other slight differences.
 
The elves pity their “Forlorn” kin, elves raised in human cultures. Likewise, the elves tolerate but do not fully embrace the gnomes who settled Kyonin in their absence. Some of those gnomes suffer from a magical ennui known as the Bleaching. Reviewing these facts of the game world, I knew I had to include a Forlorn elf and a Bleachling gnome. They made excellent foils for the half-elven Varian and the devil-blooded Radovan, no less outsiders among their own people.
 
Unlike the more familiar elves of fantasy fiction, Pathfinder elves strive to embody guile, lust, and revenge, the three stings of their chief goddess, Calistria. No one better embodies those stings than a Calistrian inquisitor. Naturally, I had to have one in the story. But for contrast I also wanted to include a classical elf ranger, an incomparable scout and archer. The fun came in showing how each character embodies the passions of their goddess in different ways.
 
When it came time to promote Queen of Thorns, I found myself fumbling for a Hollywood pitch that no longer existed. Sure, you can see some Tolkienesque elements in the setting, and the demons serve a role similar to that of a certain infamous xenomorph. Now that I write those words, I wonder whether I should just give in and start describing the book as “Lord of the Rings meets Aliens.” However, the truth is that Queen of Thorns, more than the previous two Varian & Radovan books, is almost purely a Pathfinder novel.

Tell Me - Tina Connolly

I’ve not gotten a chance to meet Tina Connolly or to read IRONSKIN but I want to do both. IRONSKIN has an intriguing premise and is already added to my “to read someday” bookcase. Tina has a wonderful website that all authors should take a look at—simple, clear, concise—exactly what I’ve been telling authors to do for ages. ~JLB

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So I've been reading over Jennifer's suggestions for the "Tell Me" post. And I'm lucky because I've already gotten to talk about a few of my favorite things in IRONSKIN. For the Tor newsletter I got to talk about "The Books in the Book.".. (Ironskin has a number of imaginary books in it, which was quite fun to think up.) And for Mary Robinette Kowal's blog I talked about My Favorite Bit (which includes a note about the textual joke I had to delete).

But I haven't had a chance to talk much about the setting for IRONSKIN, so I thought I would do that. IRONSKIN is not alternate history, but it's set five years after a Great War between the humans and the fey, so I ended up doing a bunch of research into the interwar period in Great Britain, to help me give it a sense of place.

More specifically, IRONSKIN takes place both in the country and the city. There are several key locations – Silver Birch Hall is Mr. Rochart's half-destroyed estate in the country, where we start the novel. Relations between the humans and the fey used to be more cordial – humans have been trading with the fey for cheap clean technology for a long time (making the tech in IRONSKIN both ahead and behind of where you might think for post-WW1). But other relations between the fey used to be more cordial as well. And Mr. Rochart's estate is an example of fey architecture from long ago. It has been bombed and half of it is destroyed, but what is left shows the inhuman logic of fey building; staircases that don't lead where you expect, hallways that double back. A good place for a gothic setting!

Jane leaves the estate to attend her sister Helen's wedding in the city. The wedding is held at the posh home of Helen's fiancé, Alistair. This is a narrow house on a city block in an expensive part of town. I knew a few key features about it for IRONSKIN. Whereas Mr. Rochart's house in the country still has a strange amount of fey tech left running, Alistair has been trying much of the new updated technology. So there are gaslights instead of the blue lights of the old fey tech. Helen and Alistair's home becomes much more prominent in book two, and so I now know about Alistair's game room in it, its parquet floors, and just how far Helen's bedroom is from the foyer.

Another setting that comes up in both IRONSKIN and the sequel is the foundry. This is where Jane ran for shelter after the war, when she was dealing with the aftereffects of the shrapnel that had scarred and cursed her. A man named Niklas runs the foundry, and it is down by the waterfront, in a very seedy part of town. As if there wasn't enough iron onsite, it's surrounded by iron, ensuring the fey cannot get in.

Of course, in addition to the buildings, there's also the outside locations—the moor and the forest, both outside Silver Birch Hall. The novel begins in early spring, and the moor is dotted with cowslips (which remind Jane of a day 5 years before, when she marched into war with her little brother.) The forest surrounds Silver Birch Hall, is practically trying to eat it. I live in Portland, where we are constantly dealing with invasive natives in our forests and parks—ivy and Himalayan blackberry are two of the worst offenders. In that spirit I hung the forests around Silver Birch Hall with poisonous mistletoe, a parasitic plant that just happens to like silver birches.

I'm now working on the sequel, and it's been fun developing the new settings—IRONSKIN is mostly set in the country, but the sequel is mostly in the city. In addition to the places we've seen before, like Helen's house and the foundry, there are some new key settings, including several society houses, a flamboyant actress's artsy home, and a used bookstore. Of course!

Thanks for having me on the blog today to talk about IRONSKIN, Jennifer!

Tell Me – Howard Tayler

I adore Howard. I've been meeting up with him at conventions for years. Recently, we got together at a small convention and actually got time to talk to each other. He told me about this calendar and I thought it was the perfect thing to have as a guest blog post. ~JLB


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Nothing But Pith

I’ve been writing comedy for the last dozen years or so. I have a great big bag of tricks for refining dialog, shaping narrative, and (because my principle medium is comics) creating the accompanying illustrations so that the reader is encouraged to laugh.

In the course of doing this, I occasionally write a “true” punchline, a pithy bit of wordsmithing that is not only funny but is memorable, perhaps because it sums up some aspect or another of the human condition in a way that allows it to snuggle up nicely against the parts of your brain that want that sort of thing.

Within the ongoing “Schlock Mercenary” project (www.schlockmercenary.com) I found a particular plot device especially handy in this regard: an in-world book called “The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries.”

The idea for in-world reference is not a new one. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine introduced us to the Ferengi “Rules of Acquisition.” Every so often Quark or some other prosthetically-foreheaded alien merchant would say something truly horrible about proper greed, and drive it home with a number.

The challenge for the writer lies in writing an actual aphorism. It’s nothing but pith. It might originally appear in a TV episode or a comic strip, but eventually it’s going to have to stand alone, with all the framing bits gone. Contextless, naked, it still needs to work. If it doesn’t work then it isn’t what you said it was. It isn’t a maxim, a rule, a commandment, or a verse of scripture.

As of this moment I’ve written exactly half of the seventy maxims. Eighteen months ago I’d written about ten fewer than that. People began asking me to actually publish the “Seventy Maxims” book, and I decided to go about it piece-meal. I put out a calendar featuring the first twelve. For that calendar I needed to write two new ones. I cannibalized a punch line, and came up with “Close air-support and friendly fire should be easier to tell apart.” Then I mused upon food, and came up with “If the food is good enough, the grunts will stop complaining about the incoming fire.”

Not bad. Some of my friends in the military tell me they’re actually words to live by.

Well, the calendar sold quite well, paying the bills for a few months, so I decided to do it again for 2013. But this year I found myself seven maxims short of the dozen I needed. In retrospect, I only needed to write ninety-five words to fill those seven slots. Ninety-five! Some people can type that many words in a minute.

Well, it took me from January until late October. Granted, I wasn’t thinking about it full-time, but that’s still ten months to write ninety-five words.

Would you like to see them? Here are all ninety-five, complete with their accompanying maxim numbers (those aren’t included in the word-count.)

  • Maxim 17: The longer everything goes according to plan, the bigger the impending disaster
  • Maxim 18: If the officers are leading from in front, watch for an attack from the rear
  • Maxim 19: The world is richer when you turn enemies into friends, but that's not the same as you being richer 
  • Maxim 20: If you're not willing to shell your own position, you're not willing to win
  • Maxim 22: If you can see the whites of their eyes, somebody's done something wrong.
  • Maxim 23: The company mess and friendly fire should be easier to tell apart.
  • Maxim 24: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a big gun


So, how did I do it?

One method I use for crafting these is subversion. It’s a common enough trick for writing humor to begin with, and it lends itself spectacularly well to this task. Find something already pithy, and break it in such a way that it means something new, but remains pithy. Easy, right?

Maxim 24 is a great example. We’re all familiar with the original quote from Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It’s already been subverted by Barry Gehm, who said “any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced,” so the precedent for further ruin has been set.

My subversion in Maxim 24, “indistinguishable from a big gun,” plays on the fact that most technology can be weaponized, or indeed grew out of a need for weapons. It was perfect for the project. And because the reader, familiar with the original, gets surprised by the new ending, it stands a good chance of garnering a laugh and being remembered.

Another method is “going back to the well,” or the “running gag.” This wouldn’t seem to work well for stand-alone aphorisms, but if a particular bit of wordplay worked once, it might work again. I noticed that “friendly fire” kept cropping up in the comic, and so I looked at Maxim 5 (close air-support and friendly fire should be easier to tell apart) and asked myself what besides “close air-support” might be dangerous to the troops.

Bad chow, obviously. Or maybe an angry cook. Regardless, I did a simple word-swap on my own earlier maxim, and came up with #23 above, comparing friendly fire to the company mess. And yes, I fully intend to return to that particular well again. In fact, at this point people probably expect it. Possible options for the future comparison to friendly fire include “new equipment,” “the lowest bidder,” and “HALO (High Altitude, Low Open) paratroopers” (although that last one’s a bit wordy. Hilarious, but wordy.)

Sometimes, though, it’s whole cloth. Forget subversion or running gags, both of which leverage an existing structure. Maxim 20, the one about shelling your own position, grew out of a line of dialog from one of the characters. I wrote something very close to that (“if you really want to win, try shelling yourself”) but it didn’t scan quite right. So I tweaked it a bit, and then realized it sounded like an aphorism. It sounded like the character was quoting somebody.

That moment when you discover you’ve written dialog like that? That’s gold, right there. I recognized it immediately, and re-framed the text so that the character in question was citing Maxim 20, instead of just rattling off something he’d heard.

Maxims 13 through 24 are done, and I’ve illustrated them for the 2013 calendar (available for pre-order here.) Next year I only need to come up with three maxims in order to fill the 25 through 36 slot. But the 2015 calendar takes me into uncharted waters. I have exactly three maxims in that space right now – numbers 37, 38, and 39, which means that at some point between now and October of 2014, I need to write nine new maxims, which is probably around 125 words.

But thinking about it in terms of word-count is not going to get me there. Between now and then I need to be filling my head with things to subvert, fresh gags to return to, and I need to write thousands of words of good dialog in the hope of striking gold a few times. Because unfortunately, the trick to writing a few really good words is the same trick for just about everything else we writers want to accomplish. Write a lot of probably crappy words first.