Writing Feed

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.


Sparklenuts, First Jobs, and NaNo

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 Sometimes I like to break from the long-form novel writing and try my hand at shorter pieces. It's also gratifying to see your work published in other venues, and to hopefully pick up new readers. It's been a busy fall, with the launch of Bound to the Truth coinciding with three short publications:

This Action Cannot Be Undone

 I had an idea in mind for a while to capture the drama of online connection and disconnection as told solely through Facebook notifications. I finally crafted a short piece, the work taking me longer than you'd think, given the length (poets, I know your struggle). I found a great home for "This Action Cannot Be Undone" at Argot Magazine--check out the cool layout. Since I'm involved in game design, and so many people are annoyed by game requests on FB, I made up a fictitious game called Crash Monkey Bonanza. Hence, the sparklenuts. One of my readers said "The monkeys have gone sparklenuts!" is like the best line ever. (Angel investors, if you'd like to see a proposal for this as a real game, let me know.)

 #MyFirstSevenJobs

 I felt inspired to write about my first seven jobs when the meme swept the Internets a couple of months ago, and Tues/Night was happy to oblige, including me in a roundup of posts on the subject. This one is 100 percent autobiographical, which felt strange and risky to me after writing fiction for so many years, both the novels and all that game writing, but there it is. Believe me, you can't make this @$%& up.

NaNoWriMo

 Regular readers of the blog know I'm not a huge fan of National Novel Writing Month. For me, what's needed much more is a National Novel Reading Month. You can see why in the stats I included in my article on NaNo for The Chronicle: In the nearly 20-year history of NaNo, only around 250 novels have been picked up by publishers and made it into print; whereas, last year alone, close to half a million writers participated. But! Wait! I challenged myself to find the validity and goodness in NaNo, and I'm proud of how that comes through in the piece. See for yourself.

 Please support these supporters of writing by clicking on the links and commenting on the pieces. Thanks, and have a great day!

 Image courtesy of Pixabay. No sparklenuts were harmed in the creation of this post.


An Interview with Award-Winning Author Qui Xiaolong

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Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai, China. He is the author of the award-winning Inspector Chen series of mystery novels, Death of a Red Heroine (2000), A Loyal Character Dancer (2002), When Red Is Black (2004), A Case of Two Cities (2006), Red Mandarin Dress (2007), and The Mao Case (2009). He is also the author of two books of poetry translations, Treasury of Chinese Love Poems (2003) and Evoking T'ang (2007), and his own poetry collection, Lines Around China (2003). Qiu's books have sold over a million copies and have been published in twenty languages. He currently lives in St. Louis with his wife and daughter. 

Qui and I are old colleagues and friends. I served as a beta reader for his first novel before that was even a thing, and the two of us worked together teaching English at St. Louis Community College. During me recent trip to St. Louis, he told me about his interesting indie project, a poetry collection written in the voice of Inspector Chen, a character he's developed over the course of a multi-book series. Chen trained in poetry, and it informs his thoughts and is a compelling aspect of the series. But this is the first time the poems have been gathered into a collection.

Lisa: Poetry has been an integral part of your Inspector Chen series since the beginning. Why fuse these seemingly disparate genres—poetry and crime—into one?

Qui: To begin with, I love poetry, and I cannot but have my Inspector Chen love it, too. In an age with few people reading poetry, it's just my way of smuggling poetry into crime fiction. But it's also more than that; in classical Chinese novels, there're more poems than in my Inspector Chen novels, usually with a poem at the beginning of a chapter, and another at the end of it, and more with a new character being introduced. And I think it is justified for varying lyrical intensity in the narration--like the use of blank verse in a Shakespearean play, so it sort of carries on the Chinese tradition. But more importantly, at least so for myself, I want Inspector Chen to observe not only from a cop's perspective, but from a poet's as well. The two sometimes come into conflict, which may also make the character more complicated. 

Lisa: That’s really fascinating; I didn’t realize Chinese novels integrate the poetic form so much. And yes, I enjoy the two sides of Chen’s brain, poet and inspector. Together they lead him to a sort of third way of doing things that seems to be a negotiation between the two. There’s a lush, philosophical quality to his thoughts that make his perspective such a pleasure. I’m curious: What have readers said about this unique poetry/mystery mashup? I know we’ve talked about the differences between readers in the U.S. vs. your foreign readers. Are those abroad more receptive to reading poetry with their plots? 

Qui: I believe it’s something worth trying for a writer to write in the genre, but at the same time, to push the limit of it—if that’s what you call the unique poetry/mystery mashup. From what feedback I’ve gotten from my readers, I think they like it. Yes, we’ve talked about the differences between readers in the U.S. vs. readers elsewhere. For instance, Poems of Inspector Chen have been translated and published by my Italian and French publishers, and during my tour in France in October, one of the most rewarding experiences there was the discussion with 300 high school students in Lyon about that poetry collection, which they studied in class. But I want to add, readers here are also so enthusiastic about the poetry. During a recent conference sponsored by the Ahmanson family in L.A., for instance, the host offered the poetry collection to everybody attending the conference. A very large audience indeed. It’s just her way of supporting poetry and Inspector Chen, which I understand and appreciate. 

Lisa: With your background in literary poetry and fiction, what drew you to the detective genre in the first place?

Inspector Chen poems

Qui: I've always loved crime fiction. But the way I started writing in the genre was accidental. In the mid-nineties, I went back to China for a visit after staying in the States for seven or eight years. I was so impressed by the changes taking place there that I wanted to try my hand on a novel about the society in transition, but I had not written fiction before, so I had a hard time putting things together. Then the knowledge of the crime fiction genre came to my rescue, so to speak. I reshuffled the contents, and used the genre as a ready-made framework for what I wanted to say. In fact, when I submitted the manuscript for Death of a Red Heroine to my publisher, I was not even that sure it was a real crime novel. But my publisher liked it and wanted me to expand it into a series. So here I am, with book number ten of the Inspector Chen series coming out in French in September. But because of the accidental entry, you may still notice the sociological traces in all these books. 

Lisa: Wonderful—that explains so much. It’s interesting to hear you say your original plan was to write about society in transition. You weave this into the plots well, or rather, you deftly use plot as a vehicle for immersing your reader in that transitional society fully. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the series. How has that waxed and waned over the course of the series? You say now with ten there are still traces…

Qui: With so much happening in contemporary Chinese society, I’m capable of putting each Inspector Chen investigation in a specific social, political, cultural backdrop, in which the crime and the investigation are directly or indirectly commenting on it, and also commented on by the society in transition. For instances, Death of a Red Heroine against the backdrop of the split personality imposed on individuals living under an authoritarian regime, Red Mandarin Dress against that of the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, Don’t Cry, Tai Lake against that of China’s ecological crisis, Enigma of China against that of governmental cyber control, and Shanghai Redemption against that of uncontrollable corruption under the one-party system… And with so much still happening there, Inspector Chen has a long way to go with a sociological perspective. After Becoming Inspector Chen, the manuscript I’m working on also has such a background focus on the lack of an independent legal system in China.  

Lisa: Let’s talk about your latest book, a collection of Inspector Chen’s poetry in one volume. It’s a brilliant, yet curious choice. Are there other models for what you’ve done, taking a fictional character and making him the “author” of a book of poetry? What made you decide to do this now?

Qui: For myself, it’s not exactly a curious choice. I don’t think I had any models in mind while compiling the collection, but I benefitted from the “mask” theory elaborated by Yeats. According to him, a poet could speak behind the mask of a character. And I found the experience truly liberating, for I could suddenly write about things familiar, relevant to the inspector, but not necessarily to me. It’s also experimental in exploration of the reversible interrelationship among the creating and the created in the process of fiction writing. 

Lisa: I’m also intrigued by your decision to self-publish this book of poetry. What has been your experience so far, as someone whose work has always been traditionally published—first with SoHo Press and now with St. Martin’s—stepping out into the wilds of publishing on your own?

Qui: The Poems of Inspector Chen was published traditionally in France and Italy. But I’m quite  aware of today’s difficult poetry market. For me, it’s a labor of love, but not necessarily so for every publisher, which I understand. About a year ago, I happened to talk to a friend about it, and he helped the project greatly with his expertise in the field of self-publishing. It’s really to his credit that the poetry collection came out here like that.    

Check out Qui Xiaolong's web site for book links and more.

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What's the Motive? Chris Patchell

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For this installment of "What's the Motive?" suspense author Chris Patchell argues that motivation isn't enough when it comes to developing a sympathetic but compelling character. She's developed a formula to illustrate her writing approach.

Chris Patchell:

People are fascinating puzzles to solve. Why do people do the things they do? What motivates them? A dash of this, and you have a local hero. A dash of that, and you have a serial killer. The darker side of human nature has always sparked my curiosity, and maybe that’s why I write suspense.

Understanding a person’s motivations is a huge part of figuring out who they are. Having spent the majority of my professional life managing teams, I was always amazed to find that some of my top performers were driven by fear—the fear of rejection, the fear of failure. Fear can be a healthy motivator—it can compel us to be more prepared and work harder toward our goals, but fear can also inhibit or prevent us from getting what we want in life.

As an author, I’ve never liked my heroes bright and shiny, so in my latest suspense novel, In the Dark, I created an unlikely hero in Marissa Rooney. A single mother of two teenage girls with three failed marriages behind her, Marissa has a checkered past filled with menial jobs that allowed her just enough money to scrape by. When her daughter goes missing, Marissa’s motivation is clear. As parents, we’re instinctively hard-wired to want to protect our kids.

In crafting Marissa, though, I dug deeper into her character to expose not just her motivations, but her past experiences, her fears, and how they factored into her behavior. Motivation on its own is not enough. Two people may want the same thing, but they may go about getting it in very different ways. Let’s say two people want a new car. It’s expensive, and neither of these folks have the money. One person works hard and saves enough for a down payment while another person steals the car. Why?

Motivation + Experiences = Expected Behavior

Past experiences are the secret sauce in defining behavior. Some people have been taught that through hard work they can achieve their goals. Some people are taught to find short cuts. Others quit because their past failures have taught them that they can’t win. Some people don’t try at all.

As many of us do, Marissa equates the events of her life with who she is. Her past failures have instilled her with a whole host of fears. She’s afraid that she’s not good enough, smart enough, that all of her relationships are doomed. But most of all, she’s afraid that she will lose the only two good things she has in her life. Her daughters.

These fears drive Marissa throughout the story and cause her to make some interesting, and in some cases, awful choices. But the need to find her daughter is so powerful, it imbues her with an iron-clad will and the ability to withstand an enormous amount of pain in overcoming hellish obstacles to get what she wants.

In the end, Marissa finds what many of us find in our own lives when we face difficult, sometimes crippling circumstances: that she is stronger than she ever believed. 

If motivation is the engine that drives your characters through the heart of your story, crafting a set of powerful formative experiences is the chassis that sets the reader up for a deliciously bumpy ride.

Review In the Dark on Amazon.

Follow Chris Patchell on Twitter and Facebook.

AdobeBio 
Chris Patchell is the bestselling author of In the Dark and the Indie Reader Discovery Award-winning novel Deadly Lies. A tech worker by day and a writer by night, she pens gritty suspense novels set in the Pacific Northwest.


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.

 

 


An Interview with New York Times-Bestselling Author Robert Dugoni

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Robert Dugoni is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author of the Tracy Crosswhite Series: My Sister's Grave, Her Final Breath, and A Clearing in the Woods. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed David Sloane series: The Jury Master, Wrongful Death, Bodily Harm, Murder One, and The Conviction. Dugoni has twice been nominated for the Harper Lee Award for Legal Fiction, was a 2015 International Thriller Writer's finalist for thriller of the year, and the 2015 winner of the Nancy Pearl Award for Fiction.

After I accosted approached him at a recent PNWA conference, he agreed to participate in this back-and-forth interview, which unfolded over several weeks, suspended briefly as we both took vacations. A fan of his Tracy Crosswhite series, I'm thrilled to bring Dugoni to my readers.

Lisa: I just finished reading My Sister’s Grave, and wow. You took a tremendous risk with your twist at the end. What compelled you to go that route? At what point in your process did you know that’s how it would end?

Bob: With this book I knew at the beginning. I really was playing with an old legal maxim which is at the start of the novel. I wanted to point out that a maxim is never 100 percent accurate. There’s a key moment in the book, after the reveal, where this is spelled out.

Lisa: The legal maxim first appears in the quote you use to open the book, right? From Sir William Blackstone, “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Tracy Crosswhite upholds this maxim, though, not to stop the suffering of an innocent man but out of a driven quest to find the truth. You portray her sharp instincts so well—that scientific truth-seeking is my favorite aspect of her character. Do you think of her as the hero of the novel? Or is someone else? I don’t want to give the ending away, but she has a counterpoint in the story, like yin and yang. Are there two heroes in your mind?

Bob: No, I really see her as the hero. She’s lived with this case for 10 years and had the courage to follow through on it when most others would have given up. She’s heroic in many ways. 

Lisa: Fair enough. Another risky aspect is writing in a different gender than your own. Tell me about the challenges of pulling this off.

Bob: First, I decided not to try to write from the perspective of a woman. I thought that would be a huge mistake. Instead, I wrote from the perspective of a person who has been wounded, trying to survive, day to day, with that wound. That’s a universal existence not dependent on gender. On the other hand, I have four sisters and a strong-willed mother. I’ve worked in a profession with a lot of strong-willed female attorneys.  I tried to draw from those experiences.

Lisa: What tipped you over to creating Tracy? She’s pretty badass all the way through, so kudos to you for the portrayal. At what point did you move from “that would be a huge mistake” to “this is the way I have to write this story”?

Bob: I never worried that it would be a mistake. Years ago I wrote the story Damage Control with the protagonist Dana Hill. I did the same thing. I never tried to write like a woman, just a person going through a difficult time in their life. Men and women are not the same, I recognize that, but I think in many ways we’re similar when it comes to the basic things in life we want and how hard we will fight to achieve those things.

Lisa: You mention in the acknowledgments section conversations with two researchers who gave you insights into the minds of sociopaths and psychopaths, but I note that your general idea for the novel preceded these conversations. Where did the idea come from, initially? Did knowing you were going to use that twist to show the maxim isn’t absolute mean you had in mind there would be a psychopath in the book from the beginning?

Bob: Actually, Tracy Crosswhite is a character in Murder One, a David Sloane novel. She has a very small part. When I was deciding to start a new series, I went through my old novels searching for a new lead character. She was really an unlikely choice, but she made me curious. I wanted to find out more about who she was and how she went from being a high school chemistry teacher to a homicide cop. I know that sounds odd, since I created her, but I really had to stop and explore who she was at her core. I do a lot of research, and it often comes up in a different book than intended, or in more than one book. Unlike some books, I knew in this book I wanted a psychopath because of the nature of the crime and the location and setting.

Lisa: I enjoyed the town as a sort of character in its own right in the story. Why is that important, both in terms of and separate from Sarah’s murder?

Bob: Because of what the police told me about a murder. They said a murder is rarely about one person. A murder impacts an entire family. When I mentioned she lived in a small town, they said the murder would impact the entire town. Everyone would know Sarah, and everyone would live life a bit differently after she disappeared. It’s a scary thought.

Lisa: What are your future plans for Tracy Crosswhite? How long will you keep the series going?

Bob: I’m just going to follow ideas that come to me. I’ll write Tracy stories until I feel as though I’ve exhausted her and I’m no longer excited to get up in the morning and continue on with her journey.  I’ve written four, and I’m a long way into book five. I really enjoy the people I’ve created to surrounded Tracy and my intent is to explore each of them.

 Check out Robert Dugoni's web site for videos, book links, and more.

Dugoni book stack


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.


What's the Motive? Nancy Slavin

Moorings

Today fiction author and poet Nancy Slavin talks about how she finds motive in words themselves, both their beauty and their pain. "The first step towards violence," she says, "often is words that make people, well, less than people: into objects, or animals, or body parts."

Just a quick warning: In order to illustrate this, she uses a few examples of hurtful words below.

Nancy Slavin:

The subject of today’s post is about motive--what motivates this individual writer to write a certain book. I feel the need to state and expound on the obvious: words motivate me. Sound, rhymes, sentences, metaphors, stories; all the magic that can ensue just because of twenty-six English letters. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a linguist. I’d learn more letters and languages. My favorite part of motherhood was when my child was learning to speak; my second favorite has been watching her learn to read. I’m still amazed that little dark marks on a white page can communicate whole ideas, conjure galaxies, and create the possibility of freedom and justice. 

My original writing training is in poetry; the fine tuning of words and sounds is deep in my heart. I happen to come from a family of mostly artists--a mother who paints, a photographer sister, and a father who is a graphic designer and a potter. I have a brother, too. He flies planes. For me, the artistic medium is words. So that’s the first motive, and I hope, if you’re a writer, that’s your first motive, too. Otherwise, perhaps, consider another medium, like paints or planes.

Because I love words, I am also fascinated by how poorly they get used and how often, especially in relationships (and really, all human interaction is in relationship, hello “friends” on Facebook). Poorly-used words was too often the experience in my childhood, as it is for lots of kids. The long-term witnessing of belittling, mean words, name-calling, and the silent treatment (the tense, tense absence of words), motivated me to work in the field of domestic and sexual violence. 

In my work for more than twenty years, I was a violence-prevention educator--I taught other people, mostly youth, but many adults too, how to use words to communicate feelings and needs in healthy rather than hurtful ways, words that created connection rather than division and wreckage. In my trainings, I facilitated a lot of exercises that asked people to consider their words--words that were cruel but often minimized as no big deal, and/or words that categorized another person into an “other” based on their gender, race, religion, class, sexual identification or orientation. I said some dreaded words out loud and wrote them on boards, and I discussed their origins: words like bitch, fag, nigger, and redneck. I did this work so students could learn the histories and weight of words they might casually say or hear or write on the back of a desk. Depending on if they were on the receiving or giving end, they might respond to those words with an upped ante of violence, towards another, or inwards at themselves. The first step towards violence often is words that make people, well, less than people: into objects, or animals, or body parts.

As a domestic violence worker, I heard all kinds of stories about abuse that left literal scars on people. But I tell you, many, many people also disclosed quite often how the words hurt the most--the words of being told they were no good, not worthy, deserved the abuse, that the abuse was their fault, and many versions on that theme. The words, they told me, were the hardest to shake. They kept hearing those words in their head, reverberating.

All of the above lays the foundation for the main question I explore in my creative work: how do we heal from violence? How do we stop hurtful words from reverberating in our minds? Ultimately, that question led me to create a character in my first novel, Moorings. She was a woman who’d escaped terrible domestic violence, but she’d become mean herself, even in safety. I was curious what continued healing might look like for her. And I also explore the question in my second novel, which is based on and written for many of the youth with whom I worked, who’d been told twelve ways to Sunday they were unlovable and unloved. How does a person stop hearing those words and start believing a new story about who he or she is? 

There are many novels that have explored domestic violence and the rewriting of your own story, or writing your way into a new one. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, Black and Blue by Anna Quindlan, and for youth dealing with family violence, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison and The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy all come to mind. Although it's poetry, Maya Angelou’s book Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing, and the poem “Caged Bird” that appears in that collection and stems from her important memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was a formative poem for me. I’m also a fan of the play Trifles, by Susan Glaspell. And since I’m working on my YA novel, my next book up to read is Speak, by contemporary author, Laurie Halse Anderson, which confronts the reality of sexual assault. 

I am motivated in my personal life to be a healthier person. I have come a long way in some areas, and, in other ways, I still have a long way to go. I use words to tell myself some fascinating stuff sometimes. But listening to the words I say out loud, and then writing the words down to revise my own story, is my path toward health and healing. See? The letters “h-e-a-l” are the first four letters of “health.” How cool is that? 

For an important talk on the power of words in relationship to violence, I recommend Jackson Katz’s TED talk on domestic violence and words and language.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Check out which communities near you have planned to raise awareness through the National Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

Review on Goodreads and Amazon.

Follow Nancy Slavin on Twitter.

  Nancy Slavin

Nancy Slavin has been a longtime English literature and writing instructor for a community college as well as a violence-prevention educator. She’s authored a collection of poems, Oregon Pacific (2015), and a novel, Moorings, (2013). More of her work can be found in Rain MagazineBarrelhousehip mama, Literary Mama, and Oregon Humanities Magazine. Her website is www.nancyslavin.com

Looking for other "What's the Motive?" articles? Here you are.

 


What's the Motive? Rebecca Slitt

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In this regular blog series, guest authors discuss the motive behind their latest books--or in this case, games. Maybe that’s the motive for murder in the traditional mystery sense, but writers will share some aspect of motive in their works without spoiling the plot. For example, rather than focusing on the killer, what is the protagonist’s motive? This could also be the author’s motive for writing the story. Why this story? Why now? Contributors are free to explore “motive” in all of its connotations. 

When it comes to Interactive Fiction, where reader choice matters, motive is a little more up-for-grabs. If you were a nerdy kid like me in the 80s, you remember Choose Your Own Adventure books, with multiple endings and reader choice all the way through. This form enjoys a vibrant life online today, as in Rebecca Slitt's Psy High.

Rebecca Slitt:

What’s the motive in Psy High? It’s whatever you decide it is.

Psy High is an interactive novel: on the border between a book and a game. As in all of the titles from Choice of Games, you the reader direct the action at every turn: you decide what the main character does and why. Not only that, but you get to choose the main character’s name, gender, orientation, personality, and goals. 

The story in Psy High is a mixture of mystery, romance, and supernatural elements, inspired by “Veronica Mars” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” You play a teenager with psychic powers – clairvoyance and telepathy – who uses their gifts to solve mysteries. When an old friend asks you to investigate why your classmates are acting strangely, you discover a plot that could put the whole school at risk. You have to maneuver around your teachers, parents, and even your friends while using your magical abilities to uncover the truth – not to mention going to class, trying out for the drama club play, and finding a date for the prom.

The culprit has their own motive, but you figure that out – along with the culprit’s identity – fairly early. The more complicated question is: what's your motive? When you discover what's really going on in your high school, what do you do about it, and why? 

Maybe you’re motivated by altruism: you want to do what will help the most people. That’s a noble goal, but it’s not always easy to figure out how to reach it. What helps one person might hurt another.

Maybe you’re motivated by affection: you see how all of these issues are affecting your friends and want to help them. Maybe you want to help your boyfriend or girlfriend, or do whatever it takes to make them happy, or just spend as much time with them as possible. The prom is coming up, after all, and what could be more important than that?

Maybe you’re motivated by power. There’s plenty of power to be had, both magical and otherwise, and plenty of secrets to uncover. Do you care about that more than you care about your classmates? More than going to college? More than anything?

Maybe you’re motivated by a desire to fit in. In high school, what’s worse than being different? You can try to reject your magical power, act like every other kid, keep your head down, study, and try to lead a perfectly ordinary life. 

Or, maybe you think that the villain isn't such a villain after all. Maybe you realize that you share their motive: you think that their plan will make the school a better place, not worse. That’s possible, too. You can team up with them and use your magic to help them.

What this all means is that you get to choose the kind of story that you’re participating in. It can be a story about love conquering all: You can find your true love and draw on the strength of that bond to triumph over whatever challenges come your way. It can be a story about discovering deeper truths about yourself and the world: learning what you truly care about, what your values are, and how far you’ll go to defend them. It can be a story about rebellion: breaking every rule, fighting the power wherever you find it, showing the world that you’re your own person. It can even be a story about failure: No matter how strong or noble your motives are, there’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed – so if you fail, what meaning will you draw from that?

There are dozens of stories to be told inside the mystery of Psy High, each with its own motive. You get to choose which story you want to tell.

Download and review Psy High.

Follow Rebecca Slitt on Twitter.

  RLS photo

Rebecca Slitt is an academic-turned-game-designer who uses her knowledge of medieval history to make sure that dragon battles follow the principles of chivalry and time travelers go to the right places in medieval London. She is an editor and author for Choice of Games, and has contributed to the tabletop RPGs Timewatch and Noirlandia

 


The Goodness of Gathering

SWWC cookie

It's tempting, when you're freelancing or otherwise working from a home office, to become a hermit. You're finally free of the crowded bus; you no longer have to endure the cutthroat competition for the microwave at lunchtime. Even pants are optional.

But after you've soaked up scrumptious solitude for a good while, you start to crave communication. Someone to bounce ideas off of. Alternative answers to the questions you ponder silently every day. 

That's where writing conferences come in. As a writer, editor, and teacher with 25 years' experience, I've attended many conferences over my career, and I always learn something new at each one. At this year's Southwest Washington Writers Conference, there was plenty to absorb, from the art of cover design to the craft of villainy.

Kyle_cookie

Author Kyle Pratt, who presented at the conference, with his mug on a cookie.

Having recently completed a cover vote-a-thon, I found Gorham Printing rep Kathy Campbell's presentation on cover design very interesting. I hadn't realized that male readers prefer blue covers or that Millennials have a thing for vintage photos from the 60s and 70s. (Hmm... wonder what that's all about... ).

Memoirist Jennifer Lauck's presentation served for me as the perfect follow-up to Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, which I'd re-read right before the conference. Both Lauck and Dillard present a vision of the writing life that requires strong commitment, a dedication to the work, and an active reading practice. I loved Lauck's advice to read a book looking specifically for a particular aspect of structure, such as where and how to turn a scene or develop a character.

  Kyle_carolyn_me

Author Carolyn McCray, me, and Kyle.

I felt more in the mood for craft discussions over business talk, but when I read Carolyn McCray's bio, I realized I couldn't miss her showdown with Kyle Pratt over whether or not to publish exclusively with Amazon. The two presented equally compelling models for how to make it as an indie writer. They've both achieved great success but with radically different approaches.

Which brings me to this: There are so many different ways to be a writer. Sure, you can get advice and take a lot of rules to heart, but the writing life is as wide open as the sky. For example, there's writer Terri Read, who's published more than 40 books with Harlequin since 1993. She thinks of writing in terms of layers of cake, and her process is very structured, to the point of adhering to a set formula. Another conference presenter, Jill Williamson, takes a less structured approach with her self-described "weird books." She devoted her whole talk to villains, pointing out cliches and arguing that "the best villains are the ones readers actually like."

  Kyle_pat

Speaking of villains, get a load of these two. Just kidding - Kyle* and Pat are my fellow members of the Lewis County Writers Guild.

The most rewarding aspect of attending conferences is the opportunity to meet other writers. While there are always plenty of published and veteran authors in attendance, most of the people I meet are noobs just dipping a toe into the writing waters for the first time. So if you're holding back because you don't think you're experienced enough, let go of that right now. I hope to see you at the next one.

*I realize from the pics here it looks like I'm stalking Kyle Pratt. But I'm not. At least I don't think so. I think it's just that we're both becoming less camera-shy. ;)  


Vote for a Cover, Win a Free Book!

Six-Images-Layers

Which one of these covers fits the next novel in the Dreamslippers series best? With such awesome choices, we're having a hard time deciding. We hope you can help us out.

Here's the book description:

In Bound to the Truth, the multigenerational PIs with the ability to 'slip' into dreams are hired to investigate the murder of an up-and-coming Seattle architect. Did Nina Howell really fall under the spell of a domineering, conservative talk show host--as her wife claims? Find out as the dreamslippers chase down a killer while at the same time navigating the murky waters of the Seattle dating scene.

The challenge, as I put it to my brilliant cover designer, Monika Younger: While the novel includes elements of Seattle's kink culture, it's a mystery, not erotica, so we want to differentiate from those types of covers. There also needs to be continuity between the cover for this third book in the series and the first two:

CatintheFlock_thumb Framed-and-Burning_Thumb

But the continuity doesn't have to be perfect. Each book is different, so it's okay if there's a bit of a departure.

Here's the 'win' part: If the cover you voted for is chosen, you get a free ebook copy of Bound to the Truth when it releases this fall. One entry out of those winners also receives a signed print copy of the book.

So, are you ready to vote? If you need a sneak preview of the book first, here's the prologue from the current working draft.

Alrighty then! On to the choices.

#1:

  BOUND TO THE TRUTH1

#2:

BOUND TO THE TRUTH2

#3:

  BOUND TO THE TRUTH3

#4:

BOUND TO THE TRUTH4

#5:

BOUND TO THE TRUTH5

#6:

BOUND TO THE TRUTH6

Vote for your choice in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and feel free to argue your case! BUT - to make sure we have a way to contact you if you win, send us an email with your vote at this handy link.

By the way, reader votes synched up with our choices for the first two covers, so we obviously listen to what y'all have to say. We're looking forward to hearing what you think of these.

Thanks for playing!

 


Sneak Preview! Bound to the Truth, Dreamslippers Series Book Three

Six-Images-Layers

Which cover fits the feel of this novel best? Vote here.

Bound to the Truth: Prologue

Robin Howell sat on the floor of her living room watching Jin Mae play. The girl stacked yellow block upon blue block, alternating the two colors until she had a tower. Jin Mae seemed to sense when the height would become unstable and stopped. She turned to Robin and said, “Look, I made a building. Just like Mommy Nina does.”

The girl’s words bloomed like flowers in Robin’s chest. She got down on all fours to admire her daughter’s architectural feat. The two played together for a long time, until Robin noticed the slanted sunlight stretching out across the floor, suggesting it was late. She felt for her cell phone in her pocket to check the time. It showed an indisputable 7:36 pm, and a text message from Nina that she hadn’t noticed while absorbed in play: Taking a client to dinner. Go ahead without me.

Robin hoisted herself up off the floor, pulling the rough-hewn Guatemalan wrap around her for comfort as much as against the chill. “Come, Jin Mae,” she said, beckoning for her daughter’s hand. “We need to make dinner.”

>>>

Robin woke, her book still in her hand and her reading glasses perched on her nose. She heard running water and saw a slit of light beneath the bathroom door. Nina was home. Robin’s heart lilted at the thought of her wife climbing into bed with her fresh from a shower. But Robin craved more than that. She did not want to wait. She got up and walked to the door. 

The bathroom knob wouldn’t turn. It was locked.

“Nina,” she said. “Can I come in?”

Silence. A pause. And then, “Oh, Robin. I’m so exhausted. I just want to sleep.”

“Okay.”

Robin returned to bed, picked up her book and glasses, and set them on the nightstand. Nina finally came out after a few more minutes, and she was wearing a full set of pajamas. 

“You used to sleep in the nude,” Robin said. 

Nina did not respond. Her face was scrubbed of makeup, the ends of her chin-length hair wet. Robin made room for her under the covers, put her arm around her once she settled.

“How was your client?”

“Intense. But somehow still boring, in the sense that he was utterly predictable.”

Robin smirked. “What does he want you to build?”

Nina sighed. “What else? A mixed-use building with apartments above and retail below. It should have all the semblance of sustainability and green living without his having to invest in anything that would really make a difference.”

“So no go on the solar.”

“Nope.”

“Sorry.”

Nina turned toward Robin, touching her face. “How’s Jin Mae? I looked in on her when I came in. She’s fast asleep, with Lambykins in her arms.”

Robin felt Nina’s touch smoothing the jagged edges of her worry. “She’s fine. Building apartment towers with her blocks. Wants to be like you.”

Nina smiled. “It would be better if she wanted to be like you.”

“Why do you say that? You’re a fantastic role model for her.”

“Oh, I’m just being self-critical. It’s been a long day.” Nina dropped her caress and turned  to one side, away from her.

Robin snuggled into Nina’s back, spooning her. “I miss you.” She whispered it into her wife’s ear.

“I’m right here,” Nina said, grasping Robin’s hand.

But as they drifted off to sleep, Robin wasn’t so sure.

>>>

Robin’s knitting needles clicked as the women talked, giving their conversation a subtle staccato rhythm. The Wyld Womyn had come together as a group without fail for the past nine years. Staunch feminists to a woman, they supported a cornucopia of acronymed organizations that represented the fight against hegemonic patriarchy: NARAL, NOW, EMILY’S List, the FMF. More than half their number were lesbians or had dated women at some point in their lives. The ones who were currently partnered with men had chosen SNAGs, or Sensitive New Age Guys, as their mates. These were men who shared in the household chores and child-raising, took their turns in conversation rather than interrupting, and understood that their wives would retain separate bank accounts to preserve their economic independence. 

Today’s topic: pornography and strip clubs. Marjorie Jackson, an organizer for Feminists Fighting Porn, had been invited to speak about their various initiatives. 

Marjorie had chosen not to color her grey, which framed her face in dramatic streaks. Robin found the look both stunning and a little intimidating. 

“We know that pornography is like a gateway drug for perpetrators of rape and child rape,” Marjorie argued. “Notice that I did not use the word ‘molestation’ in place of ‘child rape.’ I don’t want to minimize the act when it’s done to a child. Rape is rape.”

Robin felt a surge of emotion at this that made her drop a stitch. She thought of Nina’s father. It had taken Nina fifteen years of therapy to undo the damage that man did to her. Robin wondered if pornography had anything to do with his criminal acts against Nina. 

“Now it’s everywhere, thanks to the Internet,” Marjorie continued. “We’re long past the days of banning porn from bookstores and convenience marts. Type ‘cock’ into a search engine, and it’s in your face.”

Robin fought a snicker at the woman’s unintended literalism.

Danielle Everton, a fortysomething financial planner, piped up. “I caught my son watching a YouTube video the other day about how to give a better blow job. The girl in the video demonstrated with a carrot, and she was alone and fully clothed, so I guess the parental filters didn’t recognize it as porn.”

“I don’t know why men like that so much,” said a woman named Sharon Koal. She pushed her turquoise frames back up to the bridge of her nose. “I’ve always found it disgusting.”

Robin thought of Sharon’s husband, who wore his hair in a ponytail and always smelled of the mushrooms he grew in their backyard. 

“Oh, I don’t know,” said one of the younger members of the group. She’d only recently joined. “They can be just as good for the woman as for the man.”

“Really?” Several women spit out the question at once.

The newbie looked caught off guard, and as if she wished she’d kept her mouth shut. “Um, yeah. I mean, why not? It’s the variety of sexual expression, right?”

One of the heteros sort of leapt to her defense. “If a woman truly enjoys it and isn’t just doing it to please her partner, that would be all right.”

Robin remembered furtive, awkward attempts at going down on her high school boyfriend, back when she was trying really hard not to think about her attractions to the girls who were just her friends. She hadn’t quite known what to do with that thing. It tasted like the terrible brie hors d’oeuvres her mother served to guests. So she closed her eyes and hoped for the best but ended up cutting him with her teeth. She had to admit, there was something satisfying about causing him pain there. And he never insisted she do it again after that.

“I think we’re getting off-topic,” said Helen Dubus, the host. “And there’s been an awful lot of cross-talk.” She cast looks at both Danielle and Sharon, who had effectively derailed their guest’s speech.

“Sorry,” both women murmured.

There was a pause, and then Marjorie spoke again. “So, anyway, there is not a lot we can do to put a stop to pornography. But what we can do is try to prevent strip clubs from obtaining licenses. They prey on young women who are already victims in society and create centers for drugs and crime.”

She distributed a flyer advertising a rally to protest a new strip club opening in a Seattle suburb. “We need as many people to show up to this as possible,” she said.

Robin wondered if she could get Nina to go. This protest would be something they’d do together. A question occurred to her.

“Would it be appropriate to bring children to the protest?”

Marjorie considered it. “I think that would be all right. There won’t be anything that children can’t see at this, not in our signs, and the club itself will be closed at the time. It’s during the day.”

Sharon spoke to Robin, but she meant her words for the group. “It would be a good experience for Jin Mae. Anyone else willing to bring their daughters?”

“—And sons,” corrected Marjorie. “They have just as much to learn as girls do. Maybe even more.”

>>>

The day of the protest dawned warm and drizzly. Robin made them all pancakes, a smiley face on Jin Mae’s, a banana mouth and strawberries for eyes. Nina brewed coffee, Robin’s favorite free-trade brand from the shop near their house. She poured in enough coconut milk to turn the coffee tan, just the way Robin liked it.

They told Jin Mae they were taking her to a protest, an important one for women. “Wo-men,” the girl said before sticking a strawberry into her mouth.

Robin always let Nina drive. The few times Robin drove, Nina spent the whole trip telling Robin where to go or pressing an imaginary brake on her side of the car. It wasn’t that Robin wasn’t a good driver. It was that Nina liked to be in control.

When they got to the building that would soon open as a strip club, Robin was dismayed to see only Marjorie, the woman from Feminists Fighting Porn, along with a handful of women who were also part of the organization. She, Nina, and Jin Mae were the only ones from the group of Wyld Womyn, and Jin Mae was the only child in attendance.

Still, they held their signs high for the news cameras. A few passersby joined them, including an elderly couple who lived a few blocks away and didn’t like the idea of a strip club opening in their neighborhood. 

The building was brick painted black, with a garish pink stripe across the top. A glittery sign spelled out its name: TOP LET’S. The windows had all been blacked out, and there was an enormous satellite dish on the roof. It was on a busy intersection, and the sound of tires swooshing through the rainy streets gave the proceedings a constant white noise, punctuated by an occasional honk, which the protesters took as gestures of support.

Through the constant wash of cars and steadily building commotion as more people joined the protest, Robin sought connection with Nina, who seemed distracted. Robin reached for her wife’s gloved hand. Nina clasped hers in return. But her gaze went elsewhere, to the gaggle of media people milling in front of vans, their crew swarming around them like flies.

One man, holding a tiny microphone, stared right at them.

Or at Nina, rather. He cast a quick, mildly curious glance at Robin, but his stare was directed at Nina.

As if he knew her.

As if there was something between them. 

Nina’s hand in Robin’s felt weak. Robin felt her wanting to break the hold.

But then the man turned away. He fell into conversation with his crew member. 

Robin thought she heard the slightest noise come from Nina, just a tiny note, as if she were trying not to react to a sudden pain.

He turned back around, his eyes scanning the scene but avoiding Nina and Robin. He clipped the microphone to his tie. Robin strained to pick out his voice above the din. 

“I’m at the scene of a protest here in North Seattle…”

Robin felt Nina pulling her away from where the man stood, but Robin held her ground.

“Regular listeners of my radio program know I’ve been covering the Rizzio family saga for the past three years…”

Robin had heard his voice before, when flipping the channels in her Subaru. As soon as his distinct baritone came out of the speakers, in fact, she knew to keep flipping. He was a conservative radio talk show host, and she never agreed with a word he said.

She nudged Nina, who was already staring at him. “Isn’t that…”

“—Sam Waters,” Nina supplied. “Yes.”

“Right,” Robin said in a whisper. “What an asshole.”

“That’s for sure,” Nina said, but the look on her face seemed to betray something else.

Sam Waters filled his microphone with his own rapid-fire, loud, inflammatory speech. “…The police have so far failed to provide any solid evidence against the Rizzio family in what amounts to a politically motivated witch hunt. Meanwhile, the radical feminists have descended, all eleven of them…” 

Robin held one of Jin Mae’s hands, and Nina held the other. “You’re hurting my hand, Mommy,” Jin Mae said to Nina, shaking the hand Nina held. 

Nina, appearing startled, glanced down and let go of Jin Mae. “Oh, sorry, honey.” 

“He just lied about the protest,” Robin said. “I count twenty-one of us.”

“Like it matters,” said Nina, coughing out a laugh.

Someone behind them began to chant. “No More Porn! No More Porn!”

Robin picked up the chant, and so did Nina. Even little Jin Mae joined in, though coming out of her three-year-old mouth, it sounded like, “No Morn Corn!”

>>>

Working late, said Nina’s text. Nothing more. 

But Robin had received that message at 6:13 pm. It was now morning, and Nina was not there. 

Robin could hear Jin Mae making wake-up noises in her room down the hall. Nina’s side of the bed was cold, the sheets still tucked under the mattress. 

A panic attack surged through Robin, turning her palms wet. She felt as if she were being choked.

She leapt from the bed. “Nina?” she called through the house, though she knew her wife wasn’t there, could feel Nina’s absense in her bones. She had felt it for some time. She’d known this was coming.

She thought of the man at the protest. Sam Waters. Nina had dated men before, but no one like him. How could she fall for someone like him?

Robin did not know how to stop it. She couldn’t imagine life without Nina, her love, her everything. How would they raise Jin Mae if they weren’t together? 

Robin wondered for a flicker how the money would work out, if she would have to go back to work or if Nina would continue to support her. 

“You’re dependent on me financially,” Nina said to her once. “Does that bother you?”

“Does it bother you?” Robin had asked her. 

“Of course not,” Nina’d said, rolling Robin onto her back and gazing down into her face. “Your work keeping up the home and caring for Jin Mae has value to me.”

Nina kissed her then, passionately. “I love you,” she’d said.

It had been a long time since they’d been intimate like that, Robin thought with alarm. And now it seemed like it was too late to get back there.

She shook the notion from her head. There was still time. She could save this. She had to.

>>>

Robin kept checking her cell phone for messages but found none. She expected to hear from Nina by noon, but lunchtime came, with Jin Mae getting parmesan all over the dining room. No matter how many times Robin swept the sponge across the table, she’d find flecks of cheese she’d missed. 

Then the front doorbell rang. Robin expected someone selling siding for the house, or cable services. But it was two police officers, a man and a woman. She let them in. They seemed so out of place in her living room in their starched uniforms, shiny shoes. Instinctually, Robin picked up her knitting needles. It seemed important suddenly to finish Nina’s sweater. It was taking her forever, and soon it would be too warm for it anyway.

“I’m so sorry to have to tell you this,” said the man. To Robin, it sounded as if he were more sorry about his role as messenger than he was about the message itself.

He cleared his throat, hesitating.

“Yes?” Robin prompted him. She didn’t look up, though. She didn’t want to drop a stitch.

“Your wife was found dead this morning,” he said.

Too late, too late. The words Robin had been worrying over all morning rang in her ears.   She dropped the unfinished sweater and looked up, but not at him. Her eyes met the woman cop’s, seeking comfort.

But there Robin saw only pity. 

 


One Hot Little Reading

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On Sunday I hoofed it down to Gladstone, OR, to take part in The Other Side Reading Series, hosted by Nancy Slavin, a past guest poet on the blog. I had the pleasure of sharing the mic with Julia Laxer, whose poems have appeared in So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art, Small Po[r]tions and The Nervous Breakdown. The theme was "heat," and Julia and I sizzled... literally. We were outside, the sun blazed down, and the mercury rose to around 90 degrees.

Reading

To further prove my in-synch-ness with the theme, I had my pick of tie-ins, from the opening fire scene in Framed and Burning, to the blaze of anger Mick Travers exhibits in that book, to the heat of passion in a couple of love poems tucked into Broom of Anger.

Julia

The talented Julia Laxer read about the seedy, lusty world of strip clubs, as well as traipsing through San Francisco in hot pursuit of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. She has a gift for the telling detail, and I can't wait to see what she does next. Her first book is sure to be a scorcher.

Shoes

Organizer Nancy Slavin lusted after my hot shoes.

All thanks to Nancy Slavin for putting the heat on, Happy Rock Coffee for hosting, and to the Clackamas Review for this great event write-up. Gladstone's just a stone's throw from Portland, so if you're in the area for the next reading in the series on September 11, stop on by. You'll be glad. 

Happyrocksign

Photos by Nancy Slavin, Julia Laxer, and me.

 


For the Love of the Game (Story)

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Since transitioning out of my narrative design role at Big Fish in February, I've been looking for exciting new opportunities in the games industry. One of my discoveries is a juicy online magazine put out by the Society for the Preservation of Adventure Games--yes, they call it 'Spag Mag.' Issue 64 went live yesterday, with my article "Evolving Storytelling in Hidden-Object Games" included. Working with the astute, responsive Katherine Morayati, Spag's editor, was a fantastic experience, and I'm honored to be on the roster. Writing the piece gave me the chance to reflect on five years at the narrative design helm, working with some of the most talented developers and producers in the casual industry and enjoying the rare opportunity to steer the storylines on Big Fish's flagship titles.

I continue to look for great games to play and work on in addition to writing books and articles. Unfortunately, a lot of the popular games today don't have much story, and in my opinion, that makes them boring. Pokémon Go lost me pretty quickly because it lacked a story hook. I'm just not motivated enough to simply collect and fight with creatures, and I get better quality exercise and social interaction around my dance classes.

It seems a lot of developers don't pay attention to what a powerful and yet cost-effective driver story can be in a game. Since a lot of what counts as story is delivered as text on-screen, it doesn't add hugely to the budget. There's of course a whole design method for adding visual story elements as part of the world-building and game-play integration, which I discuss in the Spag piece. One narrative designer/writer could make a measurable difference in player retention. Bewilderingly, developers tend to consider story last, if at all. But in nearly a decade in the industry, I can tell you that focusing on story from the get-go is key.

There are wonderful examples of story-in-games out there, I know it. As I've mentioned previously, one of these found me--the chance to write text for an iOS game called Smash Squad. I've got a few on my to-play list as well, such as Contradiction and any of the choose-your-own-adventure style put out by Choice of Games (I just finished Alexandria). But I'd like to throw this out to others for recommendations. I'm looking for non-combat games of any type. I prefer mystery and playing on a laptop but am open to other themes and platforms (I have an old Wii, an Xbox, and a DS). Tell me what's out there that excites you!

 Image via Big Fish, from Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst.


You Win Some, You Still Win Some

Lisa and martha

Here I am with fellow finalist Martha Crites.

I'm honored to be a finalist for the prestigious Nancy Pearl Book Award. A huge congratulations to New York Times-bestselling author Carla Norton, who won for her novel What Doesn't Kill Her.

Being a finalist has been a heady experience. I mean, Nancy Pearl is the biggest thing that's happened to books since the Kindle. She has her own action figure:

LAF

And everyone who's heard I'm a finalist for the award named after her gives me impressed eyes and immediately rushes out to buy my book.

OK, not really on the book-buying, but I'm sure that's going to happen any day now. And I did experience my first in-person fangirl gush last night at PNWA when a newbie writer I met last year told me she has all my books and reads all my stuff and omigod I'm like a real writer! Still in shock about being a finalist for the Nancy Pearl, I was not prepared for this fangirl and am convinced she thought I was someone else.

The best part of last night's award ceremony was social hour at my table. In my own genre there was fellow finalist Martha Crites, whose novel Grave Disturbance was published by the new indie press Rat City Publishing. I can't wait to read Martha's book! 

Next was Charlotte Stuart, a finalist in the mystery category for her unpublished novel-in-progress. Interesting double coincidence: Charlotte and I both left tenured teaching positions due to the lure of the sea. She to join her husband on a fishing boat in Southeast Alaska, and me to serve as the first and only woman to ever edit Fishermen's News, which is also the same paper Charlotte's husband wrote for in the 90s. How weird is that?

Finally, I can't say enough good things about upcoming historical author Mary Gregersen, who secured second place in the unpublished contest for her novel-in-progress, The Narrow Door. She and I had a great conversation about our writing process, Irish heritage, dreams, and how we came to focus on fiction. Mary's the only author I know to have actually made good on that dream to work in a writer's cottage in the backyard.

All in all, I'm thrilled to be a finalist. I lost to a super pro novelist and true crime writer who's a New York Times-bestselling author, and I was in great company with the other finalists. Of course, there's always next year.

Most importantly, I made new friends. And that newbie writer fan girl? She placed third in her category. So you never know what's ahead.

Nancy Pearl Award Ribbon

 

 

 


Guest Blogger: Taking Your Social Media to the Next Level

Like Me

by Andrea Dunlop

LB: Today on the blog I have Seattle-based author and social media consultant Andrea Dunlop. I asked her to critique my social media activity because I get a lot of compliments, but I honestly feel like I'm bumbling around most of the time. Here's Andrea.

As a social media consultant, I often work with clients who have either a small presence on social or are starting from scratch. So when Lisa reached out to me to give her social media a critique for a guest post, I was excited. She’s already done some of the hard work of cultivating an audience, so there’s something to build on. 

There are a million ways big and small to improve your social media reach, and what’s more, new tools, platforms, and hacks pop up every day. I don’t pretend to know all of them (no one does), but the depth of the practice is what makes it so much fun to be a constant student of social media. It’s never going to be the same every day.

Below I’ve included some notes on what’s working well for Lisa on her blog, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as some recommendations for each. 

Lisa’s Blog 

What’s Working 

Consistency: Lisa posts an average of at least once a week, which is my gold standard for author blogs. If you want to make your blog your main thing and a possible revenue generator, you’d want to blog more frequently (read a great series about that here from Ramshackle Glam’s Jordan Reid). But for most authors, your main goal is to bring some extra traffic to your site and keep readers engaged between projects. Once a week is great for that. 

High-quality content:  In addition to posting regularly, Lisa mixes in short posts with guest posts and longer, more in-depths posts on writing and publishing, such as this essay. Lisa has learned a lot of helpful information from her work, and she shares it with readers in a digestible way. 

Reader Engagement: Many of Lisa’s posts about her writing involve a call to action for her readers, asking for feedback on a new prologue, or posting a call for beta readers, for example. Involving your readers in the process is an excellent way to galvanize your most passionate fans. 

What to Work On

Focus: I love that Lisa mixes up her content, but it can also make the blog feel a little scattered. Lisa is doing a variety of interesting things (writing, indie publishing, game design) and this unique mix is part of what makes her worth following. This also means that she can hit a number of disparate audiences, which is great. The challenge here is making the content cohesive. Always think about what your core blog readership would be the most interested in.

Too Lisa-centric: Before you think I’m being critical here, this is a problem with most author blogs I see. Of course your fans want to hear about you and your books, but it’s easy for that to become monotonous for any reader who isn’t one’s husband or mother. Now of course there are exceptions and plenty of lifestyle bloggers who build platforms based almost solely on their own experiences, but again, that’s not going to work as well for an author blog. I would suggest to Lisa to add a bit more about what else she’s reading and content that focuses on fellow authors in her genre. Featuring others is also a great way to build community, which is one of the best long-term marketing strategies out there. 

Lisa’s Twitter

What’s Working 

Consistency: Lisa tweets several times each day, which is a good bar for this platform (and why some people find it so intimidating!). The shelf life of a tweet is short, so if you don’t want to be on Twitter every day, you can always schedule tweets using a tool like Tweetdeck, but you also might consider whether this quick-moving, conversational platform is right for you. 

Art: Lisa is taking full advantage of the banner space on Twitter by using it as ad space. You don’t get much space for text on Twitter so the more you can use the visuals, the better. Twitter has really upped its game with its visual components to keep up with competitors like Snapchat and Instagram. 

What to Work On: 

Avatar: I really recommend using a photo, rather than a painting or other drawing for your Avatar. There are exceptions, of course, like Grammar Girl, but she’s a persona, so it works. One of the things Twitter is the most useful for is networking; therefore, I prefer a clean, clear headshot (no hats and glasses please). 

Too Lisa-centric: My biggest critique of Lisa’s Twitter is that it's almost exclusively about Lisa. This doesn’t mean that Lisa is a narcissist; it just means she’s not using the platform to its full effect. Twitter is one of the easiest platforms to use to share work by fellow authors and writers by tweeting about books you’re reading, links to essays, pictures from events, the list goes on. A good ratio is: for every tweet that’s about you/ your book, you should have about four that acknowledge someone else. Cheryl Strayed is an absolute all-star at this. 

Lisa’s Instagram 

What’s Working: 

Selfies: There are lots of smiley photos of Lisa and shots from her everyday life. Super cute! Lisa’s Instagram makes me want to go hang out with her, maybe swing by her house for dinner. Her account gives me a sense of her personality. 

What to Work On: 

If Lisa just wanted to use her Instagram for fun, her approach would be fine, but right now it’s underutilized as a marketing tool. As an author, Instagram doesn’t always seem the most obvious choice for social media, but it’s one of the most powerful tools out there if used well. Don’t take my word for it; take Vogue’s 

Some tips for Lisa: 

Consistency: Three times a week is a good minimum; every day is better. Do this by…

Mixing it up: Instagram is not only a great place to share selfies and other in-the-moment photos but also stylized images about your book (a few examples over on my page), inspirational quotes, videos, and more. Lisa has a ton of great images collected on her Pinterest page that would repurpose well for Instagram. 

Books, books, books: If you are an author, you should be reading constantly and you should also be snapping photos of what you’re reading and uploading them to #bookstagram. Especially if you’re hoping to reach a younger audience, #bookstagram is where it’s at. Check out my favorite Bookgrammer @BookBaristas to see how it’s done. 

*For more tips on Instagram, read here

Andrea_Dunlop

Andrea Dunlop is a social media consultant based out of Seattle, WA with over a decade of experience in book publishing. She is also the author of Losing the Light (out now) and the forthcoming novel She Regrets Nothing, both from Atria Books (Simon & Schuster). You can read more about Andrea’s consultant services here. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. She is currently running an introductory special for new clients, so book before August 1st to receive ten percent off your consultation fee.

Lead image courtesy of Pixabay


Call for BETA Readers: Dreamslippers Book Three

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I'm looking for a few good readers to give feedback on a draft of the next book in my Dreamslippers mystery series.

In Bound to the Truth (working title), the multigenerational PIs with the ability to 'slip' into dreams are hired to investigate the murder of an up-and-coming Seattle architect. Did Nina Howell really fall under the spell of a domineering, conservative talk show host--as her wife claims? Find out as the dreamslippers chase down a killer while at the same time navigating the murky waters of the Seattle dating scene.

Why BETA Readers?

When writers get to the end of a draft, they are so happy to have crossed the finish line on that particular marathon that they can only see the manuscript through the burnished glow of completion. It's as perfect as busting through the marathon tape feels for the first runner.

But of course it's not, really. And writers know this, logically, even if they can't see the forest for the trees. That's why we draw on BETA readers, people who can tell us whether or not a plot thread works or if a character needs more development. In the digital gaming industry, we call this playtesting. Advertisers know it as focus testing.

What BETA Readers Do

My BETA reader program works like this:

  1. I send you a draft as an electronic copy in any format you wish, to read on your computer screen, tablet, phone, or other device.
  2. You spend two weeks reading the draft. Many readers say my books are page-turners they can read in one sitting, so this should be more than do-able.
  3. When you're done with the manuscript, you'll take an online survey to give me feedback on it. This includes multiple-choice questions as well as opportunities to provide narrative notes if you like. The survey could take five to thirty minutes to complete, depending on the responses you choose to give.
  4. That's it!

What BETA Readers Don't Do

This should be an easy, pleasurable task, which is not to say you couldn't list it on your résumé. But here are the limits:

  1.  BETA readers DO NOT copyedit or proofread. On par with the big five publishing houses, I hire professional editors once the story is locked down to major changes. In case you're curious, this means three passes: developmental editing, line editing, and a final proofread. 
  2. BETA readers try their best to ignore any typos, grammatical errors, and the like, realizing that they are getting a raw draft and that the polishing comes later.
  3. Note that while it is OK to make suggestions for revision, it's better if you just share your experiences as a reader and not try to figure out how to fix it. I really just want to know what's working and what's not working. When people get into suggestions, they start rewriting it the way they would if it were their book, but, um, it's not. 
  4. You won't need to mark up the draft in any way. Just read it and answer the online questions. I'll send you a link for that when we get started.

When All This Happens

In about two weeks. Yep, I'm lookin' at you, Aug. 1. That's when I'll send BETA readers a draft, and they'll have until 9 am PST on Monday, Aug. 15 to finish the survey.

But if you're planning your big summer road trip for exactly those two weeks, no worries. There might be a second round kicking off on Aug. 29. And I plan to write more books, too!

How to Sign Up

Simply email me at this handy link to let me know you'd like to participate.

For more about my BETA reading program and the philosophy/practice behind it, check out this interview on the topic for Layered Pages.

Answers to FAQ

Yes, I always list my BETA readers in the acknowledgments for every book. Your name in lights, publishing style!

No, you don't need to have read any of the previous books in the series to sign up for this BETA reader round. In fact, it's great if you haven't. Ideally, I'd like to get a mix of noobs and fans. A reader should be able to pick up any book in the series and start right there without feeling lost.

Yes, you really can put this on your résumé.

No, I'm sorry, but there's no payment or reward for being a BETA reader besides the exciting glimpse into my writing process, your name in lights as stated above, and good karma! Warning: You never know where this will lead you. I served as a BETA reader for the celebrated mystery writer Qui Xiaolong back in the 90s, before it was even a thing, before his writing was 'celebrated,' and look at me now.

Yes, my BETA readers are my favorite readers.

About the Dreamslippers Series

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Framed-and-Burning-w-Medallion-Thumbnail

The Dreamslippers are a family of PIs who solve crimes using their ability to 'slip' into your dreams. But that isn't easy. "The launch of an intriguing female detective series" (Kirkus Reviews).

Book One

In Cat in the Flock, 22-year-old Cat McCormick begins an unusual apprenticeship with her private investigator grandmother, Amazing Grace, who's mastered her dreamslipping gift. But following a mother and girl on the run, Cat goes undercover inside a fundamentalist megachurch in the Midwest, where she finds hypocrisy amidst true redemption. But there's also evidence of a cover-up. Will she tame her wild dream ability in time to discover the truth?

Kirkus Reviews: "A mystery with an unusual twist and quirky settings; an enjoyable surprise for fans of the genre."

 Book Two

"A savory mystery with a side of supernatural" (Mudville Dames). In Framed and Burning, the Dreamslippers have to defend one of their own. Someone sets fire to Mick Travers’ art studio, killing his assistant, and Mick won't give an alibi. His sister is convinced he's innocent, but her granddaughter and the police aren't so sure. Was it really Mick, or is something even darker behind the fire?

On My Kindle: "Lisa Brunette continues to develop vibrant characters in a stunning story that will keep you reading well past your bedtime!"
 

 


'Framed and Burning' Named indieBRAG Honoree

Small brag medallion transparent

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

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

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

 


The 1944 Movie 'Laura' Reveals Just How Broken Publishing Is - and Maybe the Whole Economy

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Sometimes I like a good film noir classic, as in the 1944 movie "Laura," named one of the 10 best mystery films of all time by the American Film Institute. This one was just right for a Saturday night movie binge because it features a young Vincent Price as a pretty boy gigolo, if you can imagine that, and a victim who's made a life for herself as a successful advertising exec, a rare career woman for her time.

 What I didn't expect in this strange but clever whodunit is that one of the main characters and ongoing suspects is an eccentric writer, a dandy who pens columns while sitting at his bathtub desk. From his posh penthouse apartment in New York, he brags about making fifty cents a word on his writing.

 Hold up, I thought. Fifty cents a word? In 1944? 

 Those of you who've never tried to make a living with your words probably don't know this, but fifty cents a word is considered a good rate today. Yeah, in 2016. I'm part of several online freelancer forums, and there I regularly see rates of $150-300 for a 700-word article, which works out to about 20-40 cents per word. The top echelon magazines reportedly pay their freelancers $1-$2 dollars per word, and there are a rare handful of freelance writers making bank, but the vast majority of words that get written in America today sell for far less. Disturbingly, there are plenty of publishers who expect writers to work for "exposure," or for mere cents per word. 

 Here's what writers today should be making per word, if we take 50 cents in 1944 and adjust it for inflation: $6.82.

 That would be almost $5K for a 700-word piece, which is a far cry from reality. And you wonder why so much of what's out there is written in listicle format and laden with gifs! Even if the 50-cents-per word bit were a dramatic embellishment, and let's say the actual writer pay at the time was half that, at 25 cents per word, or a quarter, at 12 cents per word, which is about what I make today on stories for my local paper, we're still looking at serious stagnation, or even devolution. Depending on whom you ask, the publishing industry is either experiencing a glorious renaissance or is in its death throes. If it's the former, writers on the whole aren't experiencing the golden part of this age, and if it's the latter, then I suppose things will only get worse from here on out. 

 In my overly long, SEO-designed headline above, I promised I'd mention how this relates to the overall brokenness of the economy. This writer wage stagnation/devolution is another example of how we've been shafted in the last generation as productivity has actually gone up but salaries haven't kept pace, pay for CEOs and others at the top soared while most other pay stagnated, and benefits such as pensions and employer-paid health care became a thing of the past. I'm no economist, though, so let me refer you to these nine sobering wage stagnation charts put out by the Economic Policy Institute.

 Sure, EPI is considered by some to skew liberal and/or is tainted by its labor backing. But you know what? It's hard to argue with the data. For example, since 1979, middle-class wages rose only 6% and low-wage workers' salaries actually fell by 5% while those with the highest salaries saw a 41% increase. Here's another: In the 1960s, CEOs typically earned 20 times what a typical worker earned, but today they rake in 296 times what a typical worker makes.

 So writers in this analysis are low-wage workers whose salaries have fallen over time. Our economy is one big film noir movie, but the villain is greed and the policies that support and enable greed. Spoiler alert: The mystery of who killed Laura, the advertising exec, is far more fitting and poignant than anyone in 1944 could have imagined. Yep. You guessed it. The writer did it.*

* Or at least, he thought he did (plot twist!).

  


My Latest Game-Writing Project: Smash Squad

 

 I've been a writer and narrative designer in the digital game industry for going on nine years now. For the past five years, this has meant helping developers create strong storylines and integrate them with the "play" part of the game. But this spring I had the opportunity to shift gears and concentrate on just the writing itself, and in a very different type of game than the hidden-object puzzle adventure fare that was my focus at Big Fish. 

 The game, which just released on iOS, is called "Smash Squad," and it's an incredibly fun, addictive, fast-paced, top-down physics battler. While definitely focused on a pinball-style battle mechanic, it also has a role-playing and collectible element as well. The creative team obviously had a blast coming up with characters like Broomhilda Sweeps and Lumber Jacques. 

Smash_Characters

 My task was to write the core narrative text, given a villain named Klon, a guide character, Trixie, and a set sequence of worlds the player would move through as the game progressed. This involved guidance from and discussion with the developers at WG Cells, with initial feedback on a trial sample to get the tone and story beats in line with the overall vision for the game. It was a great opportunity for me to stretch into more of a sit-com, one-liner writing style after years of working on mostly super-serious mystery games.

     Questria_Text_edited-2

 The team generously gave me leeway in developing a story arc to fit the game's mechanics. I decided it would be fun to have Klon try to recruit the player over to the, ah, Klon side, and they gave me the green light. 

Story2_edited-1

 Writing for games means making use of the world-building in the game's environmental art, as in this sequence below, which highlights the statues in the second level, Sooper City. This way the characters, though only onscreen for a short time and in 2D, are tied to the world, and the player can fill in the rest with her imagination. Here's how it looks in the context of the map world. While this dialogue string references the statues in the world, the previous one played on the giant octopus.

   Sooper4

Sooper5

Sooper6

Let me know after playing Smash Squad what you think of the story - I'm always looking for ways to improve my craft. If you haven't played it yet, check it out! The game is available now in the App Store.