Jennifer Brozek | All posts tagged 'Tell me'

Tell Me - Matt Forbeck

What I Love About Monster Academy

By Matt Forbeck

Monster Academy is a new trilogy of young adult fantasy novels that I launched on Kickstarter earlier this month. It's the fourth set of books in this insane 12 for '12 plan I have in which I'm trying to write a dozen short novels this year. I've been having a blast writing the books so far, and it's a little bittersweet — and panic-inducing — to see the end barreling at me so fast.

Jenn Brozek was kind enough to ask me what it was that I love about these books. It's a good question. If you're going to spend months with a story, you better damn well have some amount of affection for it, and with luck that blossoms into full-blown love that shines through the pages.

So let me tell you about this tale of mine.

Monster Academy is set in a fantasy world in which the good guys win. They defeat the Great Evil and drive it from the land. Then they have to set to the less exciting work of governing the land and mopping up all the little evils left behind. This inevitably involves some young monsters that haven't technically done anything wrong — yet.

The king, of course, thinks the monsters will turn bad given enough time. It's their fate, decreed by their blood, right? So why give them the chance? Better to just kill them all.

Or so he thinks, until a vampire turns his granddaughter into a bloodsucking force of evil too. That's when he decides that maybe there could be some good in such creatures after all — if they can prove themselves, that is — and he founds the Royal Academy for Creature Habilitation. Here, at what most people call Monster Academy, the students have the chance to become useful and productive members of society or face banishment or execution.

So, why do I love the concept? Honestly, I identify with those little monsters.

I wasn't always the best student. I got great grades, but many times I didn't behave the way my teachers would have preferred. I spent a lot of time writing lines and cooling my heels in the principal's office.

Once you get that kind of reputation early on, it's hard to shake it. I often found that some of my new teachers every year treated me as rotten kid long before I actually did anything wrong. That's the kind of prophecy that leads to it fulfilling itself.

Despite all that, I had a couple teachers who saw me for who I was, ignored the whispers from the other teachers, and gave me the chances I needed to shine and excel. One of them — Sister Cabrini Cahill — even encouraged me to try my hand at fiction and inspired me to make a career out of it. I can't thank her enough for that.

So the idea of a school in which everyone expects you to fail, to do the wrong thing, and to be punished for it spoke to me. More important than that, though, I wanted to have students who seemed doomed to fail show how they could pull themselves together and — with the help of even a single teacher who believed in them — become the kinds of heroes that no one ever thought they could be.

That's what Monster Academy's all about. It's not a story of a chosen child who fulfills his destiny. It's the tale of a bunch of kids who were supposed to grow up to be the bad guys teaming up to do the right thing in the end, despite all the odds arrayed against them.

That why I love it, and why I hope you will too.

The books should be out in early 2013, but you can jump on board the Kickstarter right now.

Tell Me - Minerva Zimmerman

Working with an editor isn't like working with a critique group. A critique group helps you learn how to drive a car. By the time you're working with an editor you're already a race car driver. An editor is like the crew chief for your race team; they make sure everything goes smooth on race day. They fine tune the mechanics, provide guidance on your strategy, and work with the pit crew to contribute to your success. They're on your team and you're working toward the same goals, but you're the one driving.

For The Place Between, I had two editors. Cobalt City is a shared world full of superheroes and deities with general editorial oversight provided by Nathan Crowder. He made sure everything fit within the world continuity, including stories not yet published. He also answered questions I had about the world or established characters and provided research materials I needed about it. I like Norse Mythology and I knew there was already an established avatar of Thor along with the method of how one becomes his avatar. But I also knew that this character, Cole Washington was ill-fitted for the type of story I wanted to tell.

“Does Cole Washington have a daughter?” I asked Nate.

He had a daughter named Tera, and Nate saw no reason I couldn't make her the new avatar of Thor.  I wanted to tell the story of Tera learning what becoming a superhero means for her and about what she thought she knew. When Tera's father has a near-fatal heart attack during an attempted mugging, Thor's powers pass to her. There was already an established avatar for Loki; the anticape TV pundit Lyle Prather, but I needed additional interference. So I did what any completely irrational writer of tricksters would do, I asked to add a second Loki to the equation. Which believe me, had me talking fast to justify, but Nate eventually let me do most of what I wanted with the addition of some world-restrictions.

Caroline Dombrowski worked with me to improve my first submitted draft. She noted some holes in the story structure and expressed confusion about inclusion of a few incidents whose purpose seemed completely self-evident to me. Apparently not everyone walks around with as much information about Norse Myths in their head as I do, and that was something that needed to be addressed for the reader to fully appreciate.

The solution she suggested and I immediately loved, was adding additional information in the form of excerpts of fictional written material taken from the world but not directly from the narrative--newspaper articles, website entries, even store advertisements. Alone each of these bits of information is just a single block, but in the context of the story they stitch together to form a quilt of additional information that deepens the story and the world. It's a technique I've always admired and long tried to emulate without success. The first time I read the full manuscript with them in place I was amazed at how well they worked together. When I got Caroline's comments complete with the places she'd laughed out loud, I knew I'd nailed it. 


Buy Cobalt City Double Feature on Kindle, or in a mobi/pdf/ePub bundle from Timid Pirate Publishing.
Read an excerpt (PDF).
Visit the author's site.

Guest blog - 12 ways to die badly

12 Ways to Die Badly (Ingloriously)
By Benjamin Kane Ethridge

 

It has been mentioned that my new novel, BOTTLED ABYSS, contains inventive death scenes. As much as I wear this praise as a badge of honor, conjuring up morbid wonder isn’t something I ever purposely set out to accomplish. To be honest, I’m not much of a gore hound. I do feel, however, that you have to be true to the tale and true to the genre; you can’t and mustn’t hold back. Much of my new novel involves Greek mythology, though it’s broadly redefined and adjusted in terms of lore. Countless examples of gruesome and strange deaths are inked on the pages of Greek history and some make up this list I’ve created below. Twelve deaths made the cut, although you probably could go on and on with this sort of thing (see the TV show 1000 Ways to Die).


Anyway. Enjoy, but put prepare your stomach.
 
1) Being unable to move and then devoured. In 6th century BC Greek wrestler Milo of Croton came upon a tree-trunk split with wedges. Putting his wrestler’s strength to the test, he tried to split it barehanded. The wedges fell and trapped his hands inside the tree. This was embarrassing for a macho man like Milo, but things became much worse when a pack of wolves wandered by and decided to have beefcake for dinner.

2) Scaphism. This Persian form of torture (that ultimately is execution) is probably the most horrendous and humiliating I’ve ever heard of. I need describe little else, for this Wikipedia excerpt says it all: “The intended victim was stripped naked and then firmly fastened within the interior spaces of two narrow rowing boats (or hollowed-out tree trunks), with the head, hands and feet protruding. The condemned was forced to ingest milk and honey to the point of developing severe bowel movement and diarrhea, and more honey would be rubbed on his body to attract insects to the exposed appendages. He would then be left to float on a stagnant pond or be exposed to the sun. The defenseless individual's feces accumulated within the container, attracting more insects, which would eat and breed within his exposed flesh, which—pursuant to interruption of the blood supply by burrowing insects—became increasingly gangrenous. The feeding would be repeated each day in some cases to prolong the torture, so that dehydration or starvation did not kill him. Death, when it eventually occurred, was probably due to a combination of dehydration, starvation and septic shock. Delirium would typically set in after a few days.” The land of milk and honey is paved in skulls, it turns out.

3) Crucified on an inverted cross. St. Peter decided he wasn’t worthy the same death of Christ, which strikes me as peculiar since you can debate that this sacrifice (on a physical level anyway) is much more terrifying and painful. Being crucified is not something one looks forward to, but being crucified upside down is sort of like asking, “Please may I use hydrochloric acid with my Chinese water torture?”
 
4) Roasted on a BBQ grill. Saint Lawrence of Rome was roasted alive on a giant grill, during the persecution of Valerian. So, yeah, being burned to death would be extremely painful, but that’s ogling the obvious. What about the smell? Cooking baloney. Charred steak. Prime rib of human. These are the smells in your nostrils while your flesh bubbles and crackles and spits—yikes.

5) Poisoning. It goes without saying that symptoms from poisoning are very undesirable, but I’ll take that foaming mouth you see in most movies over what Arius, presbyter of Alexandria, endured. Legend describes that he died of sudden diarrhea followed by bleeding and anal discharge of the intestines while he stumbled across the imperial forum in Constantinople. He may have been poisoned either through chemical or food borne bacteria, so the exact cause is murky. Either way though, holy crap and all that houses it!
 
6) Being Conched to Death. Another great dose of Greek history. Hypatia of Alexandria, a mathematician, philosopher and last librarian of the Library of Alexandria, was murdered by a Christian mob that ripped off her skin with sharp sea-shells. That isn’t the ocean you hear inside the shell, it’s the roar of a thousand screams!

7) Being clubbed with your prosthetic.  Sir Arthur Aston, Royalist commander of the garrison during the Siege of Drogheda, was beaten to death with his own wooden leg, which the Parliamentarian soldiers thought concealed golden coins. This one strikes me as sadder than the others. Aston had to live regretting the loss of his leg and then he had to die regretting the loss of his leg. In a fashion, he never really survived that maiming; it came back to claim him in another form.

8) A basketball of lightning to the face. Professor Georg Wilhelm Richmann, became the first recorded person to be killed while performing electrical experiments when he was struck in the face and killed by a globe of lightning. The lesson here is simple: when God passes the ball, be ready.

9) Locomotion. William Huskisson, statesman and financier, was crushed to death by a locomotive (Stephenson's Rocket), at the opening of the world's first mechanical passenger railway. You’ve awaited this moment for a long time and the very thing you’ve devoted all your time and energy into is also your undoing. It’s romantic, but doesn’t mask the fact you’re just as dead as the guy who took a ball of lightning to the head.

10) Slowly, sweetly. In the Boston Molasses Disaster, 21 people were killed when a tank containing as much as 2,300,000 gallons of molasses ruptured and released a flow that traveled at approximately 35 mph through part of Boston. Ever been eating something and get to the point where you say, “Eh, this is too sweet,” and you put it down? Imagine you can’t put it down and you keep eating it until you die. Gulp...

11) Chim-chim-ch-rooed. Actress Sirkka Sari died when she fell down a chimney into a heating boiler. She mistook the chimney for a balcony. Upon making a literal slip-up, you’re now in hot water. Very hot water. So watch your step.

12) Stubborn starvation. This is the one I'm afraid will befall my wife (I'm the cook in our house). I hope she takes note because Kurt Gödel, the famous logician, had something of a problem that landed him dead. Gödel died of starvation when his wife was hospitalized. He suffered from extreme paranoia and refused to eat food prepared by anyone else. I hope for my wife’s sake, I live long enough to keep her well nourished. Then again, looking over entries 1-11, there are worse ways to go.

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

Benjamin Kane Ethridge is the Bram Stoker Award winning author of the novel BLACK & ORANGE (Bad Moon Books 2010) and BOTTLED ABYSS (Redrum Horror, 2012). For his master's thesis he wrote, "CAUSES OF UNEASE: The Rhetoric of Horror Fiction and Film." Available in an ivory tower near you. Benjamin lives in Southern California with his wife and two creatures who possess stunning resemblances to human children. When he isn't writing, reading, videogaming, Benjamin's defending California's waterways and sewers from pollution.

Say hi and drop a line at ben@bkethridge.com

 

Guest blog - Wish You Were Here

By Lillian Cohen-Moore



The Village by the Sea


There are countless works of fiction we hack and tease apart to bring into the games we play every week. I decided to go into that eyes wide open with the Guide. I want you to play in the Village, using whatever system you’re using.

And I want it to scare the fuck out of you.

The Village by the Sea was established in 1850. The Guide is set in a time that’s equivalent to present day. If you strip off the technology, the Village has changed less than it’s willing to admit since its Founding. The old red light district is still there downtown, when you peel away the glitz of modern bars. The same ghosts never rest and the Founding Families are still as dangerous as That Which Sleeps Beneath.

Synesthetic Detective

When a handful of my friends asked me to write a synesthetic detective, I laughed about it and went back to work. But the request—really a dare—stuck with me. I’m synesthetic, but I never include that in fiction. When I started outlining the Guide, I searched its voice, for the best person to tell the story. I got Ashley Hart. Hart is the way I’ve found to let you borrow my senses, by giving you the observations of the increasingly endangered synesthetic detective.

My synesthesia is something I find it difficult to imagine not having; tasting colours and wincing at the texture of certain sounds, describing moods to the people close to me, who speak the language, in flowers and colours and sounds. Hart isn’t a perfect match to my synesthesia—it wouldn’t be fun if she was—but she shares enough common language for me to stretch my wings and include tastes that aren’t wholly mine, but fellow synesthetes I’m close to have shared. Hart’s past is rooted in why the colour of Saturday is black.

Spectacular Support Team

I couldn’t do the Guide alone, though. It’s a bit bigger than a one-woman show.

Richard Dansky, my editor, has worked in fiction and games before I ever started to stretch my wings as a writer. If I wanted to do something that rolled both up as tightly as possible in one project, I couldn’t think of anyone better to turn to than someone who has been a White Wolf developer, a novelist, and done both sides of fiction, writing and riding herd on writers.

Lisa Grabenstetter, my artist, is fucking phenomenal. I’ve worked on projects where I helped monitor contracts with artists, getting them what they needed and communication flowing between all concerned parties. I’ve licensed art on projects. But I’d never done original art with an artist before. I told Lisa what I needed, sent the reference photos, and communication was instant. Examples went back and forth, sketches were merged, and the Seal of the Village was born. I’ve never been so happy to pay for art in my life. That’s why I asked Lisa to stay attached to the Guide and do a number of interior illustrations if we fund.

Sarah Troedson, who is the best GIS Analyst I’ve met, has been there to hold my hand as I tried to describe the Village boundaries, merging ideas and half-formed notions. She’s also kept me from executing geographically impossible ideas or violating the laws of nature. We’re still finalizing some last few details, but I can’t wait to show you the first roadworthy version of the map. The taste of beautiful and isolated is there, and maybe the razor red edge of the threat the Village truly is.

The Village by the Sea is lonely without you, and I’d love to show you around.

 

Guest Post by Lily Cohen-Moore

We Can't Stop. This is Book Country.

I met Jennifer in 2007. We were vampires at the time. It’s a perfectly reversible condition: we were playing in a live-action role-playing games.

 

First impressions! There was a reason for the spikes.


As many LARP friendships start with a chance meeting at an event and grow while bitching in the sign-in line, so did ours. By 2010, Jennifer was a friend of mine. She was also—and still is—someone I looked up to for setting her sights on her goals and taking every difficult step to get to them.

In 2010, she put out an all-call for editorial interns, I applied. She turned me down, which I took in stride. Then she said she had a different position she wanted to talk to me about, I bit my nails and dithered and generally annoyed my roommates.

It turned out that she wanted to offer me a job as her assistant. Two years ago today, I said yes. I did not, as she told me to, take the weekend to think about it. I said yes on a Sunday.

Jenn had me selling books and working a booth at a convention before the end of the month.

 

Crypticon, 2010. Our zombies are cute!


I met Keffy Kehrli and Nick Mamatas at that con. I was blessed by a serene wandering voodoo lady and met a tiny zombie girl. I met a ton of editors and writers. I sold a lot of books. I introduced Jenn to Lemoncello. She kicked Keffy and Nick and I out of the room at midnight so she could sleep, but told me to keep hanging out. She said it was okay to hang out.

That's something Jenn does a lot of: tell me things are okay.


I'd work NWC with her at the Apex table in 2011, selling books by day and following her to publishing parties at night.

The fiercest of book sellers!


I'd work a booth with her at GenCon. I'd get teary as I heard her sharp intake of breath and exclamation of joy when she won an ENnie. I'd spend part of the pre-show flitting between my date and trying to get Jenn to breathe. I spent the entirety of GenCon high on caffeine because she'd feed me nixie stix daily to make up for early mornings working the booth.

The student continues to learn from the master. And eat nixie stix.


But what else have I been doing the past two years?

I've gone on latte runs. I've done data entry. I've sat side by side with her in meetings that would result in book deals. I have gleefully used neon pens to address her correspondence. I’m forever imprinted by the FedEx guy as the chick addicted to stationary supplies. I know her drinks and coffee orders. I've helped decorate at her surprise birthday party. I've taken copious notes and done "in person days" where I've sat up my laptop, and played with her cats while sorting paperwork. We've had more meals together than I can count, derailed tabletop games by talking about work, and could deforest a small continent if I printed all our e-mails.

When I said I wanted to do slush reading or editing or learn something about publishing, she’d either teach me or find me a mentor. When I found mentors on my own, she encouraged me to learn from those people. In two years, I can trace back so many of my decisions and gains to working for her. I Know My Shit, or so I am told, and Jenn taught me a lot of those lessons.

I could write a book, just off the past few years. I have never been so happy about saying yes to a job offer, and I'm hoping I have twice as many ridiculous stories and photos in another few years. Jenn spoils the crap out of me, and the gifts she's given me go far beyond stationary. Jenn gave me the surprise birthday party I'd never had, the mentorship I needed, and an introduction to the man I love.

If you have met in journalism, editing, games or writing, since June 6th of 2010, thank Jennifer Brozek. If you met me on twitter? Thank Jenn for convincing me to use and unlock my account.

Thank you, Jenn, for the past two years. I'm excited for the years to come.