Jennifer Brozek | All posts by jennifer

Happy Book Release Day to Me!

Shadowrun: A Kiss to Die For...
A Shadowrun novella.

A Kiss to Die For

LOVE VERSUS DUTY...

When Sartorial meets Kintsugi at a jabber—an illegal warehouse party—he falls hard and fast for the beautiful human girl. She is everything he didn't know he wanted—and everything his family hates. Kintsugi is drawn to the handsome elf boy like no other, but her future has already been planned. A future she intends to thwart. But now there's something worth staying around for, she's torn over what to do.

Unfortunately, they both have secrets that will not be kept, and powerful families that have their own goals. It seems like the entire world is trying to keep them apart. Can Sartorial and Kintsugi overcome all obstacles to be together—even after their secrets are revealed?

Books2Read (ebooks Amazon, B&N, etc...) | Amazon | Barnes&Noble

Bubble & Squeek for 15 June 2020

Today’s Bubble & Squeek is brought to you by galley proofs, workshops, and the letter “C” for cover reveals!

Cover reveal and Release: Pre-Order/Order Shadowrun: A Kiss to Die For. Meet Sartorial and Kintsugi. This happens the night they meet. The cover is by the ever fabulous Peter Tikos.

Review: Way of the Laser: Future Crime Stories. Five star review. “I’m very glad I picked this book up to review, and I know any science fictions fans will be glad they picked it up to read.” This one has the story, "When a Patch Won't Do" by me and Katie Cord.

Cover reveal for BattleTech: Ghost Hour. Jasper and Nadine are having a very bad time of it. The blonde is Lyric, Nadine’s girlfriend and all around “Death Pixie.” This is by the wonderful BattleTech artist Marco Mazzoni. He does such a good job!

Workshop: Clarion West - The Business of Writing, June 30. NOTE: However, sign-up will take place through a lottery system and you have to register for the Write-a-thon in order to sign up. They are closing the class lottery next Wednesday, June 17, so anyone interested needs to have signed up by then!

Support: As always… if you appreciate my work and would like to support me, I love coffee. I am made of caffeine. This is the quickest way to brighten my day.

 

12 Weeks in Self-Isolation

Twelve weeks ago, I drove home from the Rainforest Writers Retreat to discover the world had changed more than expected in the five days I had almost no internet and even less motivation to look to the outside world. That’s what writing retreats are for.

When I left for RWR, there was worry about the growing pandemic, but it was still more of a threat than an actual thing. When I came home, well, that was another thing.

  • …The Husband was now required to work at home.
  • …Voluntary self-isolation had begun but wasn’t yet government mandated. Since the Husband’s work had decided to cancel all his business trips and send him home, that was enough of a sign for me.
  • …Masks were becoming common.

All of these things had a learning curve to them. At the same time, I started watching the news and the numbers of the United States versus the World in Infected, Dead, and Recovered rates.

According to my journal, my first recorded notations were on March 18. All numbers are from the COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

As of Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
US: 10,775 infected. World: 235,701 infected; 9,786 dead.

As of Sunday morning, May 31, 2020.
US
Infected: 1,773,106
Dead: 103,906
Recovered: 416,461

Worldwide
Infected: 6,104,980
Dead: 370,078
Recovered: 2,593,237

These are not good numbers and I’m pretty sure things are only going to get worse as the summer continues on.

I’ve had my moments of pain over the last twelve weeks. Mostly grieving for my father who I last saw alive over Memorial Day weekend 2019. I do miss sitting in coffee shops, gaming in person with my friends, and having my weekly writing group at my house. Overall, I’m fine. I’m an author and an editor. I spend most of my time at home anyway. My biggest sadness is the necessary cancellation of my convention season. It’s the best thing the world can do right now, but I really do miss going to conventions. More than missing the revenue I got from them (ko-fi anyone?), I miss meeting up with my editors, publishers, and peers.

The Husband and I have worked out the new daytime working routine. We take walks. Cook a lot more at home. Occasionally order out to help support our local mom-and-pop restaurants. We are incredibly privileged and we know it. It’s why we do what we can to help out.

Twelve weeks in and we’re doing fine. I don’t see this pandemic burning itself out anytime soon. I have no idea how long this is going to last. So, we make the best of it as we can. It’s all we can do.

Tell Me - Rusty Zimmerman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


===

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

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

 

 

Tell Me - Marie Bilodeau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Great Pause and the Three Bears of Childhood

It’s about six weeks into quarantine for me. I’ve heard a bunch of names for this period of time: “Covidcation,” “The Year without a Convention,” “The Virus Troubles,” “The Year of Self Quarantine,” “The Plague Year,” and my favorite “The Great Pause.”

It truth, while I’m doing well most of the time, I have had my moments. I am grateful that I am in quarantine with the Husband and the kitties. I am grateful that I am an introvert 90% of the time. I am grateful for my job of novel writing and anthology editing. Most of all, I am grateful for my latchkey kid upbringing. It taught me independence, self-sufficiency, and self-entertainment.

I was a latchkey kid from the time I was nine years old. In fact, from 9-11, I pretty much lived in a quarantine situation. We lived in Belgium, off-base. That meant I knew no one around my house. We rode the bus home, let ourselves in, did homework, and prepared dinner on our own until our parents came home around 6-7pm. We entertained ourselves. We played in the backyard, read, played card games, and made up stories.

 
That brings me to the wall hanging I’ve dubbed, “The Three Bears of Childhood.” We had this wall hanging in our house for as long as I can remember. My sister found it again while she was helping mom declutter. She pinged me and my brother to see if either of us wanted it. We both did. I acquiesced. A couple weeks later, I was still thinking about the wall hanging. On a whim, I searched for, and found it, on eBay.

Of course I bought it. (Though, I ordered the 37” x 54” one and got the 54” x 78” one. Luckily, the spot I wanted to hang it in—the library nook—was big enough.)

This wall hanging is one of the reasons I’m dealing so well with self-isolation. I have memories of me, my sister, and my brother staring up at it while we created stories about what the three baby bears where doing and how the mom bear was reacting to “our” antics. Because, of course, we were the three baby bears. There were three of us and three of them. (Dad worked a lot in those days. So, we always said that dad bear was out hunting for food.)

Like rereading a favorite book, I am comforted by the sense of familiarity, of “home.” The wall hanging reminds me of my childhood and more innocent times. It is a balm during this time of self-isolation. For me, it’s soothing to hold such childhood memories out for examination and remembrance.

(12 days left in the kickstarter for limited editons of my Bram Stoker nominated anthology, A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods. It’s funded. Now we’re trying for interior artwork. Please help if you can.)

 

Bubble & Squeek for 6 April 2020

I need to re-outline BattleTech: Crimson Night for a fourth time--in the words of one of my SFWA mentees "to stop being precious about my writing"--and add in a fourth point of view character that will make all my problems go away. In the meantime, here's a Bubble & Squeek for you.

• Awards: A SECRET GUIDE TO FIGHTING ELDER GODS is a 2019 Bram Stoker finalist! Congratulations to everyone who got the nod. I'm so happy.

• Interview (Video): I’m interviewed by Dacre Stoker about my Bram Stoker nomination.

• Publications: “Lair of the Infernal Thief” AKA “Untitled Infernal Goose Adventure” in Mini-Dungeon Monthly #12, An adventure for two to five characters of 3rd-5th level. Yes, inspired by THAT “Untitled Goose Adventure…


• Publications: It looks like Fantasy Flight Games did a reprint of the physical book of my Arkham Horror novella, TO FIGHT THE BLACK WIND, for those of you who were looking for it as well as the rest of them.

• Random Video: In honor of having my first lucid dream in years, probably brought about because of this video by Matt D'Avella: I learned how to lucid dream.

• Support: As always… if you appreciate my work and would like to support me, I love coffee. I am made of caffeine. This is the quickest way to brighten my day. Especially since most of my conventions have been cancelled this summer. Pretty please.

Advice for Writers During the WFH Social Distancing Period

The Husband has been working at home for more than a week now and I have some thoughts. If you are a writer who…
…Suddenly works from home in your day job…
…Suddenly works from home in your day job and has a spouse who also now works from home…
…Always worked from home and suddenly has a spouse who also now works from home…
Here are some tips and tricks for you.

If you are one of the above and also have children who are home schooling or are just home… sorry, I don’t have kids, thus I don’t have practical advice on that particular front. Though, you might find some of this information helpful.

0. If possible, set up a dedicated day job work space. Something you can leave or shut down before you go to your writing spot. A physical separation is best. A laptop that can be closed and put away is good. A VPN that can be shut down is okay. Closing all work apps/notifications will suffice.

1. During the workweek, dress for work. Video conferencing is a thing. At least put on a clean shirt, wash your face, and comb your hair. It will help put you in the correct frame of mind. Speaking of video conferencing, be aware of what is behind you.

2. Try to keep to your normal schedule as close as possible.
•    Get up at your normal time. If you have a commute, use that commute time to do something else (read, listen to a podcast, take a walk).
•    Log into work at the normal time.
•    Take hourly breaks.
•    Take your lunch break. This means if you normally leave your work system, log out and leave it.
•    SET ALARMS. (Forgetting to eat and drink is common for those who are not use to working from home.)
•    When the workday is done, close your system and (at least mentally) walk away. You do not work 24/7 unless you are on call and/or this is how your normal job works. This means no checking work email outside of work hours.

3. If you have a day job, try to keep to your normal writing schedule. If you write at lunch, that’s the time to continue doing it. If it is before or after your work day, again, that is when you write. Structure, and a schedule, is your best friend.

4. If you have a spouse working from home, they should have a separate and distinct “office” area away from you. Even if it is your closet, the laundry room, or in the corner of the family room. Do this as much as physically and distantly possible. Otherwise, the urge to spin in each other’s orbits will either be very distracting or overwhelming.

5. During the workweek, when you and your partner are working, only contact them in the same way you normally contact them during the workweek: texting, slack, discord, google hangouts, etc… They are probably also having a hard time adjusting to working from home. They need to find their new normal, just like you do.

6. Headphones are your friend. One or both of you need to wear headphones so you can’t hear each other as much. Also, headphones are invaluable for video conferencing. Trust me on this.

7. Schedule movement breaks. Some people do 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of movement. Some people do 45-50 minutes of work 10-15 minutes of movement. Working at home limits your steps in a big way.

There is no one true way for the new normal of working from home, but these are some of the ways a writer can adjust to both working the day job at home and/or figuring out how to work at home with your partner there. Good luck!

Life in the Age of a (Currently) Mild Pandemic

Parameters for this blog post: Pandemic level 0: Normal flu season. Pandemic level 5: Contagion movie. Pandemic level 10: The Stand by Stephen King.

I think we’re somewhere around Pandemic level 3. I say level 3 because of the following:

·         There is a cause for concern. We are no longer at containment. We are at leveling the curve for emergency care and working to mitigate the spread as much as possible. The breakdown of hospital resources (ventilators) in Italy is an example of why we need to flatten the curve.

·         There is some mild panic. It’s still thoughtful and rational. It’s “I need hand sanitizer and TP.” There is no real threat of looting. It’s not a real panic. Real panic is where you will accidently drown another person trying to find the surface of the water. It’s where you will leave behind loved ones in the face of danger because you are no longer thinking. It’s where fight or flight has taken over and where people refuse to open doors to neighbors out of fear.

·         Long asymptomatic infectious period. A person can be infected with COVID-19 for as many as 14 days without showing any symptoms while being contagious. The R0 (R-naught), the estimated number of individuals that each infected person will transmit to, for the COVID-19 is currently between 2 and 3.

·         Specific vulnerable population. In Contagion and The Stand, anyone and everyone could get the virus and all ages would get sick and die. Whereas COVID-19 is specifically lethal to elderly and autoimmune compromised populations. I’ve read a lot of data out there that say up to  40-70% of the world’s population will catch COVID-19, but only have comparatively mild symptoms. Obviously, more than just the elderly and autoimmune compromised can get sick and die.

·         There is no vaccine. Yet. We don’t try to contain the flu during flu season. That’s because we have a vaccine. COVID-19 does not yet have a vaccine. That’s one of the reasons it is so dangerous.

·         There’s a lot more data out there. This is not an exhaustive list. It’s some of the reasons for my thought process and estimate of the danger. Don't forget to do your own research.

 

In the Seattle area, many companies (mostly tech companies) have cancelled all non-essential travel. Also, those who can work at home have been sent home until the last week of March (at the earliest). Many of those companies have put support staff on “holiday hours” but are still paying full-time wages. Some are not, and that will lead to future problems.

As an author of dark speculative fiction, and a former military brat who lived in Europe during the Cold War, I watch this all with a wary eye. Every person of my local social writing group, Wit’n’Word, has a spouse who has been sent to work from home. Including me. This isn’t too bad. The Husband understands I need quiet and long periods of time to write. On the other hand, this entire week he has early morning conference calls with the people he was supposed to meet in Boston.

My dreams are unquiet. Example: last night, I dreamed that the Husband agreed to taken in 14 cats without asking me because two of them were singapura kittens and he knows I love them. There were also a LOT of people in the house because of the cats. By the end of the dream, I was slowly containing the cats and kicking the unwanted house guests out.

Clearly, my brain believes that the Husband is bringing a lot of chaos home and it doesn’t know how to deal with it all…yet.

I do have some anxiety. I really don’t want to live through an actual Armageddon. At least, not one this slow moving. Give me Night of the Comet any day of the week and let me have the world’s resources to survive on. You can skip the zombies, though.

Still, I have hope. Hope that the spring and summer months will become an obstacle to COVID-19 and its spread. Hope that a vaccine will be approved over the next year. Hope that I will still be able to make some of my summer convention season.

I also have common sense. Washing my hands regularly. Limiting my forays out into the world. Plans of what to do when I do go to conventions—gloves, wipes, no handshakes or hugs. The knowledge that some events may be postponed or cancelled and there’s little I can do about that.

Now, I guess we will wait and see.