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The Secret to Our Six-Pack Marriage

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By Lisa Brunette

This month marks our sixth anniversary; here we are at our wedding in Seattle back in 2014. I chose this image to front the post because it captures the secret to our success as a couple: We both have a good sense of humor, and we're not afraid to laugh at ourselves, either.

You'd have to be able to chuckle in the face of adversity to weather the slings and arrows of the past six years. It's been a tremendous time of change as we've taken on challenges that seem more befitting twentysomething newlyweds, rather than second-time-around middle-agers like us.

While we married six years ago, we've been a committed couple for nine, and in our first year together, we lost Anthony's mother, A. Grace, to pancreatic cancer. A truly independent soul, she'd wanted to change her name to just "Grace," but authorities said she had to at least have an initial along with it, so she chose A, and when asked, she would say it stood for "Amazing." So it was with a sense of charmed destiny that we held our wedding at a spiritual center where we'd found community, its name the same as hers.

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Grace made a deep, lasting impression on me in our short time together. Perhaps as a way to keep her with me, I named a major character in my novel series after her. The Dreamslippers series launched the month before our wedding.

A mere five months after our honeymoon, Anthony and I made the decision to move away from Seattle, the place we'd both called home for a decade. As a federal grant manager, his gigs were all term-limited to the length of the grant, usually two to three years, and his grant ran out. Not finding opportunity in Seattle, he cast a wider net, and a position presented itself in a little town called Chehalis.

It was both difficult and easy to leave Seattle. Difficult because of family - my stepson, then in high school - and friends it would be tough to be further away from. But Chehalis is only an hour and a half from Seattle, so we reasoned that these days, that's basically commuting distance, with regular train service between to ease the matter. Still, the decision was not taken lightly. Here we are with Zander at our wedding. 

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And here are my sisters in crime, with whom I shared many a drink and a laugh during years of losing loved ones, divorce, career drama, dating at middle age, and just living, the four of us exploring together all that Seattle has to offer. It hurt to leave them.

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So, in what way was leaving Seattle an easy decision? Anthony and I had been priced out of the housing market, and as Gen Xers, we'd consistently got the short end of the stick, surviving long periods of war, recession, and the dissolution of that nice little thing called pensions, with Social Security not likely to be there for us when we need it. Anthony and I were in our forties and staring into a future that showed little promise of that thing our parents' generation enjoyed: retirement. 

We'd also seen the city change dramatically in our decade as Seattleites, and not usually for the better. I describe this in two farewell pieces I penned for the blog - Bye-bye, Bartell... And Seattle, Too and Seattle, A Love Letter.

We were able to buy a house in Chehalis, a burg of only 7,000 people located at the midpoint between Seattle and Portland.

My working life changed tremendously with the move. I continued to write and edit for the game company where I'd managed a team for the previous four years, but I stepped down from the role as supervisor, passing the baton to my number one hire. I worked 3/4-time and remotely, with once-a-quarter visits to the office. I now also had the responsibility of novelist, as Cat in the Flock had proved just successful enough to push me to write followup books in the series. 

Here's my work crew at our wedding.

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When Anthony first introduced me to Chehalis, I had been very skeptical. It's in a county with a relatively high unemployment rate, and its landscape has been ravaged by meth. But the rural vibe had a certain appeal, and what sold us on the plan was the cute Craftsman house we were able to purchase for a mere fraction of the price it would have fetched in Seattle. We found there a friendly, supportive community, and for awhile, it looked like we might stay.

But then that light bulb of an idea blinked off, in a hurry.

I'd made a solid decision to exit the game company after five years, bolstered by the success of my first novel. Unfortunately, a year after Cat in the Flock released, the self-publishing bubble burst. So I turned to the freelance writing that had provided an income in the past, both journalism and game writing. However, another problem surfaced: Anthony's grant would come to an end, and contrary to what his boss had promised him during the hiring process, she was not going to retire and vacate her (permanent) position. Also, the college president who'd foreshadowed great things for Anthony was, um, fired. With few job prospects in our vicinity, we were in danger of soon finding ourselves without health care and other benefits. Efforts to turn up other opportunities failed.

We'd also, truth told, had a rough time of it in Chehalis. Zander fell into some wrong crowds back in Seattle, and we had to resort to some pretty drastic interventions in order to get him back on track. Of course we blamed ourselves even if it wasn't our fault, and it didn't help that the kid's mother tried to cast blame on us as well. We moved him to Chehalis with us, and he finished his last year of high school there. We also suffered a series of major health problems, and unfortunately discovered that Chehalis' medical offerings left a lot to be desired as we found ourselves taking frequent (and expensive) jaunts to Seattle to see specialists we wouldn't have to report for malpractice.

I know, this all sounds a bit too grave. Here, look at this fun piñata pic from our wedding!

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Fortunately, our extensive efforts to circle the wagons around Zander paid off. We're the proud parents of a hard-working, upstanding, promising young man. He's enrolled full-time at University of Washington and works as an assistant manager in a grocery store. During this very trying spring, he donned a mask and continued on as an essential worker. He also turned out to support his community during the protests that held Seattle for much of the spring. He visited us for two weeks this summer, one as our official intern at Brunette Games.

But back to Chehalis. With the books not earning an income and the full-time job prospects for us both slim, Anthony and I again began to plot our next move. We scoured the scene for opportunities in Walla Walla, his home town, and St. Louis, mine. We got a hit in St. Louis.

After I spotted the university's call for applicants to teach game design in late spring 2017, things moved rather quickly. They offered me a position as visiting professor, and I'd need to start work in St. Louis in July. That left us no time to sell our house, get Zander off to college, pack up, and make the cross-country journey. It proceeded about as awkwardly as you can imagine, with Anthony and I living apart for three months, me trying to string together affordable Airbnbs and having some truly awful experiences (drug deals, broken appliances, and dirty dishes, oh, my!), and the two of us having to put our Chehalis home onto the rental market when it wouldn't sell.

Feeling blue again? Check out this place setting from our wedding.

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I wish I could tell you that St. Louis and this teacher gig were the answer to our prayers, but they were... most decidedly... not.

Fortunately for me, two of the games I'd consulted on and written as a freelancer gained attention, one for its experimental innovation and the other for its commercial success. Suddenly, I had opportunity out the ying-yang, just at a time when I realized the university had overstated its promise of release time for such professional pursuits. Soon I'd have not just a full-time job's worth of game writing on my hands, but enough to hire additional help. Still, I loved teaching, and I had really wanted the university role to work.

But in early 2018, I withdrew my candidacy for tenure. It had become clear that the department's toxic environment would only bring me intense frustration in the years ahead. I also had no respect for the other visiting professor in our rather new, rather small program, and I did not relish the idea of trying to work with him for the long haul.

I ended up dodging a bullet. By spring, my office was barraged with complaints against that other professor, one of them a very serious allegation of sexual harassment. I don't want to spend more ink on this than I already have, so let's just say that I was monumentally relieved that I'd already made the decision to leave. That individual is no longer working at the university, thank goodness, but the fallout will be long-lasting.

Now I know you really need to see this pic of what a little girl looks like when she sees the bride for the first time.

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So in 2018 I hired some of my former game design students, as well as the Seattle-based editor of my books, and we were off to the races as Brunette Games, official. We've been thick with clients and games ever since. By 2019, I was already overwhelmed with the demands of running a business as well as a team, so I cast a sideways glance at Anthony, who worked for a micromanaging boss he didn't respect. He'd landed a position at a local non-profit, but obviously, it was the wrong fit. 

He had a decade of experience in grant management, preceded by a decade in the game industry as a brand manager. We'd already taught together when, in my final semester at the university, we linked my course in narrative design with his course in tabletop games, and it was a huge success. We had a solid marriage built on trust and communication. Surely we could work together, too.

It's been a year and a half since Anthony joined Brunette Games, and we have no regrets. I'm not going to sugarcoat how excruciatingly stressful it can be to go into business for yourselves, but somehow, it's easier knowing you have each other's backs. 

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I call this our "six-pack" marriage for the six years packed full of major life events, and not any other reason. We certainly aren't sporting six packs here, and since we've both lost the ability to drink, we can't count on a six pack to ease our pains. 

But we can crack a joke like anyone's business. We never forget to laugh, or to reach for each other's hand.

P.S. Who took our lovely wedding photos? Alexandra Knight Photography.

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Tell Your Friends - Sign Up for the Newsletter, Get a Free Ebook Boxed Set

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Tell your friends: When they sign up for the Cat in the Flock newsletter, they'll receive a coupon code for a FREE copy of the entire Dreamslippers Series on ebook - that's all three books plus a novella. The coupon is good through Smashwords, and the ebook will download to any type of reader. The ebook boxed set normally retails for USD 9.99.

The Dreamslippers Series was published through our Sky Harbor Press imprint between 2014-2016 and is available in print and audiobook as well. The series tells the story of a family of psychic dreamslippers - folks who have the ability to pick up other people's dreams. 'Amazing' Grace and her granddaughter Cat McCormick use their ability to solve crimes, and that isn't easy with a gift you can't really control.

If you're already a subscriber, and you'd like the same deal, just email us using this handy link, and we'll send you the coupon code with instructions as well. Make sure to request the ebook boxed set in your email message. 

There's no set deadline for this freebie deal - it's just the new offer for signing up for the newsletter - until we decide to turn it off. Happy Good Reading Times, y'all!

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This Banner Is for the Birds!

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You might have noticed: We updated our blog banner... again. Here's the story.

Back in January, we had swapped out my fantasy author avatar in favor of the image of a cat disrupting a flock of birds. Those of you who've been coming to www.catintheflock.com since the early days of the Dreamslippers series probably guessed where that image came from - it was the original cover of my first book, which bears the same name as this blog. (Shout out to our commenter Ali's Grammy, who was the first to guess the image's origin story when we posted on the blog about it back in January). The original Cat in the Flock book cover was designed by yours truly, and by yours truly, I mean Anthony did it, not me. His Photoshop skills are better than mine. The cover looked like this:

FINAL COVER ART CATINTHEFLOCK

It worked rather well as a DIY cover, sure. But when pro cover artist Monika Younger took over and redid the first book - and designed the three subsequent covers after that (two sequels + the boxed set) - we were totally thrilled. Anyway... back to the banner. 

When I pivoted the Cat in the Flock blog into the lifestyle arena last year and then decided to change up the banner at the start of 2020, the image of a cat disrupting a flock of birds seemed right. After all, I wanted Cat in the Flock: Lifestyle with Teeth to be a disruptor in the lifestyle space. What I don't want to do with this blog is fill it with "content" that is thinly-disguised advertisements or blather on about high-end renovations, vacations, products, or "experiences" that most of us regular people could never afford. I've been there, my friends: You discover a quirky, fun, refreshingly DIY blogger only to have her make it big and drop the flea market find posts, go on for months and months about a million-dollar home design with high-end fixtures, and clog up her blog with annoying video popups.

We're all about repurposing here, and reusing the cat in the flock image also seemed like a fun way to call back to my first published novel, in that 'easter egg' kind of way.

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HOWEVER, pretty much right away, I began to worry that the cat-attacking-birds imagery wasn't going to be a good fit for the blog long-term. There's disrupting, metaphorically speaking, and then there's a literal cat attacking birds.

And, well, we couldn't really have that

Chaco, our Dragon Flower Farmhouse cat, is strictly indoor-only. I know some people think cats need the freedom to roam, but this is, first and foremost, for his protection. He is a special breed called a Devon rex. They are much smaller (one-half to one-third smaller) than the typical domestic cat, and they also have a very innocent, curious, friendly disposition. This doesn't mesh well with the realities of life all around us: a family of red-shouldered hawks roosting in nearby trees, possums and rabbits that are three times Chaco's size, a street that gets fairly busy during morning and afternoon rush hours (or did, before the quarantine). 

Devon rex's are also famously referred to as being very much like "a monkey in a cat suit," and that fits Chaco really well. You've just never seen a cat with a stronger climbing drive. Last year he mysteriously tore his ACL... we can only guess during one of his many antics here in the home. We've actually had to monkeycat-proof the house.

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This is Chaco's high-five, up high.

So that's reason enough to keep him indoors, but the birds are also of concern. Grave concern.

According to a study conducted in 2013 and published in the journal Nature Communications, cats kill billions of birds per year. Since birds are basically "vanishing from North America," doing everything we can to reduce negative impacts on birds is important - even if it means curtailing Fluffy's freedom. This is kind of a big thing for even some of my most environmentally-minded friends to wrap their heads around.

Maybe there are things you can do to allow the cats outside... Garden writer Tammi Hartung says in The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Garden that she only lets her cats out when she's also outside and can monitor them, and that works for her. There's also at least one type of collar that can foil cats in their pursuit of birds. But for us, it really is better to keep the little furry prince indoors. 

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He's pretty content with his life inside... my vest.

The cats-outside debate aside, we want to do everything we can to promote responsible attitudes toward birds and other pollinators - not just because we like having birds around for our own enjoyment and quality of life, but because birds and insect pollinators are critical to our food production, and therefore, they're necessary for our own survival.

Hence, the new banner. Maybe it's not enough; maybe encouraging any interactions between cats and birds - no matter how fantastical or metaphorical - isn't good. But at least our intention is clear. It's all for the birds, folks. Thank you for paying attention.

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A Banner New Year for Cat in the Flock

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By Lisa Brunette

How do you like the new banner? Those of you who've been with me for the long haul might recognize the imagery from somewhere... be the first to shout it out in the comments below.

Twenty nineteen has been a strange year for this blog, mostly because its spinoff, Brunette Games, stole the limelight. Last year at this time, I was a solo game writer who'd made my first forays into business expansion by hiring a few contractors to help with the increasing workload. But soon, that wasn't enough, and a full year later, we're a company. You can read more about that over yonder. Here at Cat in the Flock, I just want to say that because Brunette Games took so much of my focus over the past year, the blog writing has been hit and miss, and I'm sorry for that.

It's not for lack of desire. Every day I think of some topic for the blog, but I've had to be honest about what I can reasonably accomplish in a day, a week, a month, a year.

I'm sure you can relate. How are those New Year's resolutions coming along? ;)

I got sick just before the week of Christmas. It's really no fun to do conference calls with clients half a world away while feeling like you've got a railroad spike embedded in your forehead. Luckily, I have a team now who can help, so I didn't overdo it, got some rest and fluids, and recovered in time to host the fam's big Christmas Eve party. But I've been hibernating ever since. Maybe that's not how I pictured spending my coveted time off, but hopefully in 2020 I can do better.

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Dragon Flower Farm in December, after a deep (and surprising) snowfall. I was sick the whole time and didn't get to make snow angels, which is why this shot looks so pristine.

When I gave up Facebook this fall, I acquired some letter-writing pen pals, and one of them suggests instead of setting New Year's resolutions, simply resolve to be 10 percent better.

I like that idea. So I'm doing two new things with this Cat in the Flock blog for 2020:

  1. Adding some help, in the form of my partner in business and life, Anthony Valterra. You've already read his how-to on fat rendering and the lovely tribute he wrote on his father's Walla Walla garden. Look for more in the future. I'll also introduce you to other voices with some guest bloggers on specialty topics, such as wildlife study and travel.
  2. Resolving to do 10 percent better than last year. This means in every respect: better photos, better writing, better focus... and at least 10 percent more content.

I wish I could promise greater, sweeping things, but since this is a labor of love, and I'm responsible for another business that now provides a livelihood for three of us, that is my stretch goal. But Anthony and I have a vision for our project here at Dragon Flower Farm, and it fits into greater, sweeping things, and we'd love to discuss them with you. So stay tuned.

I hope you'll stick with this blog through thick and thin, my friends. Now help me welcome Anthony for reals... and tell us, how's your 2020 outlook? 

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This Japanese lantern has been with me since Tacoma in 2003... I brought it here covered in moss, and now it's buried in snow. Happy New Year!

The Fifth Anniversary of the 'Dreamslippers,' a Yogi Detective Series

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By Lisa Brunette

Back in 2013, I decided to try my hand at writing a mystery novel. I had interviewed Seattle's mystery literati for a cover story in Seattle Woman magazine, and I'd also steered the storylines on hundreds of mystery-themed computer games for my employer at the time, Big Fish Games.

Another of my chief inspirations, perhaps oddly enough, was the 20 years' experience I had as a yogi. I'd practiced anywhere from three to seven days a week, first the grueling style known then as Bikram (hot) yoga and then the very energetic Baptiste-inspired style called Shakti (like dancing on your mat).

I also lost Grace, my would-be mother-in-law, to pancreatic cancer in 2011. She'd made a great impression on me in the short time I knew her and was a huge inspiration for the character Grace in the series. She was also a very practiced yogi herself.

After that, I knew I wanted to do two things with the book: 1) create an older female character and 2) make her a magical sort of yogi. 

I was also a huge fan of the TV show "Medium," about a psychic who helps an Arizona police team solve crimes. Allison DuBois, played by the fabulous Patricia Arquette, often struggles with the limitations built into her gift, sometimes making mistakes. Her fallibility, not to mention her authentically portrayed marital relationship, made the show rise above the fray (for seven seasons!). And there's one more thing. I'm someone whose childhood trauma led to PTSD nightmares, which plagued me for many years. So the often disturbing subject matter in DuBois' dreams resonated with me personally. I was used to looking for the truth in my dreams, sorting out the terror from the lessons.

All of that background and interest is reflected in the Dreamslippers Series, a three-book saga (plus novella) about a family of psychic dreamers who solve crime using their ability to 'slip' into your dreams. Solving crime that way is a lot tougher than you can imagine, as it's not like the culprit will dream of his guilt, pointing the erstwhile dreamslipper toward all of the clues. The matriarch of the family, Amazing Grace, supplements her sleeping skills with waking-life pursuits such as meditation, visualization, yoga, and even a somatic dance style called Nia, which I practiced myself for a few years. Young Cat McCormick, the hero of the inaugural book in the series, has an entirely different take. She bends and breaks the rules, and she capitalizes on an emotional connection to solve a mystery involving a Midwestern, fundamentalist preacher and his (not-gay-at-all) right-hand man.

BRAG medallion ebook CAT IN THE FLOCK

I released Cat in the Flock under my own imprint, Sky Harbor Press, in July 2014. It zipped up the Amazon sales charts, occupying the No. 1 spot in the Private Investigators category within the first year. It was praised by Kirkus Reviews, Midwest Book Review, Readers Lane, Book Fidelity, and countless other review sites, blogs, and institutions. I was contacted by a Hollywood producer about rights, and later, by more than one game studio interested in making an interactive novel out of it. Cat in the Flock won me my first IndieBRAG medallion, awarded to only the top 20 percent of independently published books. I would also be awarded the IndieBRAG for the other two books in the series.

Bolstered by the success of the first book, and full of more Dreamslippers stories to tell, I followed up with Framed and Burning. This second book in the series is set in Miami amidst the high-stakes art world, and its prescience can be seen in the Jeffrey Epstein case today. Cat and Grace follow the clues to a murder frame-up, which takes them into the Darknet and the powerful players behind a child pornography ring. While the characters and scenario are fiction, it's based on a great deal of factual research. I also lived in that colorful Florida city for two years while working toward an MFA in creative writing, which I earned from University of Miami. And I was once married to an artist, so my experience of that world is very much first-hand.

FRAMED AND BURNING IndieBRAG 2

Framed and Burning was a finalist for the prestigious Nancy Pearl Book Award, and it was also nominated for a RONE Award, in addition to winning the IndieBRAG.

The third book in the series, Bound to the Truth, is in a lot of ways my best. It continues the series' sex-crime theme, but back in Seattle, with an informed, fair portrayal of the Emerald City's sex-positive community. Cat and her grandmother visit a sex toy shop and a sex dungeon in their quest to track down the killer of a prominent Seattle architect. It was my answer to the huge disappointment that is Fifty Shades of Gray, not to mention an homage to Seattle's openness to all, quirkiness of the best kinds, and kinkiness in spades. As a divorced woman in her late 30s living in Seattle in the 2010s, I don't think I could have had a safer, more colorful, more ripe-for-literary fodder dating experience in any other city.

The Bound to the Truth cover is my favorite of the series, too. All three covers were created by Toronto designer Monika Younger, who's designed book covers for several of Harlequin's mystery imprints and brought a great deal of experience and vision to the series.

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After that, I went back and tackled Amazing Grace's origin story in a novella, Work of Light. It's only found in the ebook boxed set. Set in the past, when Grace first discovered her powers, it follows her to an ashram in the 60s, where she uncovers the guru's true nature.

I'm grateful to the many BETA readers who gave me feedback on drafts of the books. We writers are far too close to the work to judge it subjectively, especially the further into the drafting (or development) process we get. My BETA readers put on their "cruel shoes" and gave it to me straight, and I revised to the best of my abilities. I think it shows in the higher-than-average quality for not just an indie but for publishing as a whole.

Another dose of gratitude goes out to all of you readers who told your friends about the books, posted reviews hither and yon, and otherwise showed support for my indie publishing endeavor. When I look back on those heady three years with the Dreamslippers, I see that it truly takes a village to raise a book!

Finally, it's time for an important announcement:

In honor of the fifth anniversary of the series, the ebook boxed set of all three books plus the bonus novella is entirely FREE wherever ebooks are sold, except Amazon, where it's only 99 cents (that is the minimum price we are allowed to offer through Amazon). So please tell your friends. And thank you for your interest in my work. I'm so thrilled you find something of value in these words.

Handy book links here.

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