Interview: Jennifer Brozek

Gilded_LightJennifer Brozek has edited several horror anthologies, including Close Encounters of the Urban Kind and the upcoming Beauty Has Her Way. She’s also a writer and runs the zine The Edge of Propinquity. She works in the RPG industry and won the 2010 Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Game Supplement. Jennifer is super-busy, but she graciously stopped by Innsmouth to discuss her latest horror collection:

IFP: You have a new horror collection. What is it called and what is it about?

JB: It is called In a Gilded Light: 105 Tales of the Macabre and is published by Dark Quest Books. It is a collection of vignettes that were written over 2.5 years, each Friday, inspired by anything and everything around me. These vignettes all involve something I considered ‘freaky’ or thought-provoking in some way. I also break the rule of not writing about friends, family or co-workers. I do all sorts of interesting things to people I know and love in this book. This includes death, curses, stalkers, monsters, rituals, kidnappings, and/or lots of other intriguing, provocative or taboo topics.

IFP:How did the collection come together?

JB: Originally, In a Gilded Light (once known as Freaky Friday Fictions) was never supposed to be a published collection. It was actually a writing exercise to help teach me how to write short fiction and how to use concise language to get the story across in as few words as possible. However, after 2.5 years of weekly stories, I found I had a decent collection on my hands and the interest of a couple of small press publishers who wanted to buy that collection.

grantspassIFP:You wrote your stories every week, on a Friday. Was it hard to keep this habit? Did you skip writing certain weeks or always maintain yourself true to your schedule?

JB: I know I skipped a few weeks, but that was only when I was traveling for a convention. Otherwise, I wrote every single week. I had two things going for me: a writer’s determination not to let the project slip and an expectant fanbase who wanted to see what part of my life (or theirs) I would use in the next vignette. It got to the point that I had a list of friends who wanted to be horribly murdered or wanted to be the murderer in my next story.

IFP:You mention the inspiration for each of the stories in In a Gilded Light. What was the weirdest incident that inspired you?

JB: Two personal experiences come to mind.

After living in my apartment for almost a year, a man knocked on my door. He was carrying running shoes in one hand and a bag of McDonald’s in the other. He was completely taken aback at seeing me answer the door. He thought his sister lived there and asked me how long I’d lived there. He was very confused that it was not his sister’s apartment. That event became the story “Interruptions”.

The second [was] while I was traveling for a convention. In the hotel parking lot, while I was getting my bag out of the car, a man came by, walking his dog. As he went by, he asked me if I was happy. I wasn’t sure I heard him right and shook my head. He stopped, looked me in the eyes and asked me again, “Are you happy?” All I could say was, “Yes, thank you.” He nodded approvingly at me and continued on his way. I always wondered what would have happened if I had said, “No. I’m not happy.” That ‘what if’ thought became the story, “Happy”.

IFP:What fascinates you?

JB: I often joke about my apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fascinations. I like to see the world as we know it destroyed and rebuilt. I think, however, I’m far more interested in how people act and react during or after a crisis. Such things usually bring out the best or worst in all of us. I am a person who lives for that transition from the mundane to the heroic or the mediocre to the villainous. I want to see how people rise (for good or ill) to overcome all obstacles.

Then again, I usually watch disaster flicks just to see iconic landmarks be destroyed or to watch how a virulent virus spreads from person to person to eventually bring down the status quo. You might say that The Stand by Stephen King is my comfort reading.

IFP:You’ve also worked as an anthologist. What makes you stop reading? What keeps you reading?

close-encounters-of-the-urban-kindJB: I read a lot of slush. I am the Chief Editor of The Edge of Propinquity and I’m a submissions editor for Apex Publications. Both of these venues taught me how to read slush and to recognize what I want versus what I don’t.

When it comes to short stories, drop me into the action immediately. Give me something to sink my teeth into before giving me the explanation of how to be. This action does not mean fight scenes. It means active voice about the meat of the matter of what is going on. I frequently stop reading once my mind starts chattering over what I’m reading. This chatter often is, “Blah, blah, blah. Who cares? What is this story about?” Don’t give me three paragraphs on a package arriving if it has nothing to do with the story except to introduce the package. Start the story with opening the package, staring at the package, being afraid of the package. Start with what you want me to be interested in.

I keep reading when the story engages me, interests me and (this is important) it is on theme/genre/topic for what I’m reading the story for. If you send me a superhero story for The Edge of Propinquity, I will stop reading because I specifically state “no superheroes” in the guidelines. If you send me a bodiceripper for Apex, I stop reading because that is not what we publish. Finally, even if the story is awesome, if I know that it will not fit the anthology I’m reading for, I will stop reading. If it won’t fit, I can’t shoehorn it in.

IFP:What are you working on right now?

JB: Right now, I have four anthologies in the works:

Beauty Has Her Way, Dark Quest Books – an anthology of women across the ages using all of their assets to get what they want. It is in final edits. This one will be out in 2010.

Human Tales, Dark Quest Books – an anthology of tales told in the vein of Grimm Fairy Tales but told from the point of view of the supernatural creature about the dangers of bargaining with untrustworthy humans. I am reading for it. This one will be out in late 2010 or early 2011.

The Beast Within 2, Graveside Tales – an anthology of non-standard shapeshifters. Invitations for this anthology have already gone out. This one will be out in mid-2011.

Space Tramps, Flying Pen Press – an anthology about those who have fallen between the cracks and ride the hidden hyperdrives and live in the secret spaceports. It is the fifth in the Full Throttle Space Tales series. I am getting together my invitations for this anthology. This one will be out in the third quarter of 2011.

IFP: If you could be a Lovecraftian character or creature, who would you be and why?

jenniferJB: I would certainly become one of the Old Ones. Who wants to be the person that goes crazy? I’d rather be one of the deities that my cults worship and fear. Cthulhu is too well-known. I could go with Shub-Niggurath because of her being a perversion of a fertility goddess. You know, spitting out creatures that make mortal man go mad.

But in the end, I’m gonna have to go with Yog-Sothoth because of the way it manifests as a bunch of glowing bubbles. First, because it amuses me to no end that bubbles can be terrifying and drive people crazy. Second, because I’m all about the pretty. I think bubbles are very pretty. If I’m going to be a terrifying monster, I might as well be as pretty and strange (or is that pretty strange?) as a bunch of glowing bubbles. Besides, I thought “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” was a great story.

Visit Jennifer’s website to learn more about her.

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IFPInterview: Jennifer Brozek