Jennifer Brozek, photo by M. Dutta
Jennifer Brozek is a 2x Bram Stoker Award Nominee, most recently for Last Days of Salton Academy.
Your specialty seems to be YA.
Yes, it has turned into that, but that wasn’t always the case. In the past, I did a lot of tie-in fiction for Shadowrun (cyberpunk with magic) and Battletech, which was Young Adult, but Shadowrun was not. I’ve had the most acclaim for my YA work, and every YA novel I’ve written has been nominated or has actually won an award.
This seems to be a success formula for you.
I’ve discovered that and tend to write for age twelve to seventeen. Many adults like my work, too, and I think a lot of it is because I never talk down to teenagers. If they don’t understand something, they have Google. They can look up something they don’t understand.
When writing YA is there a line you can’t cross regarding sex and gore? What is your personal take on that?
One of the guidelines is that the protagonists are young adults, and they are the ones solving the problems. Adults tend to be obstacles and a hindrance, but occasionally can be an ally. Usually, I have to find a good reason why the adults are not the problem solvers. When it comes to language, today’s kids are savvy, and a lot of times they swear like sailors. It’s their parents you have to worry about. Therefore, I try to keep the language to soft curses and not drop the f-bomb.
Sex? There are light romantic elements in almost every book I’ve written. I, myself, was a late bloomer, but it’s just not what I write. I tend to kill a lot of people fictionally, of course. Besides, I’ve talked to a lot of teenagers and they hate when you force a romance. They’re hormone-addled, but they do think of other things, and it’s almost a stereotype that all teenagers want sex.
It’s kind of a scary thing. All of a sudden you’re a kid and then, “Oh gee, I’m supposed to like making out with a boy.”
If you do anything younger, like Middle Grade, you can only get to handholding or kiss-on-the-cheek phase. Language and sex has to be organic, and I rarely write anything involving romantic elements unless it’s with already established characters. Personally, I hate the love triangle. Yes, it does happen, but that’s not the book I write. I’m more action and goal-oriented.
You mentioned something about the parents. Who usually buys or recommends your books? A teacher or librarian? A parent? Or do the kids just make the buying decisions because they’re in the mood to read something?
With the Melissa Allen series, such as Never Let Me Leave, Never Let Me Sleep and Never Let Me Die, I have people who buy the book speak with me directly online or at conventions.
Not only do you work with other publishing companies, but you also have your own small press, plus you’ve written from start-to-finish on tie-in games for other companies. Do you get the stats?
I used to write games from start-to-finish with someone’s line developer who told me what they wanted. At this point, I don’t do that anymore. I only do tie-in fiction. I have a Shadowrun novel coming out. I have another adult-oriented, game tie-in product coming out later this year, but I can’t actually say what that is yet except that’s it going to be very exciting. It’s supposed to come out in December, but until it goes to press everything has to be kept secret.
But stay in tune with your website.
And the whole world will know! I also did the tie-in fiction for Valdemar, based on Mercedes Lackey’s seminal work, I write a story within her world, and I have a Predator story coming out in October.
When you’re writing for games do you have to come up with all sorts of options?
It’s like that with a video game, but video games have logic trees. These are board games. With novels, I have to hand in a fully completed outline and detailed synopsis, and the Line Developer has to go through it, make comments and then I write it. When it’s done, multiple editors read it. There’s something called the Crunch. The actual game writing — the sourcebooks — that has a lot of fiction involved but also numerous stats and spells called the Crunch, and accompanying descriptives are called the Fluff, but I don’t do that anymore. I had to drop something out of my life. It was just way too much.
However, I edit anthologies and have fifteen of these under my belt now. They range from science fiction, horror, a feminist science fiction, and a non-fiction book on women in writing gaming, to straight-up fantasy such as Shattered Shields with Baen Books. This year I’m editing a SF anthology based on the artwork from Jeff Sturgeon’s Last Cities of Earth. He wrote a bible for it. All the authors are choosing one city. Authors will pitch me the stories, and I’ll say yes or no. This might be a Kickstarter campaign. Jeff will eventually expand this into a role playing game (RPG).
When did you start developing your own small press? You’ve been a full-time writer for how long?
Over ten years, and we’ve just had our five-year anniversary for Apocalypse Ink Productions, my publishing company. It’s been a learning experience. Going forward, the model will probably change and focus on my collaboration with Elizabeth Guizzetti. There’s a thirteen-week podcast planned.
You’re really busy. When do you have time to write?
The podcast features flash fiction that I’ve already written called the Five-minute Stories, and I’ll be doing two a week for thirteen weeks. Afterward, if I decide I like podcasting, I’ll start writing stories specifically for this. It’s an experiment. Another project in development involves comic books.
So if the shoe fits, wear it?
I always say that I’m willing to try anything at least once, twice if I’m in a bad mood the first time around. I believe if you don’t try, you won’t win.
Exotic cats rule the office
Who would be responsible for keeping you on track?
I grew up military and possess a lot of self-discipline when it comes to my schedule. But due dates slip and slide all over each other, and that’s when it’s “juggling chainsaws.” Often I’m invited as a special guest to the conventions so that guessing game is eliminated. Regarding the rest of this year, I’ll be doing Gen Con for gaming in August. In September, in Portland and Seattle, I’m part of the SFWA Reading Program and will be reading from a “secret project.” Then I have the Great Falls Gaming Rendezvous in Montana in October and OryCon in Portland in November. I also have a series of local one-day events in November. I don’t think I’m going to sleep much in November.
Do you get to interact a lot with your YA readers at some of these conventions you attend?
It’s an amazing feeling to see a sixteen-year-old girl walk up to me and say, “Yours is the best book I’ve ever read.”
Husband, Jeff and cat
Recently you were invited to a convention in Finland.
That was amazing, especially the cosplay. It was funny, because someone asked me if I needed “safe food,” and I was up for trying something adventurous. However, if I can’t get past the sniff test, as with stinky fish, I’m not going to eat it. Meanwhile, I tried elk, reindeer, bear, and duck hearts that were really good. It was all part of a Viking feast. Oh yes, and tar ice cream, as in asphalt. It tastes like a… campfire.
It tastes like a campfire… I love it!
One of my favorite lines, and I think it was from Chuck Wendig… I stole it from him. My husband and I were in the grocery store trying out a new flavor of Oreo. My husband asked me, “What does that taste like?” and I answered, “It tastes like disappointment.” A lady walked by and started laughing and said, “I’m not going to get those.”
That sounds like those Harry Potter jellybeans with flavors like earwax and vomit.
Jennifer and Leeloo
I enjoy what I do. It’s not easy, but you’re a writer. You know. Awards and accolades make it that much more complex.
But at some point you just say, I need time to write! All this stuff is wonderful, but I can’t clone myself. Now, in your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine your life turning out like this?
When I was a teenager I thought I was going to be career military. My entire family was in the military in one way or another. I was a military brat. My father was in the army for twenty-one years. My brother is Navy. My sister was Air Force. My grandfather was in the marines.
However, when I considered a career in the military and was disqualified medically, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Instead, I ended up in computer science and that led to testing video games. Eventually, a company I was working for brought me to Seattle, and that’s where I met my husband, Jeff. Despite any setbacks, I would not change a single thing at all.
Growing up as a child, I had a fantasyland lifestyle. In the eighties, my family lived off base in a chateau in Mons, Belgium and the Cold War still going on. This was a three-hundred-year-old manor house that had a bell tower, a root cellar, a stone cellar and an escape tunnel I wasn’t supposed to know about. We had an eight-foot stone wall around the backyard that was as big as a football field. This was the place where the farmers would go when there was danger. The bell would ring, and the farmers would camp in the backyard. The bell had been removed by the time I lived there. That’s where I read The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper. She was my inspiration and the reason why I’m an author today.
Jennifer Brozek is an award winning author, editor, and tie-in author. Never Let Me Sleep and Last Days of Salton Academy were nominated for the Bram Stoker Awards. She was awarded the Scribe Award for best tie-in Young Adult novel for her BattleTech novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, and won an Australian Shadows Award for edited publication for Grants Pass anthology. Visit Jennifer’s worlds at jenniferbrozek.com.
Elizabeth Crowens is a Hollywood veteran, journalist and author of Silent Meridian, a 19th century X Files / alternate history novel series. It won First Prize for Chanticleer Review’s Goethe Awards in Turn of the Century Historical Fiction and was short-listed as a finalist for their 2016 Cygnus Awards in Speculative Fiction, Paranormal and Ozma Fantasy Awards. www.elizabethcrowens.com, Facebook: @BooksbyElizabethCrowens, Twitter: @ECrowens