Mystery 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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'Bound to the Truth' Wins indieBRAG, Third in a Row for Author Lisa Brunette

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Seattle, WA--June 26, 2017--IndieBRAG announced today that Bound to the Truth, the third book in Lisa Brunette's Dreamslippers Series, was chosen to receive the indieBRAG medallion. A mark of excellence in the self-publishing industry, the medallion is awarded only to 20 to 25 percent of books submitted for the award. Lisa Brunette has received a medallion for all three books in the Dreamslippers Series to date.

“We’re thrilled to award a third medallion to Lisa Brunette,” said indieBRAG President Geri Clouston. “Bound to the Truth stood out to our reviewers in particular for the excellent writing style--the author’s distinctive voice, with its pleasing, evocative rhythm--and for the polish and attention to professional copyediting.”

IndiBRAG, LLC has brought together a large group of readers, both individuals and members of book clubs, located throughout the United States and in ten other countries around the globe. All ebooks are subjected to a rigorous selection process. This entails an initial screening to ensure that the author’s work meets certain minimum standards of quality and content. IndieBRAG reserves the right to reject an ebook during this initial screening assessment for any reason. If it passes this preliminary assessment, it is then read by a selected group of members drawn from their global reader team. In both the initial screening phase and, if appropriate, the subsequent group evaluation phase, each book is judged against a comprehensive list of relevant literary criteria.

"It's an honor to have had all three books chosen for the medallion," said Lisa Brunette. "The Dreamslippers Series is quirky, genre-crossing, and female-centric, which made it a tough sell for traditional publishing. But indieBRAG readers have shown that the self-publishing arena is the perfect place for experienced writers like me to take chances and experiment."

Bound to the Truth is the latest novel in the bestselling, award-winning Dreamslippers Series, which features a grandmother/granddaughter PI duo who use their psychic dream ability to solve crimes. In Bound to the Truth, their client thinks she knows who the killer is, but Cat and Amazing Grace don’t believe her. Did Nina Howell really fall under the spell of a domineering, conservative talk show host? The case brings powerful new developments in Cat’s dreamslipping skill as she works to find the answer. 

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Bound to the Truth received rave reviews from bloggers across the indie community. “I found myself completely submerged in this story of intrigue," said Book Fidelity. J Bronder Book Reviews, which has given all three books in the series high praise, said, “I loved following along as they had to dig deep to find the killer.”

About the indieBRAG Medallion

BRAGMedallion.com is owned and operated by indieBRAG, LLC, a privately held organization that has brought together a large group of readers, both individuals and members of book clubs, located throughout the United States and in ten other countries around the globe. The word “indie” refers to self-published books, while B.R.A.G. is an acronym for Book Readers Appreciation Group. The name “indieBRAG” and the B.R.A.G. logos are trademarks of indieBRAG, LLC. The B.R.A.G. Medallion is a certification trademark owned and controlled by indieBRAG, LLC.

About Author Lisa Brunette

Lisa Brunette writes books and games. 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 Unknown Sender: 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.

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How to Embrace Your Dark Side Without Getting Lost

 

The-Devil
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 Cover for My Next Book Is a Loading Screen

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I'm excited to announce Unknown Sender: The Woods, my debut interactive novel produced by Daily Magic, releasing this summer. 

I hope you like the cover art loading screen*. It's rare for a writer to get credit on a game's loading screen like this, by the way. You can buy, download, and play it on your digital device like any other game, but since it's text-based and story-driven, the folks at Daily Magic decided to acknowledge that it's largely a written work.

The interaction comes in the choices you, the player or reader, make as you progress through the story. You log onto an anonymous chat app for the first time, and an "unknown sender" reaches out to you--with a life-and-death appeal for help. Alone and lost in the woods, your new chat buddy must escape a broken-down RV surrounded by ravenous wolves. And that's just problem number one.

Your texter's friends and insulin supply are missing, and it seems whoever took them wants to play games through the radio. This psycho geneticist has a thing for riddles and traps--human traps, that is. 

Can you beat him at his own game--without sacrificing anyone? Will you help Unknown Sender uncover the mystery that still haunts these dark woods?

 * For you non-gamers: The loading screen is what you see when the game content is loading onto your device. It's treated sort of like a book cover.


What Are Daily Magic and I Dreaming Up?

May 19, 2017
Here I am with Marianna Shilina Vallejo, CEO of Daily Magic Productions, taking an awkward selfie in their Greenwood studio. Awkward for me, anyway. Marianna is naturally photogenic!

Those of you who know me as author of the Dreamslippers Series might've missed that I also write games. With nearly a decade of game work under my belt, I'm something of a know-it-all when it comes to games, at least the story portion of them, and at least games with fairly accessible controls, such as your Wii or iPad. I guess you could say these are "casual" games--although what that means keeps changing. Let's just say I have never written for the type of game that is like what most people think of (usually disparagingly) when they think of video games: anything with a lot of blood and gore in which shooting/killing is the "play." Not that there's anything wrong with those, as some represent the finest storytelling in the medium. But the games I've worked on have been much more mainstream, the gameplay focused on solving mysteries and puzzles, using deduction and intrigue, and standard interactions such as "match three in a row."  

May 19, 2017
Cool gamer art at Daily Magic's Seattle studio.

For five years, I served as a sort of story consultant for Big Fish, where my team of narrative designers and I critiqued and edited games designed by studios all over the world. We dedicated ourselves to helping our partner developers make the stories in each game as compelling as they could possibly be. One of those partners was Russian studio Daily Magic Productions, which is how I first met Marianna Vallejo, pictured above.

As narrative designer on most of Daily Magic's games for Big Fish, I helped design and edit the Dark Dimensions, Sable Maze, Ominous Objects, and other series, so Marianna and I have in effect been working on games together since 2011. Flash forward to last fall, when we met to talk about working together as independents on something different than the hidden-object puzzle adventure games we made for years.

May 19, 2017
I think this is a game. I don't know. We were too busy working to play it. Sometimes, that's how it goes.

Different, yes, but also building on what we know how to do well: tell stories in games, integrating the narrative with the puzzle play for the enhancement of both, and ultimately, the player's highest enjoyment.

Marianna and I were on the same page about what interests us in games and where we think they can go. We decided to make one together, and it releases this summer. I can't wait to tell you more about it! For now, here's the trailer: 

May 19, 2017
Marianna, demonstrating that yes, sometimes game designers work on actual paper documents! And see what I mean? This CEO cannot. Take. A bad. Picture.

How to Spend a Rainy Weekend: Dreamslipping!

Get the Entire Dreamslippers Series on Ebook for 75% Off

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It's May and still raining here in the Pacific Northwest, which probably explains why we're such a readerly culture. Nothing says "stay home and read a book" like nine months of near-continuous grey skies. So to ease you in this time of need, we've slashed the price on the Dreamslippers Series boxed set by 75%. That means you can get the entire award-winning series plus the bonus story for only $2.99. 

Series highlights:

  • Answers that all-consuming question, What if you could slip into the dreams of a killer? 
  • The Dreamslippers are a family of private investigators who solve crime using their ability to see the dreams of others
  • For mystery lovers who like a bit of realistic psychic flavor in their whodunits
  • Gay and trans-friendly, with a diverse cast of characters
  • Respectful to Christians and conservatives, not that those two things have to go together (a shout-out to liberal Christians and conservative atheists!)
  • Features a grandmother/granddaughter duo, and they have lots of conversations that don't focus on men or dating
  • Still, they get their romance on, too, so plenty of hotness, even at Granny Grace's age
  • Winner of the indieBRAG medallion, finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award, and nominated for a RONE Award

The sale applies to the boxed set, which is on ebook only and available pretty much wherever ebooks are sold, for any device in any format. 

Pass this on to your friends! Word-of-mouth sells more books than anything else. And do post a review of the boxed set when you're done reading, whether doing so made you into a committed fan or not. While book one in the series, Cat in the Flock, is up to 75 reviews now on Amazon, we don't have any yet for the boxed set, so potential readers are missing out on Grace and the gang. :( That's just how this works.

Also... exciting news! We're in talks with Hollywood representatives about interest in adapting the Dreamslippers Series to film/TV. Stay tuned... 


What If How the Story Ends Is Up to You?

An Interview with Lifeline Writer Dave Justus

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Dave Justus is author of the first and many other games in the Lifeline series from Big Fish—including the eponymous original; Lifeline 2: Bloodline; Lifeline: Silent Night; and Lifeline: Halfway To Infinity—which have enjoyed nearly 7 million worldwide downloads to date. He is also the co-writer, with Lilah Sturges, of the comic books Everafter: From The Pages Of FablesPublic RelationsFables: The Wolf Among Us; and more.
 
Lifeline games are games, but they're also novels. Part of the growing "interactive fiction" genre, the games are entirely text-based, with the reader making choices throughout. It goes like this: A stranded astronaut contacts you, asking for help in the form of a person to talk to as well as ask for advice. Sort of like if "The Martian" were a game instead of a movie, and you got to talk to Mark Watney the entire time he's stranded on Mars. 
 
Lisa: How did you get involved in writing the Lifeline series? Did you have any background in the game industry? What was the genesis for the first game?
 
Dave: I came to Lifeline in a sort of roundabout way. The original game was being developed by Three Minute Games, a tiny three-man skunkworks within Big Fish. They'd had some minor successes, but they'd come up with the concept for Lifeline and wanted its release to coincide with the release of the Apple Watch. They offered the job to my friend Daryl Gregory -- who is one of the best writers I've ever read, and I thought as much before I ever met him -- but he was too booked to do it, so he very kindly suggested me for the position. Three Minute took a chance on me (I'd barely been published at that point), and gave me tremendous freedom under a very tight deadline. They knew they wanted about three days of gameplay, a sci-fi story with a nongendered protagonist in a "choose your own adventure" style, and they needed it in five weeks. Beyond that, I was free to do whatever I wanted... which was both amazing and daunting.
 
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I had no background in games whatsoever, but I honestly think, in this case, that worked to my advantage. I'd been an avid NES gamer in my childhood, had spent plenty of time with Infocom games like Hitchhiker's Guide (whose DNA you can certainly see in Lifeline), and had played several Playstation games growing up, but the last one I'd really sunk any amount of time into was Tomb Raider 2, back in college. Once I graduated, I had very little "mad money," and I chose to apply that to comics (which I've been collecting since I was eight) rather than video games. But in the case of Lifeline, I think it worked out very well, because I wrote the game purely as a conversation. I wasn't thinking in terms of "power-ups" or acquiring weapons or typical video game structures; rather, I wanted it to feel as much as possible like the Player was receiving texts from a real human being. And the feedback we've gotten has largely indicated that that's exactly what people feel when they're playing: They're not controlling a sprite, they're talking to an actual person.
 
Lisa: How much text is in these games? As much as a typical novel, say 80,000 words, at least? Or far fewer? Also, you say they wanted three days of play, but I note there are breaks when Taylor is busy. What's the breakout between "idle" time and actual play? How did you figure out how long the breaks should be? What's the longest? The shortest?
 
Dave: The first Lifeline game is a little over 50,000 words -- more in the range of a novella, or possibly a YA novel. Because of the way I ended up structuring the game (in that I didn't really know what I was doing and wanted to give people the most bang for their buck), a Player who makes it to the end of the game alive will actually have seen the bulk of the game's text. Hopefully no passages that contradict any others, obviously... but I wanted to put as much info as possible on the screen.
 
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Lifeline 2: Bloodline had almost twice as many words. It was very freeing for me, because I felt like I could go into so much more depth on Arika's character, her world, and her quests... but it was a lot to ask of the team on the other end, specifically in terms of translation to other languages. For subsequent games, we've looked for a happy medium in terms of word count: not so much that it causes panic attacks at the Big Fish offices, but enough that the authors can stretch their legs a bit and the Players can, we hope, feel satisfied with the end result.
 
The "idle" time was essential to Three Minute's concept of a real-time conversation; it takes time for the characters to walk to a new location, or to eat a meal, or to rest for a bit. The first "long" break in the original Lifeline comes when Taylor sleeps on the first night -- the Player must give Taylor some information that creates a life-or-death scenario overnight, and we wanted Players to be tense, anxious to see whether their advice had been Taylor's doom or salvation. I believe that the longest break is six hours (for a character to sleep); delays can be as short as a couple of seconds, if we want to employ them to help with the timing of a joke or something. I originally feared that the breaks would be a turn-off to Players, that no one would want to wait an hour while Taylor walked around a crater. And indeed, after one death, the games give you the option to switch off the "real-time" mode and play with no delays whatsoever. But what we found was that, overwhelmingly, the majority of Players chose to switch back to "real-time" after trying "fast" mode. The preference for the delays is considerable.
 
Lisa: Let me return to what you said about wanting players to feel as if they're talking to an actual person instead of "controlling a sprite," and how your lack of game-industry experience felt like an advantage to you. This might rankle seasoned game writers and narrative designers, since we're quite serious about our craft and its tradition beyond power-ups and what's "typical." Have you since become part of the game-writing community, instead of a sort of self-described outsider? Or do you still see yourself that way? I'm asking because text adventures in particular have a history and set of best practices that predate what we think of as video games today.
 
Lifeline fan art
'Lifeline' Fan Art
 
Dave: Please believe me when I say that the last thing I intended here was to cause offense. When I say "typical" structures, I only meant the things that I, personally, thought of as aspects common to NES and arcade games, based on my own history with them. As I mentioned, I'd also played many text games back on my old Apple IIe, and I was primarily drawing from my (admittedly fairly hazy) memories of those while trying to construct Lifeline.
 
I would definitely still consider myself an outsider when it comes to game writing. I'm in Texas -- nowhere near Big Fish or Three Minute, out on the West Coast -- and I don't wind up getting to attend all the expos and conventions with them. I would be very interested if you could point me to resources for the best practices that you mention -- I perpetually feel like I sort of stumbled into success with Lifeline, and I keep waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, "We know you're just faking it. It's time for you to leave." That day is going to suck.
 
Lisa: Great answer ;). I'll send you some links later on so you can join the game-writing party! Next question: Older players or those younger who've discovered the series anew might compare Lifeline to the Choose Your Own Adventure books, which were first popular in the 80s (I was a huge fan). Were those an inspiration for you?
 
Dave: They absolutely were. I was a voracious reader as a child -- the sort who would read the back of cereal boxes, just because they had words on them. My parents and grandparents, much to their credit, always indulged this behavior, so I had shelves and shelves of books, including probably two dozen or so Choose Your Own Adventure titles. The one that stands out in my mind, to this day, is Inside UFO 54-40, credited to Edward Packard -- it was a terrifying science fiction story, bleak to the point of nihilism, in which all paths led to defeat, and the best ending could never actually be reached. And it blew my tiny mind. It was the bridge between kids' books and adult literature for me. Once that book had broken me, I could not have cared less about Beezus and Ramona; I was ready for the Overlook Hotel and moon monoliths and Nadsat.
 
Lifeline fan art2
More 'Lifeline' Fan Art
 
Lisa: I first came across your work back when I was with Big Fish, as manager of the narrative design team. How did the relationship between Big Fish and 3-Minute Games come about, in as much as you can share with readers?
 
Dave: I'm probably not the best person to answer this one. My understanding is that Three Minute were operating as a skunkworks under the auspices of Big Fish, coming up with all sorts of games like Feed Your Monster and Poll Party. Basically, they were testing different styles of games, different pay structures, seeing which combinations worked best. They had the idea for Lifeline -- from its style to its pay structure to its length, everything came from them. They had done the work in order to make the determination that this was the best admixture of elements... and they got it very, very right. How much I contributed to that, it's hard to say; they had laid the groundwork for me so well, all I had to do was step in and not completely fall on my face. I'm grateful every day that they set me up to succeed, and I'm happy that I was able to deliver something that achieved what they were hoping for.
 
Lisa: Let's talk about the structure for a Lifeline game. Branching choices can quickly lead to a very complex structure unless you create small branches that loop back to a main narrative, and/or employ the use of stats to track choices. How do you plot out the varying narratives in Lifeline
 
Dave: The "complex structure" that you mention is something I ran into very quickly when I was working on the first Lifeline. Even when you only provide binary choices -- which, so far, is all we've done -- those branches can quickly grow out of control as each one doubles, then doubles again, until from a single node you've created a mountain. I had to train myself to weave the elements back together, to keep things from ballooning out of control. When I took on the original assignment, I thought, "Oh, this will be just like writing a short story." But it's not; it's like writing thousands of very, very short stories, of a few sentences each. It took me a painfully long time to make that distinction, but once I did, I was able to realize where I'd gone wrong, and start to plot out "nodes" where the threads were drawn back together. That made my work so, so much easier.
 
I'm not a coder by nature. I use Twine as the basis for these games (and then a lot of proprietary processes happen afterward, most of which are beyond my comprehension), and in that program I do my best to branch and reconnect smoothly. It's a tremendously useful GUI for people like me, people who need their hand held throughout the process. No matter how carefully I've plotted things in advance, every Lifeline game has led me in unexpected directions; the story that wants to be told is, without exception, better and more interesting than the story I lay out at the beginning. I trust those feelings, trust that when Taylor or Arika or whomever pulls the narrative in an unintended direction, that I'm getting a real sense of what the story should be, instead of forcing it down avenues that aren't true to the characters. (This, by the way, is a fantastic way to drive the rest of the development team insane.)
 
Banner-lifelineS-interior.png
 
Lisa: What's an example of a node? Also, did those driving the process have a sense of what came before so you weren't all reinventing the wheel? What you're describing here reminds me of the awesome discussion over at Choice of Games, where they do a great job of teaching newbies how to avoid this kind of ballooning while preserving the need for meaningful choices. 
 
Dave: I think of nodes as "have-to" moments in the game. If, say, by the end of a day, Arika has to learn a certain piece of info, encounter a certain prop, have an opportunity to eat, and fight a specific foe, then I have four nodes for that day. If she can't move on without acquiring an object or having a conversation, then I know that, no matter how wildly things balloon, all roads must lead back to a single point. The order in which they're encountered may or may not matter, but generally speaking, these are the crucial passages; the Player's decisions upon hitting these nodes will have a major effect on what follows in the game. 
 
Lisa: How many different endings could players get in a typical Lifeline game? How do you make sure those endings make sense for the previous choices made in the game?
 
Dave: Generally, there are a few deaths along the way. These are paths where the Player has made an egregious mistake, or else has willfully decided not to aid the protagonist. Those are, of course, the "bad" endings -- no one should be proud of killing their hero. Then there are the "good" endings, where the Player has done most things right, and has achieved an ending that is satisfactory, although not the best one could hope for. The hope is that the Player will feel good about these... but will still have a nagging sense that they should return to the game, and work for the best possible ending. And we'll tell you when you've achieved that; we want Players to know when they've gotten all the items, or defeated all the villains, or done the best they can. I write stories with Pyrrhic victories, sometimes -- blame Inside UFO 54-40 -- but there's always a "best" ending, and that's the canon ending that leads to the next game in the series.
 
Lisa: Does this ever backfire? It strikes me as different than most casual gameplay, where player character deaths are generally avoided. Do you lose some players by opting for Pyrrhic victories?
 
Dave: I had that fear at the outset, but to the relief of all of us, the Player reactions to character deaths seem to be a deepening of involvement, not an abandoning of the game. It seems to largely be the case that, if a Player loses Taylor by pushing the character too hard or by supplying incorrect information, there's generally a sense of culpability in the death that makes the Player want to try harder the next time. I've seen dozens, maybe hundreds, of people on social media expressing genuine grief and sadness over character deaths in the Lifeline games. 
 
Halfway-to-infinity
 
Lisa: (This last one's for my stepson, who loved the first game when it went viral at his high school a few years ago.) You set up Taylor as a gender-neutral character, an interesting choice. Can you talk about your reasons for that? My stepson notes that most of his classmates assumed Taylor was either female (most of the women did this) or split evenly between male or female (mostly guys).
 
Dave: The gender-neutrality of Taylor's character came from Three Minute Games, but I thought it was a fantastic idea. At that time, it was easier than I thought it would be to write such a character -- when gender signifiers are removed, you realize how similar a kick-ass male and female protagonist actually are. It's grown increasingly difficult, as Halfway To Infinity introduces a doppelgänger Taylor, to keep the pronouns correct -- but I'm happy to face down that challenge. Seeing so much fan art for the character has made me realize just how much room we've left for interpretation. I don't consider that there's a "right" answer at all. People who know me have told me that they see a lot of me in Taylor... but for every argument for "male," I see another one, just as convincing, for "female." I love that I don't have a definitive answer. I hope that I never do. I hope that I can continue to write a character that resonates with everyone who reads it.
 
You can download the game to your favorite device. See the Big Fish Lifeline page for more info.
 
 

Partners in Crime Spring '17: The 21-Blog Salute!

Booktourlove

March was a busy month, as I had two virtual book tours running at the same time--with participation from a whopping 21 blogs. Partners in Crime sponsored the first tour, and then blogger "CMash" added a side tour when she chose me for Author of the Month.

The two giveaways drew huge crowds, for a total of 1,169 entries. Four participants snagged Amazon gift certificates, two received signed paperbacks in the mail, and nine won ebook copies of the focus book for the tour, Cat in the Flock. A huge thanks to the army of book bloggers who stumped for the Dreamslippers Series, and congrats to the winners. 

Besides the giveaways, the tour had several components: guest blogs, interviews (including a live radio show), reviews, and spotlights.

Guest Posts

I've very much enjoyed having authors as guests on my own blog for the "What's the Motive?" series, so it's nice to keep the karma flowing by serving as a guest myself. Per the book bloggers' prompts, I delved into the inspiration behind the Dreamslippers series as well as my current work-in-progress, in addition to other meaty topics. 

Guestblog

For Books, Dreams, Life, I talked about how the years of work I did as a narrative designer in the video-game industry shaped my intention for the Dreamslippers Series: "That experience—five years spent fighting cliché—drove me to create a kick-ass grandmother/granddaughter duo based on the real women in my life."

For CMash Reads, I wrote three guest posts. In the first, I reveal the premise for my current work-in-progress, a standalone novel that is quite a departure from the Dreamslippers Series. There's also a sneak-peak excerpt of the opening chapter. In another post, I discuss the book-body connection, drawing on my own struggles and victories in yoga and dance as I wrote the series: "The experience forced me to acknowledge limitations, as well as the need to heal." The last is a reflection on my love of "quirky" characters and where that penchant might come from: "My favorite females were made indomitably strong by the challenges they’d faced, and if that forge wrought them into a shape that didn’t fit any mold, we were all the better for it."

Interviews

I gave four interviews, but the most memorable was definitely the Blog Talk Radio interview with Fran Lewis. Fran asked excellent questions based on a very careful, thorough reading of Cat in the Flock, making me think of the book in a new way now that it's been nearly three years since its release.

Microphonehand

For the Author of the Month interview, CMash demanded something of me that no one's asked before: "Tell us why we should read this book." Read the answer here.

For Cozy Up With Kathy, I answer the question I get a lot these days: Will you continue the series? I could tell you here on my own blog, but Granny Grace says I should send you to Kathy's blog for the answer. It's only fair!

The toughest question came from the Writers and Authors blogger, who asked if I discovered anything during my work on Cat in the Flock that was unexpected. The answer is yes: "The biggest thing I learned writing Cat in the Flock was the difference between a mystery story that works for a game and what works for a novel."

Reviews

It's always nice to get reviews on a tour, and this one brought in new opinions from 14 bloggers. Here's a quick snapshot.

Blog #1: CMash Reads 

Stars: 4

Money quote: "The suspense in this book had me turning the pages. The plot contains spirituality, betrayals, truths, lies, murder, and a rekindled love. The thought of the dream slipping was intriguing. And a shocking ending."

Blog #2: Laura's Interests

Stars: None given

Money quote: "The women take the roles of strength and power in this series. Accept it." (Hands down my favorite quote of the tour.)

Blog #3: Reading to Distraction

Stars:

Money quote: "It was also refreshing to see the characters discuss the limitations of such a skill rather than having a solution to the mystery conveniently come up in a dream."  

Blog #4: A Dream Within a Dream

Stars: None given

Money quote: "Lots of details and vivid descriptions brought the story to life in my mind."

Blog #5: Avid Reader

Stars: 5

Money quote: "As a Christian, I was a bit concerned about the part of the plot dealing with a very conservative church. I think Brunette did a fine job portraying the culture of a church when the leadership has gone wrong." 

Blog #6: Wall-to-Wall Books

Stars: None given

Money quote: "I have already decided that I am going to have to read all up-coming books in this new series!"

Blog #7: Bookishly Me

Stars: 4

Money quote: "I really enjoyed seeing Cat develop throughout the story and I cannot wait to see what she will encounter next." 

Bookstar

Blog #8: Just Reviews

Stars: None given

Money quote: "Lisa Brunette takes us deep inside the world of dreams and hopefully Cat will find her way to her own salvation and not remain CAT IN THE FLOCK."

Blog #9: The Book Adventures of Emily

Stars: 5

Money quote: "Cat McCormick is such a great main character."

Blog #10: Books Direct

Stars: None given

Money quote: "The characters are interesting and likable, with full backstories. There are plenty of religious references, but it never feels as if the author is preaching or imposing her religious beliefs on the reader. There's even some romance for Cat - and Grandma Grace! A very satisfying read."

Blog #11: Mystery Suspense Reviews (Audiobook)

Stars: None given

Money quote:  "It was my first listen to Angel Clark as narrator, but I’ll be looking for more. She has just the right voice for Cat, did well distinguishing the voices of different characters, and read at an excellent pace."

Blog #12: Martha's Bookshelf

Stars: None given

Money quote: "I recommend this to readers who enjoy mystery with a touch of supernatural ability."

Blog #13: Wall-to-Wall Books (Audiobook)

Stars: 4.5

Money quote: "I thought the reader's voice was perfect for Cat."

Blog #14: Cozy Up With Kathy

Stars: None given

Money quote: "Although the topics involved in CAT IN THE FLOCK are heavy and filled with gravitas, the book has a lightness and a joy within."

Spotlights

Bookspotlight

These bloggers posted an excerpt, links, and the giveaways. 

b00k r3vie3s

Hott Books

The Pulp and Mystery Shelf

Now that I've done tours for three books and a boxed set, I've come to think of many of these bloggers as true partners in crime, beyond the tour! Most give of their time and energy without any other return besides the chance to read and talk about books. God love 'em.

Images courtesy of Pixabay.


The Woman Behind My Book Covers: Monika Younger

Monika pic

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. 

0716-9780373270002-bigw
 
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?
 
BOUND TO THE TRUTH thumb
 
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.
 
Broom of Anger
 
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

 

Work of Light: A Dreamslippers Series Prequel

Work of Light cover_edited-1

Since publishing the first book in the Dreamslippers Series in 2014, I've heard from many readers who are curious about Amazing Grace's back story. So with the release of the entire trilogy as a boxed set this February, I included a novella titled Work of Light. It answers these questions and more: How did Grace get her name? What happened when her daughter Mercy was born? And did Grace really go undercover inside a cult?

Here are the first few scenes from the novella. If you're hungry for more, I've made the entire story available for free to Wattpad members. You can also take advantage of the current sale on the ebook boxed set, which gives you all three novels plus the novella for only $6.99.

 Work of Light

Sun Rising presided over a flock of one hundred and twenty-eight followers, with about one-third more women than men, a ratio he preferred. He believed women worked harder than men, and besides, Sun Rising really loved women.

Particularly Grace. “The strength in you flows to your loins,” he’d said once, in all seriousness, though thinking back on the comment brought an involuntary smile to Grace’s lips. She looked down at her lean, muscular loins now, swaddled in bedsheets she’d washed herself and then hung to dry on the ashram’s extensive clotheslines. They dried quickly in the blasting Arizona heat. In the cracked mirror on the opposite wall, she caught a glimpse of her tousled hair, bleached blonde in the desert sun. Like most women in the ashram, Grace was still young enough to contribute physical labor to the cause. But that didn’t mean it hadn’t taken its toll on her. She’d spent the previous day digging a trench for the new septic tank. Her hands were cracked and calloused. Her knees and back hurt. It looked as if she’d clawed dirt.

But the hard work had its benefits, too. Grace had awakened that morning from a deep sleep, blissfully free of dreams—her own or anyone else’s she might pick up with her psychic gift. 

Blessed be exhaustion, she thought. All praise the dreamless night.

In the bunk beneath hers, Mercy slept soundly. A little bubble had formed on her lips, and the girl’s straw-straight hair splayed over the pillow. Grace felt a mixture of pride and something else—anxiety—well up in her. What a good helper Mercy had been yesterday, hauling away rocks as the crew worked. Grace made her stop once and chase lizards with the other kids in the cactus garden. She didn’t want the twelve-year-old to work too hard. To miss what was left of her girlhood. 

The way Grace had missed hers.

She catapulted herself out of the bunk and gently woke Mercy. Once dressed in scratchy tunics, and both heads of hair wet-combed, they padded barefoot together, hand in hand, down the stone walkway to the kitchen to start breakfast.

>>>

Sun Rising was neither attractive nor unattractive. A bit bland, really. He shaved his head for effect, but also because if he let it grow, it would cover only a crescent of his dome. She could see his head’s five-o’clock shadow every evening, when he removed the turban.

That morning at breakfast, he and the other men arrived at their usual time, just as the women were laying out the meal on all the tables. 

“Blessed be the bounty of our Great Spirit,” he intoned. Hands clasped hands all around the table. “All praise the work of Light.”

How devious that he consistently attributed the women’s work to that of the Spirit, Grace thought. As if some ghostly being had slaved in the kitchen for the past hour, spooning preserves into little bowls and stirring the rice cereal so it wouldn’t lump. Though she’d come to the ashram full of hope that it would live up to its promise of total egalitarianism, the ways in which it reflected the flaws of the outside world had started to rankle her.

“Amazing Grace,” he suddenly called out. It was the name she’d chosen to use in the ashram, as it was the custom to shed one’s birth name and adopt a new one. She’d never liked her birth name, anyway. Priscilla didn’t seem to fit her at all. 

“Yes, Sun Rising?”

“I’ve seen how well you organized the kitchen.” He paused a moment, as if to allow her to bask in his praise. “Before you arrived, it was very inefficient, and the women working there did not enjoy it.”

This was true enough, from what Grace had heard, and looking around the room now, she caught a few nods. The women had warmed to her since she treated them with respect and allowed them to share in the decision-making. Her strong but gentle leadership had been well received. The place ran as smoothly as the grandfather clock in her parents’ house.

“I would like to engage you in a special project. Please come to my private quarters during this afternoon’s leisure time.”

This was posed not as a question but as a directive. She nodded assent.

But as she helped the other women clean up after breakfast, Grace worried that Sun Rising’s interest in her went beyond her organizational talents. It was pretty much guaranteed, since she was a woman. So how would she finagle her way out of this one?

She cast a glance at Mercy, playing now with the other preteens in a corner of the kitchen. The girl had a dish towel wrapped around her head, mimicking the style worn by Sun Rising and the upper tier of the ashram’s male leadership. Mercy placed her hand on top of another girl’s head, and the girl bowed beneath her as Mercy intoned, “All praise the work of Light.”

Grace allowed herself a sigh of relief. At least Sun Rising’s interest in the female sex did not include anyone under the age of eighteen. In fact, he seemed to prefer the more seasoned members of the ashram, which is likely why, coming up on her thirtieth birthday, she’d piqued his interest. Mercy would be safe here, safer than in the outside world. That’s partly why Grace had come...

Read on through Wattpad, or get the ebook boxed set.


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

Boxed set tour banner

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.


Upcoming Appearance: Author Reading at Ferris State University

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Personal appearances are one part of the author life I enjoy immensely, as I get to leave the writing cave and talk in person with readers and potential readers. I especially like university talks, as it's always refreshing to speak to students. I'm inspired by their energy and am always impressed by their thoughtful questions. Last year I spent a week at the University of Florida as a guest lecturer in game design classes and speaker at a summit sponsored by the school's Digital Worlds Institute. Last fall for the launch of book three in the Dreamslippers Series, I spoke at Seattle University for the third time in three years. This February I presented on a panel at the Associated Writing Programs conference, attended by many students and writing faculty. And next month, I'll be at Ferris State University in Michigan as part of the Literature in Person series.

Ferris is distinguished by a small faculty-student ratio of 1:16, which means the courses are taught by professors, not graduate students. The university prides itself on its offering of in-demand majors, more than any other school in the state of Michigan. 

My host for the event is Dr. Deirdre Fagan, assistant professor in the Department of English, Literature, and World Languages. We met back in 2001 when I was in graduate school at the University of Miami, where she was a lecturer in the composition program. We lost touch for a time, but have reconnected through the magic of social media. She's a talented teacher and poet, and it's an honor to be her guest.

If you're near Big Rapids, MI, where the college is, please come by for the event, which is open to the public. Details in the image above. Besides the public reading on April 5th at 7 pm, I'll also be a guest in Deirdre's Creative Writing class that week, which is a private event.

A huge shout-out to Great Lakes Book & Supply, an independent local bookstore in Big Rapids. They will promote the event and stock my books as well.

Wish me luck at the reading and classroom visit, and I hope to see some of you in Big Rapids!


'Author of the Month' Interview

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Book blogger Cheryl Macciarelli chose me as Author of the Month for March, and as part of that, she published the below interview. I'm sharing it here on the blog so visitors and subscribers don't miss it in the frenzy of social media updates this month, as we're also running a Partners in Crime Tour. I love good questions, and "CMash" didn't disappoint.

Writing:

Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

Yes, all of the above. But I wouldn’t call my books autobiographical. It’s surprising to me that I have to explain this, but I don’t actually have the ability to psychically pick up other people’s dreams. Still, this question comes up often when I read my work publicly!

What was the inspiration for this book?

This book was inspired in part by my rekindled love of genre fiction. Back in 2008, I interviewed top mystery writers for a Seattle Woman cover story. Reading their work reminded me of when I first fell in love with reading as a child, and that was genre fiction like Nancy Drew. Academia had beat this out of me, unfortunately, so it was wonderful to be drawn back to it as an adult. After all, being an adult means you’re allowed to read whatever you want! After the Seattle Woman cover story, by 2009, I’d joined the game industry as a writer full-time, and by 2011, I was working on the story design for primarily mystery games. That led to a pent-up need to create my own plot and characters, since a lot of game writing happens by committee.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?

I plot the entire novel out in a very rough format, with questions and multiple possibilities noted, writing this in marker directly on my wall, which I’ve painted in whiteboard paint. Then I begin to write, and I give myself permission to explore questions, try different paths, and deviate when necessary. So I guess I’m a hybrid writer. Several times I didn’t know a character would appear and act that way in a scene until I was in the midst of writing it.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I don’t have a routine. I probably should, but I have to flex my novel-writing time around game-writing projects, and those have harder deadlines. The only thing I really need besides uninterrupted time and quiet is to make use of my laptop’s “wifi off” function, which is a lifesaver.

If you could co-author a book, who would that writer be?

To continue reading, here's the full interview at CMash Reads.

Also, you'll see lots of opportunities to win free books and gift certificates running until April 2. Throw your hat in the ring!


'Girl' Books, Revisited

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A lot has been written about the current 'girl' book phenomenon (see here, here, and here for starters), but I thought it would be fun to imagine what those titles might be in a better world. Here we go...(slight NSFW warning)...

Girl, Uninterrupted

The Girl With the Fuck You Tattoo

Girl on the Luxury Train

Girl Flicking a Razor

Girls, But We Really Mean Women

The Woman Who Flew Into Space

A Woman's Story, Told by Herself

for women of color who committed murder when the rainbow was more than enuf

The Girl Who Spoke Her Mind

The Loudest Girl in the Room

The Girl Who Was Nobody's Slave

Such a Smart Girl

Shopowner

Girl with a Pearl Earring She Bought for Herself

The Woman's Guide to Being Your Own Damn Guide

The Girl Who Wore Whatever She Wanted That Day 

The Neither Good Nor Bad Girl

...and of course...

Here and Now Girl 

 ... Now add your own to the list in the comments below. Need help? Goodreads has a list of every 'girl'-titled book published.


Lisa Brunette Named 'Author of the Month'

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I'm honored to be named Author of the Month by book blogger CMash Reads, joining the company of Michael Baron, James Lepore, Charles Salzberg, and other award-winning, bestselling authors.

Today kicks off a month of features, interviews, and guest posts, not to mention giveaways and prizes, both as part of the Author of the Month feature and a Partners in Crime tour running concurrently. It all starts now with this review of Cat in the Flock, Book One in the Dreamslippers Series.

"The suspense in this book had me turning the pages," writes CMash. "The plot contains spirituality, betrayals, truths, lies, murder, and a rekindled love. The thought of the dreamslipping was intriguing. And a shocking ending."

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Tomorrow morning at 7 am PST, I'll be interviewed on Fran Lewis' BlogTalkRadio. Tune in to hear behind-the-book-cover info on the Dreamslippers Series and more.

The prize potential this month is through the roof, with two Amazon gift certificates and a number of audiobooks, ebooks, and paperbacks free to the winners. I hope you'll take advantage of the giveaways and join the conversations on the blogs. Good luck!

 


What's the Motive? Martha Crites

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Debut author Martha Crites is a fellow finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award. She handles the tricky topic of mental illness with great care and intelligence in her mystery novel Grave Disturbance. Here she discusses how motive can shift and change over the course of the writing project.

Martha Crites:

Lisa asks, “What’s the Motive?”

I can only answer, “Motives change.” 

Did I intend to take on the stigma of mental illness when I wrote my first mystery, Grave Disturbance? Not at all. I just wanted to see if I could write a novel. So, in the time-honored tradition of write what you know, I gave my sleuth a job in the mental health field, like me. Not my exact job, but one a little more exciting. Grace Vaccaro is a mental health evaluator who sees people in the field to determine if they need to be hospitalized as a danger to self or others. I now know that writing a novel is a big project, and my motives have changed over time. 

Here’s what happened: When Grave Disturbance was first published, I found myself, like all new authors, needing a little elevator speech to tell about my book. Something like: After a filmmaker working on a documentary about native land rights is murdered, mental health professional Grace Vaccaro realizes that a woman she evaluated may have been a witness. Grace and Liz must sift truth from delusion to unmask the murderer before he kills again.

I had no idea that I would observe the stigma of mental illness first hand when I began to mention my protagonist’s career as a mental health evaluator. People became quiet and uncomfortable at the topic. So, I gave a lot of thought to how to talk about it and decided to mention the issue of stigma up front, at the beginning. Somehow, it helped my listeners find a new lens through which to view the story. 

Since Grave Disturbance came out, I often give presentations at libraries. We talk about how I wanted to portray Liz, the character with mental illness, as fully human, a person with talents and hopes, dreams and disappointments. But more than that, I tell them about my current novel-in-progress, which is now taking the stigma head on. I tell stories about the inspiration for a character in my work-in-progress: Marsha Linehan, the University of Washington therapist who bravely faced stigma by telling the story of her own illness to the New York Times after years of silence.

The result? Now instead of silence, audience members ask questions about psychosis, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and more. They tell me about their experiences with family members. We have a conversation I never anticipated, a conversation that is helping me form my second Grace Vaccaro novel with a much clearer idea of my motive.

What I love about the mystery genre is that it can combine entertainment with important issues like mental health, homelessness, and the history of treatment of Native Americans in our region–all in a fast-paced novel that keeps the reader turning pages. And afterward we can talk about it.

Review Grave Disturbance on Amazon or Goodreads

Follow Martha Crites on Facebook or Twitter

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Martha Crites has worked in community and inpatient mental health field for twenty years and taught at the Quileute Tribal School on the Washington coast. Grave Disturbance was a finalist for the 2016 Nancy Pearl Award. 


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.  


What's the Motive? Lily Iona Mackenzie

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Readers of my Dreamslippers Series will undoubtedly recognize kindred spirits of Amazing Grace in Fling! Author Lily Iona Mackenzie talks about the real-life inspiration for her eccentric characters in today's What's the Motive post.

Lily Iona Mackenzie:

I began writing Fling! because I was curious about my mother’s mother, someone I had never met. Early in the 20th century, my grandfather, a former schoolmaster in Scotland’s highlands, immigrated to Calgary, Canada, hoping to find a better life there for himself and his family. Meanwhile, WWI broke out. A passenger ship was torpedoed, preventing his wife and five kids from joining him for seven years. When they did, my grandmother couldn’t adjust to the brutal winters or to her husband’s behavior. 

After being in Calgary for a year, my grandmother moved out, refusing to put up with my grandfather’s verbal and physical abuse. She found work as a housekeeper for a wealthy family. Soon, she and her boss became lovers, and he took her to Mexico City with him. When he returned, she didn’t. Some time later, my grandfather received a letter from a Mexican priest that she had died there.

Though I never met my grandmother, she was a strong, ghostly presence throughout my childhood. Who was this woman whose genes I shared? How had she found the courage in the early ‘20s to flee a difficult situation? And what did she do during those years in Mexico City? What motivated her to leave her kids and travel to Mexico, a country very different from what she had experienced in largely protestant Canada and Scotland? And what effect did her behavior have on those left behind, in particular her daughter and granddaughter?

These were the questions that sent me off on my quest to uncover this mysterious woman. I wanted to recreate what life might have been like for her once she left Canada. That impulse brought in a number of other characters that inhabit the novel. So while 90-year-old Bubbles and 57-year-old Feather are the main focus initially, very loosely based on my mother and myself, it’s Heather, my imagined grandmother, who is at the novel’s heart. 

When I started out, I planned to write a lyrical family saga. But Feather, an aging hippie, and her fun-loving mother Bubbles soon took over the narrative and brought their own distinctive humor with them, with plenty of hilarious moments as members of this family reunite in Mexico. 

Feather and Bubbles’ journey begins when Bubbles receives mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

But they also make unexpected discoveries in Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist. Feather gains a sense of who her mother really was. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known, ancient rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. She doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in her. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams, one of the things I discovered from writing this novel.

For me, Fling! turned out to be a meditation on mothers, daughters, and art. It suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what all the characters discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does. And I’m hoping that my actual grandmother partook of it, too.

Review Fling! on Amazon and Goodreads.

Follow Lily Iona Mackenzie on Facebook or through her blog.

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Lily Iona MacKenzie has published poetry, short fiction, and essays in over 150 Canadian and American publications. Her poetry collection All This was published in October 2011. Her novel Fling! was published in July 2015. Bone Songs, another novel, will be published in 2017. Freefall: A Divine Comedy, will be released in 2018.