Art Feed

Sender Unknown: The Woods... Is Live!

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I'm thrilled to announce the launch of my latest game, Sender Unknown: The Woods, a collaboration with Daily Magic Productions. Here's the download link! The game is exclusive to the App Store until Oct. 4.

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Game Details

Through a text message, fate connects you with a total stranger. Now you are Morgan’s only hope to survive. Will you serve as a lifeline, or return to your own life and let a stranger’s fate go unknown?

Four friends are lost deep in the Ozarks, stalked by a madman. With your help, they’ll solve intricate puzzles, make difficult choices, repair their relationships, and save each other’s lives. 

Through text messages and images, you can guide them away from harrowing danger and solve a mystery. Your choices will determine who loves, who lives, and who dies. 

How much will you put on the line for a Sender Unknown?

Daily Magic Productions teamed up with award-winning author and game designer Lisa Brunette to bring you this interactive tale where the choices you make can change everything. Multiple paths through the game give you wildly different results—from romance to exciting twists and reveals to who survives the nightmare.

The game begins when you log onto an anonymous chat app for the first time, and a “sender unknown” reaches out to you—with a life-and-death appeal for help! Alone and lost in the woods, your new chat buddy, Morgan, must escape a broken-down RV surrounded by ravenous wolves. And that’s just problem number one.

Morgan’s friends and insulin supply are missing, and it seems the madman who took them wants to play games through the radio. He has a thing for riddles and traps—human traps, that is. 

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The ability to receive images means you can see the traps for yourself—and help Morgan survive a chilling nightmare!

At every game ending, you have the option to reset to your last defining choice, to the start of the last chapter, or back to the very beginning.

Stats add up as you play, and they can determine whether a choice you make succeeds, or fails.

Can you beat a madman at his own game—without sacrificing anyone? Will you help Morgan uncover the mystery that still haunts these dark woods?

Trailer

Features

  • Choose from 3 options at every decision!
  • Shape the story and build stats in 5 categories. Success or failure depends on your stats!
  • Open beautifully rendered images of crucial scenes and visual puzzles!
  • Engage with the story as it unfolds through real-time notifications!
  • Internet connection not required, and there are no in-app purchases. 

Points of Interest

Total Immersion — A new twist on the “choose your own adventure” genre allows players to become the hero in real time, and react in their own way, on their own terms. Your choices will determine how characters view you—and how the story unfolds. 

Brilliant Story — Lisa Brunette, author of the award-winning Dreamslippers Series and other works, provides her unique narrative vision and writing to craft a pulse-pounding mystery. With Sender Unknown: The Woods, Lisa’s one-of-a-kind talent gives players a down-to-earth and immersive adventure like no other.

Praise for Daily Magic

“The best kind of ghost story, filled with love, money, betrayal, and murder.” - Review of Dark Dimensions: City of Fog, Gamezebo 

“The visuals in Dark Dimensions: Homecoming are simply outstanding…” - All About CasualGame

“Captivating story that really draws you in.” - Review of Sable Maze: Norwich Caves, Gamezebo

Praise for Lisa Brunette

“Brunette’s portrayals… are nothing short of genius.” - Review of the Dreamslippers Series, On My Kindle

 “An enjoyable surprise for fans of the genre.” - Review of debut novel Cat in the Flock, Kirkus Reviews

“A mystery with teeth and wounds and loss.” - Review of Framed and Burning, Readers Lane 

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Product Details

Platform: iOS and Android smartphones/tablets

Genre: mystery / horror / puzzle

Developer: Daily Magic Productions

Release Date: 2017

About Daily Magic Productions

Daily Magic Productions is a dedicated, experienced, and effective international developer with more than 18 high-quality puzzle adventure titles released on PC and mobile platforms. With their no-nonsense approach to development, Daily Magic’s focus is now on delivering the best mobile free-to-play and VR experiences on the world market.

Since 2011 Daily Magic has been a powerhouse of Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure games for Big Fish, releasing several titles a year since their founding. From those experiences and rapid growth Daily Magic has built a strong and highly creative team of artists and developers ready to take on unfamiliar worlds, and build one-of-a-kind experiences.

About Lisa Brunette

Lisa Brunette is an award-winning writer and game designer. All three books in her bestselling Dreamslippers Series have won indieBRAG medallions, and the second book was also named a finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award and nominated for a RONE Award. Brunette’s game-writing credits include hundreds of titles, played by worldwide audiences in the millions, for Big Fish and other publishers. New games Sender Unknown: The Woods and Matchington Mansion both release in 2017. She also has a long list of bylines as a journalist, short-story writer, and poet. Her work has appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle Woman, Poets & Writers, and elsewhere.

A ten-year game industry veteran, Lisa Brunette has been credited on AAA console titles and bestselling mobile and downloadable games. She has worked for Nintendo, Take-2 Interactive’s Cat Daddy Games, and Big Fish, where she led a team of narrative designers. Now independent, her clients include WG Cells, Daily Magic, Magic Tavern, Pixelberry Studios, and G5 Entertainment. She is currently visiting assistant professor of game design at Webster University.


Upcoming Event: Casual Connect Seattle, July 31 - Aug 3

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If you're following me as a fan of the Dreamslippers Series, you've probably noticed I've been slipping more and more of my game writing and designing work into this here blog content. I love writing stories across the two mediums of books and games, and I think writing in both spaces makes me stronger in each.

I promise you that if you enjoyed the Dreamslippers, you'll love my writing in games, too. Case in point, Sender Unknown: The Woods, an interactive novel in the mystery/thriller genre, which releases this summer.

Now, onto the next game-related bit of news: I'm excited to announce I'll be speaking at Casual Connect Seattle at the end of this month as part of the 21st Century Leadership & Power in Diversity Symposium, which kicks off the conference on July 31. The symposium was organized by Women in Games and Contagious Creativity in conjunction with the Casual Games Association's United in Diversity Initiative. It's a full day to explore topics in diversity, leadership, and professional growth in the video game and digital media industries.

 My talk focuses on "Indie Pioneers! The Path Less Traveled." I will discuss the ins and outs of transitioning from leadership at a major game publisher to fending for myself as an indie writer and game designer. Lindsay Peck from Imagos Softworks and Robin Hunicke of Funomena will join me on the panel. (Lindsay might be a ghost, though):

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Casual Connect is the major industry conference for casual games, offering "inspiration from the most respected thought leaders in the games industry." I'm one of 250 speakers over 9 tracks representing the leaders in the next generation of games. Studios represented include makers of your favorite casual games: Candy Crush, Cooking Dash, Kim Kardashian Hollywood, Wheel of Fortune, Bejeweled, any of the HOPA titles you've played from Big Fish, and more. That means people will be there from Playtika, Glu, King, Scopely, FlowPlay, GSN Games, Viveport, Resolution Games, ConveneVR, SkyDance Interactive, Against Gravity, and of course, my one-person studio, Sky Harbor. Here's my speaker bio, by the way.

If you're attending the con, please stop by the panel, or feel free to reach out to me by email using this handy link. I'd love to meet up with you. Otherwise, wish me luck!

 

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How to Embrace Your Dark Side Without Getting Lost

 

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From the Ghetto Tarot by Alice Smeets.

I begin most days by drawing a tarot card. It's part of my spiritual practice to think about the current challenge or lesson and draw a card that, when it's all working well, gives me insight. One day last week, I drew The Devil.

This can be an alarming card to have pop up in a reading, thanks to the bad rap the hooved one gets in Christian-influenced culture. I'm many decades away from the colorful images of El Diablo that illustrated my Catholic children's bible, and it still gives me pause. These days, I see the world less in terms of good vs. evil and as more of a continuum. But The Devil in a one-card reading is cause to sit up and pay attention nonetheless.

The deck I currently use is the Ghetto Tarot, created by talented photographer Alice Smeets, who based it on the 1909 work of another artist, Pamela Colman-Smith. There's a lot to love about Ghetto Tarot. First, it's a photographic representation of each card in the traditional deck, of which most people are familiar, and set entirely in the Haitian ghetto. The images are stunning and powerful, showing how the themes in the traditional deck resonate well in a culture outside that tradition. Second, this deck uniquely embraces the darker side of the tarot. Smeets offers her argument:

We tend to concentrate on the light aspects of the seemingly more positive cards and are afraid of the apparently negative cards such as Death, the Devil, and the Tower ... That's because we are conditioned by our society, our parents, and our teachers to categorize the negative as bad, instead of helpful. Many of us fear pain instead of welcoming it. But every negative situation is an opportunity to grow and learn, while every positive situation has the potential to spin out of control.

The deck plays on "shadow" as well as "light," with each card in the deck possessing both sides. The Devil's shadow side can be "acting against your convictions." The "light" is "finding and accepting your dark side." 

Drawing The Devil would have been reason enough for me to mull over the idea of finding and accepting my dark side, but sometimes the Divine hits you over the head with things that seem to have extra importance.

The same day I drew The Devil, I went to the library to pick up a book I'd requested through interlibrary loan. I had learned of the book from a review and either hadn't seen or didn't remember the cover, which is this:

  Generation of Sociopaths cover

Yeah, I know. Pretty interesting coincidence. The book is a provocative read, all right, challenging everything I've believed about my parents' generation. Maybe that was the lesson of the day: To go there, to push my thinking into a dark place again. The book sort of chose me, along with a few others on class in society--after this in my stack are White Trash and Poor But Proud. It's all research for an in-progress novel based on a real-life murder.

My previous work is a lot of light: the Dreamslippers Series. Back in 2012 when I began to write those stories, I started to take my first book in a darker direction, and the result is that I relapsed into PTSD nightmares, which I'd been free of for some time. So I backed away from that and wrote a cozy-ish series about a 70-something yogi named Amazing Grace instead.

But of course, some of the darkness seeped in. It's called conflict, and you can't have a story without it, especially if your sleuths are solving murders. Besides murder, I also tackled anti-gay violence, racism, murderous jealousy, BDSM, child pornography, and incest. So, yeah. Even when I've got my head turned toward the light, the darkness fringes. At the corners, at least.

I'd been content to relegate it to the edges. But this Devil showing up in my life with such force made me wonder. A recent bout of writer's block specific to the aforementioned novel-in-progress came to mind. Maybe the block had to do with suppressing the dark side? Not wanting to go where I sense this story will make me go? And if I had any doubt, scanning through my email the same day of the two devil-related incidents above dispelled it, as one subject line in particular jumped out at me:

Writer, give in to your dark side

The email came from one of my favorite follows, Colleen M. Story's Writing and Wellness Blog. And lo and behold, the entire newsletter was devoted to this "dark side" issue, and specifically for writers. The articles? Here you go:

 The email was illustrated with another devil:

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At this point, I'm like, OK, OK! Dark side! Got it! Thanks, Spirit! Paying attention now, I promise!

But ugh.

Didn't I already know this? 

Over the winter, my stepson turned us onto a movie he loved called Inside Out. It's a Pixar animated film, brilliantly done, and the gist of it is that [spoiler alert] the character you think is the hero, the one who's relentlessly positive, actually turns out to be the villain. At least of a kind. The movie does a remarkable job of illustrating how terrifically bad it is to suppress feelings because they're "negative." The filmmakers consulted psychologists in making the film. I highly recommend it for anyone who's convinced--or is tired of those who are convinced--that positivity is the only way to go, all the time. You're welcome.

There's a real benefit to healthy expressions of negativity. If someone's wronged or harmed you, swallowing your anger or outrage could actually make you feel complicit in their act, an enabler to your own victimization. Denial, sugar-coating the truth, false positivity--none of these things serve us well. 

But there's a balance to it.

One of many dead manuscripts I have in a drawer is something I finished back in 2007 called Meat: A Memoir. I gave it to the agent I had at the time, and, based on the title, she had high hopes. (She described me at a party once as "very talented and very intense.") She loved the short story collection she was then shopping around to publishers. But Meat? "I couldn't get through it," she told me.

It was all darkness, with very little light.

So that's my challenge, as both a writer and a human being.  To integrate my shadow and light sides, to allow them to coexist without judgment, suppression, or imbalance.

But how do you do that? Here are five ways I strike the balance:

  1. Be honest about your feelings. This starts with your own awareness: If something's bothering you, check in to see what exactly it is. Take a moment to get present; close your eyes; see what bubbles up. Writing can be a very powerful discovery tool as well. Sometimes I'll free-write about my project if I've got writer's block. This story is difficult right now because...
  2. Don't guilt or shame yourself into forced happiness. It's OK to feel angry, disappointed, sad, depressed... feel all the feelings. A spiritual leader I know once advised that sometimes, lying on the couch and sucking your thumb is exactly the right response to the situation. This goes for fictional characters, too. My best writing comes when I "torture" my characters and let them respond in very human ways.
  3. Don't guilt or shame yourself into silence. Talking about the darkness can help bring it into the light. I once had a writing teacher say that Shakespeare's work continues to resonate to this day because most of the characters are speaking at moments of high crisis. This is where the best fiction lies.
  4. Don't let anyone else guilt or shame you into silence. Whenever I get to the point where I feel someone is just not capable of hearing me, I stop the conversation and find other ways to express myself. Truths can be uncomfortable, and when they threaten status quo, there can be a tendency to silence the truth-bearer. But silencing someone is a power play that comes from insecurity. This goes for writing groups, too. If someone's critiquing your work in a way that feels silencing, it might be time to reevaluate whether the critique is constructive or even helpful.
  5. Don't wallow. If you find you've been wading in the darkness for some time, and you're far past the point of gaining insight from it, then it's time to get up off the couch and rejoin the world. But even then, don't do the things people want you to do but rather what brings you happiness. That goes for the writing, too. Like my dead manuscript example above, an all-dark world doesn't actually make for good storytelling. Without the victory, conflict can feel relentless and suffocating. 

What it comes down to is your shadow side and your dark side actually need each other.

Thanks to Alice Smeets for her lovely Ghetto Tarot and Colleen M. Story for her insightful essays. I hope you'll check out their work.

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The Woman Behind My Book Covers: Monika Younger

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This week on the blog I've interviewed Monika Younger. Monika designed the book covers for all three of the Dreamslippers Series novels and the poetry collection Broom of Anger. She's a joy to work with, and I've loved every single one of her designs. A professional book-cover designer with more than ten years of experience designing for the major North American publisher Harlequin, she also designs covers for indie authors. 

Lisa: You've designed covers for Harlequin, including their mystery line. How did you get started with that, and what's it like to design for that publisher in particular? Also, please share one of your favorite cover designs for Harlequin.

Monika: The mystery line I design for is called Worldwide Mystery. Worldwide Mystery is an imprint owned by Harlequin (now Harlequin/Harper Collins). I started with the publisher in 2003 when I was hired as a full-time designer in their art department. I worked for Harlequin in-house for two years designing covers for their series books (Harlequin Romance, Harlequin Presents, Intrigue, etc.) and single-title books (MIRA, HQN). In 2005 I started freelancing and retained Harlequin as my client. I work with several art directors there, and they are all amazing people to work with. Freelancing work with Harlequin is now mainly focused on Carina Press (their digital line, which covers several genres) and Worldwide Mystery. 

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One of my favorite recent mysteries (which I designed) is Brooklyn Bones. For this title, I was given more flexibility to experiment with a new look for the author. It was a fun project to work on, which took me away from the usual photographic style.
 
Lisa: Tell me how you approach working with authors. You send us a questionnaire before you begin designing our covers. Why is that an important step?
 
Monika: To represent a story meaningfully and accurately on the cover, I need to be very familiar with it. And since I cannot read all the books I design covers for (I would be reading more than designing), I have to get as much information from the author as possible--a summary of the novel, character descriptions, setting descriptions, important visual elements, themes and meanings, etc. All this helps me to figure out what is the best approach for the cover design. Once I get as much information as I feel I need, I come up with two or three cover layout options to present to the author. Usually one of the selections is approved with or without further revisions. After the front cover is approved, I design the back cover and spine to complete the book jacket. 
 
Lisa: I get compliments on the covers you designed for the Dreamslippers Series all the time. What was your goal in designing these covers? Do you have a favorite of the three? Or is Broom of Anger your favorite? How was that project different for you?
 
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Monika: Thank you. I think Bound to the Truth is my favorite. The symbolism on that cover is very powerful to me. I absolutely love it.  
 
Broom of Anger was one of my all-time favorite projects. It was my first non-fiction (poetry) cover, and I had a lot of fun with it. As you know, there were many versions considered before the final was selected, and they were all fun to do. I don’t know how else to describe it but “fun.” I enjoy designing covers--playing around with graphic elements, photography, typography--and having it all come together on the screen is sometimes still magic to me.
 
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Lisa: What other work do you do? What's your background?
 
Monika: In the last couple of years, I have been focusing on book-cover design, as it is my favorite area of design, but my training/education is in graphic design, so I can design anything from business cards to billboards and logos. I studied Graphic Design at Conestoga College. Previous to Harlequin, I worked full-time for a greeting card company and a full-service marketing firm in Mississauga.
 
Lisa: What do you enjoy about book cover design? What makes it special?
 
Monika: Books/novels/stories are interesting, compelling, and inspiring--and the cover has to reflect those elements. I love coming up with ideas and answering the question, "How can this story be represented visually so it will compel the audience to select it/engage with it?" It's a fun puzzle to solve. I love combing through stock photography web sites, font web sites, dissecting and altering images in Photoshop--I enjoy everything about it.
 
Learn more about Monika Younger's work at www.youngerbookdesign.com.
 

Dreamslippers Trilogy

 

Rave Reviews, an Interview, and More in the Boxed Set Blog Tour!

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The Dreamslippers Series Boxed Set + Bonus Story released in February. With this release, I decided to focus on an online, or "virtual" tour, since the boxed set is only available on ebook. I'm also happily slammed with game-writing projects this year and already had a commitment to speak at the Associated Writing Programs conference in D.C. around the date of the launch.

This time we included a giveaway, and 83 people signed up to win copies of all three novels in paperback, ebook, and audiobook, as well as the boxed set. Congrats to the winners!

The tour had three components: reviews, an interview, and spotlights.

Reviews

While not all book bloggers assign star ratings to the books they review, several on this tour did, with three coming in with 5-star reviews. The first one, for Framed and Burning, book two in the series, came from Anteria Writes:

Each character sees their dreamslipping ability as something different. Mitch could care less, Cat sees it as a curse that gets people killed, and Grace sees and uses it as a gift. Cat is the great-niece of Mitch, granddaughter to Grace. She is, of course, the youngest and least experienced using the dreamslipping and has had the worst experience with her gift, blaming it for the death of her childhood sweetheart. Mitch and Grace are siblings. They’ve each made their way in life, using their talents, natural and supernatural. And those talents have brought good and bad things to each of them.

Along with success we find jealousy, loathing, contempt….Mitch has the idea that there is plenty of room in the world for all art. But humans are inherently competitive and greedy. So they try to take down Mitch in his prime, but he wins out, becoming a coveted artist. Thus, begins the journey to find an accidental killer.

The story is woven perfectly to tell each person’s story in that person’s personality. We have the seriousness in Cat’s narratives, the eccentricity and grounding in Grace’s, and the disjointed, emotional feel of Mitch.

The nominations and awards this book has received were well-deserved.

The second 5-star review came from The Book Adventures of Emily, which has hosted the series in the past:

Cat in the Flock is super awesome! There is so much mystery and suspense! I've posted spotlights of this series, and it always piqued my interest. The dreamslippers are so amazing; I can't describe how much they fascinate me. Cat McCormick is such a great main character. She isn't cliche or confusing; she gets straight to the point, and I love following her on this road of mystery. The overall writing style of Cat in the Flock is super straight forward and enjoyable! I can really see the care and effort Ms. Brunette put into this book, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Another reviewer, Book Fidelity, praised the book for the portrayal of recent college grad Cat McCormick as well:

Through some fantastic storytelling, we are plunged into this world of dreams and curiosity. Cat is wonderful and real in that she makes mistakes, but keeps moving forward. Also, the idea of detective work including psychic abilities is just plain awesome. I definitely recommend this book (and series) for fans of Kelley Armstrong, Patricia Brigs, and Karen Marie Moning. 

The blogger at Rosepoint Publishing gave the book 4 out of 5 stars and acknowledged, "Guessing whodunit isn’t so difficult. It’s how the protagonist gets us there, the maturity of her dreamslipping powers, and the peripheral characters that adds to an overall enjoyable read."

The most exciting 5-star review came from J Bronder Reviews, who has now posted on all three books in the series. The blogger writes, "This is a great series and one that I strongly recommend. I loved all three books and can’t wait to see what happens next."

Interview

I was happy to meet a new book blogger on this tour in Reeca's Pieces. The name of her blog made me smile, and I shared this anecdote with her: Back in grad school when I was studying for my MFA in fiction, I used to write short "flash" fiction pieces that would appear in between the longer stories in my short story collection. My classmates called these "Lisa's Pieces."

Reeca asked great questions about the inspiration for the series, which is not one thing but many. Here's the first: 

I read a lot of supernatural and psychic mysteries and interviewed four of Seattle’s top writers in the genre for Seattle Woman magazine. I was also a huge fan of the TV series Medium; I loved how psychic visions came to the protagonist in her dreams. I’ve always been an active dreamer and for many years suffered from PTSD-related nightmares, so dreams have held great significance for me.

Read the rest of the interview on Reeca's blog.

Spotlights

Three bloggers posted spotlights for the tour, including the link to the giveaway. A shout-out to The Paperback Princess; Books, Dreams, Life; and again, J Bronder Reviews.

A huge thank you to Sage's Blog Tours for hosting and to the book bloggers who give generously of their time, effort, and opinion to tell their readers about the books they love.

Buy links and details for the Boxed Set + Bonus Story are here. If you've read every book in the series, please take the time to review the boxed set online. I could really use the reviews to get the boxed set in front of more readers. Thank you!

Also, for those of you who are fans of the series, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. If I continue to write the series, what would you like to see? Tell me if there's a particular character you're most interested in, any questions you have, and so on. If you've read the bonus story in the boxed set, I'd be interested in knowing if you'd like to read a whole novel devoted to Amazing Grace's early years.


New Release! Blog Tour! The Dreamslippers Series Boxed Set

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It's happened. The entire Dreamslippers Series is out in the world as one tome.

That's all three novels in one fat ebook.* PLUS a bonus novella "prequel" that explores Amazing Grace's past.

The series centers on the question, "What if you could slip into the dreams of a killer?" This family of PIs can, but that isn't easy.

In Cat in the Flock, the first book, readers meet apprentice dreamslipper Cat McCormick, who moves to Seattle from the Midwest so she can train with her Grandmother Grace. The septuagenarian trailblazer is a dreamslipping pro, having used it to solve crimes as a PI. But Cat gets more than she bargained for as Grace puts her through her New Age paces, with yoga and meditation on the agenda. However, Cat gets drawn back to the Midwest when she discovers a prominent church leader stalking a woman and girl on the run.                                     

In book two, Framed and Burning, Grace pops for a trip to Miami to visit her brother Mick for Art Basel, which should also lift Cat's spirits. But when Mick's studio goes up in flames, and he won't give an alibi, the dreamslippers must defend one of their own.

The third book, Bound to the Truth, takes place in Seattle, with all three dreamslippers under one roof. An up-and-coming architect is found dead, and her wife Robin thinks she knows who did it. But Cat and Grace aren't sure they can trust the grieving widow's claims.

Included in the ebook boxed set is a bonus novella that answers key questions readers have asked about Amazing Grace: How did she get her name? What happened when her daughter Mercy was born? And did Grace really go undercover inside a cult?
 
The first two books won the indieBRAG medallion, and the second book was a finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award and a RONE Award nominee.
 
All three novels are for sale in print locally (near me) at Book ’n’ Brush in Chehalis, and the ebooks are available everywhere ebooks are sold, for any device. 

Buy Links:

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Look for giveaways, guest posts, and more all this week for the blog tour! Free ebooks, audiobooks, and paperbacks to the winners. Here's the first tour stop.

And here's the full tour schedule.

*The ebook clocks in at 262,920 words.  


Sex-Positive Research for Sexy Mystery 'Bound to the Truth'

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The Armory. 

 In case you missed it, the third book in the Dreamslippers Series has a sexy theme. Cat and Granny Grace must find out who killed up-and-coming architect Nina Howell. Her wife is convinced a libertarian talk show host is the murderer. Following the clues takes the dreamslippers into what in another novel might be labeled Seattle's "perverted dungeon" or "dark underbelly."

 But not in Bound to the Truth. After a decade in Seattle and a lifetime studying human behavior, my position is that there isn't anything inherently dark or perverted about sex. And by sex, I mean the activity engaged in between two consenting adults that may or may not have anything to do with procreation but could include any number of "kinky" behaviors. Spoiler alert: Through the course of the novel, Cat explores a shop selling bondage gear, she and her grandmother go undercover in a sex club, and several characters confer on lingerie and sex toys.

 Readers of the series will know this is not shocking new territory for me. As I've said on social media, book one was about religion and sex, book two art and sex, and book three politics and sex. Septuagenarian heroine Amazing Grace is sexually active and forthright about her trysts; twentysomething Cat is exploring her sexuality as a new adult. These women own their desires and act on them, apologizing to exactly no one.

 HUGE CAVEAT: The sex scenes happen mostly off-screen. This is NOT erotica. This is NOT porn. Sorry to disappoint you. Now, continuing on with the discussion...

 Readers of the blog know I've been highly critical of Fifty Shades of Grey, which utterly fails because rather than challenging its audience in any way, it allows readers/viewers to preserve their judgmental prejudices against the kink world and the presumed "broken" people who inhabit it. They can naughtily dip a toe into the world but then ultimately reject it, just as the vanilla protagonist does. With Bound to the Truth, I wanted to treat kinky people with the respect they deserve, rendering a realism that I hope not only transcends cliché and judgment but results in fully developed characters and concerns. 

 While Fifty Shades served as a sort of negative inspiration, and my writing on this book started as a reaction against it, here's a peep show of my research sources for this book, all positive inspirations.

 News flash to any Emerald City resident who hasn't discovered this yet, but when Cat observes in Bound to the Truth that "Seattleites as a population must quietly be getting their freak on in the bedroom 24/7," that comes from first-hand experience. Enter the city's decidedly online dating scene for two seconds, yes, even as a middle-aged divorcée as I was, and you're immediately barraged with a cornucopia of kinky come-ons. After thirteen years straight of committed monogamy, it was eye-opening, to say the least. If you have single friends who are also dating, you compare notes and see the same. 

 I owe a debt of gratitude to Savage Love syndicated columnist Dan Savage, who not only writes intelligently, compassionately, and wittily on the subject of sex but also launched a brilliantly curated alternative porn film fest. I've attended a couple of Hump Fests, which seemed to both sell out, and I highly recommend them.

 When I wrote as a freelancer for several Seattle publications, I had the opportunity to interview University of Washington sex expert Dr. Pepper Schwartz. A well-respected academic with a long list of accomplishments, the occasion for my interview with her was the publication of her tell-all memoir, which chronicled her experiences entering the dating pool post-50. As you can see from my choice of subject matter and character, Dr. Pepper had an influence. The piece was one of my most popular, too. Originally published in Seattle Woman magazine, it was linked to by Crosscut, where it was in the top ten for traffic that year.

 While I never joined a sex club, I did talk with people who have, and I also toured The Armory in San Francisco. You might recognize the signature building in the image at the top of this post. The Armory is a sort of castle of kink. Tours are open to the public, and knowledgeable guides wearing nothing sexier than street clothes will lead you through many a porn set. The building itself is worth the price of admission even if you profess a distaste for porn; the Moorish castle was completed in 1914, with much of the stone staircases, wainscoting, and impressive corridors intact, not to mention access to an underground cave, Mission Creek running below the structure.

 I also toured the Erotic Museum of Barcelona, but who wouldn't do that on her honeymoon?

 The drag and burlesque communities deserve credit for shaping my thinking on sex. In Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, you can catch first-rate live shows in which respectful, supportive audiences embrace a diverse spectrum of lovely people on stage in various states of dress, dancing in a variety of suggestive ways. Most notably for me is Seattle's Nerdlesque. In fact, I'm still pondering my affection for and confusion over "burlesque Carl Sagan." Affection because he was one of my childhood nerd crushes. Confusion because I'm not attracted to women, but this gal was a dead ringer for my beloved astronomer, so...

 I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Laura Antoniou's mystery set in the middle of a kink convention, The Killer Wore Leather. And Seattle's sex-positive culture in general for its art shows, film screenings, articles, workshops, and overall work toward making sex something that can be talked about without stigma, shame, and danger. If we could free ourselves from those chains, then the ones some people put on just for fun become simply that.

 I hope you enjoy Bound to the Truth. You can pre-order it, and Amazon will magically deliver it to your Kindle on the day of release. Or Barnes & Noble will mystically transport it to your Nook. Or, or, or...

 Now tell me what you think of all this in the comments! What turns you on? I mean in terms of literature, people.

 


Why I Write What I Write: Going Against Violence Porn and Magic Mush

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 One of the aspects of the mystery genre I appreciate least is the trope of violence against women. It's most obvious in the standard formula opening: A woman found dead, usually in an alley, maybe even a Dumpster. Sometimes she's nude, or in some state of undress. Usually, there's evidence of sexual assault. Often, she's a prostitute.

 When I sat down to write my first novel, I chose the mystery genre with the express intent not to perpetuate this scenario. I didn't want to read about yet another woman's body in an alley, and I certainly wouldn't write about one. Now, two years after I released my first novel, the question takes on even greater meaning, as a probable real-life rapist was caught with his female victim, in an alley even, and nonetheless let off easy. 

 This isn't just politics, though. This is overall a craft concern. Writing cliches is boring work for the writer, and I would expect it to be a boring experience for readers, too. 

 I'm not saying writers shouldn't write--and readers shouldn't read--books with graphic violence in them, or that depict female victims. My books tackle sensitive, potentially trigger-inducing subjects: sexual repression, gay self-hatred, child-rape pornography, incest. But I went to great lengths not to glorify or portray these scenes and subjects gratuitously. I didn't want or need to contribute to the world's repository of violence porn.

 The line, admittedly, isn't always right there in black and white, a complexity I explore in Framed and Burning:

And there she was, in triplicate. His wan heroine, his redheaded lady-child. She wasn’t yet eighteen, as he’d tried to capture in the budding quality of her breasts under a white tank top. She had an unnatural thinness about her as well, as if slightly malnourished. The whole time he’d painted her, he felt as if he wanted to save her. That was the attempt in painting her, to save her and rid himself of her haunting eyes at the same time. But he felt strongly now that he had failed. And in his failure, he’d simply failed her.

 Mick, like the female members of his family, is a dreamslipper: He possesses the psychic ability to pick up other people's dreams. But while his sister and niece use the ability to solve crimes, Mick uses dreams as inspiration for his art. He reflects on the morality of this:

In the quiet of his studio, Mick walked over to the unfinished painting that was inspired by that dream of Cat’s. He remembered the shock on her face when she saw it. So much trouble, he thought. He reprimanded himself for what suddenly amounted to cheating, taking others’ ideas and making them his own in his art. Was it ethical? He thought about Candace telling him basically to butt out of her dreams. And he thought of the haunting look in the girl’s eyes in the triptych. And of his own limitations, just now with Rose.

Mick picked up a large brush, dipped it into a can of black paint, and crossed out the painting. Then he began to fill in with black everywhere the cross lines weren’t. Soon, he’d covered the canvas in nothing but black. The painting was gone.

 In Bound to the Truth, the third book in the trilogy, the female victim is found dead in a hotel room, bound and gagged. While beginning with, and lingering on, the image of her dead body would arguably have given me a reliable commercial hook, I resisted it. For me it was more important for readers to come to know and care about the woman who becomes the so-called "vic." So many hardboiled cop show characters shorten the word victim to further depersonalize. This is supposed to be part of their character development, something they do in order to desensitize themselves to the work that no one wants to do. But still. Every "vic" becomes an abstract, a sea of female parts in an alley. To be grabbed, laughed over, brutalized.

***

 The other perhaps curious choice I made with the quirky, cozy/suspense mashup that is the Dreamslippers Series has to do with magic.

 These stories tackle the supernatural in a very realistic, modern way. My grandmother-granddaughter PI duo don't carry guns; they solve crimes using their ability to slip into suspects' dreams, supplemented by a host of New Age practices, not to mention tried-and-true investigative work. 

 I'd read books in which amateur sleuths with psychic abilities snap their fingers to unlock doors but somehow don't sense when the killer is following them. As a reader, these contradictions seem silly and frustrating. They're magic mush. I like to think stranger things truly do exist, but if they are there, they're subtle, unreliable, and decidedly unfocused. So I imagined what it would be like to have a psychic ability that functioned according to real-world rules, acknowledged here in a scene from Bound to the Truth:

Grace flashed on the silly ninja clown, and it gave her an idea. “Is there a way you can get close enough to the Waters’s home to dreamslip with Sam?”

“I don’t know, Gran. I’ve thought about it. The security is pretty tight out there. Unlike some of the other cases we’ve had, I’m not sure Mercer Island is the kind of place where you can get away with sleeping in a car out on the street. There’s also the possibility that I might pick up his kids’ dreams instead, or his wife’s.”

“Remember what I taught you about popping out of dreams you don’t want to be in, and of connecting with your target.”

“Yes,” said Cat. “But this super hero power of ours sure has its limitations..."

 Cat does find a way to slip into this suspects' dreams, putting herself in a precarious spot in the process. Throughout the series, dreams help the duo solve three murders and bust a child-rape pornography ring. The dreams are helpful both for what they tell us about the villains--and for what they don't tell us.

 These books haven't made me the next J.K. Rowling, though I'm grateful for and proud of the accolades, the numerous 5-star reviews, and the award noms. I know from my years at the story helm of a game-publishing company that there's often a disconnect between what the audience complains about and asks for and what they actually purchase. All I can do is keep developing my craft for a blend of commercial technique and groundbreaking newnesses that pushes the envelop and attracts a larger audience. Because the biggest lesson from the game industry for me is this: If the games don't sell, we all go home. 

 Buy the books.

 Review the books.

 Follow me.

 Photo credit: Lisa Brunette.


'Framed and Burning' Named indieBRAG Honoree

Small brag medallion transparent

Those of you with a copy of Cat in the Flock probably noticed this gold seal of approval on the cover. In the indie publishing world, the medallion is a tremendous honor, as it's given to only 10-15% of books submitted and marks a book of high quality and contribution. I've been on pins-and-needles since submitting Framed and Burning to the same scrutiny a few months ago, and I'm happy to report that it, too, will receive the medallion.

Yep, that means that both books in the Dreamslippers Series are indieBRAG honorees.

The medallions are awarded based on an initial screening and then review by a team of readers chosen from a global pool. Authors who submit their books have no guarantee of receiving a medallion, and whether chosen or not, they receive a "report card" showing how their book scored according to set criteria. You can read about the Book Readers Appreciation Group process here, and here's the honoree listing for Cat in the Flock

 


A Hotel for Geeks, Complete with Joystick Sink!

Modular

Last week my husband and I took a short trip to Walla Walla and stayed in a hotel room that at first felt to me like stepping into an airplane in the 1960s. The furniture is built-in, curved, and modular. Case in point: The microwave is behind this abstract cupboard (above pic). Then I realized this is a safety feature: Everything is attached to everything else, so even if you wanted to steal the beside-the-bed lights, you couldn't, as they are built into the cabinets.

But THEN I realized the hotel was actually designed with nerds in mind. Behold, the sink handle is a joystick!

Joystick

Also, this is definitely a Lego toilet.

Legotoilet

 That is all. Oh, if you're planning a trip to W2, and this looks fun to you, the hotel is the Courtyard Marriott. We went because the man had a business meeting, so we got the government rate, but I suspect it's pretty pricey otherwise. On that note, is it becoming impossible to travel now? I mean, who can afford a couple hundred a night for a hotel? I don't know what I'd do without Airbnb.

 

 


Introducing: Our New Press Logo

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We have a new logo for our publishing imprint, and this is it. It already appears in the Dreamslippers Series ebooks everywhere and will soon appear in the print versions, too. Here it is on the Framed and Burning paperback cover:

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...And here it is in black:

SKY-HARBOR-LOGO-black-web

We're quite pleased with the design, done by Monika Younger, who also designed the book covers for the Dreamslippers Series and Broom of Anger. She's super creative and fantastic to work with. I highly recommend her.

The significance of the logo is... Well, if it's done its job, that should be apparent. To me it captures the escape and freedom readers can find in books.

 Happy Wednesday!

 

 


'Framed and Burning' Was Nominated for a RONE Award - Please Vote for It to Win

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Recently I was notified that my novel Framed and Burning has been nominated for the prestigious RONE award, which recognizes the best of indie and small press published books in 2015. There are three rounds to determine a winner: 1) selection by reviewers, which is how I was nominated, 2) votes by readers to choose finalists, and 3) of the finalists, judges select the winner. 

Number 2 there is where you come in. Voting kicks off tomorrow! Yes, that's right. Monday, May 16. You have just this week to enter your vote. The polls close Sunday, May 22.

How do you vote? Simple:

  • Go to this page.
  • Register for the web site. If you love books, you'll want to do this anyway, as InD'tale is a great resource. But don't worry; you can set your own notices, etc. 
  • Note that you'll get a confirmation email after registering, and once you click that link, then you can vote.
  • Find "Lisa Brunette - Framed and Burning" under the category for Mysteries on that page link I gave you earlier, and check the box next to it to enter your vote.

If you're new to the Dreamslippers Series, you can read more about Framed and Burning here and the first book in the series, Cat in the Flock, here.

According to the award hosts, here's what winning means:

We at InD’tale Magazine have put in an incredible amount of time and effort to create and present the most credible and prestigious award in the industry today. Our three-round system of elimination covers every facet - highly reviewed, loved by fans, and critiqued by qualified judges. No other award system today compares, making the RONE award the very highest of honors bestowed on a novel in the publishing industry.

So, yeah, this is a pretty big deal. Please take a few minutes to vote. And thank you for doing so!


Guest Poet: Nancy Slavin, Author of Oregon Pacific #FridayPoetry

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Nancy Slavin, Author of Oregon Pacific

Today I'm thrilled to have a guest poet on the blog, Nancy Slavin, who indie-published her collection last year under the Bay City Books label. She's detailed her decision on this, including the costs to print the books herself, in the post "What You Love Has Value." It's a story that resonated with me since my own poetry publication is 100% a labor of love. Reading the exquisite poems in Oregon Pacific, I can't help but wonder at the voices we lose with so few opportunities for poets like Nancy. Working with traditional forms such as the sonnet, sestina, and ode, she calls to mind both the subtle and dramatic rhythms of the Northwest coast, a place where "the foghorn alone has discipline."

Here's a sample poem from the collection.

Fireweed 

– for Angela 

You are a new soul 

sprouted like a seedling 

that for eons wind has blown 

on white fluffy wings. 

Abandoned on earth 

bereft of your home, 

left only the hurt 

of blood-red rhizomes 

rooting in plots 

of industrial waste. 

You wonder if this lot 

is a perennial mistake. 

For the ache of your body 

stretched toward the sun 

with primroses budding 

positively burns. 

But all around, each hour, 

more are being captured. 

Bright pink flowers 

swell into capsules 

which, in spite of fear, 

by the light on which they feed 

open to the air 

millions of angelic seeds.

Oregon Pacific front cvr.no spine

You can purchase a print copy of Oregon Pacific through Nancy's Web site, and she will send you a signed book if you do.

Nancy and I met in an online writing community and have been each other's editing coaches for the past few months. I value her feedback on my early drafts and pitches. In addition to Oregon Pacific, she's also authored a novel, Moorings, which won the first place prize for the Nina Mae Kellogg Award for Graduate Fiction at Portland State University. She is an English teacher and violence prevention educator who lived on the Oregon coast for twenty-plus years.


I'm Speaking at U of Florida's Digital Worlds Institute

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I was invited to participate in this summit on digital entrepreneurship, which is pretty damn cool. That week I'll be a guest lecturer in a digital design class (I've done this once before, remotely), a speaker at the summit itself, and a judge of student work at the salon. Here are the summit details:

International Digital Entrepreneurship Association Summit (IDEAS)

Presented at the University of Florida Digital Worlds Institute’s Research, Education and Visualization Environment (REVE) - March 25th, 2016, 9:30AM-5:00PM

Come join us for an amazing day of exploration & innovation with premiere guest speakers from around the world.

IDEAS is an inspirational event offering a day of learning how to succeed in the digital media business landscape. This one-day summit promotes the confluence of traditional entrepreneurship and new technologies, with an emphasis on new business forms and the opportunities created by these technologies. Guest panelists — academic and real-world practitioners — will link theory and practice, in a dialogue with participants, as they share their innovative stories, techniques, and ideas that have established them as leaders in their respective fields and industries.

Event page:  https://www.facebook.com/events/973184246099902/
Contact info:  
marko@digitalworlds.ufl.edu

The event is free but RSVP’s are required: rsvp@digitalworlds.ufl.edu

Event schedule, March 25th:

  • 9:30AM to 10:00AM – Coffee and registration
  • 10:00AM to 10:50AM – Key note (Ofer Zinger)
  • 11:00AM to 11:50AM – Panel discussion 
  • 12:00PM to 12:50PM - Guest speaker presentation (Nestor Gil)
  • 1:00PM to 2:00PM – Lunch
  • 2:00PM to 2:50PM – Guest speaker presentation (Lisa Brunette)
  • 3:00PM to 3:50PM - Guest speaker presentation (D.A. Jackson)
  • 4:00PM to 4:50PM- Guest speaker presentation (Taqi Shaheen)

Guest Speakers:

Ofer Zinger, Entrepreneurship - Hands-On

Being an entrepreneur is exciting, however, extremely risky;  more than 90% of the startups fail.  As a serial entrepreneur in the digital space, Mr. Zinger will cover the common pitfalls as well as the shortcuts to startup success that are often missing from standard textbooks, using real life hands-on examples.

Ofer Zinger has founded several companies in the digital space such as TLV Media, Dynamic Yield, Cedato, Ilivid (Acquired), Bundlore (Acquired) and others. Consultative to the Israeli Intelligence (8200), IAF, Iron dome project, and various companies in homeland security and medical devices sectors. Ofer Zinger is currently the Chairman of Feature Forward, a programmatic video advertising platform.  (https://www.linkedin.com/in/oferzinger

Lisa Brunette, Crafting Games for a Mainstream Audience
The current market is flooded with mid-core games targeted toward a male audience aged 18-35, while the audiences outside that demographic remain underserved. Learn how to craft game stories for women, older players of all gender identifications, and children in this talk from a recognized expert in premium casual storytelling.

Lisa Brunette has story design and writing credits in hundreds of bestselling video games, including the Mystery Case Files, Mystery Trackers, and Dark Tales series for Big Fish and AAA games for Nintendo and Microsoft platforms. She is featured in Boy’s Toys, a documentary about women in games. She earned an MFA in Fiction from University of Miami, and she is the past recipient of the AWP Intro Journals Project Award, a grant from the Tacoma Arts Commission, and the William Stafford Award. (www.catintheflock.com)

Nestor Armando Gil, Labor Under Alternative Economies
Social practice art takes as its starting point relationships and dialogue, two elements crucial to a successful entrepreneurial enterprise.  By producing research, commodities, and performances in a social context, Nestor Gil addresses memory as a series of negotiations that are personal, cultural, and political. 

Nestor Armando Gil was born in Florida in 1971.  He received the Masters in Fine Art degree in 2009 from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  His performances and visual work have been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally in Spain, and the United Kingdom.

D. A. Jackson, Making Something Out of Nothing:  Independent Filmmaking in the Digital Age
Award winning director D.A. Jackson discusses the ins and outs of film production in the 21st Century.  Topics covered will be, how to use available resources, budgeting, directing, writing scripts, producing, VFX, and distribution.

D.A. Jackson has been working in the film industry for the past 18 years.  During his career, he has worked as a director, stuntman, fight choreographer, actor, and producer.  He has directed commercials, music videos, television shows for SPIKE,  and won numerous awards  for his independent feature films and shorts . His passion for storytelling  and unique approach to filmmaking has led him to be an often requested speaker at colleges and film festivals.

Taqi Shaheen, Being Digital: The Chinese Way

Born in Pakistan, and currently lecturing in Shanghai, China, Taqi is uniquely positioned to present the complex system of entrepreneurship as it exists in Asia today. From art works, to information technology and video games, Asia has been a hotbed of production and innovation. 

Taqi Shaheen is a filmmaker, visual artist and art educator whose work crosses mediums and defies genre distinctions to fashion witty and curious observations of contemporary Asian cultures and their urban landscapes. He graduated from the National College of Arts, Lahore, and uses hybrid digital video and film formats to research and construct non-fictional narratives collaborating with various visual artists, musicians and performers.) (http://www.taqishaheen.com/)

IDEAS is sponsored by UF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Warrington College of Business Administration, supported by the UF Division of Sponsored Research, presented by the UF Digital Worlds Institute, and organized by Prof. Marko Suvajdzic.

Prof. Suvajdzic is a diverse thinker with 17+ years of achievement in academia and the creative digital research and production space. Marko’s experience includes a wide range of digital startups and educational projects. He has lectured internationally at schools and conferences in: U.S.A., U.K., India, Serbia, Norway, and China.


They Picked Me Up in a Limo, and Other Car Stories

Limo

The chariot that awaited me: An early 90s-era limo that once served the White House.

While in D.C. this past week, I was the featured guest at a book event. Looking for my ride to the event that night, I stepped out of the hotel and scanned the drive-up for a vehicle befitting a middle-aged guy like my friend Brewster, the host. A fuel-efficient compact, perhaps. After all, I'd met Brewster when we were both interns in the arms control community back in '92. I completely ignored the stretch limo in front of me until a black-capped attendant popped out and said, "Lisa Brunette! Your ride is here!"

For the record, this has never happened to me before. I've never even been inside a limo. Seriously, not even for prom. In case you're wondering, my mode of conveyance then was an '80 Pontiac Grand Prix, fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror.

But there was Brewster, ensconced with his fiancee Kate in one of the limo's rear-facing seats. It turned out the limo was his. The story goes that one day he went out looking for hub caps and came back with a limo instead. He'd taken Kate along to dissuade him from frivolous purchases, but she had encouraged this one.

Here's a rather blurry photo of me peeking out of it. My husband apologizes for his picture-taking skills, and since he has tremendous qualities in every other aspect of existence, we don't fault him for it. Unfortunately, though, this shot cost him his phone, which he dropped, shattering the screen.

Limopeek
 This is my limo face.

(I know, right? My hair is SO BLONDE. And if one more person says, "Your hair doesn't match your name," or something equally inane, I am going to dye it PINK. OK, not really.)

Another capped driver, Roger, squired us to the venue: A sort of compound of houses and garages on an acre of land just inside the Beltway. Several people live there in a community that frequently hosts events like my book reading. Brewster, whose last name really is "Thackeray," dubbed it 'Makepeace Manor.' The name has been printed on posters and pens.

It was a lovely crowd of about 20 all gathered around the Manor fireplace. I read from my poetry collection and both Dreamslippers novels and had a blast doing so. Because I like to make things interactive, I tapped into the group's energy, which was extraordinary and vibrant. We got into some really interesting discussions about dreams, lucid dreaming, and the edge between reality and dreaming. There was an epically long Q&A. I think I'm still there, in fact. These people asked great questions.

MPM_reading

Many of them are self-identified "burners," which is not a reference to Bernie Sanders (although a good number of them support him). It's from the "Burning Man" desert festival, which has apparently spawned smaller "burns" and burner communities all over the country. I have never actually been to Burning Man, but it's great to see people coming together for artistic collaboration and togetherness.

Incidentally, Brewster, who with five project cars filling the Makepeace Manor garage is just a bit of a gearhead, helped inspire Granny Grace's car Siddhartha from my Dreamslippers Series. Back when we stomped around D.C. together in '92, he took me for a spin in this little beaut:

Siddhartha

Of course, the above is a hardtop (sunroof), and Granny Grace's is a convertible. I loved the impracticality aspect of a convertible in a city that rains nine months out of the year, and I also have vivid memories of my father's convertible Fiat Spider, a car I'd hoped to inherit when I turned 16. But Dad traded it in for a Ford Escort just as I was taking my driving test. I could tell you that to add insult to injury the Escort was white, but I think a Ford Escort is enough injury, regardless of color. What is it that hippie folksinger Melanie used to sing? "White should be beautiful, but mostly it's not."

I'm grateful for the opportunity to introduce my work to the burners and share in their company for an evening. There's nothing better than old friends with old cars in an old town like D.C.!


The indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop: My Miami Christmas Tree, and More!

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The fine folks at indieBRAG asked me to write about my favorite Christmas carol for this blog hop, but the first carol that came to mind is one I can't stand: "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

Maybe it's the crassness of it that has always bothered me, even at an early age, or the cliché image of a grandmother as a doddering, wig-wearing, egg nog-guzzling dodo who gets herself killed by Santa. I mean, Grandma receives short shrift in this tale, while Grandpa, on the other hand, "we're all so proud of" for "taking this so well." The vague misognyny, the lyrics, the music, everything about the song makes me cringe.

So I used my intense dislike for it in fiction.

In Framed and Burning, 78-year-old renegade grandmother Amazing Grace shudders when her granddaughter cues up the song to play at a party. Grace uses the opportunity to check in with her erstwhile beau, Ernesto:

Grace despised the song, deep down in her bones. She hung back as the rest of the crowd laughed and began to carry on. Grace hooked her arm through Ernesto’s and squired him to the balcony.

“Horrid excuse for music,” Grace said, shaking her head.

“Yes, well, it is Americana at its worst.”

There was a pause as they gazed at the moon casting a beam of light on the waves far in the distance. Then Ernesto turned to Grace, swept his arms around her and said, “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too,” she said instinctively, though she realized she was only being polite. She’d been so wrapped up in the case that she hadn’t had time to miss him.

I'll stop there, since what happens next yields crucial, plot-spoiling information about the case Grace is working on. The point is that it was satisfying to juxtapose the schlocky grandma from the song next to my sharp, savvy Amazing Grace.

That whole Christmas scene was great fun to write for another reason as well. I lived in Miami for two years and celebrated two Christmases there. Holidays in the tropics can be strange for anyone from a Northern climate, as the typical trappings of merriment--snow, snowmen, sleighs, evergreen trees--can seem out of place amidst palm trees and sunshine. It's a quirkiness I've always enjoyed, probably because my earliest Christmas memories are of growing up in Arizona as a military brat. In the Chandler town square back in the Seventies, they used to erect a Christmas tree out of tumbleweeds spray-painted white. 

That experience informed my thinking on the matter of how to celebrate Christmas when one's locale is far from snow and evergreen trees. One of my favorite Christmas carols is Big Crosby's tribute to Christmas in Hawaii, "Mele Kalikimaka." I've also tried to be environmentally sensitive in my domestic practices, so I've rarely ever purchased a Christmas tree that would only be discarded at the end of the season. So my Miami tree for two years running was a potted hibiscus:

  Miami_tree

Christmas in Miami, 2000 or 2001.

The bright blooms of the hibiscus lent themselves to quirky pairings such as this:

Snowball_flower

In Framed and Burning, the Christmas tree becomes a way to memorialize the friend they've lost:

...Cat and Mick came home bearing a small, potted hibiscus tree. Its tangerine flowers resembled umbrellas that would unfurl in full bloom, a decadent pistil of pollen beckoning from its center.

“Let’s set it here, in the window,” Grace said, beaming at her two lovely family members.

Mick and Cat carried the hibiscus together and set it down delicately. They stared at the tree for a moment.

“I’ll go get the other swag out of the car,” Cat said.

“I’ve got some bling upstairs to add to this thing.” Mick winked at Grace and slipped out the door.

“It’s perfect, isn’t it?” Grace said this to Rose, who was stroking one of the soft blooms.

“It smells like tropical Christmas.” Rose stuck her nose closer to the flower and inhaled.

Cat came in, her hands full of shopping bags, which she dropped onto her chaise lounge, now clear of paperwork related to the case. She reached into a bag and withdrew a box of retro bubble lights. Together, the three of them strung the lights onto the miniature tree. Once the lights had warmed, Cat, who said she had experience with these kinds of lights, tapped or inverted them to get them to bubble. Their effervescence made the room sparkle.

In came Mick with a canvas drop cloth he placed around the bottom of the tree as a skirt. He also brought down a box, which he offered to Grace. “Will homemade ornaments work for your solstice party, Miss Pris?”

“Oh, Mick.” Grace took the box and reached inside. He’d fashioned the most delightful ornaments out of bits and pieces from his studio: a few spines of an old Chinese fan tied together with red velvet ribbon; a garland of driftwood and shells; a vintage toy car hung with glittery string. The four of them decorated the tree together, marveling over Mick’s creations.

When they were done, they stood back to admire it, and Rose said, “We need a star.” She looked at Grace and smiled. “I know you’re not hot on the Jesus story, but that star of Bethlehem, it always makes me weepy to think about it, a beacon in the night.”

“I’m not against those aspects, per se,” said Grace. She thought about the church sermons of her childhood, the fire and brimstone and talk of sinning. “There’s a reason they’re always claiming it’s the greatest story ever told. I think it resonates with us to think of God as not just a man, but a small baby in a manger. He’s nothing but potential.”

“I think I have an idea for our star,” Rose announced. “Mick, come and help me.” The two of them left....

In the book, there's more here, but I'll cut right to the next Christmas tree scene. Readers of the novel know by this point in the story that Donnie, who died in a fire in Mick's studio, has been cremated, his ashes stored in an urn:

...Rose and Mick resurfaced, Rose holding something delicately between her hands. “I got to thinking about the star of Bethlehem, and the wise men, bringing gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Well, we don’t have any of that, whatever it is, but we have something better.”

She moved her top hand to reveal a star crafted out of thick white paper stock backed by tracing paper. There were cutouts in the thick top layer of paper so that the lights from the tree would shine through the tracing paper, dotting the star with glints of light. It was a six-pointed star with beams emanating downward. She shook the star softly, and fine glistening grains of sand filled the beams of light like stardust.

“Did you use beach sand?” Grace asked. “It looks sugary, like it came from Bahia Honda.”

“No,” Rose said with a glowing smile and a wink at Mick. “That’s Donnie.”

Miami_tree_night

Miami tree at night.

Tomorrow's stop on the indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop is Carrie Beckort, Literary Engineer. Check it out!


Framed and Burning Releases This Friday!

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I’m thrilled to announce the release of book two in the Dreamslippers Series. Framed and Burning will be available this Friday in both print and ebook, with an audiobook version to follow.

In this sequel, you get to meet Mick Travers, Granny Grace’s younger brother. You might remember references to his paintings hanging in the Victorian on Queen Anne Hill, especially to one called “Mickey Angel” at the end of Cat in the Flock. Also a dreamslipper, Mick channels his gift into his artwork. But he and Grace have had a strained relationship for years. When his studio assistant turns up dead, Mick looks guilty—at least to the police and Cat.

Please know, as I get this question a lot, you don’t have to start the series with Cat in the Flock. I’m writing so readers can dive into any of the books and understand what’s happening. So if Framed and Burning sounds like an exciting starting point, go with it.

Speaking of Cat in the Flock, now’s your chance to get your friends hooked on the series, as we’ve knocked the price down on the ebook to 99 cents. This price will be good until at least Christmas, so spread the word!

Whew. Bringing this second novel into the world has been quite the feat. I’ve essentially been working two full-time jobs since launching Cat in the Flock last July. There have been far too many working weekends in this household, I can tell you. But I’m optimistic 2016 will bring greater equilibrium.

I’ve dreamed of writing books since the fourth grade, when a teacher first made me aware the worlds I’d been escaping into had been imagined and written down by people as their jobs. Ms. Pickel was the teacher’s name, and she wore a brooch shaped like a pickle. I remember we read a poem written from the point of view of someone running, and Ms. Pickel had us run in place to see how the rhythm of the poem matched our jog. And so began my first lesson in technique. Not to mention characterization. I could imagine Granny Grace and Ms. Pickel hitting it off.

It’s been more decades than I want to count since that fourth-grade class, and I’m finally sharing my own worlds with readers. But I think Ms. Pickel would be proud.

Read the first three chapters here.

Buy links are here.


Sneak Preview: Framed and Burning

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Here's the prologue and first three chapters. 

 

PROLOGUE

 

Brickell Lofts, Miami

December 5, 2013

10:37 p.m.

 

Donnie Hines was passed out, drunk, in a corner of his studio when the flames made their way to the painting he’d just finished.

It was a true work of art, and he knew it. Not just good, but great. He knew it even as the whiskey made his tongue thick in his mouth and his eyelids droop. A diabetic, he knew he had no business drinking that much. When he could no longer hold a paintbrush, he sat back in a metal folding chair and realized that he had finally done it. He’d captured, perfectly, the fractal shapes he’d been chasing his whole life. 

Ever since his father took him to the Cleveland Science Center when he was ten, he’d seen them in his imagination. That day a scientist showed the crowd how fractals could be found everywhere: in mountains and rivers and on seashells. The never-ending patterns that repeated themselves in an ongoing feedback loop were the most beautiful things Donnie had ever seen. For the past thirty years, he’d been trying to capture them on canvas.

And in the end, all he needed for inspiration was a bowl of broccoli. 

Not just any ordinary broccoli, either. This was special. “Romanesco broccoli,” the woman at the market stall called it. Lime green, with florets spiraling into fractal shapes. He bought a bag of it, had it sitting in a bowl on an old Formica table. Mick, whose studio Donnie shared, kept threatening to cook it up for lunch. But he agreed it was special. “Froccoli,” Mick called it.

Donnie had worked feverishly that night as a way to tamp down the loss he felt after the worst conversation of his life. Working always helped, always freed him from feelings he couldn’t sort through. But in the end, his masterpiece at last finished, the drinking won out. A bottle of whiskey, three-quarters empty, sat on the floor by the cot where he slept.

Donnie hadn’t even signed the painting.

But it didn’t matter. The fire that raged through the studio that night, devouring his masterpiece, knew no names and took no prisoners. The paint was still wet when it went up in a shimmer of orange, igniting the wooden two-by-four easel behind it. 

Mick’s paintings caught fire next. An angry slash of black on a field of red curled easily into charred shreds. A thick decoupage of mixed media first melted, its bits of metal and rock sliding down before the canvas disappeared in flames. One painting after another—some finished, some not—went up in flames.

The fire leapt to a stack of framed paintings leaning against the wall like oversized dominoes, first eating their stretched cloth and then attacking their hardier wooden frames. Bottles of turpentine, paint thinner, and oil paint fed the flames, as did the men’s bottles of whiskey, wine, and gin, all of them exploding, their glass shattering. 

Donnie did not stir. 

Perhaps he was already dead. 

Or maybe he dreamed in his sleep as the fire raged, smoke pouring in behind the curtain surrounding his cot, enveloping his passed-out form and invading his lungs. Those who knew him would expect him to dream of the fractals that were his singular obsession, how they would keep repeating into infinity, so small his eye wouldn’t be able to see them. 

First his skin fried. The flames licked across the surface of his body, the top layer quickly peeling off. Then the fire attacked the thicker layer underneath, causing it to shrink and split. As it split, Donnie’s own body fat leaked out, feeding the fire as another kind of fuel.

Maybe in his dream, he was eating the broccoli. Maybe since the florets were made of the energy of fractals, they kept repeating inside him. He could feel them spiraling through his gut. Soon he could only watch as they emerged from his belly, bursting out of the core of his body, rippling in space, turning him inside out. He was a vibrating, swirling entity of math and matter. His body dissolved. 

But as Donnie died, maybe he still existed in a larger way, his spirit flowing as part of the energy that is everything in the universe at once, the largest supernova and the smallest quark and everything in between. 

Maybe Donnie’s true masterpiece was this: He became a fractal, never ending.

 

CHAPTER 1

 

Holding a sweaty gin and tonic in one hand, the napkin under the glass damp, Grace watched her granddaughter out of the corner of her eye. 

Cat had lost too much weight. The young woman’s cocktail dress seemed to hang on her. Her face lacked color, her spunk gone. It had been more than a year since Lee Stone, Cat’s childhood sweetheart, died. Grace thought the trip to Miami for Art Basel would knock her out of the Seattle doldrums. But surrounded by vibrant art and tropical sights, sounds, and smells, Cat remained sullen, uncommunicative. 

It was all Grace could do to get Cat to attend the party tonight. Her granddaughter had wanted to stay in the hotel, reading statutes and case law. 

“You’re worried about her, I can see,” said a voice at Grace’s elbow. 

She turned to find Ernesto Ruíz, an old Miami flame of hers she’d bumped into a few days ago. He’d been hovering around her ever since, trying to get her alone for a bit of the nostalgic, trade-wind-fueled romance they once enjoyed. At seventy-eight, Grace commanded as much attention from men as she had in her twenties. Even more, in fact. She was self-possessed, and she understood that this quality radiated from her, drawing men like Ernesto to her despite the wrinkles, the gray hair, the natural aging of her physique. A smart man like Ernesto knew he would find Grace a much more satisfying partner than any of the young, inexperienced, waifish artists in line for the bar.

Ernesto cut a dashing figure, his hair perfectly trimmed, his fresh face giving off a musky aftershave scent. His impeccable suit appeared tailor-made. His shoes reflected the light of the crystal chandeliers as if they were a source of illumination themselves. Grace had to hand it to Miami men. No matter how hot the weather, they turned out as if every event were red-carpet.

But she knew she was too distracted to take full advantage of Ernesto’s charms this time. Grace allowed his arm to nestle her waist, drawing her toward a nearby alcove. But Grace’s gaze returned over his shoulder to Cat, who was slumped against a balcony railing opposite them, a plump Miami full moon hanging overhead.

“It is simple.” Ernesto’s speech was correct but inflected with Cuban rhythm. “She still thinks the shooting was her fault. That’s what we do. Blame ourselves for that which we cannot control.”

The truth in Ernesto’s statement singed her. And Ernesto didn’t even know the half of it. He had no idea that Grace and her granddaughter were both dreamslippers, and that a good deal of Cat’s depression had to do with her gift. Dreamslipping was, in Grace’s estimation, a rare gift, something to cultivate and hone. But Cat regarded it as a curse and blamed it—and herself—for Lee’s death.

Ernesto took her hand. “But she is young, my Grace.” He lifted her hand to his lips. “She will survive this. It will pass. In time.”

“You’re right.” Grace shifted her gaze at last from Cat to Ernesto. “But it’s been a year. She needs to move on. And you know it’s never been my style to wait around for time to take care of things.”

Ernesto laughed, revealing unnaturally white teeth. The band, which had been on a break, picked up again. “Care to dance?” 

She accepted his hand with a nod. The two slow-danced across the room, Ernesto a gentle but firm lead. 

A commotion at the entrance to the ballroom stopped them. A group of uniformed police appeared, a woman officer and two wingmen. “We’re looking for an artist,” she said, and the crowd chuckled at that. 

“Almost everyone in this room is an artist,” someone called out. “This is Art Basel. One of the biggest art shows in the world.”

“The one we’re looking for is Mick Travers.”

Grace felt alarm at the sound of her brother’s name. Where was Mick, anyway? She scanned the room but didn’t see him anywhere.

Someone in the crowd near the door motioned toward Grace, and the police approached her. Grace caught Cat’s eye, and her granddaughter drifted over.

The officer asked Grace, “You know where we can find Mick Travers? There’s been a fire at his studio.” 

The gin and tonic in Grace’s hand slipped to the floor, where it shattered, shards of glass prickling her exposed toes and ankles.

“He-he’s supposed to be here,” she muttered, reaching out to Cat. She felt uncharacteristically wobbly in her heels, and it wasn’t just from the glass underfoot. “I’m his sister.”

“What happened?” Cat directed her question to the police officer. And then, as if it had just dawned on her: “Was anyone hurt?”

 The look on the officer’s face caused Grace to fall further into Cat’s arms. “Oh, God…”

“We need to talk to Mick Travers. If you two are his family, please tell us where to find him.”

Cat pulled out her cell phone, and Grace watched as she tried to call Mick. He did not answer.

The officer turned to her crew. “Ask around, find out if anyone’s seen him here tonight.”

The wingmen broke formation. The officer stayed with Grace and Cat, introducing herself as Sergeant Alvarez. She asked them who they were and what they were doing at the party.

“The two of you are from out of town then.” She said this not as a question but as if noting its suspicious nature.

“That’s correct, Sergeant Alvarez. We’re visiting from Seattle.”

Alvarez shook her head. “Such a long way to come for an art show.” Grace bristled at the way she said it, as if the distance in itself suggested guilt. 

Fifteen minutes later one of the officers returned with Mick, whose eyes were watery. He swayed, obviously unable to stand straight. “We found him in the lounge downstairs, drinking. By the looks of him, he’s had more than a few.”

“Wh-what happened? This guy says there was a fire.” Mick rubbed his chin. And then, as if it had just dawned on him: “Donnie.” 

“We need to speak to you in private.” Alvarez’s hands dropped to her belt, which supported a sidearm and nightstick.

She led the way, with Mick following. “Is Donnie all right?”

Alvarez took Mick by the elbow and steered him into a side room. Grace followed, and when Alvarez held up a hand as if to keep Grace out, she set her voice hard. “I’m Mick’s older sister. I should stay with him.”

Mick looked surprised. “Oh, I’m okay by myself.”

Grace shot her brother a reprimanding look, and he shifted gears. “Uh, yeah, Pris should be there. She’s a PI. She gets this police stuff.” 

Grace ignored Mick’s use of her birth name and spotted Cat. She slung an arm around her granddaughter. “This is my partner. And she’s Mick’s great-niece.”

“A family of PIs,” said Alvarez. “That’s all we need.” Her voice softened. “This is a shock, I realize. So I suppose you can be present. But please, don’t interrupt. We need to talk to Mr. Travers now.”

Then Alvarez’s gaze settled on Ernesto Ruíz, who politely hung back. “Don’t tell me you’re somebody’s third cousin twice removed. And that you’re a PI as well.”

Ernesto chuckled. “No, no. Just a friend … who’s perfectly content to wait out here.”

The officer nodded for her staff to close the doors to the room.

“Now then, Mr. Travers,” Alvarez said, motioning for Mick to sit. She introduced herself and her deputies, Speck and Santiago. Santiago sat near them and began to take notes. 

“I know this is hard,” Alvarez continued, “but I need to ask: How long have you been here?”

“You mean at the hotel?” he asked.

Alvarez sighed, and Grace detected a weariness in her bearing that suggested the sergeant was at the end of a long shift. “Yes. In the lounge downstairs.”

“I don’t know. What time is it now?”

Alvarez checked her cell phone. “It’s nearly two in the morning.”

“A couple hours, I guess…”

“I know this is a lot to take in. But you’re going to have to be more specific with us here, Travers.”

Grace’s feeling of alarm worsened. Come to think of it, where had Mick been? He was supposed to meet them at the hotel, but he’d called and told them to go ahead, that he would be at the party later. And then he never showed up.

“Why? You think I torched my own studio?”

“When was the last time you were there?”

“Not since this morning.”

Grace broke in, “He was busy entertaining us for most of the day. Cat’s never been to Miami before…” She glanced at her brother for assistance. 

“Say, why don’t you tell us what this is about,” said Mick. “Where’s Donnie?”

Alvarez sighed again, this time with genuine feeling, not weariness. “I’m very sorry to inform you of this, Mr. Travers, but Don Hines is dead.”

“No,” Mick said, running a hand through his hair. “He can’t be. He didn’t want to go to the party. He hates parties. He wanted to paint. His own stuff, not mine. He said he was onto something big…”

Mick covered his face with his hands. 

Grace wobbled a bit on her heels and went to embrace her brother, as much to steady herself as to comfort him. Mick’s body felt tense, as if rejecting the news in a physical way. Grace hadn’t known Donnie well, but she found him to be a charming character, always ready with a smile. And she was a great admirer of his art. What a loss for the world, she thought. And Mick was so fond of him, too.

Over Mick’s shoulder, Grace tried to catch Cat’s eye across the room, but her granddaughter looked away. Cat didn’t know her great-uncle very well, so even if she hadn’t already been lost in a cloud of her own grief, it was understandable that she didn’t seem drawn to comfort him. Grace felt the heaviness of their double losses, and her own inability to ease their pain.

Mick’s grief seemed to take more of the edge off Alvarez’s questioning. She waited a few beats for him to regain his composure, and when she spoke again, her tone had softened further. 

“I’m sorry to ask this, Mr. Travers, but I’m going to need a full account of your timeline for the evening.”

“Where is Donnie?” Mick stood. “I want to see him.”

Grace touched her brother’s arm. “Mick, wait,” she said. “The fire marshal, forensics—they’re probably still on the scene.” She glanced at Alvarez, who nodded. Grace lowered her voice. “And he might be unrecognizable.”

Mick sat down again. “Jesus.”

Alvarez touched Mick’s hand. “Take it easy tonight, Mr. Travers. We’ll deal with the details in the morning.”

She nodded a good-bye to Grace, who did the same.

Cat fetched a cup of coffee for Mick, who took it in both hands as if it were the only thing he had left in the world.

“She’s right, Mick,” Grace said. “Let’s head back to the hotel. I don’t think you should go home tonight. You can stay in my room. I have an extra bed.”

Mick gulped the coffee and set it down. He wiped his eyes. “I don’t know how I could sleep.”

There was nothing Grace could say to that, so she squeezed her brother’s shoulder instead. She and Cat watched him finish his coffee. When he was done, he let the cup clatter onto the tabletop. “I’ve got to get out of here.”

The three went back into the ballroom. Grace saw Speck and Santiago talking to people. She overheard Alvarez on her phone with a member of the forensics team, which was most likely crawling over the wreck that was her brother’s art studio.

They left the scene behind, Grace leading them through the corridors of the convention complex to the hotel adjoining it, where she and Cat had rooms. The hotel had seemed so impersonal at first—Grace would have preferred rooms in a boutique hotel or a bed-and-breakfast, were it not for the convenience. But now it seemed like a refuge.

Grace let them into her room. She slipped off her heels and sat on the bed, wondering vaguely where Ernesto had gone, realizing she hadn’t said good-bye to him. Cat slumped into a chair by the window, the lights of South Beach garish behind her. Mick went straight for Grace’s laptop, which was sitting on a desk.

“What are you doing, Mickey?”

“I’ve got to get his parents’ phone number. I need to call them.”

“That can wait till tomorrow.”

“I don’t want them to find out from the news.” Mick pecked away at the keyboard.

Grace put her hand on his shoulder again. “It’s two in the morning,” she said softly. “You don’t want to wake them, tell them like that.”

Mick slowed down, his face crumpling again. “Here’s their phone number and address.” 

“That’s great,” she said. “We can give it to Alvarez in the morning.”

Grace motioned to Cat to hand her a pad of hotel stationery and a pen. Then Grace copied down the information.

“I’m not going to sleep,” Mick announced. “How can I?”

They were quiet a minute, and then Grace said, “All right then. Let’s talk about your timeline for the evening, before you forget the details.” She slid the pad of paper and pen in front of him.

Mick crossed his arms over his chest. “What am I supposed to write?”

“Write down where you were every hour today, and who you were with.”

He stared at the paper. “No.”

Cat finally spoke up. “But Uncle Mick, the police are going to make you do this anyway. It’s better to be cooperative.”

Mick glared at Cat. “Did they teach you that in cop school?”

“It was a bachelor’s program in criminal justice,” Cat said. “And yes.” 

Grace winced a bit at Cat’s defensive tone. If Grace weren’t glad to see her granddaughter finally exhibiting something other than passivity, she would have lightly reprimanded her. Instead, she turned to her brother. 

“Cat’s right, Mickey. You need to be as specific as possible.”

“Not right now.” He put the pen down and stood up. “I want to see Donnie.”

“That’s not a good idea,” Cat protested. “You’ve been drinking.”

“Nonsense. I’ve had coffee.” He stood and made for the door.

Grace had no choice but to follow her brother. She grabbed the pad of paper with the contact information and ran after him. Cat followed. 

By the time they got to the parking lot, they’d managed to talk him out of driving. He wasn’t in shape for it, and besides, Grace regarded his small brown Fiat convertible as a death trap. It was a ’78 and on its third clutch, which Mick had a tendency to ride hard. He’d acquired it in a trade for several of his paintings.

Grace knew the authorities wouldn’t be keen to let any of them into the crime scene until investigators were done, which might not be till the next day. By the way Alvarez and her crew were acting, they must already suspect arson.

But she couldn’t keep Mick away, and she owed it to him to find out whatever she could.

So Cat drove the rental car, with Mick riding shotgun and Grace in back. As they turned onto Coral Way, Grace smelled the smoke. Where Mick’s corner studio had been was a mass of charred beams and broken glass. Water left over from the firehoses pooled and dripped. Tendrils of smoke drifted up out of the sodden, burned mess. A palm tree that had filled the two-story bank of studio windows was nothing but a burned stump, its pot cracked and leaking water and soot.

As the three of them gaped at the wreckage, a woman in a pink peignoir clapped over to them in silver mules. Her unnaturally red hair was in curlers, a gauzy yellow scarf tied around them. Grace had met Rose de la Crem the night before; she was one of the artists with studio space in the same building as Mick. Her prominent brow ridge and masculine feet revealed the gender of her birth.  But other than that, the transformation to woman was a convincing one. 

“Mick!” she exclaimed. “Oh, Mick.” She wrapped her arms around him. 

The four of them gazed at the burned structure, one whole exterior wall now gone, the studio’s remnants exposed to the full moon’s judgment.

“I’m the one who called nine-one-one,” explained Rose. “I smelled the smoke. Oh, God, Mick. Donnie. I can’t believe it. At first the cops thought he was you—but I told them you were at the party. They found Donnie’s ID bracelet on him.”

Grace remembered that Donnie was diabetic. He wore a Medic Alert bracelet, which would have made his identification easy, no matter the condition of the body.

Sergeant Alvarez was on the scene, chatting with the fire marshal. Grace sidled toward them and stood within earshot. She heard the word “accelerant” several times. She waited for a break in their conversation and then moved in to talk with Alvarez when the fire marshal returned to the burnt studio.

“Do you suspect arson?”

“That’s police business.” Alvarez began to walk away. 

Grace raised her voice to Alvarez’s departing back. “If you do, it won’t be a secret for long.” 

The sergeant turned. “If we determine this was arson, your brother is a suspect. He arrived at the hotel after this fire was set. And he has no other alibi so far.”

Grace set her voice to calm. “I believe my brother was the intended victim. If it weren’t for our visit, he would have been working in his studio tonight. The only reason he went to the hotel is because I insisted.” Then Grace motioned toward her granddaughter, who was talking with Mick and Rose de la Crem. “I thought the party would cheer up Cat. She’s been depressed.”

“That’s very interesting.” Alvarez did not seem swayed.

A stretcher was wheeled into view, toward an ambulance. It held a body bag.

Mick went to it. “Can I see him?"

Alvarez blocked him. “I’m sorry, but it’s better if you visit him in the morgue.”

Wanting to leave with a gesture of cooperation, Grace drew the paper with the contact information for the Hineses out of her pocket and handed it to Alvarez. 

“Here’s how to get in touch with Don Hines’s parents. Let Mick call them first, though. Please. Give him some time.”

Alvarez nodded and took the paper.

Cat stepped in then, speaking to Alvarez in an authoritative voice, the likes of which Grace hadn’t heard much since Lee’s death. Her granddaughter had been distant and cerebral ever since, and she’d shied away from any case that seemed the least bit exciting. They had yet to take a murder case, and it had been more than a year.

“We’d like to see the evidence reports,” Cat demanded. “We’ll need to see the lab and autopsy reports, too. We’re happy to comply with any further questioning you have for us.”

Alvarez surveyed the trio. “Don’t any of you leave town.”

 

CHAPTER 2

 

For the past year, and especially the past six months, Cat had consistently wished Granny Grace would leave her alone about Lee. Ever since he died, her grandmother had been trying to make sure Cat “healed properly,” which meant constant invitations to grief workshops and meditation events. Once Cat found a brochure on her bed for a four-day course on “healing with color therapy,” which would begin with a questionnaire meant to identify her “one true color” and end with an exercise that promised to “integrate her color’s vibrational harmony with the universal rainbow.”

The old Cat would have confronted her grandmother with such a ridiculous brochure, and the two would probably have joked about it. The new Cat tossed it in the trash without a word.

She didn’t need poking and prodding around the wall of sadness lodged in her chest. What she needed was work and time, and to get clear on her new life as a committed single person. For Cat had no intention of ever getting entangled again. As a dreamslipper, how could she? The people around her would only get hurt. Even friendships were off limits; her friendship with Wendy, made possible by Cat’s undercover work in the Plantation Church, had ended in pain and betrayal. No, it was her duty to focus on her purpose—her work—and leave relationships to normal people.

She kept this to herself, though. Everyone had so many expectations of her grief, as if she were supposed to follow a script. Even her Granny Grace was guilty, with her pressure on Cat to heal correctly

Being in Miami had helped lift the persistent heaviness off her chest, even if she hadn’t shown it. Cat figured this was partly due to an infusion of vitamin D from the sunshine. 

In drab Seattle, people tended to paint their houses in equally drab colors. But in Miami, a riot of tropical flowers and ostentatious birds, people drenched their homes in tangerine, aqua and pink. It made her wish her grandmother lived here, near Great-Uncle Mick, instead of in the Northwest. Why did the two siblings live on extreme opposite ends of the country, anyway?

The fire in his studio had pulled her out of a fog, though, that was for sure.  She’d liked Donnie right off. He was intrigued by her name, and when she said it was short for “Cathedral,” he launched into a rambling account of the cathedrals he’d visited in Europe.

“By far, the most amazing cathedral in the entire world is the Sagrada Familia,” he’d pronounced. He retrieved his phone and showed her a slideshow of images. “Look, here we are creating monuments to God, and Gaudí instead found God down here on Earth, in nature. The columns are like trees!” 

That was the first thing she’d thought of in the hotel room when Sergeant Alvarez said Donnie was dead. He was so gleeful about that church in Barcelona. He made her promise to visit it sometime, saying, “Cross my heart and hope to die.”

She wished he hadn’t made her say that. It was such a silly, girlish thing, and now…

She had to put on her PI hat to stop from thinking about what a schmuck God was to take people like Donnie and Lee. She focused on the puzzle of that night: Who set the fire? Did the arsonist mean to kill Donnie, or was that an accident? Then there was the worst question ever, the one she could not vocalize to her grandmother: Could it have been Mick? 

Cat didn’t know Mick very well. He’d visited her family in St. Louis only twice, and they were short visits. She remembered the watercolor set he gave her. And how, frowning at her drawing of him, he told her not to try to paint people the way they really looked. 

“Paint the way they feel instead.” He had a bushy beard back then, and she saw him as a kind of magical creature in his paint-splattered clothes. But Cat had never been able to figure out how to paint people the way they feel. She still didn’t know what Mick meant by that.

The night of the fire, Granny Grace took Mick back to her hotel room. She hadn’t wanted to leave him alone. But it was clear neither of them got any sleep. “He went back to whiskey and then tried to sober up again with hits of coffee before our trip to the morgue,” her grandmother had told her.

Cat did not accompany the two of them to the morgue the next morning, but she understood that Mick needed to see Donnie to believe that he was gone. When Mick returned, he asked to be left alone to call Donnie’s parents. 

Afterward, he promptly got drunk again and stayed that way. Cat counted five bottles of Bushmill’s in two days. And he still hadn’t written down a solid timeline for the evening or done anything to strengthen his alibi.

With his studio torched, the three of them had moved into a rental house, one in Coral Gables owned by Granny Grace’s friend Ernesto. Mick’s beach house was off limits since Granny Grace suspected Mick was the target of the fire, and that the killer would hit it next once he found out Mick hadn’t died in the studio fire. It was too small for the three of them anyway.

This put three dreamslippers together under one roof, which was a challenge.

“Mick’s in no condition to control his dreamslipping right now,” said Granny Grace their first night in the rental. They were in the kitchen cleaning up after a thrown-together meal of plantains and Cuban rice and beans. Cat knew her grandmother was warning about what she might find if she slipped into her great-uncle’s dream, or vice versa.

“And frankly, my dear,” her grandmother continued with an emphatic swipe of a rag across the countertop, “neither are you.”

“Thanks, Gran, for your confidence in me.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean it as a criticism. Just an observation. But no one is expecting you to have it under control. Nor Mick, for that matter. I know he cared a great deal about Donnie, and there’s almost nothing more upsetting than knowing someone wants you dead.”

“Well, unless you know of a tinfoil hat or something that keeps us from dreamslipping, Granny, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do.”

Her grandmother laughed. “Remember the rules.”

Cat nodded. In her apprenticeship with her grandmother, they’d established ground rules that governed their dreamslipping ability, giving it dimension but also keeping it in check. The first rule is not to try to dreamslip in your loved one’s dreams. This one was pretty challenging, as Granny Grace claimed to be able to keep herself from slipping into people’s dreams most of the time, but the more she loved them or the closer she felt to them, the harder it was for her to keep from picking up their dreams as if they were her own. Cat had not mastered this ability, and Granny Grace herself had trouble staying out of Cat’s dreams. Cat wondered if this was because it was easier to slip into another dreamslipper’s dream or if it was because of their emotional connection.

Thinking about rule numero uno made Cat realize how little she knew about Granny Grace’s relationship with her brother, especially where their dreamslipping was concerned.

“Gran?” she asked, “can you keep yourself from slipping into Mick’s dreams?”

Recognition seemed to flicker across her grandmother’s face. She smiled. 

“Oh, such lovely dreams that man has, when they’re his own. I remember one from our childhood to this day. He must have been three or four at the time, as I’d just entered puberty, and my dreamslipping had recently started. We’d been given our own rooms by then, after having to share one for forever, or so it seemed to me at the time. But my room was still next to his, not that it mattered. I was regularly picking up my parents’ dreams, and they slept downstairs. 

“Anyway,” she continued, “the dream was so lovely, so fanciful. The circus was in town, and little Mickey dreamed he was riding on the back of an elephant, which flew! I think he thought of it as Dumbo. We flew up above the clouds, looking down on our farm town, and a pretty accurate aerial depiction, I must say, especially considering his age. He got the Catholic church steeple right, and the dairy plant on the edge of town. I remember the feel of the elephant’s back under my hands, its hair bristly and its skin dry… I think they let Mick touch the elephant at the circus, so he got that detail right, too. We flew through the clouds, doing loop-de-loops! There were giant hot-air balloons going by us, and then things got really strange, as a World War II flying ace zoomed by, and then a pirate ship. 

“The captain spotted us in his spyglass, and then his crew began to shoot at us with cannonballs! So Mick swerved to avoid being hit, and they missed us every time. Then a dinosaur so big it could reach into the sky tried to swipe at us, but again, Mick swerved to avoid him. 

“The elephant set us down softly back on earth when we were ready, and then it presented us both with giant lollipops held out in its trunk, the old-fashioned candy that looks like a swirled ribbon shaped into a disk. Back then those were a rare treat. Oh, the dream was grand and beautiful, the kind of dream you think children should have.”

“But how about now, Gran?”

Mick walked in without a word to either of them and began rifling through the cupboards, looking for more liquor.

“Maybe you should ask Great-Uncle Mick if I’ve picked up any of his dreams,” Granny Grace proposed, her voice a bit stern.

He startled. “What’s this? Oh, the dream thing. Humph. No sister sightings in many a year, thank God.” He found the bottle he was looking for and practically cuddled it to his chest, as if it were an old friend.

“Well, we’re all under one roof now,” Granny Grace cautioned. “So who knows what will happen.”

That first night, what happened was this: Two of the three dreamslippers got very little sleep.

Cat didn’t necessarily agree with Granny Grace’s rules, especially in this instance. Even though Mick refused to write down a timeline for the evening, Cat made a mental note of the whole evening, and she could not account for Mick’s whereabouts after they met him at seven p.m. for dinner at the Blue Pineapple. 

“Nobody eats dinner in Miami before eight,” Mick had complained. But he gave in, and they’d had the early dinner. The next time they saw him was at the hotel when the police came just before two a.m. That left nearly the whole evening unaccounted for. 

Cat tossed and turned before finally giving in to the temptation to open herself up to any dreams her uncle might be having. It was a skill she’d honed over the past year, thanks to her grandmother’s mentoring. Using their ability this way, they’d been able to catch two embezzlers and a woman cheating on her husband.

As she drifted to sleep, she entered her uncle’s mind space by imagining one of his paintings, the big, abstract one that sort of resembled a seashell. She pictured him creating it in sweeping, broad strokes….

There were no pirates, dinosaurs, or flying elephants in this one, but it did strike her right away as most likely Mick’s. 

 

She was in his art studio, before the fire. Donnie was there, painting, and Rose de la Crem clopped in on her heels and tossed a cup of coffee at the painting, mixing it in with the paint Donnie had applied to the canvas. 

“See?” she said, a hand on one hip. “Isn’t that better?”

Cat heard herself say, “Yes, it is better” in Mick’s voice.

Rose broke down crying and threw the cup to the floor. It shattered, the pieces flying. “Why can’t I do this with my own work?” 

Donnie hugged Rose till she calmed down while Cat-as-Mick knelt to pick up the pieces. The mug was one of Rose’s thrift-store finds. “Florida Quacker” was printed in bold pink on an image of a duck wearing a trucker cap that was more redneck than ironic. The duck was sitting in a beach chair, sipping a cocktail. Cat could tell this through the broken pieces, putting them back together as if they formed a puzzle.

“C’mon,” Donnie coaxed Rose. “Let’s go take a look at what you’re working on.”

He motioned for Mick to follow, and the three walked down the hallway to Rose’s studio. But when Rose opened the door, a swirl of black smoke blew out, swallowing them up. Cat couldn’t breathe. She coughed, choking on the smoke as she saw Rose drop to the floor, overcome by the fumes. Cat could feel herself about to go down next. But then the dream changed.

They were in Mick’s studio. She caught a glimpse of Donnie, asleep on a cot behind a curtain, a bottle of Bushmill’s open on the floor next to him. Cat rode along in her uncle’s consciousness as Mick picked up pots of paint thinner and turpentine and began dumping them out around the room. He opened the curtain and poured the liquid onto Donnie, who woke in time to see Mick and yell out. But Mick lit a match and threw it onto him, everything going up in a burst of flame. Donnie screamed and screamed until he couldn’t scream anymore….

 

And then Mick woke up, and Cat was forced out of the dream

She sat up, sweaty, her heart pounding. She heard Mick stumble to the bathroom, coughing and clearing his throat. Did he know she’d slipped into his dream? He hadn’t seemed to show it within the dream. She lay in bed for a long time, considering her uncle’s possible guilt and how she could tell this to Granny Grace.

But then Cat fell into her own recurring nightmare, one that had plagued her for the past year, a dream within a dream. 

 

She is sleeping in bed with Lee and begins to dream. The killer, Anita, slips into Cat’s head. Anita was not a dreamslipper in real life, but in Cat’s dream-within-the dream, she has the ability. She fuses with Cat’s consciousness so that Cat can feel Anita in her head; she can hear Anita’s thoughts.

 Cut out the rot to make the wood strong. In Jesus’s name. You will be the Church’s salvation.  

Quickly, Anita overpowers Cat so that Cat becomes Anita. She gets up and looks in the mirror, and it’s Anita’s face staring back at her. The dream always ends the same way: Cat-as-Anita opens Lee’s dresser drawer, pulls out a gun, and shoots him there in the bed.

Only this time, as Cat/Anita turns around with the gun, she finds there’s someone else there, sitting in a side chair, drinking whiskey.

“Whatcha doin’ there, my mild-mannered grand-niece?” Mick says, motioning with his drink at the gun in her hands.

Cat hears herself as Anita answering him. “I’m going to shoot that man,” she says, pointing the gun at Lee, sleeping in the bed.

“That’d be a waste of time,” Mick says, taking a drink. “Seeing as how he’s already dead.”

Cat turns to the bed with a start and sees Lee as he looked that terrible day on Granny Grace’s front porch, after Anita shot him, with part of his head blown away and blood spilling out around him like a halo.

“No!” she cries, and suddenly she’s Cat again. Anita is gone, and Cat crouches down to stop the blood.

 

Cat awakened from the dream in a panic, and it took her a few moments to realize where she was. Then she heard the sound of her uncle, shuffling to the kitchen for another drink. 

So he had the ability to appear and talk to her in her dreams, as Granny Grace did.

The next day, Cat tried to broach the subject of Mick’s possible guilt to her grandmother, but she couldn’t find the words. “I think your brother might be an arsonist or murderer” didn’t exactly roll off the tongue. 

Mick came out of his room only to piss or get more alcohol, helping himself to Ernesto’s ample stash. Cat was sure Alvarez and her posse would identify the hole in his alibi soon, if they hadn’t already. But they were probably waiting for the forensics reports. They’d want more evidence on Mick before interrogating him further. Granny Grace went to the precinct station but got no more information. 

When Granny Grace was out, Cat called her mother to let her know what was happening. Mercy was upset, and as always, worried about Cat’s safety. She was relieved to hear they weren’t staying at Mick’s beach house. Cat took the opportunity to ask her mother about her family history.

“What do you know about your uncle, Mom? Why do Granny Grace and Mick live on opposite coasts?”

“Oh, those two had some kind of falling-out in the Eighties.” Her mother clicked her tongue in judgment. “Tedious, if you ask me.”

“Do you know what it was about?”

“No idea. They used to be extremely close, and then… It probably has to do with you-know-what.”

Cat’s mother didn’t like to talk about the dreamslipping thing. Up until Cat proved she could do it by relating the content of her mother’s dreams exactly, she had denied its existence. It apparently skipped a generation. 

As she said good-bye to her mother, Cat wondered if there wasn’t a personal reason Granny Grace had set up those rules.

The next night, things were a bit better for Cat. Mick had had so much to drink his dreams were washy and disjointed, and that made it easy for Cat to pop out of them when she inadvertently slipped into them. And he didn’t slip into hers. 

And now after a couple of days, Mick was sprawled out on the lanai, which he was using as a sort of makeshift studio, a giant easel on two-by-fours set up in the middle. But not much painting was getting done, Cat noted. She took him some coffee and a sandwich, setting the plate on a side table next to where he was reclining on a vintage Sixties-era sofa. Ernesto was a collector of Mid-Century Modern furniture.

“Uncle Mick,” she said sharply, “you’ve got to eat.”

“Right.” He opened his eyes halfway. “Eat.” He slumped back down on the sofa.

Cat snapped her fingers in front of his face. “Uncle Mick!”

It startled him into opening one eye. “Whaaat?”

“It’s lunchtime, a couple of days after your studio was torched. You’ve been wallowing in drink long enough. It’s time to get up.”

He lifted himself up into a sitting position with great effort, placing his bare feet on the floor. He was wearing the same pajamas he’d put on two days ago. She could smell his sourness.

She gestured to the food on the side table. “Eat.”

He set the plate in his lap and then lifted the coffee to his lips.

“This isn’t Cuban,” he said. “And it’s pretty weak, besides.”

Cat resisted the urge to smack him.

He put the cup down and took up the sandwich, grinning after the first bite. “Say, this is tasty, Cat. Thanks.”

She smiled back. His bipolar nature caught her off guard.

He polished it off handily. “Got another?” 

She stepped into the kitchen, made another sandwich, and returned. He was up and standing in front of a blank canvas on his easel, stabbing into the surface with charcoal. Cat watched as he worked. 

Slowly the image took shape, and she gasped: It was Donnie’s burnt body.

“When I look at the canvas, that’s what I see.”

He put the charcoal down, went to his bedroom, and came back dressed. “I’m heading out for some real coffee.”

Before she could offer to tag along, the door slammed, and he was gone.

Cat went back to work, shrugging off her great uncle’s loss-infused rudeness. She was researching every square inch of his storied art career to see if she could turn up anyone who hated him enough to torch his studio. There were plenty of jealous types, including a couple of suspicious ones from his grad-school days, but were they envious enough to try to kill him, especially after all these years? She’d have to find out.

After an hour or two, Mick hadn’t returned, but Granny Grace swept in. “Still at the computer?” she asked, disapprovingly. “You know, Cat, in my day, we never used computers. We had to do our investigating on foot.”

“On foot? I thought you went around on horseback.”

“All right, Smarty Pants, we’ve got more interviewing to do. Here, I’ve marked a few we haven’t met.” She tossed Cat the Art Basel artists’ directory. “Today’s the last day of the show, so let’s vamoose before these artistes leave town.”

Cat groaned. So far, talking to artists had turned up nothing other than a few choice anecdotes for future cocktail-party fodder. She and Granny Grace had tackled a few the day before, wanting to do something other than sit and wait for Alvarez’s team. Cat had her fill after meeting with the performance artist whose entire shtick involved making music with an electric razor as his instrument. 

Cat scoped the directory, finding the entry Granny Grace starred in a purple pen. “South Beach?” Cat questioned, her voice edged with sarcasm. “This requires travel. In a car. Across the causeway.”

“Better wear sunscreen,” Granny Grace advised.

What should have been a twenty-minute drive took them twice as long due to traffic, and they were nearly wiped out by a guy doing ninety and swerving from lane to lane while watching TV on a screen built into his driver’s-side visor. Even a short drive in Miami meant risking your life.

But soon they were in the loft space belonging to the first artist on the list, Kazuo Noshihara. He’d rented the space for the show. It offered a commanding view of the beach from floor-to-ceiling windows. His work was scattered around, and he and his assistants were busy crating it for the return trip to Japan. 

From what Cat could tell, his work amounted to nothing more than white canvases with pieces of lint stuck to them. But Granny Grace gasped as if impressed when she saw them. 

“Brilliant,” her grandmother pronounced, and there came Noshihara, in his crisp white jeans and equally crisp white shirt, to greet her. Cat drifted away from them as they lapsed into a conversation about the artistic influence of Yoko Ono, whom Granny Grace said she’d once met in person, as had Noshihara. Cat wondered briefly if every artist in Miami had once met Yoko Ono. 

Walking the length of the paintings awaiting their crates, Cat kept expecting to see something more than simple white canvases with a single piece of lint stuck into the middle of each, but that’s all there was to see.

As she returned to her grandmother and Noshihara, Cat watched as Granny Grace reached into the pocket of her linen trousers, grabbed what lint was there, and offered it to the artist.

He accepted the gift with tears in his eyes. “You have a deep understanding of Minimalism, of the detritus of living, in a small way,” he said. “My English fails me. But I think you know.”

“I think I do,” said Granny Grace, nodding. 

“I will title my next piece ‘The Gift of Grace,’ for you.” The artist bowed.

Cat had to hand it to her grandmother. She really knew how to connect with people. But as for shedding insight on the case, Noshihara had not much more to offer than, well, pocket lint. He knew Mick only by reputation and had a solid alibi for the night of the fire, which had been verified already by Miami PD, which had been by for a chat.

Cat felt the time was wasted, but she also knew from her criminal-justice classes that most of detective legwork wasn’t glamorous or even relevant. In the white elevator of Noshihara’s building, Granny Grace turned to Cat. “You know, you should really take more of an interest in our potential suspects.”

“Do you know how much his lint sells for?” Cat spat back. “Fifty thousand dollars! For the fuzz some hipster scraped out of his pockets, Gran! It’s ridiculous. The whole art world is a joke.”

Her grandmother raised an eyebrow at her. Sizing Cat up and down, she asked, “Let me see your lint.”

“What?”

“Let’s see it. Whatever you’ve got in your pocket. I want to know.”

The elevator chimed, and they stepped out into the white-and-turquoise building vestibule, To Cat, it felt like walking into an iPod. Granny Grace steered her over to a white leather bench perched on aluminum legs. 

“There,” she said, pointing to the bench surface. “Take it out and set it there.”

“We have two more people to interview on South Beach,” Cat protested.

“Humor me.”

“Fine.” Cat reached into the right pocket of her slacks, not expecting to find much, as they were warm-weather slacks and not appropriate for Seattle most of the year. She’d hardly worn them before this trip. 

She turned out her pocket, and a scraggly array of fibers fell into her hand. She set them on the bench. 

Granny Grace knelt to look at them closely, taking her smartphone and flipping to a light-bulb app, which illuminated the pocket lint. “Let’s see…” Amidst gray fibers from Cat’s pants, there was what looked like the corner of a dollar bill. Cat had to admit it was visually sort of interesting, but not earth-shattering or surprising in any way. 

“A bit of money. Big deal.”

Also caught up in the gray pants fibers was a crumb from the pastry they’d had that morning at the Cuban bakery on Calle Ocho. “Yeah, that’s a cool detail,” Cat conceded. “But art worth tens of thousands? Hardly.”

“The detritus of everyday life,” Granny Grace pronounced. “It tells the story of what we do with our hands, and what we value enough to keep with us.”

“Sure,” Cat said, smiling. “So apparently I value food and money. Can we go now?”

“What’s in your other pocket?”

“Really? We’re doing this?”

“Yes,” her grandmother said, motioning to the bench.

Cat emptied the contents of her other pocket.

Granny Grace bent forward like a forensics examiner. “Oh, look at this,” she said. “It’s paper…” She unrolled a piece of paper fiber that had obviously been through the wash. Faded but still readable were the words Dave’s Drive-In and a logo of a frosty soda mug with a happy smiling face superimposed on the white mug froth. 

Cat took it from Granny Grace’s hands. Seeing it instantly brought her back to the day that Lee had shown up in Missouri, worried about her, foolishly playing the white knight come to rescue her. She had no choice but to take him with her on a trip to Johnson’s Shut-Ins, where she found a clue, etched into the rocks there, that was relevant to her case. They’d stopped at Dave’s Drive-In for lunch on the way, and the two of them had scrunched up the papers around their straws and then siphoned soda onto them, watching them grow like worms. She’d felt like a kid again, laughing with Lee.

Her eyes began to water.

“What is it, Cat? Is it something from your trip back to St. Louis?”

“Yes. I went there with Lee.”

Cat felt her grandmother’s arms around her as the tears came. “Oh, my poor dear. You just got socked with the power of art.”

Cat recovered, and, laying a hand on her grandmother’s shoulder, she said, “Gran. I need to ask you something. I hate to ask it, but I have to.” She cleared her throat. “Should we consider Uncle Mick a suspect?”

“Certainly not!”

“He doesn’t have an alibi….”

“Yes, I know.” Her grandmother looked away. “He’s hiding something about that night. But he didn’t set that fire. He lost most of his art, not to mention his best friend, in that fire. So get that out of your head.”

“It’s just…” Cat hesitated, swallowing hard. 

“What, Cat? Say it.”

“I, um, dreamslipped with him.”

“On purpose?”

“Yes.”

Granny Grace silently regarded Cat.

“I couldn’t help it … I wanted to know… And I found something. He dreamed—”

“—Whatever he dreamed, it doesn’t matter.”

“But what if you’re in denial because he’s your brother? He dreamed that he set his studio on fire and killed Donnie.”

Her grandmother sat there for a long time, not saying anything. Then she picked up the remnant of the straw wrapper, which Cat had set in her own lap. “Like you keep dreaming that you shot Lee. That’s not the same as this, is it? Hard evidence. Always remember that, dreamslipper.”

Cat let the words sink in. Her grandmother was right. But then Cat realized something. “Hey, you’ve slipped into my Lee nightmares! What about the rules?”

“As you illustrated, Cat, rules are meant to be broken.” And with that, Granny Grace hoisted herself to her feet. “C’mon. We’ve got more artists to interview.”

 

CHAPTER 3

 

It was the worst conversation Mick Travers had ever had in his life.

Telling Donnie’s parents that their precious son was gone, their precious boy, no matter that he was a forty-three-year-old man who hadn’t yet made it as an artist—to them he would always be their precious boy sitting on the living room floor drawing like a boy genius—that was the worst conversation he’d ever had. It wasn’t even so much a conversation as a verbal bloodletting. Poor Mary Ellen Hines and Donald Hines, Sr., sitting in their suburban kitchen in suburban Ohio, getting this information over the phone. 

Mick had let Donald Sr. cry in that silent, wracking way a man not given to shedding a tear finally does when something happens that is so painful, even he can’t hold it back. “No,” was the first thing the man said. Just “no.” 

Mick waited while Donald told Mary Ellen.

“We should come down,” Donald finally said through choked sobs. “We should … see him.”

Mick thought of Donnie’s unrecognizable body. No parent should have to see that. He also knew they couldn’t afford several trips to Miami or funeral costs. Mick had heard from Donnie that his parents struggled financially after the airline company Donald had worked for all his life defaulted on his pension. The two survived solely on their small savings and Social Security. Donnie hoped to make it big as an artist so he could help them. They’d never been able to visit their son in Miami, not that they were the traveling type anyway. Unlike their free-spirited son, the two had barely ever left Ohio in their own lifetimes. Donnie had driven up to see them whenever he could, usually making the trip in a record two days in his aged Datsun. 

“You don’t have to do that,” Mick told the man. “Really. It’s better … if you remember him the way he was.”

Seized with a galvanizing sense of guilt, Mick said, “Please, let me handle the wake. We’ll have it here. You can come down then. It won’t be long. Just a week or two.”

The two agreed, and Mick left them to their black hole of grief.

There was nothing for it, nothing at all, not even five bottles of Bushmill’s. When he came out of his stupor, he was still angry enough to carp at his well-meaning grandniece. He left the house just so he didn’t end up saying something he’d regret. 

Donnie hadn’t deserved to go out like that.

It should have been me, Mick thought, about fifty times an hour.

He drove to a Cuban bakery in a strip mall where he knew he could get some decent coffee. He would have preferred a walk or a bike ride, and maybe one of those would have cleared his head, but nobody really did that in Miami. Both activities were in fact dangerous; the head of the city’s transportation department had recently been mowed down by an SUV while biking to work. That was Miami for you. 

He sat in a booth and ordered a cortadito, though he preferred the taste of the colada. But coladas were meant to be shared. He, Donnie, Rose, and some of the other residents of the Brickell Lofts often took communal coffee breaks that way. One of them would go out and get a colada in a big Styrofoam cup and pour the syrupy coffee into tiny plastic thimbles, one shot each. It was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. They’d stand around in Mick’s studio shooting the shit, Rose complaining about her boyfriend (in Mick’s opinion he seemed to only come around when he needed something from Rose), and the three of them criticizing what they’d read in Art in Our Time that month. 

Donnie was Mick’s studio assistant. His first. Donnie could handle the large canvases Mick painted, the twenty-by-twenty-foot behemoths his patrons and collectors loved to put in their big Miami manses. Mick could no longer stretch and manage them on his own. Everyone told Mick to work with the local colleges to get an intern to do it for free, but Mick didn’t believe in slave labor. 

Donnie reminded Mick of himself twenty years prior: an artist with amazing work ethic and experience who hadn’t ever hit it big. So Mick hired him and paid him, even gave him health insurance through the Miami Artists’ Guild. And when Donnie’s escalating rent had forced him out of his apartment, and Mick found out Donnie had no savings whatsoever for “retirement,” whatever that was to an artist, or anyone anymore for that matter, Mick let Donnie move into Mick’s own tremendous studio space.

Mick’s cortadito arrived, but then he added a guava pastry. Cat’s sandwich had already burned up in his stomach, which hadn’t been fueled in forty-eight hours. The waitress was Cuban and either knew no English or refused to use it. So Mick was forced to tap into his Cuban-styled Spanish, still accented by his Midwestern roots despite his long stint in Miami. “Pour fahvor, dee gamey una pasteleez con hwava.”

While he waited, he swirled the sugary coffee in his cup and contemplated the target of his anger, and that was whatever piece of excrement coated in five layers of vomit and snot had come into his studio and set fire to his works-in-progress, killing his friend in the process. His sister was right; clearly the intended target had been Mick himself. Outside of Rose and some of the other live-work tenants, nobody knew Donnie had been sleeping in Mick’s studio. But before he’d let Donnie have it, Mick often slept there, when he worked late at night and didn’t want to drive back to his beach house in South Dade.

Mick had already been killed a million times by other artists’ jealousy. This had begun to happen even before he’d had any success. 

As early as junior high, it had set him apart. In the small town where he and Priscilla, aka “Amazing Grace,” grew up, it had already started. In his junior high class, no less, which was made up of Mick and eleven other kids. They didn’t have locks on their lockers, which were stacked against one wall of their homeroom. In art class, Mick painted Johnny Cash performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. His teacher, who was a Cash fan and encouraged Mick’s talent besides, held it up for the whole class to see. Later, when Mick went into his unlocked locker to take the picture home to show his parents, it was no longer there. Someone had stolen it.

In graduate school, his talent quickly became known, and one of his professors declared, “We have a real artist in our midst.” But that professor’s rival was a man who’d recently been granted tenure without the level of artistic success the others in the department enjoyed. He had made it his personal mission to destroy Mick not only as an artist but as a human being. Chester Canon, or “Chester the Molester,” as Mick liked to call him, screamed and threw things at Mick during crits, described him as a “no-talent hack” to anyone within hearing, and ridiculed his work with insatiable glee. Canon enlisted into his campaign several of Mick’s fellows, students who couldn’t find the perspective in a painting if it were diagramed into the canvas like a paint-by-numbers kit.

Canon got his comeuppance, though, when he refused to enter Mick’s painting in a national contest of MFA art students’ work. Several of the professors wanted to enter Mick’s Pink Splash. To create Pink Splash, Mick had taken an old advertisement for facial bleaching cream, decoupaged it onto a canvas, set the canvas on the floor, climbed to the top of a very tall ladder, and then dripped pink paint over it. Canon’s vote was trumped by the other faculty, and Pink Splash was submitted against his wishes. In competition with the work of hundreds of students throughout the country, it won. 

“A riveting commentary on the nature of racial complexion,” said the judges. That had taken the wind out of Canon’s sails, for sure, since Mick’s talent had been vindicated by an independent panel of judges whose opinion he had to accept, even if he vehemently disagreed. 

Mick ran down the list of hating grad students in his head, wondering if any of them still bore a grudge. It was possible. A year after grad school, Art in Our Time published a Letter to the Editor that bad-mouthed the work of one of Mick’s professors, making it sound as if the letter had been written by Mick. It was signed Mick in Miami, which is where he’d fled after graduate school. He was the only “Mick” in the Miami art world.  Coupled with the letter’s references to the professor’s work and the classes Mick took, it was easy to assume that Mick had written the letter. That professor had been one of Mick’s staunchest allies, and it pained Mick to think the professor believed he’d written it. Mick tried to get the magazine to print a retraction, but it refused. And the professor refused to take Mick’s calls.

The worst part was, Mick had criticized some aspects of that professor’s work, over beers with the other students, in confidence, but never to the professor’s face. Whoever wrote the letter cribbed some of Mick’s details from those conversations. So the letter had an air of authenticity to it, and Mick knew whoever betrayed him had been close enough to be involved in the regular round of criticism most art students doled out against their professors, especially when drinking. 

The pastry was a delicious concoction of orange guava jelly between layers of buttery, flaky crust. Mick wolfed it down and gulped his coffee. Then he took his flip sketchbook out of his back pocket and began to jot down some names. It was something Priscilla and Cat had been asking for since the night of the fire. It was a humiliating task, compiling a list of people who might want him dead for no other reason than jealousy over his knack for putting lines and colors together on canvas. And he was alarmed to find that it was a rather long list, one that had grown through the years.

When he was finished, he sat there staring at the ring of milky brown coffee left in the bottom of his cup. He could give this list to the police, but they would still think of him as a suspect unless he coughed up his alibi. 

But he feared his alibi would make him look guiltier.

He flipped the cover closed on his sketchbook and decided to talk to the one person who could verify he hadn’t set the fire that night: A goth chick named Jenny Baines.

Buy the Book


Pre-Order Now! Dreamslippers Series Book Two

Framed and Burning _ 1.96MB

I have a special offer going right now: You can pre-order Framed and Burning on ebook for $1 off. Once the book releases on November 27, the regular price will be set at $3.99. 

Framed and Burning is the much-anticipated second book in the Dreamslippers Series. The Dreamslippers are a family of private investigators who have the ability to "slip" into your dreams. In Framed and Burning, someone sets fire to Mick Travers’ art studio, killing his assistant, and Mick won't give an alibi. His dreamslipping sister--the eccentric Amazing Grace--is convinced he's innocent, but her granddaughter and the police aren't so sure. Was it really Mick, or is something even darker behind the fire? 

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Still looking for a reason to pre-order? Here's the prologue:

Brickell Lofts, Miami

December 5, 2013

10:37 pm

 

Donnie Hines was passed out drunk in a corner of his studio when the flames made their way to the painting he’d finished that night.

It was a true work of art, and he knew it. Not just good, but great. He knew it even as the whiskey—a diabetic, he had no business drinking that much, and he knew, that, too—made his tongue thick in his mouth and his eyelids droop. When he could no longer hold a paintbrush, he’d sat back in a metal folding chair and realized he had finally done it. He had captured, perfectly, the fractal shapes he’d been chasing his whole life. Ever since his father took him to the Cleveland Science Center when he was ten, he’d seen them in his imagination. That day a scientist showed the crowd how fractals could be found everywhere: in mountains and rivers and seashells. Never-ending patterns that repeated themselves in an ongoing feedback loop, they were the most beautiful things Donnie had ever seen. For the past thirty years, he’d been trying to capture them on canvas.

And in the end, all he needed for inspiration was a bowl of broccoli. 

Not just any ordinary broccoli, either. This was special. “Romanesco broccoli,” the woman at the market stall called it. Lime green, its florets spiraling into fractal shapes. He bought a bag of it, had it sitting in a bowl on an old Formica table. Mick, whose studio Donnie shared, kept threatening to cook it up for lunch. But he agreed it was special. “Froccoli,” Mick called it.

Donnie had worked feverishly that night as a way to stamp down the loss he felt. Working always helped, always freed him from feelings he couldn’t sort through. But in the end, his masterpiece at last finished, it was the drinking that had won out. A bottle of Bushmill’s, three-quarters empty, sat on the floor by the cot where he slept.

Donnie hadn’t even signed the painting.

But it didn’t matter. The fire that devoured Donnie’s masterpiece knew no names and took no prisoners. The paint still wet, it went up in a shimmer of orange, igniting the wooden two-by-four easel behind it. 

Next Mick’s paintings caught fire. An angry slash of black on a field of red curled easily into charred shreds. A thick decoupage of mixed media first melted, its bits of metal and rock sliding down before the canvas disappeared in flames. One painting, then another, some finished, some not, went up in flames.

The fire leapt to a stack of framed paintings leaning against the wall like oversized dominoes, first eating their stretched cloth and then attacking their hardier wooden frames. Bottles of turpentine, paint thinner, and oil paint fed the flames, as did the men’s bottles of whiskey, wine, and gin, all of them exploding, their glass shattering. 

Donnie did not stir. 

Perhaps he was already dead. 

Or maybe he dreamed in his sleep as the fire raged, smoke pouring in behind the curtain surrounding his cot, enveloping his passed-out form and invading his lungs. Those who knew him would expect him to dream of the fractals that were his singular obsession, how they would keep repeating into infinity, so small his eye wouldn’t be able to see them. 

First his skin fried. The flames licked across the surface of his body, the top layer quickly peeling off. Then the fire attacked the thicker layer underneath, causing it to shrink and split. As it split, Donnie’s own body fat leaked out, feeding the fire, another kind of fuel.

Maybe in his dream, he was eating the broccoli. Maybe since the florets were made of the energy of fractals, they kept repeating inside him. He could feel them spiraling through his gut. Soon he could only watch as they emerged from his belly, bursting out of the core of his body, rippling in space, turning him inside out. He was a vibrating, swirling entity of math and matter. His body dissolved. 

But as Donnie died, maybe he still existed—in a larger way, his spirit flowing as part of the energy that is everything in the universe at once, the largest supernova and the smallest quark and everything in between. 

Maybe Donnie’s true masterpiece was this: He became a fractal, never ending.