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The End of the Dream(slippers): Year in Review

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

When I set out to write the Dreamslippers series back in 2012, the self-publishing business was still bright, shiny, and promising.

Still, I wasn't sure if I'd go that route. I had to be convinced, and I was, in the end--by research that showed you had a better chance of making a living as a fiction writer if you went indie. Around a very demanding day job, it took me two years to write the first book. During that time, I shopped it around to agents and editors in traditional publishing, and I had an incredible amount of interest--just no follow-through. I worked on the book, getting a ton of feedback from alpha and beta readers--as well as some of those agents--and revising over and over. It wasn't my first book; I'd had an agent back in 2005 who shopped a short-story collection around. I'd honed my skill since then and felt confident about the manuscript. I talked to a lot of people, authors and agents and marketers and others. It seemed to make the most sense to take a leap into self-publishing.

Cat in the Flock performed well, enough to warrant further attention. A celebrity Hollywood director reached out to me about rights, I was interviewed by the Seattle Weekly, and I won my first indieBRAG medallion. This despite a homemade book cover and struggles with Amazon's category algorithms, which plunked the book in "pet noir" because of the title. 'Cat' referred to the protagonist's nickname, a shortening of her full name, Cathedral. There are no felines in the book.

FINAL COVER ART CATINTHEFLOCK

The original cover for Cat in the Flock.

Perhaps most important to me, the book was reviewed well by people whose opinions I trusted. The writers Jon Talton, Mary Daheim, and Corrina Wycoff all contributed praiseful blurbs. None other than the venerable Kirkus Reviews called it "a mystery with an unusual twist and quirky settings; an enjoyable surprise for fans of the genre."

According to some successful indie authors I've talked to, what I should have done right then was release two more books that year and keep going as fast as I could.

But I didn't. Writing and releasing Cat around the day job (and my own wedding, by the way) had been exhausting. So instead, I took a poetry manuscript out of a drawer and published that, too. Half the poems in Broom of Anger had already appeared in literary journals, and for some of them, I'd won awards. I was curious to see how it would do.

Broom of anger

It probably won't surprise you to learn that sales were pretty much non-existent. Poetry is a tough enough sell for traditionals, and self-published poetry, no matter the quality of the work nor the stature of the authors contributing blurbs, is a non-starter.

But I persevered. My husband and I had a change in our living situation when he was offered an opportunity to steer a grant at a small college in a small town... And the semi-rural life held appeal for us both. I stepped down from my management position at the day job and dropped to four days per week, which I would work remotely, from the small town. I hoped this would provide more time for the novel series.

I'd published Cat in late July of 2014 and followed it with Framed and Burning in the fall of 2015. From first draft to release, it took me nine months.

There's a lot that goes into self-publishing that takes up time. You could think of an iceberg, how you see only 1/3rd of it, the part above the water. The other 2/3rds of being an indie is everything ranging from reviewing voice actor demos for your audiobook to formatting the actual manuscript to writing a marketing plan. Most of it has nothing to do with the actual writing.

Framed and Burning garnered a good deal of critical success, most notably as a finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award. A huge fan of the celebrity librarian, I was awash with honor over that nomination. But the top prize went to a traditional author who already had a long list of such awards. I won a second indieBRAG and was nominated for a RONE Award, but sales were just okay.

FRAMED AND BURNING IndieBRAG 2

I'd worked diligently to professionalize my novel-writing business, forming an LLC and hiring professional editors, a book cover artist, marketing consultants, and so on. I researched social media, tried to get good at it, and bootstrapped as much as I could, making lovely connections in my small town, where people still treat writers as if we're at least minor celebrities.

Meanwhile, I'd made the decision to exit from the day job. It had been a heady, exhilarating, and at times, challenging, five years. I'd created a narrative design team, basically a group of game storytelling experts, and together we raised the bar on storytelling in the company's collector's edition games. Passionate about game storytelling, I wanted to continue to write and design games, but a no-compete clause in my contract kept me from any work that could be construed as "materially similar" for a blackout period of one year. So I tried my hand at some new genres, such as Smash Squad for WG Cells, and I wrote about games for several publications and my own blog.

And I continued to write novels. I released the third book in the series the week of the presidential election in 2016. 

The country was in upheaval with Trump's victory, and no one paid any attention to Bound to the Truth. I won a third indieBRAG for it, though. The medallion represents the top 10 percent in independent publishing, so it's a strong achievement, especially considering the volume of self-published works. I still think it's the best book in the series, but it launched to dismal sales and never recovered.

Brokenhearted, I had long conversations with two successful authors--one indie and the other a hybrid of traditional and indie--who both proclaimed the self-publishing bubble had burst. The hybrid author has gone back to 100 percent traditional. The indie is aggressively pursuing a career in scriptwriting, which she believes is the next big opportunity.

I pulled back on investment in the Dreamslippers series and made due with one final pro cover, for the boxed set. After a year, it's still sitting on Amazon without a single review, and sales have been poor. It's tough, because I know some indies who are still making an all right living. But they tend to serve niches (such as a Christian apocalyptic writer) that are ignored by New York publishing. They also usually have military pensions or are kept financially afloat by their spouses' incomes. 

Boxed set

But frankly, it would have surprised me if I'd been able to make a living on indie books alone. I'd already survived the collapse of the journalism industry, and I understand that we are in the throes of a digital revolution that places primacy on the visual. I approached the entire enterprise with the idea that it was a huge experiment, and a gamble. While there are many things I might have done differently, on the whole, I learned a lot, acquired new skills and further honed old ones, and grew as a writer. The result is an award-winning novel series to my credit and scores of articles written by and about me and my work.

On balance, I'm glad I tried to become a full-time novelist, though commercial success proved to be an elusive beast. 

What continues to do extremely well for me is my work in games.

The one-year blockout from my no-compete clause ended in February 2017, and it was as if the floodgates opened. Without having to actually look for any work, it has consistently found me. By spring, I was already at full-time capacity, writing and designing games for Daily Magic, an old partner of mine from the day job, as well as a few studios new to me that were trying innovative game formats. 

I wrote and co-designed what could be considered a "game novel" or "interactive novel" called Sender Unknown: The Woods. It released in the "New Games We Love" section of the App Store and has been a top 10 in several categories. Gamezebo calls it "the next leap forward in mobile." Another writing/co-designing title for me, Matchington Mansion, has pretty much blown the doors off mobile with its popularity. I'm just now finishing up a "visual novel" for Pixelberry Studios, and it will release in March of this year. Additionally, I'm at work on a project for GSN Games, releasing in early 2018, and in talks with Jam City, a studio I've admired for some time. I'm also designing and writing levels for G5's hit game, Survivors: The Quest.

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It was into this exciting vortex that Webster University entered last summer, and with it, an opportunity to return to my roots--in two ways. One, as a professor of games and game design, as visiting faculty for the 2017-18 school year. Two, in St. Louis, where I'm, as we say, "from."

Some of you know I used to teach English at Pierce College, back in the early 2000s. I had tenure but left to pursue a writing career on my agent's recommendation and because I struggled to pay off my student loans on that faculty income. But I feel the classroom never really left me; I was destined to return and had already as a guest-lecturer at University of Florida and Seattle University.

My family is here in the area, on both sides of the river. I earned my bachelor's degree at Saint Louis University, and I cut teeth early in my career as a writer for the St. Louis Science Center and various city publications. I wasn't born here, having grown up a child of the Air Force with its mandate of frequent moves, but I attended part of junior high and all of high school in Illinois and still think of the Lou as "home." 

Honestly, I wasn't sure I could take on full-time faculty duties with the game work ramping up so quickly. But I hit it off with the faculty there, and it became an opportunity not to pass up. I knew of Webster University's strong reputation, and since the program is new and in need of leadership, there's a chance to put my stamp on something that could be key to the success of not just the school but the whole St. Louis region. What impresses me most is the seed of entrepreneurship being sown here by a small but quickly growing local game industry.

I've had to say no to some work, which is regrettable, but I feel reborn in the classroom. Teaching game design is in many ways a dream-come-true, and a fitting transition from all that dreamslipping.

Game-design

Image courtesy of Webster Today.

So here I am at year end, a novelist, game designer, and teacher. All the best to you in the New Year, and I'd love to hear from you by email or in the comments below.


New Release in Games: Matchington Mansion!

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I love a solid Match-3 game, and my latest release is that and so much more. In Matchington Mansion, you can hone your interior design skills while protecting your house from a mischievous cousin, unlock new rooms, renovate your kitchen and garden, and discover secrets hidden among the furniture – all with a cast of quirky characters in tow. You can even spy on the neighbors and check out their room design choices. 

As a (no longer closeted as of right now) HGTV addict, I said "yes" immediately when a producer with Firecraft Studios approached me about working with him on this game. It was a great opportunity to craft a robust narrative for the Match-3 genre, with an added sim mechanic in the form of home decorating and gardening! Like a match made in heaven for me.

Plus, those of you who've heard my game-industry presentations know I've talked about how games that don't seem to lend themselves easily to story could actually be much more popular with players if story were part of the package. Matchington Mansion proves me correct. The game released to featuring on the App Store and is currently trending at 4.5 stars on nearly 5,000 reviews on GooglePlay and 4.5 stars on more than 500 reviews in the App Store.

If you're a fan of my quirky character dialogue in the Dreamslippers Series, you'll see that writing style on full display here as well. Writing dialogue for your interior design bestie - not to mention villains like the scheming Rex Houston - was a fun challenge.

The game starts off with a twist on the "I've inherited a mansion" scenario... the woman who bequeaths it to you was a famous novelist. While living out the dream of getting your own mansion to fully customize to your liking, you uncover your late friend's secret life... and love.

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As always, the story is in service to the game. You'll decorate your mansion in this match-3 makeover puzzle game, design new home decor and furniture by matching pillows, power-up with levels, and renovate your entire house, including your kitchen and garden.

You'll have a blast as you match and swap pillows in a game to innovatively decorate your mansion, with these features:

  • Secrets, rewards, and an intriguing narrative – piece together all the hidden objects and learn new secrets
  • In-game characters to meet and interact with – follow their interesting stories while you play
  • Play levels with tons of room design options and thousands of DIY Decorations – unlock hidden areas for rewards
  • Power-up combos, incredible boosters, and tons of levels in a fun game of matching!

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Match3

I hope you enjoy this game. Please feel free to email me with your feedback using this handy link.

From Reviews

"I highly recommend this game! It is fun and challenging and fantastic!" - Ami Weller, GooglePlay

"This is a cute little game that progresses along quite nicely. I like the storyline." -  Chrisp one, App Store

"I'm really loving this game. Enjoying far more than Homescape or Gardenscape." - Candace Orman, GooglePlay

"Addictive." Nate Nate, GooglePlay

"This is a lot of fun! Tiffany has a good sense of humor and I love her 🐈." - Diane Wood, GooglePlay

Download Now

The game is free to play, with in-app purchases.

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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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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.


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!


Upcoming Appearance: 'The Reporter and the Story' at AWP

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This week I'll be in D.C. presenting at the Associated Writing Programs Conference, now celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. AWP provides support, advocacy, resources, and community to nearly 50,000 writers, 550 college and university creative writing programs, and 150 writers’ conferences and centers. I've wanted to attend this conference since I was a creative writing student working toward my Master of Fine Arts degree back in 2000. But the demands and focus of my full-time career have always been higher priorities. So I'm thrilled to finally get the chance, 17 years later.

I'm honored to be included on a panel with four women whose bios will knock your socks off. Our topic: "The Reporter and the Story: How Journalism Can Inform, and Fund, a Literary Career."

While most days it seems I'm heavier on the inform part of this equation than the fund, I'm excited to share my experiences as a freelance journalist for twenty-plus years, from writing on the arts and literature back in my home town of St. Louis, to the bootstrap days with a big-time Seattle startup, to the regular feature articles I now write for a small-town newspaper. These real-life stories have always fed my fictional storytelling.

Here's the full panel description, followed by bios for each presenter. Check out their web sites--you're bound to discover a new favorite author on this list.

Description

Hemingway, Orwell, Dickens—all worked as journalists before becoming celebrated novelists. In addition to building your platform and paying the bills, working as a reporter can make you a better poet, novelist, or memoirist. Five journalists talk about how reporting on others drives them to create better fictional characters, how radio reporting has helped them develop their authorial voice, and how daily deadline gigs can lead to a career as a narrative nonfiction author.

Bios

Jessica Langlois

Jessica Langlois is a Los Angeles-based journalist, essayist, and educator. She writes about race, class and gender equity; grassroots arts and political movements; and California histories.

A frequent contributor to LA Weekly, she has also written news, features, and reviews for The Washington PostBitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, East Bay Express, KCET's Artbound, and Oakland Tribune. Her literary nonfiction has appeared in The Los Angeles TimesLos Angeles Review of Books, California Northern, American Literary Review, Travelers' Tales, and The Rumpus. More at www.jessicalanglois.com.

  Jenee PEERS Pix

Jeneé Darden has reported for National Public RadioTime magazineLos Angeles TimesEbonyMarketplaceHuffington Post, KQED, KPCC and the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance magazine.  In 2005, she contributed reporting on the London 7/7 transit bombings for Time magazine’s Europe edition.

Jeneé has been interviewed/featured by BBCAccess HollywoodInside EditionNPRMarie ClaireDaily MailDaily BeastKTVUBlackGirlNerd.comBeyondBlackWhite.com, the book Swirling. She was mentioned in the hit FX miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson. The daughter of former O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden, Jeneé holds a BA in ethnic studies from UC San Diego and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Southern California. More at www.cocoafly.com.

  Jenny Chen

Jenny J. Chen is an award-winning science journalist and multimedia producer. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, NYTimes.com, NPR, Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, Vice, and many more.

In 2014 and 2015, she was awarded a PRX STEM grant to produce stories for NPR member stations across the country. In 2014, she received a grant from the D.C. Humanities Council to produce a radio documentary series on growing up mixed race in Washington, D.C. Jenny has also received numerous fellowships and awards to cover health, aging, minority issues, and climate change. She has spoken about journalism and the role of ethnic media at the Smithsonian Folklife festival. In another life, she has also had a play produced at Arena Stage and the Kennedy Center. More at www.jennychen.com.

Elizabeth Flock

Elizabeth Flock is a journalist based in Washington D.C., where she works as a reporter and producer at PBS NewsHour. She is currently working on a book, The Heart is a Shifting Sea: Love and Marriage in Mumbai, for Harper Collins (January 2018). Her reporting focuses on social issues, with a focus on the criminal justice system, protest movements and marriage and sexuality.

Elizabeth was a breaking news reporter at the Washington Post and staff writer at U.S. News and World Report. She has also written for the New York Times, the Village Voice, the AtlanticNew York Magazine, and the Chicago Tribune. More at www.lizflock.com.

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If you're attending AWP, feel free to get in touch. I'd love to meet up with you! And please come to our panel. It's on Friday, Feb. 10, from 3-4:15 pm