Author Jennifer Quail

Fantasy, Steampunk, Science Fiction, and More

Urban Crime Author Inspiration (Flame Tree Blog)

My story “A Father’s Child” will be appearing in Flame Tree Press’s Urban Crime Short Stories anthology (available at Flame Tree Studio and for pre-order at Amazon) and Flame Tree’s blog has just posted a Q&A with some of the authors on where we got our inspiration for our stories.

For those not feeling like a click, here’s mine:

Jennifer Quail – A Father’s Child

I’m working on a longer novel featuring main character Anders Kjelsen, a major-crimes investigator with the Copenhagen Police. It also involves human trafficking but is set in Canada, so this seemed like a chance for a short introduction, where we see him on his home turf, but dealing with the same sort of crimes. Trafficking is a problem even in cities like Copenhagen where prostitution is not entirely illegal, and I found myself learning a lot about where the girls come from and how they find themselves trapped. Anders takes a special interest because the victims rarely have anyone to speak for them and pursue justice if he doesn’t.

Remember This One?

If you’ll recall, I was looking for inspiration while expanding a NYC Midnight flash fiction contest entry called GhostLife into a longer work for an anthology call tentatively titled Vampires, Ghosts and Zombies from Smoking Pen Press, part of their Read on the Run series. You may remember them as the publishers of A Kiss and a Promise, which includes my short story Only Ever Slowly.

Well, I am happy to be able to announce that GhostLife survived some tough competition from hundreds of submissions and will be appearing in one of the two volumes of Vampires, Ghosts, and Zombies. I admit I was rather pleased to hear that the submissions are blind reads on the part of the editors, so they didn’t know they’d bought my work before when making their selections. Kind of makes up for not only not moving on to the final with that story, but never actually getting the judges’ feedback that everyone is supposed to get.

Meanwhile, I have started  a new one of those things 99% of writers require, a day job with an actual paycheck. Sadly my previous employer, of the fun outdoor cooking and playing dress-up, was forced to close its doors due to lack of funds. Which is sad for many reasons, and I’m going to miss working with an awesome group of people, but I was very lucky to find a new job quickly and one that’s less of a killer commute! Once my training, which I promise is as fun as it sounds like it would be, is done, I will be joining the tasting room staff of Domaine Berrien Cellars. And with my training, I’ve developed a new hobby: pairing wines with fictional characters and stories! Mostly this started as a mnemonic device for me, but I’m having far too much fun. So far, most are tied to as-yet-unpublished works or things I don’t own (I have at least two that are totally Sherlock villains), but when Flame Tree’s Urban Crime comes out, I recommend pairing my story A Father’s Child with our Wolf’s Prairie Red, which is made from cold-weather-friendly hybrids that remind me a lot of the wine I bought in Denmark, and has a subtle, smokey aroma and dry, smooth finish that fits with a good Scandi Noir.

And, though you’d never guess it looking here, I do still paint.


More Inspiration


Just some more inspirational images. This is Petrykivka painting from Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, by Olena Skytsiuk. Not Russian. But in the same ballpark. And we’ll just call them firebirds.

Hey, Not a Romance!

Check out who sold a story to SFWA-recognized professional market Flame Tree Publishing for their upcoming anthology Urban Crime:

Successful Submissions, American Gothic and Urban Crime

A Father’s Child is a murder mystery featuring a detective I very much hope to use again, Anders Kjelsen of the Copenhagen Police. And as you might guess from that, yes, I’d call it Scandi Noir.

Thrilled as I am that I sold a story and actually got paid pro rates for it, it’s even more exciting to see my story sharing page space with names like Arthur Conan Doyle and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I can only assume lighting a candle in Fyodor Mikhailovich’s old neighborhood church must really have worked!


I’ve been working on the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest, and I’m expanding the ghost story I drew for round three. The link above has provided some interesting inspiration. It might just work for a call about ghosts, zombies, and vampires…

From the State Archives of Michigan. A lone house in Central, MI. 

Yes, Another Romance

Yes, this time it’s flash-fiction romance. “Life Plans” features Dr. Erik Schou (the name deserved better than a certain actor’s Peter Schou from Kongekabale) and, ironically given my not-a-blogger status, a blogger named Margaret “Zee” Zielewski. Check it out in Spark Magazine from Splickety Publishing, available at Amazon now.

Cover Image

It’s Here!

A Kiss and a Promise by [Clarke, Charley , Collier, Christine, Keating, Daniel L. , Lowe, Kate, Quail, Jennifer, Schneider, Tricia ]

A Kiss and a Promise – Kindle Edition

The print edition is coming in early October, but for now, you can check out my story “Only Ever Slowly” for Kindle, and six other romances. (For once, I’m not the one with vampires. Or ghosts. Or anything supernatural. Professor Miller of the no-genre creative writing class would be so proud of me.)


I’m Not a Romance Writer

But somehow, that seems to be what sells.

As indicated on my “about” page, I’ve made a couple recent sales. Yes, as in “real editors are paying me real money for things I wrote.”

First, I’m very pleased that Smoking Pen Press LLC purchased my short story “Only Ever Slowly” for their new Read On The Run anthology A Kiss and a Promise. Considering that I wasn’t sure why I was responding to the call for submissions, I don’t consider myself a romance writer, and I set about to subvert or flat-out trample every romance trope I could think of including use of the word “love”, I’m somewhat surprised they liked it. But then again, I think Carl is a rather fun “romantic hero.” He’s fifty-something, a grump who’s deliberately stuck in a rut, and probably suffering from severe depression. Maybe “shut up and drink your coffee, old man” is the new “as you wish.” The story is set in Denmark, a country I’ve now had the pleasure of visiting, and if I were forced to make an elevator pitch for it, I’d probably say “It’s A Man Called Ove meets a Hallmark Channel movie. With baked goods.” (Yes, I know A Man Called Ove is set in Sweden. Went there, too. It’s also nice. Buy the chocolate herring. I take a poke at Swedish accents so it does get a name check.) The anthology is in its final stages before publishing and I put links to the e-book and paperback when they are available.

More recently, Splickety Publishing Group  (Splickety Lit-think about it) has acquired my Flash Fiction piece “Life Plans” for their Spark Magazine November issue “Lab Coats and Love Letters.” Maybe not everyone can find romance in a hospice setting, but hopefully my hero, Dr. Erik Schou, M.D., and burned-out travel blogger Margaret “Zee” Zielewski can make it work. (Even if Erik’s patient, Zee’s Aunt Dodo, has to do some prodding off-screen. And she probably will. When I have more than a thousand words to play with, I think Aunt Dodo’s going to have quite a bit to say.)

If you’re noticing a distinctly Scandinavian-tinged theme to my leading men here . . . well, you’re not wrong. Shut up. Blame casting choices made by people like Dave Filoni and Steven Moffat.

There are some irons in the fire, including two submission calls for steampunk and diesel/decopunk that may have a decidedly Slavic twist. A check of the About page here will show I’ve been visiting some points farther east than Scandinavia (at some point I  may have to do an advice feature on “how to speed-negotiate with street vendors in Saint Petersburg”.) And I do have one other project ongoing, which is strictly not for profit and entirely for fun. If you like Star Wars, Lego, chocolate, and absurdity, visit Angry Lego Thrawn on Facebook for the adventures of an inch-high blue plastic chocoholic manchild and his Lego friends.

So This Villain Thing of Mine

So you might notice I have a decorating theme going on here.  Not pictured: the Sideshow 1/6 Grand Admiral Thrawn or the Gentle Giants mini-bust of same. Needless to say, it’s not really a surprise two of my most common user names on the internet since back in the days of 14kbs dial-up are “TIE Pilot” and “Imperial Girl.”  All of this can be traced back to one particular character, Grand Admiral Thrawn, antagonist of Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars trilogy of novels beginning with Heir to the Empire.  If I look at my characters, whether it’s in fan fic (where Thrawn himself plays a prominent role) or even in “real” books, particularly at characters like Mark Valentine in Strange Roads or Joszef Kiraly in the gaslamp fantasies, it’s not all that hard to see Thrawn’s influence, or that of his partial inspiration, Sherlock Holmes (who may be an unequivocal good guy, but who definitely has his anti-social moments.)   While we all know what Freud would make of my being twelve when I first read Heir on exactly why Thrawn made such an impression, influencing my switch to rooting for the Empire (and I’m not saying he’d be entirely wrong), there’s more to it than just a tall, dark (and blue) bad guy with impeccable manners and a taste for art.

Though in fairness that IS a big part of the appeal.

The reason Thrawn, some depictions of Moriarty, and other ‘cultured’ villains can be appealing to me is because the defining characteristic of these characters is they’re smart.  Sherlock Holmes, one of my favorite abridged-for-young-readers heroes as a recently-learned-to-read tiny kid, was smart first and foremost.  I’m also an enormous fan of John Bellairs, author of the Lewis Barnavelt books (starting with The House With a Clock in Its Walls) and the Johnny Dixon series (The Curse of the Blue Figurine)  in which not only are the kid heroes like Lewis, Rose Rita, Johnny, and Fergie smart, the adult good guys are not just clever but book-smart, often in obscure ways.

Where Thrawn stood out, though, was this was the first real example I had of a villain who wasn’t in it for the evil kicks.  As a little kid of the generation for whom “the sky is blue, the grass is green, Darth Vader is Luke’s father”, I was used to the bad guys being bad because they were bad.  They seemed to want to be mean mostly for fun (which tracked with my general elementary-school experience about people in general, so it worked for a time.)  Heir to the Empire, though, was the first time I was really confronted with a story where the good guys weren’t going to win just because they were, well, good.  Luke, Han, Leia, they’re all still good people, and most (though not all) of their New Republic allies are as well.  But not everyone is ready to jump on the bandwagon, and not because they’re evil.  And to beat Thrawn, they would have to out-think him.

And they couldn’t.

The good guys win basically because of a deus ex machina (a very well-set-up one that makes perfect sense and is even poetic justice, but is still out of left field).  They can’t outsmart the villain.  They don’t luck into him making a fatal error.  He’s just that good.  After a while, Thrawn does eventually cease to be a villain in backstory (go ahead, read the novella Crisis of Faith, remove what few direct reference to Star Wars canon are in it.  You just read a very entertaining sci-fi novella in which there are maybe two humans with speaking roles and in which the good guys happen to be the Empire from Star Wars.)   But even when he is the antagonist, Thrawn is good at what he does.  He makes the good guys work for the win.

As I was pretty young when I read this, it was my first real introduction to the notion of wanting my heroes to earn the win.   And . .. it works for me.  I find many of the cases where I am rooting for the villains are those where the creator seems to assume that as long as the heroes virtue-signal as nice, then any scenario that allows them to win is okay.  Note that  I don’t include Heir to the Empire here.  The good guys earn their victories there.  The best kinds of stories are not those where good triumphs because . . . good.  The best ones are where sometimes, even if it’s rather twisted, the villain might well have a point, and be good at his job, and not be a horrible person, just in opposition to the heroes.  And to beat him or her, they have to be smart.  They have to work for it.  There’s no fun in watching good triumph over evil if evil does half the work for the heroes and left on their own, they’d have trouble managing a chicken-cleaning contest, let alone defeating the villain.

And if you want to go for absolutely evil?  Go for it.  You don’t need to have them ripping the heads off babies, but remember, Darth Vader didn’t give his underlings a stern talking-to when they failed him.  But if they ARE absolutely evil, remember the big question for any character: Why?  I’ll get to that one another time.


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