Jennifer Brozek | All posts by jennifer

One Year Gone

A year ago today, I arrived home from the 2020 Rainforest Writers Retreat to discover that I had missed most of the texts the Husband had sent me about the sudden change in our immediate world. One of the benefits to the Rainforest Writers Retreat is it’s almost total lack of internet connection. It’s a wonderful writing retreat on the shores of Lake Quinault. Last year, there was even less internet than normal and my only warning that my world was about to change was a confusing message from the Husband that he needed to clean out his office frig.

Little did I know that that was the last writing related thing I was going to be able to do in the flesh until…well, who knows. By the time I got home, the Husband had been sent to “work from home until March 25th.” (They were so optimistic back then.) It’s been a year and every convention I am scheduled to be part of this year is already virtual (again) or is in the process of making that decision.

In the last year, I have not left the house except to grocery shop (ave of 2x/month), to see the two friends in my bubble (again, average of 2x/month), and once, in October, a socially distanced, quarantined trip to Lake Quinault for the Husband’s birthday where we brought all our food and stayed in a cabin in the woods. No eating out—then or this year. We have done our best to help local restaurants stay in business by ordering takeout and 90% of those, the Husband picked up. If I was there, I didn’t leave the car.

Sometimes we drive around just to see something new. We never leave the car. It’s not safe.

I own so many masks and so much sanitizer. I’ve been good about social distancing and masks. I’ve done everything we (all) were supposed to do. And even I wasn’t as strict as some of my immunocompromised friends. Some of them haven’t left their house at all, have had all their stuff delivered. And when people grumble about going “back” into lockdown quarantine, I realize that my version of lockdown quarantine has been VERY different than that of other people.

Birthday parties. Holiday parties. Football parties. Vacations to busy beaches or crowded attractions.

All the things I didn’t do because I complied. I would be irritated if it weren’t for the death of my Mom. Now, I’m angry. So very angry. It’s something I will never forget or forgive. I have lost faith in a lot of people.

One year gone and I have so much to mourn. Just like so many other people who lost friends, family, and co-workers to the pandemic. There are so many things I miss. Conventions, coffee shops, browsing at stores, walking by the lake without being concerned how close people are and whether or not they are wearing their masks properly (over your damn nose!).

Soon, I’m going to take a flight to bury my Mom and help my sister with as much as I can while I am there. She needs me and I need to be there. The Husband mentioned today that we both needed to be prepared to have to rush to a strange hospital, in another state, to get covid tests and if they come up positive for either of us, to remain in quarantine in my Mom’s house.

The thought upsets me. I was prepared to do a very hard lockdown for 14 days once we got home. We even packed the freezer full of food. I wasn’t prepared for that while traveling. Now I have to be. It’ll make packing a little more difficult. I was going to pack very light. Now, I have to consider what I will need to pack if I’m gone longer than expected. I’m still a freelancer and I have a job (or three) to do.

The only thing that I really am grateful for in this last year is my new appreciation of this house. The house is big enough that both the Husband and I have our own offices away from each other. Nothing is broken. Nothing is leaking. I have a lovely backyard. I have room. It’s more than many people have and I’m aware how lucky I am. We will never look at buying another house without considering what it would be like to live in lockdown within it.

One year gone. I hope to heaven that it’s not going to be two. If all goes well in my State, I will be eligible for the first round of vaccines in mid-April. I can’t wait.

RIP Sigrid Brozek

Mom died yesterday. Born: 3 Mar 1946. Died: 28 Feb 2021. She was almost 75 years old. She died from chronic and acute respiratory failure complicated by pneumonia and septic shock. It was a very quick decline. She was admitted to the hospital on Feb 13, stayed there for seven days, was home for six days where things continued to decline, and was admitted to the hospital on the 27th. She died in her sleep with my sister at her side on the 28th. It was as peaceful as it could be. Her heart slowed then stopped.

I am grateful my sister was there and was able to keep me and my brother informed. Grateful she was able to pass on our desperate “Tell Mom I love her”s. Grateful for the message back: “Mom said to say she loves you both as well.”

In truth, Mom has been declining since the new year. Hindsight is 20/20. She was more tired. Her arthritis prevented her from typing as much. Her calls were short and her DMs and emails shorter.  It’s just over 18 months since Dad died. Over and over, Mom said the second year after Dad’s death was not as painful, but it was harder. My sister and I believe it’s because she was less numb.

I’m sitting here with a mess of emotions. Gratitude wars with rage and which is winning depends on the wind and a blink of an eye. The ping-pong of grief is about the size of a beach ball.

I’m so grateful that I got to have a good last trip in Nov 2019. We spent a couple of weeks bonding and getting to know each other once more. But she wanted to see me and the Husband again in 2020, because she didn’t know the Husband as well as she’d like to. She even set up the backroom specifically so it would be comfortable for couples....

But I didn’t go because I was being good and staying home like I was supposed to during the pandemic…

And I’m so angry that all the while there were people still going on fucking vacation to Hawaii or Las Vegas or whatever. Still spreading CoVid. I didn’t get to have that one last good trip when my Mom wasn’t grieving so much at the loss of Dad. And now the Husband is grieving because he liked my Mom, but couldn’t make it out in 2019 and now he will never have that chance.

But I’m grateful Mom had a fast decline rather than suffering. Grateful for her and Shannon. Grateful it was painless and she died in her sleep with gentle dignity and great faith.

Lather, rinse, repeat. So much anger. So much more gratitude.

Now I will fly across the country, wearing a KN95 the whole way (like I wouldn’t do before) to bury my mother. I will spend time with my sister and do whatever I can to help her because she needs me. And I will continue to be both grateful and angry, and no, there is nothing anyone can do to help me.

2020 was a bastard of a year. I just didn’t realize how much until this week. These scars are going to last a long, long time.

 

Tell Me - Marsheila Rockwell

Marsheila Rockwell and I share a TOC for the forthcoming Turning the Tied anthology that will benefit the World Literacy Foundation. Today, she tells me her thoughts on how Ozma connects her the Ojibwe.

 

The story I have in IAMTW’s upcoming Turning the Tied anthology is called “A Prisoner Freed in Oz” and features Ozma of Oz. For those not familiar with her story (as detailed in L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz), Ozma was born a girl, but as a baby was magically transformed into a boy named Tip, and lived as a boy until her teens, when she was finally transformed back into her true self. Modern readers will no doubt see a parallel to the transgender experience, although the book was first published in 1904, before that word was coined and well before it was an acceptable experience to write about in a children’s book.

Many people mistakenly believe that gender variance is a new idea, perhaps born out of the Sexual Revolutions of the 1920s or 1960s. But the character of Ozma hints that gender variance has existed for much longer than that, though perhaps not as openly expressed as it is today.

I am a reconnecting Chippewa (Ojibwe)/Métis (I’m not changing the subject, I promise). Broadly, ‘reconnecting’ in this context refers to an Indigenous person who was denied access to their tribe’s culture and heritage while growing up and is trying to rectify that situation as an adult, without the benefit of parents or grandparents to bridge the gap. Part of that effort (at least for me) includes trying to educate myself about and become active in Indigenous causes. It was during that process that I learned that many Indigenous tribes/nations recognized and accepted the concept of gender variance long before colonizers ever set foot on Turtle Island.

Specific beliefs and terminology varied from tribe to tribe—for instance, the Navajo called such people nadleeh and the Lakota used the term winkte. Gender variants included feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, masculine man, and sometimes both, or neither. Roles for such individuals varied depending on their tribe/nation, as well. Being Chippewa, I’ll focus on those beliefs.

According to Anton Treuer (Ojibwe), professor of Ojibwe linguistics at Bemidji State University, “the Ojibwe accepted variation. Men who chose to function as women were called ikwekanaazo, meaning ‘one who endeavors to be like a woman.’ Women who functioned as men were called ininiikaazo, meaning, ‘one who endeavors to be like a man.’” He goes on to say that the part played by these individuals, “was considered to be sacred, often because they assumed their roles based on spiritual dreams or visions.”

Today, ‘Two-Spirit’ is used as an umbrella term to try to capture the Indigenous gender variant experience. The word was coined in 1990 to replace the anthropological term berdache, which had traditionally been used to identify gender-variant Indigenous individuals. The etymology of that word, however, stems from the French bardache, which can be taken to mean “male prostitute,” and is patently offensive. While no experience is universal to all Indigenous people, and one word cannot possibly be used to frame an experience which differs across 574 federally recognized tribes, ‘Two-Spirit’ has, as its Wikipedia article notes, “generally received more acceptance and use than the term it replaced.”

So, long story short (ha!): Gender variance has been part of humanity for probably as long as there have been humans. Sadly, Ozma and the Ojibwe notwithstanding, acceptance of gender variance has been around for a much shorter time. But I look forward to the day when acceptance of all our differences will be the norm. Maybe my story will help with that. I hope so.

#TurningTheTied

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Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell is the author of twelve SF/F/H books, dozens of poems and short stories, several articles on writing and the writing process, and a handful of comic book scripts. She is also a disabled pediatric cancer and mental health awareness advocate and a reconnecting Chippewa/Métis. She lives in the Valley of the Sun with her husband, three of their five children, two rescue kitties (one from hell), and far too many books.

Construction and Deconstruction

January was a month and a half. It felt a lot like the 13th month of 2020. Now that we’re into February, it’s starting to feel like 2021. Which is to say, time is moving again. Things are happening. While some of it is painful, all of it appears to be good.

Most of January was focused on slush reading and editing of 99 Tiny Terrors. Also on reading everything for The Reinvented Heart which I’m editing with Cat Rambo. On top of that, my house has been under construction.

We’ve had a gas fireplace that hasn’t really worked in two years. Since we did no travel last year, that money got earmarked for a new fireplace with updated tile and mantle. That was so (like the bathrooms) we can enjoy the home improvements before we (someday, projected to be 2025) sell this house since we know the things we’ve fixed/are fixing/will fix are things that need to be done to get the house sellable.

A simple renovation.

Nope. Cue: dry rot. Now, the Husband suspected some dry rot where the tile had been broken. He did not suspect half of the chimney had dry rot from blocked gutters that had been improperly replaced after the house was painted and thus tilted towards the chimney. So… I had holes in my house for days. It was most disturbing.

Things are better now. Not done. The week long reno has turned into two weeks, but the designer we hired has been awesome. He looked at the problem, worked on it, and had a solution and a plan within hours. We chose the right guy.

I have to admit that I’m really looking forward to having the house back. All of the dining room furniture is in the library nook or down in the family room. We’ve had to lock up the cats this whole time while the workers have been here—they are NOT pleased and have let us know this. Also, we’ve had to wear masks inside the house for everyone’s safety. None of this is fun, but we can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

In the meantime, one of the shelves in the family room holding some game books and all my graphic novels gave up the ghost and collapsed. We can put the blame squarely on The Dark Tower omnibus set and all of the Sandman graphic novels I have. That was added excitement we did not need. New, stronger wall brackets are on the way and I need to declutter some of those books. Still, lemonade out of lemons: it amuses me that Stephen King and Neil Gaiman murdered my shelf bracket.

Looking forward, I’ll be shifting from mere editing to actual anthology construction. It’s one of my favorite parts of the process; seeing a project become more than the sum of its parts. Also, I have some cool news to share on the publishing front when the contracts are signed. Plus, there’s potential awesomeness on the horizon.

I have a lot to look forward to in the next couple of months.

Looking Ahead to 2021

While I am aware that 2021 will not become magically “back to normal” (whatever the new normal is), I have hope that it will be better; that I will be able to visit friends and family. Hell, that I will make it to at least one convention in person. I’m enough of a realist to know that none of that might happen, but optimistic enough to believe some of it will.

In the meantime, I have projects scheduled for 2021. Here’s what’s known and forthcoming.

Editing:

  • Full edit of the 99 Tiny Terrors anthology.
  • Full edit of The Reinvented Heart anthology (with Cat Rambo).
  • Editorial novel edits for BattleTech: Crimson Night.
  • Editorial novella edits for Shadowrun: See How She Runs.
  • Alpha edits for original near future SF novella (this one has been waiting for a year).
  • Proof audiobook for release.
  • Freelance ebook proofing.


Writing:

  • After the contract is done, new Shadowrun novel.
  • One contracted short story.
  • Figure out the next original novel I’m going to write.

Most of the editing is scheduled for the first quarter of 2021. Most of the writing will be in the second and third quarters of the year. I think. This is the first year in a long time that I haven’t gone into it with a novel contract and a due date. I’m okay with this because of the two anthologies.

I guess, the short version is: I don’t really know everything I’m going to do in 2021. There are too many unknowns and “secret” possible projects in the air. And who knows about conventions. The ones I’m already going to for sure are all virtual.

I think I’m going to stick with this. This seems like a good plan to start with. Maybe I’ll update it in the second quarter of 2021.

 

My 2020 Scorecard

2020 AKA “The Great Pause” is almost over. Time for me to look back at what I’ve accomplished for the year. While I am a full time writer and editor…and I work mostly at home, I did suffer the ennui of being required to stay at home for most of the year. Which I have done since I got back from Rainforest 2020 in early March. I miss seeing friends, going to coffee shops, having my writing group over, gaming in person, and attending conventions.

I hope to be able to do that again sometime in 2021.

Short Story Submissions: 14

  • Acceptances: 6
  • Rejections: 6
  • Pending: 2

I’ll accept a 50% acceptance rate. That’s not bad.

New Words Written: 125,130

  • Short: 18,580
  • Long: 118,300

Two novellas and a novel. Again, not bad for the year.

Published Projects: 9

  • 1 novel: Rogue Academy Two: Ghost Hour (BattleTech)
  • 1 novella: A Kiss to Die For (Shadowrun)
  • 1 anthology: Last Cities of Earth
  • 3 short stories: “Rising to the Occasion” (Valdemar), “The Librarian's Handbook” (Mythos), and “When a Patch Won’t Do” (SF-military)
  • 2 audiobooks: Makeda Red and DocWagon 19 (Shadowrun)
  • 1 Podcast: Voice Talent on the Paper Flower Consortium podcast (Lady Agata).

I’m gonna count this as a win. I was productive despite 2020 and missing my father.

Awards: 3

  • Finalist for the Bram Stoker award for Superior Achievement in an anthology and finalist for Best Anthology – both for A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods.
  • Finalist for the Scribe award for Best YA Tie-in for Rogue Academy One: Iron Dawn.

I’ve already lost 2 of the 3 awards, but it really is an honor to be nominated for both editing and writing. Especially the BFA. It’s the first time for that award.

Next year is going to be a lot more editing heavy. I’ve already got two anthologies in the works as well as a novel and two novellas to edit on the docket. We will see how things go.

Tell Me - Natania Barron

Natania Barron tells me just how accurate Monty Python and the Holy Grail is and how it relates to her latest book, Queen of None. It surprised me.

Queen of None

The first time I became aware of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it was because my parents were trying to explain it to me. They were both giggling so hard just trying to get the words out. I might have been thirteen or so, and I was pretty well convinced they’d lost their marbles. They kept talking about bloodthirsty rabbits. Which, quite frankly, didn’t seem very funny to me at all.

I didn’t quite grasp the humor until I finally saw the whole film later in high school. Then it became very much a thing. My nerd friends and I, as the eldest of the millennials, found the entire script of Monty Python and the Holy Grail on a BB somewhere, printed it out, and carried it around to every class. We began spouting quotes, particularly, “Very small rocks,” “I feel happy!” and “Help, help, I’m being repressed!” much to the sincere annoyance of just about everyone else.

It wasn’t until college, however, when I was deep into my own study of the Middle Ages, that I learned just how good this movie really was. And not just because of the humor. It turns out that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is weirdly, bizarrely, wonderfully… historically accurate in a number of ways.

Okay, but how?

Terry Jones is how. The late writer, actor, and comedian was also a seasoned medievalist. You might be familiar with his Medieval Lives series, from the BBC, but he was known as quite the scholar even outside of the glamor of film. His enthusiasm, humor, and joy had everything to do with what made Holy Grail so good.

And those rabbits? Totally historically accurate. There’s a really good overview about evil rabbits here from Jon Kaneko-James that will do it more justice than I can, but let’s just say that murderous, blood-thirsty rabbits are a very prolific theme in the Middle Ages. I studied illuminated manuscripts at length during my college days, and I found numerous examples. Now, with digital age in full swing, you can peruse thousands of manuscripts and do your own Where’s Waldo: Evil Rabbit Edition.

So, don’t even get me started on butt trumpets. Yes, butt trumpets. And snail men. And furious archer monkeys. Not to mention cats getting into everything some of the most beautiful, strange, and creative chimera monsters you’ll ever see (my favorites are from the Luttrell Psalter—which doesn’t just include monsters, but also depictions of daily life in beautiful, humorous detail). We may think that Terry Gilliam just sort of procured the images from his very original brain, but so much of the animation in the film is also directly adapted from illuminated manuscripts.

Perhaps that’s what’s always brought me back to the Medieval Period again and again. I never believed in a “Dark” age, really. Yes, of course, there were all kinds of very nasty things that happened in the period, from oppression to plague, from Church domination to war, from class exploitation to famine. It wasn’t an easy time to be a human being. But, regardless of the trials and tribulations, what illuminated manuscripts show us is a glimpse into the medieval mind, a mind capable of critique, humor, nuance, and vivid, technicolor imagination. Maybe we aren’t so different. Perhaps what makes existence tolerable now is what made it tolerable then.

It’s also the same reason that I haven’t given up on my studies. You’ll not just find my studies in medieval literature and history influence my work, but also my Twitter account. I’m a big fan of delving deep to find strange marginalia to share with my audience. Sometimes, they’re a little traumatized. Other times, they’re just thoroughly amused. We have a great deal more in common with people in the Middle Ages than we don’t, and it’s important that we learn from them.

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Natania Barron has been traveling to other worlds from a very young age, and will be forever indebted to Lucy Pevensie and Meg Murry for inspiring her to go on her own adventures. She currently resides in North Carolina with her family, and is, at heart, a hobbit–albeit it one with a Tookish streak a mile wide. Be sure to check out Queen of None.

Early 2021 Classes at the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers

For those of you who have missed my writing classes in the past, Cat Rambo has me scheduled up for the first quarter of 2021 with the following classes. Two of them are repeats of popular classes but the third, Project Management for Writers, is new. People ask me all the time how I get so much done in a year without burning out or dropping balls. That’s what this class is about.

Currently, all classes have openings and scholarships available.

3 Jan, 9:30am, Writing for Franchises
http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/class-working-in-other-worlds-writing-for-franchises/
Have you ever wondered how writers find work writing in other people's worlds and what it would be like to write fiction for your favorite RPG, movie, TV series, videogame, or comic book? What credentials do you need, how do you get started, and how do you build the writing credits that can lead to tie-in work? The Writing for Franchises workshop can give you an idea of what it is like to write in a universe you do not own—the benefits and the pitfalls, as well as how to find opportunities to do such work. This workshop focuses on writing short stories, novellas, and novels for popular franchises such as Shadowrun, V-Wars, Predator, Master of Orion, and Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar.

7 Feb, 9:30am, Pitches and Synopsis
http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/pitches-and-synopses/
What makes an agent interested in a pitch and how do you prepare to give one? What needs to go into a book synopsis, and what should stay out? How long should a synopsis be? Does it need to include the ending or should it finish with a hook that intrigues the reader? What are the things a pitch should cover and what are the basic mistakes you can commit while making one? What are comps and why might they matter to publishing market companies? And—how can you use your pitch to help write your book?

7 Mar, 9:30am, Project Management for Writers
http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/class-project-management-for-writers/
How do you stay on top of the daily demands of being a writer? How do you plan—and carry out that plan—for a novel? How do you make sure one aspect of writing doesn't swallow up all the rest? Basically, how can a writer stay in control of the daily chaos of existence even when you have multiple projects going at once? Join Jenn Brozek for a workshop about how to create a plan that helps you get where you want to go and how to do it without burning out.

Round One of Slush Reading

It’s been years since I did an open call anthology. 99 Tiny Terrors will be my 19th anthology and I thought it was about time to remind myself what it was like to wade into the slush pile. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered but there were some zingers. Here are some of the things I posted to twitter while I was reading.

 All of these started with, “Today's #editor #ProTip from the slushpile:”

-- Please remember to accept all changes in Track Changes so I don't see your editing thoughts and just see your story.

-- When the submission guidelines say 500-1000 words, that does not mean you should turn in a 100 word story. Or 5 stories under 1000 words. Also, saying your word count is 1000 when is 1200 also disqualifies the work.

-- When the guidelines say "no sexual assault" stories that means NO sexual assault stories. Not against any race, gender, or age. Ignoring that makes me notice your name in a bad way and wonder what other boundaries you'd ignore.

-- Often times when the author tries to be clever, the work ends up trite, boring, or cliché. Example: Using the whole story just to tell a pun that is neither horror nor funny.

-- A wonderful beginning will never save a story with a terrible ending and vice versa. Endings are as important as beginnings.

-- The casual lack of consent is horrifying. Especially when that part isn't supposed to be the horror part of the story. "I did X to my sleeping girlfriend and Y happened..." So many writers just don't see it in their stories. Ditto with the casual off-screen, but still mentioned, rape/pedophilia. It's just there like a dead fish in the middle of the hall. Authors really need to look at their writing to see what they're implying with every sentence and why.

-- When you only have 500-1000 words to tell a story, head-hopping is hard to do well. Be sure of your narrative take.

-- Gore for gore's sake in horror flash fiction is boring and is not a story. Give me sharp and subtle. Give me atmosphere. Give me something to remember.

-- When allowed to submit two stories to an open call, you should make sure you don't submit the same story twice.

-- When an editor tells you specifically what kinds of stories they prefer in the guidelines, your best bet is to try to give them exactly that. When you sub a story that is what the editor is specifically NOT looking for, your chances of success are slim to none. Read and comprehend the guidelines.

-- While I admit using no punctuation and no capitalization on purpose is daring, it's a really hard sell. Ditto with capitalized words throughout every sentence. Breaking conventional writing rules can work, but rarely does.

 

Now that I’ve done my first readthrough, I’ve saved 84 pieces as “yes” and 71 as “maybe” for the anthology. I will need to narrow down this 155 tiny terrors into an anthology of 99. Reading through 613 submissions has given me a much better understanding of the shape of the anthology I want. The second readthrough will be in conjunction with the stories I have and whether or not it fits the vision I have for this anthology.

In a week or two, I will reread all 155 pieces of flash fiction, categorizing them and forming the work that will become more than the sum of its parts. That means some of the “yes” stories will be shifted to “no” and some of the “maybe” stories will be shifted to “yes.” Once all of the decisions are decided, all acceptances and rejections will be emailed within a day or two of each other.

 All this is to say…no one is going to hear anything until mid-December 2020 at the earliest.

 

Bubble & Squeek for 11 Nov 2020

I am elbow-deep in the 99 Tiny Terrors slushpile with about 300 read and 300 to go. Also, I'm editing my latest Shadowrun novella so I can turn it in on time in December. There is no Jenn, only editing and some cool news.

Awards: Holy fork, I got shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award for editing A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods. I hadn't even realized I could be a finalist for this award.

Classes: Cat Rambo is hosting me for three classes in early 2021: Working in Other Worlds: Writing for Franchises, Pitches and Synopses Workshop, and a new one: Project Management for Writers.

Video: A 3 Minute Neck Drill That Will Change Your Life by Mark Wildman. Excellent for writers and all people who hunch over keyboards. I've been doing these every day and I can feel the difference.

Podcast: The Paper Flower Consortium. I am the voice of Lady Agata for all the holiday specials. Soon there will be a blog post about how difficult it is to get the correct conditions to podcast fiction at home.

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 with my lack of convention sales this year.