Spirituality Feed

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:

Devil girl

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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How to Spend a Rainy Weekend: Dreamslipping!

Get the Entire Dreamslippers Series on Ebook for 75% Off

Boxed Set Dreamslippers WIDE

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... 


That Reaction We Have to Our Bodies in Photos

LIsa-Email-Banner

So here I am, for the first time my body used in an ad.

The dance studio I belong to draws on its members for depictions to help celebrate—and yes, advertise—its offerings. The owner only uses images of members who have given permission to do so. 

Over the past six months, I have given and then rescinded and then given my permission again, struggling with the power of seeing photos of myself in motion. Not controlled. Not posed. Not sucking my belly in but breathing fully.

I’ve seen many images like this in my Facebook feed--showing other women. I even have a calendar on my kitchen wall, each month a photo not of Photoshopped models but of the women I see every week on the dance floor, in all their sweaty, smiling glory.

Without exception, I’ve viewed these photos as beautiful and inspiring. But when my own image, the one above, graced the top of an email banner one day, and a slew of other photos followed close behind on Facebook, I felt mortified with embarrassment.

And this surprised me.

It still does.

You see, I’m someone who’s done all the work. I long ago tossed aside Hollywood beauty standards, have never wanted to be New York thin, and have always praised myself on my body-positive attitude. More than a decade ago, I brought the multimedia production bodyBODY to the college where I taught so that students could participate in a show that celebrated the diversity and health of real women’s bodies.

Apparently seeing what women really look like is great as long as I’m not one of the women in the photos.

I can keep doing the work. That’s why I’m sharing this post.

But you have to do it, too. 

When I lose weight, even if it’s from illness, I am praised, mostly by other women. But if I gain even within a healthy range, no matter what amazing feat I’m achieving on my yoga mat, there’s no praise.

I’ve been asked if I’m pregnant when I was merely bloated. By the way, “Are you pregnant?” is a question that should never be asked.

When dating in my late thirties, one man told me flat-out that he preferred “skinny Asians.” Another said a weight-loss and exercise plan would be “such a great trend” for me.

The very photographer who took the picture above told me the only way to photograph “curvy” women like me in a flattering way is from above. I was criticizing her, and she was being defensive, but this still came out. 

Once, my own mother went through every one of our family photo albums, cutting herself out of all of the pictures.

Why wouldn’t I react to seeing myself in photos?

How did you react?

Did you think I was being brave?

Consider that for a moment.

To paraphrase comedian Amy Schumer, no woman wants to be told “you’re brave” in response to sharing a picture of herself.

Because here I am, dancing my dance, working every breath on loving myself. And I could use a little help.

 


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.


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.


Lisa Brunette Named 'Author of the Month'

Authorofthemonth

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."

CatInTheFlock

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!

 


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.  


The 'Bound to the Truth' Blog Tour

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 My big, fat book tour for Bound to the Truth had both an in-person leg and a virtual one, with guest posts, reviews, and spotlights on numerous blogs. Here's a rundown of the blog tour.

Reviews

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 Four bloggers so far have reviewed the book, rating it highly.

 The Book Adventures of Emily gave it five stars and raves: "Bound to the Truth is pretty fantastic! People with psychic abilities plus the fact they're investigators, um that's great! I'm really fascinated by this story, it's filled with action, suspense and a ton of mystery!"

 Over at Book Fidelity, the reviewer praised the characters specifically: "I found myself completely submerged in this story of intrigue and, honestly? apprehension. It is every bit a mystery, but with a twist. And, dear reader, you know how much I love 'my characters' in books, and this work is no different. they are an array of unique and as equally mysterious as the world around them." (4 stars)

 Another 5-star review came in from J Bronder Book Reviews, who wrote: "This is a great mystery with lots of action. Robin and Nina seem to have a perfect marriage from the outside, but inside there are cracks. I loved Cat, she is a strong woman and I loved following along as they had to dig deep to find the killer."

 Sage Adderley, my tour host, took time out of her busy schedule to review the book as well and had this to say: "The plot runs deep and the characters are both quirky and interesting. This is a total whodunit mystery that will keep you on edge until the very end!" 

Guest Posts

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 For this tour, I decided to offer guest posts as a way to give back to the awesome book bloggers who take time to read and promote indie books, almost always as a side gig or hobby on their own time. I know how exciting it is to host other writers on my own blog, so I wanted to share the love for that reason, too. 

 One thing I noticed across the series, beginning with that great Kirkus review for Cat in the Flock and continuing through Bound to the Truth, is that people often use the word "quirky" to describe the characters and scenarios. So I analyzed my obsession with quirk for The Editing Pen. Apparently the seeds for it were sown during my childhood.

  Regular readers of this blog know about my other obsessions: yoga and Nia. I talk about how and why I snuck these holistic practices into the Dreamslippers Series in this post for The Wordy Nerd

 I launched Bound to the Truth on the Friday after the presidential election. For The Attic Ghost, I wrote some thoughts related to all that.

 For fellow author Freda Hansburg's blog, I decided to focus on social media, since it's something people in just about every profession should know how to do well. While I have much room for improvement, I've seen enough success in this area to be able to offer advice to others. It comes down to three simple rules.

Spotlights

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 A couple of bloggers put Bound to the Truth in their spotlight sections. Mello & June, It's a Book Thang! had shown their love for the book earlier in the year for the cover reveal, and they came through again here at launch. Another spotlight came from Book, Dreams, Life

 Many thanks to the book bloggers who give generously of their time, space, and opinion, and especially to Sage's Blog Tours for hosting.

 


The Big, Fat Book Tour!

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 It's rare that authors are treated to headlining book tours these days, if there ever was a day when that happened. Especially as an indie, my marketing budget comes out of my own (very small) pocket. So there was no book tour for the first installment in the Dreamslippers Series, and for the second book, the tour was almost entirely virtual, meaning online-only.

 While this is all well and good economically speaking, I craved the opportunity to connect with readers in-person. We writers live a solitary existence, going through our days mainly alone, talking only to the cat. So when it's time to turn our book babies out into the world, it's only natural we'd want to interact with others.  

By the time I was ready to release the third book in the series, I'd built up enough momentum that in-person opportunities just showed up. Here's a run-down of what became my big, fat book tour for the release of Bound to the Truth.

Nia Jam to Benefit Standing Rock

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 I dance at a local studio, Embody, which has not only given me a beautiful new practice in Nia but a supportive community as well. Nia features prominently in Bound to the Truth, so when I found out there would be a Nia Jam and fundraiser, I donated five copies of the book, which were awarded at the event by raffle. Separate from the studio itself and hosted entirely by Nia teachers who gave generously of their time and talent, the jam raised more than $1300 for Standing Rock. We danced for two hours straight that night. I couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate the book's release date. It's exactly what Granny Grace would do.

Book 'n' Brush Author Event

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 Honestly, I can't say enough about how terrifically supportive the community here in Lewis County is. As an indie, I completely struck out trying to get my books into Seattle bookstores, even ones in my own neighborhood I'd frequented for a decade. But the owner and manager at Book 'n' Brush here in Chehalis have been enthusiastic supporters. They carry the whole Dreamslippers Series as well as the poetry collection, and in turn, I drive customers to the store whenever possible. It's a win-win. I felt honored to be included in their recent author event, along with others I've come to know, some of whom also have new books out.

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 Authors Julie McDonald Zander, Texie Gregory, Kyle Pratt (who wasn't part of the event but stopped in to buy books), and me.

 Book 'n' Brush is a gem of a store, anchoring downtown Chehalis. As the name suggests, they sell both art supplies and books, for a perfect mashup of creative pursuits. We had a great write-up in the local paper about the event, and The Chronicle also covered my book's release.

Human Response Network Masquerade Ball

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 My husband and I, incognito for a cause.

 A good amount of what you might call spiritual, humanitarian intention went into the Dreamslippers Series. I've written female-centered narratives peopled with a diverse spectrum of characters. I've tackled homophobia and tried to explore organized religion with humanity and compassion. I shed light on corruption in the art world and illuminated a corner of darkness that is the illegal child pornography industry. And finally, I celebrated sexual liberation and told the stories of those harmed by sexual abuse and repression. All while honoring the importance of plot and pacing, and I hope, without ever coming across as preachy. Everything I write is in service to the story.

 I always want to do more than this. I tied sales of Cat in the Flock to a donation to Jubilee Women's Center, a highly effective organization in Seattle that helps women transition out of homelessness and into independence. Here in Chehalis, I support the Human Response Network, which provides advocates for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Masquerade Ball was the organization's first major fundraiser, done in an attempt to ramp up service in response to an overwhelming increase in requests for help.

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Copies of the books on auction.

Seattle University Talk 

 I've presented at Seattle University twice before, and it's always a pleasure to meet creative writing students there. This time, I discussed what it takes to get credits and bylines in three different arenas: books, games, and journalism. I related tales from the trenches in all three and managed not to bore them. While it feels odd to call myself a master of anything, the below slide did garner a few smiles.

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 The students asked great questions and seemed encouraged by my career transitions from one arena to another, AKA the survivor mentality that has kept me consistently employed. Props to the university bookstore for carrying the Dreamslippers Series in connection with the event, and to the creative writing program for their incredible hospitality.

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 Seattle U souvenirs: Reflections picked up for free in the campus chapel, and the student lit mag, Fragments.

 An Evening with the Authors at the Lewis County Historical Museum

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 The last in-person event on my schedule for this book launch was the only repeat for me, as I'd attended the same last year. Located in a former train depot, the museum features local history displays and a gift shop. The authors event is a great party and opportunity to meet other writers as well as new readers. Poetry seems to resonate best with this crowd.

 So there you have it: This is how we do things in indie land. My family and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house in the midst of this, so I'm hoping December is a bit less eventful? Or not. I really did enjoy myself. Welcome to all the new readers who stopped by my tables, came to the talk, or danced by my side. I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.


Join the Book Launch Party!

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 This Friday, Bound to the Truth releases across all ebook platforms and in print with select retailers. Consider this your invitation to join the launch party--either in person or virtually.

 In this third book in the Dreamslippers Series, Cat and Grace aren't sure they believe their client's claims about who killed up-and-coming Seattle architect Nina Howell. Did she really fall under the spell of a domineering, conservative talk show host? Bound to the Truth picks up with all three dreamslippers living under one roof in the Emerald City--and trying to date. The sexy theme gets readers up close and personal with Seattle's at times wacky sex-positive scene.

 Read more about Bound to the Truth and the first two books in the series here.

 Here's how to join the party.

Dance with Me

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photo credit: Regan House Photo

 Yeah, that's right. On release day, I'm attending a Nia Jam at Embody Studio in Centralia, where we'll dance the routine Soul. This holistic dance practice figures prominently in Bound to the Truth, and in honor of that, I'm giving away five signed print copies at the event. If you've never danced Nia before, never fear! It's designed so that anyone at any level can drop into a class anytime. For more information, see the event Facebook page. Proceeds benefit the Standing Rock Donation Fund.

Come to the Book Signing

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 The day after the book's worldwide release, I'll be in person to chat and sign books along with five other local authors at Book 'n' Brush in Chehalis, Wash., located at the mid-way point between Portland and Seattle. That's two hours from either city.

Here's a write-up in the local paper about the event. Come on by between 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 12 if you can. I'd love to see you.

Tell Your Friends

Share

 Our marketing budget is small and based on word-of-mouth, which is the best way to market anyway. Here are a couple of ready-made social media posts you can copy and paste to help spread the word. Of course, writing something in your own voice is always best, but we like the easy-button, too.

Facebook Post

 Like strong female leads and a good mystery? Try Lisa Brunette's Dreamslippers Series. The third book releases this Friday, and all three books are only 99 cents till then! Link: http://www.catintheflock.com/dreamslippers-series.html

 Note: You can tag my author page if you want me to chime in: https://www.facebook.com/LisaBrunettePage1/   

Tweet

 I recommend the Dreamslippers Series by @lisa_brunette - book 3 releases this week - all books #99cents till then! http://tinyurl.com/oqmyvwy

 Other Social Media

 Post the book covers to your Pinterest page, Instagram a photo of a Dreamslippers book, share blog posts to Google+ and elsewhere. Feel free to tag or hashtag me, too. I live for the online connection.

Review the Books

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 It only takes a few minutes to post a book review online, but the support this provides an author could last a long time. Reviews are absolutely crucial to a book's success, and they make authors feel good, too. After all, the reason we go through all the trouble of publishing is to share our words with readers. When you review a book, we know we've reached you.

 All it takes is a star rating and a one- or two-sentence impression. If you don't like the books, please email me your thoughts. I'm always eager to improve and gobble up every bit of feedback. 

Hit the Buy Button

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 Seriously, 99 cents is a steal for 5-star, full-novel-length reads. All three ebooks are priced this low in honor of the third book's release, so get 'em while they're hot! You can give ebooks as gifts, too. The first two books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook, and you can pre-order the third on ebook to lock in the 99-cent deal. Print is also available, with audiobook coming soon.

Buy links for Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and more!

Thanks so much for your interest in and support of the Dreamslippers Series. It's been a wild ride putting out three novels in two years, and I'm the better writer for it.

 

 


3 Books for 3 Bucks

Dreamslippers Tryptych - with covers

UPDATE: This sale has been extended through the weekend!

 On November 11, we release the third book in the Dreamslippers Series, Bound to the Truth. In celebration of the completed trilogy, EVERY BOOK IN THE SERIES is now available for only 99 cents on ebook. Buy and read the first two books now, and pre-order the third to lock in the 99-cent deal. It will be magically delivered to your device on the day of publication. Pricing lasts only until that date - Nov 11.

 What readers are saying about the series…

 "Clearly author Lisa Brunette has a genuine flair for deftly crafting a superbly entertaining mystery/suspense thriller.”
Midwest Book Review

 "The launch of an intriguing female detective series... A mystery with an unusual twist and quirky settings; an enjoyable surprise for fans of the genre." 
Kirkus Reviews

 More 5 out of 5-star reviews…

 "Lisa Brunette’s FRAMED AND BURNING is a brilliant, suspenseful whodunit in its own merit, full of twists and turns, pursued by a unique pair of private investigators—Cat and her grandmother Grace, in a character-as-well-as-plot-driven ride pulsating with the crisis not only in the murder investigation, but also in their own lives.” 
Qiu Xiaolong, Author of Shanghai Redemption, a Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2015

 "Gripping, sexy and profound, CAT IN THE FLOCK is an excellent first novel. Lisa Brunette is an author to enjoy now and watch for the future.”
Jon Talton, author of the David Mapstone Mysteries, the Cincinnati Casebooks and the thriller Deadline Man

 Overview of BOUND TO THE TRUTH…

 What if you could ‘slip’ into the dreams of a killer?
This family of PIs can. They use their psychic dream ability to solve crimes, and that isn’t easy.
Especially when your client thinks she knows who the killer is, but you don’t believe her.

 Did Nina Howell really fall under the spell of a domineering, conservative talk show host--as her wife claims?'

 More praise for the series…

 "A little Sue Grafton and a dose of Janet Evanovich… is just the right recipe for a promising new series.”
Rev. Eric O'del

 "Already hooked, this reader intends further sojourns in Cat's dreamslipping world. Highly recommended." 
Frances Carden, Readers Lane

 For readers who enjoy strong female leads, quirky, well-developed characters, and a dash of dating drama with their mystery. Fans of J.A. Jance, Mary Daheim, and Jayne Ann Krentz will love Cat and “Amazing” Grace!

 An award-winning novelist…

WINNER of the indieBRAG medallion
Finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award
Nominated for a RONE Award
Finalist for the Faulkner-Wisdom Award

BUY/PRE-ORDER NOW

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BUT I'M A LUDDITE...

Ebooks not your thing? Never fear. The first two books are available in print through Amazon and Barnes & Noble and audiobook through iTunes and Amazon. The third novel is also available in print NOW, with an audiobook version coming soon. Complete buy links here

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Buy the books.

 Review the books.

 Follow me.

 Photo credit: Lisa Brunette.


Amazing Grace, the Seventy-Something Power Yogi: Could You Keep Up?

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One of the main characters in my Dreamslippers mystery series is Amazing Grace, AKA "Granny Grace," a lifelong yoga devotee. At 77 in Cat in the Flock, Grace begins an apprenticeship with her granddaughter Cat not with a lesson on dreamslipping or even sleuthing but with yoga. Grace wants to train Cat in a holistic manner, not teach her "dreamslipping parlor tricks." The evening Cat arrives in Seattle, she and her grandmother practice together in the "Yoga Yolk," a room Grace designated specifically for this focus, a bit like this awesome meditation room I pinned to this board showing the entire novel as told through Pinterest photos.

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via CarolineBakker.com

Here's a roundup of Grace's poses. How many can you do? This first one is from that beginning scene in the Yoga YolkNote how in yoga, experience often trumps youth: "Granny Grace moved into crow pose, crouching forward till her knees touched her upper arms and then lifting her legs so her whole body was balanced on her arms. Cat couldn’t do that pose yet, so she sat in a wide-legged squat, watching her grandmother with admiration." 

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Cat struggles with meditation, especially taught by one 'Guru Dave' at a studio over a record store--you try holding Downward dog while listening to the umpa umpa sound of polka music. But Cat persists in her training: "They practiced yoga twice daily—an energetic round in the morning at a studio near the house and a slower style called yin that Granny Grace led in the Yoga Yolk each evening to wind down." Here's a yin variation on swan pose. Can you hold this for five full minutes? 

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photo by Christy Collins, via Wikimedia Commons

Grace is adept at full lotus (spoiler alert: until book three), and she often turns to seated meditation when she finds herself stuck on a case. How's your lotus these days? If it's not exactly waterfall-rock-perch worthy, don't worry. There's an alt pose below.  

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I've been practicing for twenty years and still can't get into full lotus. Neither can Cat. But all of us can handle Cobbler's pose, so why don't you try that instead. Yay for Baddha kohnasana! 

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via Elephant Journal/Christine Festa

Probably my favorite yoga moment in the series is when Grace convinces Cat to try "Midnight Moonlight Yoga" in Framed and Burning. This powerful experience gives Grace metaphysical insight into the case, foreshadowing the darkness to come:

The energy was dark and red, vibrating to some frequency that wasn’t positive. She thought she heard the sound of large wings beating. Her eyes flew open. Breathing hard, losing her ujaiyi breath, she carefully extracted herself from the pose and took a resting pose on her knees, her hands in her lap. The place where her heart chakra should be ached.

The instructor is a composite inspired by the many memorable yogis who've taught me over the years, not the least of whom is Greg Bowles from Embody, who might recognize something here:

Their teacher, Spiritfire, was a master yogi who had traveled through the earth’s chakras, from points in India to South America and beyond. It had never occurred to Grace that one could travel through the earth’s energy centers. She made a mental note to do so before she died.

I dare you to practice yoga under the moon tonight. Just think of your sun salutation as moon salutation instead.

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via Pixabay

If you're reading this thinking that someone like Amazing Grace (yes, it's her legal name) can only exist in fiction, here's some evidence to the contrary. First, she was in part inspired by my husband's mother, the late A. Grace. Second, I offer you these beautiful photos of the oldest living yoga teacher in the world, a woman who at 93 has more than a decade on Granny Grace.

Namaste.

Gap ad (kudos to them for the age diversity) via In My Own Style


What It Means to Write with Intention

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I was featured along with six other writers in a blog series about writing with intention. Our host, Alexis Donkin, believes that "fiction can shape the way we think about the world." She asked questions like this one: "If there is one thing you'd want people to do after reading this book, what would it be?" 

For Saadia Faruqi, the answer is for readers to read another book set in a culture different from their own. She wrote a short story collection set in Pakistan in order to "showcase the reality behind Pakistan’s complicated politics and culture," without presenting stereotypes. Author Sharon Angelici, a Midwestern stay-at-home mom, would like for her book about suicide to spark difficult conversations. 

In writing Cat in the Flock, I wanted to offer a warning about the damage of repressive, prejudicial beliefs while approaching the subject of evangelical religion with compassion for all.

You can jump into all seven interviews from here, and if you're looking for mine, here's a direct link.

What are your thoughts about writing with intention? To me this is different than political writing or propaganda because the material must first be in service to story. As I told Alexis, "Stereotypes and omissions on either side of the political spectrum usually weaken the story."

Weigh in on that below, or tell us about a book that changed your thinking--or your life.


Guest Blogger: My Secret Writing Walk, or How Spirituality Guides My Writing Life


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by Alexis Donkin

LB: Writing for the blog today is Alexis Donkin, blogger, speaker, and author of what she describes as "a library of books," from fantasy and sci-fi to memoir and journal guides. I asked her to discuss how she meshes a spiritual path with her development as a fiction writer, or how the two intersect. Here's Alexis.

I think I wrote 10 different posts about this topic only to abandon them. How can I talk about spirituality and my writing? How can I not? How can I talk about my spiritual practice and not freak people out?

I grew up with two ordained ministers as parents, so religion has always been a topic discussed at dinner. Faith was linked to every aspect of our lives. Pastors are like politicians in that everyone has expectations for them, and their families. There were parts of our lives that never saw the light of day...well...until I wrote about them in my memoir.

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Because of my upbringing, I've had an unusual relationship with spirituality. I started out being very Christian. My faith led me to study other traditions as a path to addressing the world's needs (the product of this education is my world religion curriculum and associated interfaith devotional). In that study, I questioned my allegiance. I never identified with those publicly identifying as Christians. Somehow they managed to insert Jesus into every other sentence. They talked about prayer as if it was this transformative experience, and for me, being progressive, I couldn't decide if they were genuine – or lying. It didn't connect with my own experience.

So as I researched other traditions, I questioned my own. In the end, I discovered all faiths have parts I like and parts I hate. It just so happens, I like Christianity best. It speaks my cultural language. I like the story of Jesus.

This seems like a round-about way to talk about spirituality in writing, but it's important to know my perspective to understand why I write what I do – what drives everything in my life.

I am, by all accounts, a very spiritual person. I meditate daily. I go to church every week and even lead the worship band. I pray before meals. I express gratitude for the beauty of every moment – whatever that beauty is. When I submit a piece, I pray the outcome achieves the highest good of all. I meditate before I write my blog posts – checking in with my gut to confirm the topic is right.

Seriously.

I do that even for social media posts.

As I write this out, I wonder if this is an unusual thing. I expect it is rare for people to do these things, but for me, I have to interact in the world this way. Everything I do is centered around my personal purpose – to spread compassion and empathy through my writing and speaking.

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I tried to write commercially. I tried to write solely to entertain. Instead, I wrote about gender dynamics, equality, and climate change. I tried to write freelance articles about tourist things and the like – I can't do it. My head starts to ache and I grow restless. I have the urge to throw my computer. 

My call is too strong to ignore. When I try to avoid it, something always brings me back. So I embraced it. Once I did, things started falling into place for me. I embraced the fact that I am a deeply spiritual human, and became open about it. I found myself supported in this, even from unexpected sources (like staunch Humanists).

My spirituality is generally implicit in my blog posts. It's implicit in my fiction pieces. While I can't separate my faith and practices from my work, I'm not interested in converting people to my particular way of being. That doesn't serve anyone. I just want people to love themselves and love others. I think that makes the world a better place, and ultimately, that's the highest good.

 

AlexisdonkinAlexis Donkin lives in Southern California with her family. She is a classically trained artist, with a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies and an MA in Global and International Studies. Between writing, speaking, and chasing her kid, she paints, sings, and dances. Sometimes Alexis does it all at once.

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A Moth and Mortality: Flying Back from St. Louis on the Day of the Massacre

Jun 14, 2016

It seemed to rest there, on the windowsill.

This Sunday I flew back to Seattle from St. Louis, MO. About half way into my return flight, so two hours in, a moth fluttered up out of nowhere and beat its wings against my window glass, then came to rest on the sill. I'd never seen anything like it before. It was strange, watching a moth try to get out--where there was no getting out at all. 

I was still reeling from the breaking news about Orlando. 

Just two days before, someone close to me told me he believes that homosexuality is wrong, that Jesus said it is a sin for a man to lie down with a man. When I lived in St. Louis twenty years ago, I was a progressive student activist, and a fighter by nature. My intellect had been forged by the rigors of a Jesuit education, I knew what was what, I was out to save the world, and I'd acquired a silver tongue for debate. Back then, I would have Taken. Him. Down. And I have--over the years, we've had some shut-outs, let me tell you.

But these days I'm more interested in being happy than I am in being right. In our limited time during my visit, I didn't want to spend it arguing about politics. I try to approach such differences with patience and expansiveness. I knew I wasn't likely to change his mind, so I told him I couldn't disagree more but that I respected his right to his beliefs, as long as he didn't violate any laws. I thought it was interesting that he said that if he were a baker he would gladly bake a cake for a gay wedding, as that's business, but that he believes homosexuality is a choice, and the wrong one.

It's hard when someone you love seems to judge others for their love.

I couldn't help but think of our conversation when I read the first reports about Orlando. But on my own social forums, I was speechless. My silver tongue had no words. Then a good friend posted to his Facebook page something beautiful and sad and just right:

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A few nights before that conversation about whether or not homosexuality is wrong, I'd had this strange experience while driving around St. Louis late at night. Like a panic or anxiety attack, I felt a sharp pain in my chest, and my hands went damp. These symptoms coincided with a very clear realization: That I would one day cease to exist. Now it could have been triggered by the heady experience of being back in a part of the country where I practically grew up, having lived there from junior high up through high school, college, and for six years of adulthood. I kept comparing everything to twenty years ago--the city itself, which has changed dramatically, my family members, my friends. I've changed a lot, too, and not just in my penchant for debate. But it wasn't just that. I felt the unfairness of mortality. While I have no regrets about the choices I've made, I think like most people I've spent too much of my life in anguish over being hurt, or angry at those who've done me wrong, or worrying that I'm not good enough or skinny enough or I'm not this or that. There is so much I want to do, and I don't want to waste any more time in a comparathon or with people who don't return back the energy I spend on them or in berating myself for failings, whether real or imagined. Because it could all be gone, the time I have left to do the things I need to do. Like Ernest says, in the flash of a disco ball.

Today I read through some of the bios of the Orlando victims, looked at pictures they'd posted to Facebook and elsewhere. They were all so young, so beautiful. Did they know it? Did they feel it? They stare at the camera, some of them, as if to say, Do you see me?

I assumed the moth was just resting there on the windowsill of my plane, and I looked forward to seeing it flit outside with all of us when we exited. I'd even considered ways of helping it find the front door. But then I saw that it was listing unnaturally, off to the side. Its antennae quivered, then stopped. When it died, it lost its hold on the sill--and fell.

My husband tells me that when the police stepped into the club, there was a cacophony of ring tones coming from the cell phones of the dead. All those loved ones on the other line. Are you there? Are you OK? Please tell me you're OK. Please. I love you.

I think of the yogi's words in a video I've practiced to for twenty years. "Love is what's left when you let go of everything you don't need." Let's do that now, let go of everything we don't need. That's a lot these days, but look at what we'll have left.


What Do We Think of This Prologue?

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When I'm not guest-lecturing, writing articles, looking for work, drafting game text, or reading at book events, I work on the manuscript for the third book in the Dreamslippers series, which doesn't yet have a title.

But it has a prologue! And I've recently thrown out the first draft of that and written something new. What do we think of this new version? Please weigh in using the comments below.

Prologue

He held her hair in a tight nest at the back of her head, the tension making her scalp ache, like her desire. Pearls swayed in a loose arc beneath her chin. They reminded her of the Newton’s cradle on her desk at work, how she’d lift a metal ball to let it drop and hit the next one. The energy would travel through the three still balls in the center, forcing the one on the opposite end to rise upward. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

How many times a day she did that, she did not know. It was habit. It had been for years.

He released her hair. His fingers massaged her scalp. Her eyes rolled back with pleasure. Her saliva flowed.

“God, you’re beautiful like this,” he said. “I love it when you let go.”

She reset her gaze, and there he was, close in, staring into her eyes.

She touched his strong jaw, freshly shaven, letting herself feel thrilled by his masculinity. “I can only let go like that with you.”

The look he returned was one of surrender. She marveled at that. She was supposed to be the submissive one, and yet during their play, they both surrendered, to each other.

“You have no idea how glad I am to hear that,” he said.

Funny that he would say that, as she knew exactly how it made him feel. It was part of what drew her to him, his need to know their connection was real, that her responses to him were unique. And they were. He was the only dom she’d ever trusted like this, the only one who could unlock her body.

The only one she loved.

Following her craving, she moved his hands where she wanted them. “Please,” she said. “I need you to hurt me.”

>>>

He knew to smack her where she was fleshiest, and to do it until her skin turned pink, but no more. He knew she enjoyed the feeling of the silk ties against her wrists. He knew when she parted her lips just so, her tongue wet, to slip his thumb into her mouth.

He would know the sound of her sigh across a crowded room.

But he did not know her name. She was only “Dandelion” to him, the nickname at once soft and tough. At work, or even randomly at home when he should have been watching himself more carefully, he would smile, thinking of her as pretty like the dandelion’s flower, but with roots he couldn’t rip out of himself if he tried.

Only once, in the beginning, did she have to use their safe word. The name of a bird: robin. “It makes me think of flying away,” she explained. Her eyes were coy, but he heard the sadness in her words.

He didn’t want her to have to escape. He wanted her free, to choose him. He wanted them both to be free.

But they were each in their own cage.


Things I've Experienced While Meditating, in Order of Occurrence

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  • Thoughts about how stupid meditation is.
  • Heavy processing of the day in review.
  • Hearing the sound of my husband snoring.
  • Hearing the sound of myself snoring.
  • Reaching over and touching my husband's hand and deciding it's OK because there are no rules in meditation.
  • Feeling my husband reach over and touch my hand and not feeling as if this breaks the reverie or anything but is rather part of it.
  • Some of the most blissful sleep ever.
  • Random body spasms.
  • Focused relaxation of my jaw.
  • Comparisons to getting acupuncture.
  • Comparisons to yoga.
  • Comparisons to the fugue state of sex.
  • Questioning: Why is 'fugue' always a bad thing? Isn't that in effect the perfect state of nirvana?
  • Wake feeling refreshed.
  • Deep listening, mostly to the harps/piano/sitar/chanting but sometimes to the blaring train horn outside.
  • Feelings of annoyance at the overly repetitious nature of most music labeled for meditation.
  • Random visions of flying or dancing.
  • Focused forgiveness of myself for the times I've failed at life.
  • Focused visions of myself succeeding at life.
  • Random laughter.
  • Random tears.
  • Random sighing.
  • The solution to a writing issue becoming clear.
  • Focused relaxation of various body parts.
  • Anger, which must have been suppressed and is now bubbling up.
  • Focused vision on the ties that connect me to others.
  • Character dialogue like an internal radio.
  • A perception of vibrational harmony.
  • Colors. Sparks. Dare I say glitter?
  • Feelings of expansiveness and love.
  • Fleeting moments of divine connection.

How about you?


This Poet Sent Me Her Book, and It's Not Even National Poetry Month Anymore

This lovely poet sent me her book

Elizabeth Tornes' award-winning chapbook.

I had just made a commitment to myself to scale back on activities (such as this and this) that don't have a chance of producing at least some kind of income. At the top of the list is poetry, which actually manages to cost me money and gets ignored when I post about it across social media (this should surprise exactly no one). Poetry had to go, or at the very least, I can only indulge in poetry during April, for National Poetry Month.

And then two things happened.

First, a woman I barely know here in town took it upon herself to a) buy a print copy of my poetry collection from our local bookstore and read it, b) give it to her daughter to read c) rave to me the next time she saw me in our dance class and d) post a review of the book on Amazon.

"Her language is perfect as it is," she writes in her review. "Each poem a wide eyed tribute to the bits that make up our lives."

Readers tend to respond to Broom of Anger in a very personal way, and I have to say these reactions have been some of the most gratifying of my career.

The other thing that happened is this: My cousin gifted my book to a poet friend of his in Wisconsin, and she liked it so much she gave him a copy of her poetry book to send to me. In the inscription, she wrote, "With admiration for your work!"

The book, Between the Dog and the Wolf, pictured above, was published by Five Oaks Press as the winner of their 2015 "Say Elves" Contest. For one of her other books (she has three), Elizabeth Tornes won first prize in the 2012 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Chapbook Contest.

It's a lovely collection that time-warps me instantly to the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where my people are from. The link of spirituality and nature also resonates with me. Here's a sample:

 The Elders

They are still with us, 

waving as oak leaves, roaring

wind through the pines. They echo

as woodpeckers hammering

hollow trees. They insist

that we remember, remember, 

remember their stories

and their long-lived lives.

Remember the hand

they gave us when we slipped,

the kind looks and words,

a balm for soothing a heartache.

 

I miss the grandmothers

who gentled me, who taught me

how to speak, and give to others.

How to go beyond the self

to hear the pulse of the barred owls

signifying wisdom,

the high-pitched songs of frogs

that lift the swamp

in the early evening,

the loon's tremulous call--

the voice of the Creator,

if we would only listen.

*

Mmm. So wonderful.

So there you have it. Poetry won't buy me groceries, but good words and a free book are great poetic karma.

One more thing: Hat-tip to my cousin Jay Halminiak for fostering poetic relationships! :)

And one ONE more thing: Happy Mother's Day!