December 5, 2016

Salton Preppers Here: an interview with Jennifer Brozek, author of "The Last Days of Salton Academy"

It's referred to as 'The Outbreak,' and it happened just over three months ago, casting the world (or at least this part of it) into a state of powerlessness and chaos. The Salton Academy has become a rare sanctuary for those few students who remained behind over fall break.

As winter approaches, cracks are revealed in the academy's foundations as it's discovered someone is stealing food, another is taking advantage of a captive audience, and yet others have banded together and are thinking about mutiny, even murder. One thing's for certain — a supply run must be made soon, or everyone will starve before winter's end.

Oh yes, and then there’s the matter of the headmaster’s son and his undead dog…

The Last Days of Salton Academy is a classic tale of horror in the spirit of Night of the Living Dead meets Lord of the Flies, featuring an ensemble cast and written by Hugo Award-nominated editor and award-winning author, Jennifer Brozek.


Gef: With The Last Days of Salton Academy, you purposefully kept the setting vague as far as pinning it down geographically. Is that for creative license or for that "it can happen anywhere" vibe?

Jennifer: Yes. It is. It is also based on my extensive travel. I consciously took pieces from four areas to create the Anywhere, America setting for The Last Days of Salton Academy. I took the small town feel from Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. The structured setting and brick buildings from Fort Dix, New Jersey. The rolling, golden hills and “tri-cities” concept from where I lived in California—Livermore, Dublin, Pleasanton tri-valley area. Finally, the isolated feeling from the Pasco, Kennewick, Richland tri-cities area of western Washington.

Gef: Outbreaks come in all shapes in sizes. How specific do you get with yours in this book, or are you more concerned with the aftermath and the human interplay there?

Jennifer: The Last Days of the Salton Academy is focused solely on the aftermath and the interplay between a small subset of people. The location is isolated. The nearest town is at least ten miles away. In the story, only one zombie makes it to the academy campus and its casualty is a black Labrador. I don’t care about zombies. I care about the situations they put people in and the hard choices they are forced to make.

Gef: Apocalyptic fiction has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance as it were. Why do you suppose that is and what drew you to writing this novel?

Jennifer: Every generation goes through a phase where they wonder “what if what I know breaks down?”. Because of that, apocalyptic fiction waxes and wanes. Right now, there are some scary things happening in the real world. In this digital age, you can’t get away from it. It makes people turn to the “what if” stories that wipe the slate clean. 

This novel drew me because I got to play around with some of the worlds I’ve experienced—Small Town, America; the bubble world of a military base; the security and isolationism of living somewhere that has eight foot stone walls; Belgium. 

Gef: What would you say in the biggest misconception about “YA” fiction?

Jennifer: I think there are two. The first is that there must be a romance in the story. Not all teenagers are hormone-addled. Some of them just want an adventure tale. The second is that you don’t need to dumb down your language. Today’s teens are smart and savvy. They know a lot more than their parents want to admit. I focus on plotlines that haunted me as a teen—how do I fit into this world and how can I make a difference?

Gef: Was there anything different in your approach to writing this book that was different from your previous titles?

Jennifer: This book is a little different for me because more than half the characters are idealized, exaggerated, teenaged versions of my friends. Now, I never knew any of them as teens. I’ve taken pieces from what I know of them and blown them up. Then, I based my main teen antagonist on my husband, Jeff. We had so much fun talking over what fictionalized, teenaged him would do in the situations I described—how and why. Some people really love that character. Some really hate him.

Gef: You have some snazzy covert art for your novel as well, complemented by the overall design. Who was behind that, and did you have any input into it?

Jennifer: That was all my publisher, Ragnarok Publications. The cover was designed by M.S. Corley and it perfectly captures the gothic horror of the story. One review called The Last Days of Salton Academy a “gothic zombie story.” It’s old school horror and I love it. My only input was to enthusiastically approve it.

Gef: As you were researching for this one, were there any tidbits of info that took you by surprise? Something that came out of left field that you either had to include in some fashion or was just too distracting from what you already had in mind?

Jennifer: The only thing that really surprised me was the medical condition of the headmaster’s son, Evan. It is based in reality. I didn’t know he had the condition until we once talked about what you would do if the unthinkable occurred and zombies did appear. His wife’s answer was “I’d join the winning team.” Evan agreed and we talked about why. People with a need for lifesaving medicine would be seriously screwed in an apocalypse. It gave me the perfect reason to have Evan do what he did.

Gef: It's closed quarters and potential for a large cast of characters. How wide a net did you cast when exploring these characters? Did you hone in on one to view through his/her experiences or did you want more of a mosaic feel for the story?

Jennifer: In close quarters, every person’s actions touch every other person whether they know it or not. I had several point of view characters. It was needed. There is a mosaic feel to the story, but it really was all about the downfall of one person, Jeff, trying to do what he thought was best for the good of the whole. Even though his actions were a catalyst to condemn the school, it was the actions of the other students that actually brought it to ruin.

Gef: Assuming the Outbreak doesn't occur anytime soon IRL, what else do you have in the works? And how can readers keep up with your shenanigans?

Jennifer: I’ve just finished and turned in a couple of RPG tie-in novels. I plan to go back to writing teen horror in 2017. I am active on Facebook as Jennifer Brozek and have a fan page, Jennifer Brozek Author, as well. Most of my short burst interactions are on twitter (@JenniferBrozek). If you want to know about any of my books or other stuff about me, is the way to go. Just expect a lot of talk about writing, cats, ingress, and gaming.

Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award-nominated editor and an award-winning author. Winner of the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited fifteen anthologies with more on the way, including the acclaimed Chicks Dig Gaming and Shattered Shields anthologies. Author of Apocalypse Girl Dreaming, Industry Talk, the Karen Wilson Chronicles, and the Melissa Allen series, she has more than sixty published short stories, and is the Creative Director of Apocalypse Ink Productions.
Jennifer is a freelance author for numerous RPG companies. Winner of the Scribe, Origins, and ENnie awards, her contributions to RPG sourcebooks include Dragonlance, Colonial Gothic, Shadowrun, Serenity, Savage Worlds, and White Wolf SAS.
Jennifer is the author of the award-winning YA Battletech novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, and Shadowrun novella, Doc Wagon 19. She has also written for the AAA MMO Aion and the award-winning videogame, Shadowrun Returns. She is the author of The Last Days of Salton Academy, published by Ragnarok.

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