Framed and Burning Feed

Cat in the Flock's Most Popular Posts of All Time

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Repurposed frying pan bird bath.

 By Lisa Brunette

Cat in the Flock turns seven this year, so it's a good time to take a look at where we've been and what's resonated with you readers. But first, let's talk about what a wild ride we've had together. I launched this website in September 2014 as an author blog to support the release of my first novel, Cat in the Flock. That self-published mystery novel was enough of a success to warrant a whole series - the Dreamslippers - and the blog focused on it for the first few years. But then around 2017 I took my experience as a game storyteller and fused it with the work of mystery novelist to create two interactive novels in the mystery genre, and my game writing splashed onto this blog as a result. With the success of the game projects, I had the opportunity to launch my own game-writing company in short order, and in 2018, I split off Brunette Games as its own site. That left Cat in the Flock, which I pivoted toward the lifestyle content I'm passionate about, giving me a counterpoint outlet for the non-fiction stories I think about every day.

And Cat in the Flock is growing. As I mentioned when I listed our top five posts for 2020, last year we had seven writers produce a total of 52 posts. While monetization continues to prove tricky and elusive, we've enjoyed the opportunity to share the story of our quarter-acre suburban homestead and our quest to become more self-sufficient and ecologically sustainable, along with a broadening offering of others' stories of trial and triumph. 

So which missives stand out the most over the past seven years? I've kept track of analytics for the whole span, and I can tell you which of our posts had the highest number of page views, a good indicator of how popular they are with readers. Here they are, starting with No. 5.

No. 5 - The Birds Win Big

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Bird bath made from tempered glass pot lid and breeze block.

Our most-viewed post of 2020 is also the fifth most popular post of all time: Easy DIY Bird Baths for Your Stay-at-Home Pleasure. Especially in a year of extreme homeboundedness, the thought of quickly crafting attractive bird baths from castoffs you might have in your basement just struck a chord. We're happy to see the enthusiasm, as it's a huge win for the birds if more people put out and maintain bird baths.

No. 4 - A Born Entrepreneur?

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The interactive novel I designed and wrote for Daily Magic Productions.

Next up is a longform piece I wrote to explain the one-eighty I took in 2018 from professor to full-time small business owner. While it's really more of an origin story, if you will, for Brunette Games, I've kept it here on the CITF blog for posterity. It's an interesting read, if you're curious about the vicissitudes of publishing, the game industry, and business startups. While I've always thought of myself more as a creative-for-hire than an entrepreneur, and I don't even take the CEO title at the helm of BG, it's good to think about what makes me the type of person who consistently chooses to leave academia for the private sector, where, to quote one of my favorite classic movies, "They expect results."

No. 3 - Slip into My Dream

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Cover art for my first novel.

Considering that the whole reason for this blog's existence is the Dreamslippers mystery series, I guess I would've been disappointed if none of it had made it to the top five. But here at a solid No. 3 is the landing page for the series, a jumping-off point for each of the three novels, plus the boxed set with bonus novella. This year also marks the seventh anniversary of the release of the first novel in the series.

No. 2 - No Yoga Comparathons!

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My stepson, Zander, who's double-jointed, and me, who's not.

The top two posts of all time both share yoga as a theme, and they both bust some faulty assumptions about the ancient practice. In second place is Why You Shouldn't Compare Yourself to Yogi Superstars. In it I illustrate how body structures built into us from birth can largely determine what our yoga capabilities are, and no amount of yoga can ever change them. For example, in the side-by-side above, my stepson, Zander, who's double-jointed, can pop into reverse prayer pose despite nary a lick of yoga experience; whereas, I still find the pose challenging after 25 years of practice.

Yoga's dirty secret is that it can devolve into a high-pressured environment of endless yardstick-measuring, so I'm glad to see this piece, which published in March 2019, has legs.

No. 1 - The Real Reason You Can't Headstand

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Anthony and I demonstrating why props - even human ones! - make all the difference.

This might be the best article I've ever written for Cat in the Flock, and readers seem to agree. Like the above post on anatomical limitations to yoga poses, this one tackles some pretty damaging myths about inversions like handstand and headstand. I don't pull any punches about the irresponsible methods of some yoga teachers in shaming or guilting students into pushing themselves to get into poses that might be completely counter to their body's own structure and alignment. And hopefully, I've set quite a few yogis free with this declaration.

Do these results surprise you? What would you like to see us delve into on the blog in the future? Weigh in below!

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


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

BOX SET 2

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

Roundup: Arena Bricks, SLU Spotlight, Dreamslippers Series Features

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


Roundup: Arena Bricks, SLU Spotlight, Dreamslippers Series Features

Arena brick

By Lisa Brunette

This past Saturday we had a spare moment to catch our breaths and wound up at a place called Architectural Artifacts St. Louis. I follow them on Instagram (@architecturalartifactsstl), where I'd found out they had a crate of bricks salvaged from the St. Louis Arena, unearthed after 20 years.

Built in 1929 and demolished 70 years later, the St. Louis Arena was a sport and concert venue, a place where memories were made. The Blues hockey team played there, so I suspect many of the folks picking up a brick of their own are motivated by the current Stanley Cup playoff. I'm not a huge hockey fan, but even I can appreciate the fervor; the Blues haven't been in the Stanley Cup finals since 1970, haven't won since 1967, and this is the fourth time in history they've made it this far. All over the city, there are signs saying, "Let's Go, Blues!"

But my motivation for combing though the array of blue, yellow, and orange Arena bricks and choosing one to take home was different.

Arena bricks

In 1980s St. Louis, The Arena was the place to see a rock concert.

I saw Whitesnake and Poison there, and both L.A. Guns and Guns 'n Roses. I crushed on Joe Elliott when Def Leppard played at The Arena "in the round" in 1988. My boyfriend and I were close enough to marvel over Richard Allen's deft skill in playing the drums with one arm and both feet. Next came Mötley Crüe's Dr. Feelgood tour in 1989. Tommy Lee's drum kit extended out over the crowd, turned him upside-down, and spun. Yeah. I'd played in the rhythm section of my grade school band, so you could say the drummers stood out to me for that reason, but they certainly had their own draw.

I regret missing KISS when my parents grounded me for what I protested at the time were unfair reasons: When my boyfriend and I went to The Arena to get tickets, he parked in neighboring Forest Park to save on the parking fee, and we returned to find the windows on the car broken, his expensive stereo system gutted, huge baseball bat-sized holes in the sides of his Grand Prix. Dealing with a police report and taping up the windows against the cold winter air, we returned home well past curfew, and the grounding was my punishment.

In 1999 when The Arena was imploded, I walked from where I lived just a few blocks away to watch it. I still remember the birds emerging from holes in the ceiling the second the detonation went off.

As many of you know, I've moved back to St. Louis after 20 years away, so this brick marks that occasion for me, too.

While picking up the brick was my main goal, my husband and I also just wanted to check out the salvage finds at Architectural Artifacts. We hope to add some choice pieces as focal points and sculptures as we create Dragon Flower Farm. We have dibbs on a couple of items, like these triangular tiles, large-scale letter blocks, and a sphinx.

Triangles
Want.
Me
I think I would prefer "We."
Sphinx
Recovered from an elementary school. The church that bought the building didn't want the Egyptian icon. AASTL has two of them, the other in a bit better shape.

Speaking of getting in touch with one's roots... this year marks my 25th reunion from college (undergrad). As part of the reunion observances and festivities, SLU is creating spotlights on alumni and publishing them in the alumni email newsletters. I mourn the loss of one important professor in particular, so I focused on her for my spotlight:

SLU spotlight

In other news, my yogi detective series, the Dreamslippers Series, has received a couple of features, the first from indieBRAG, as all three books in the series won that institution's medallion, awarded to only the top 20 percent of books submitted. May was mystery month, so the series was included in that.

Mystery spotlight

The series was also included in a roundup wiki of top 10 paranormal mystery series, with a video intro here, the Dreamslippers reel starting at 4:04.

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

A Christmas Gift to My Fellow Missourians

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


A Christmas Gift to Our Fellow Missourians

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We're pleased to announce that all three books in the Dreamslippers Series have been inducted into the Indie Missouri program, a collection of books from local indie authors available exclusively on the BiblioBoard Library mobile and web platform. This collection is available to patrons of participating libraries across the state.

It's an honor to be included in such a great program. I'm all in favor of any effort to broaden the offerings beyond what is controlled by the New York-focused traditional publishing establishment. What's found to be exciting and important to those of us in this "flyover" state might not always match what plays in New York.

Speaking of which, the first book in the series, Cat in the Flock, takes place in the bi-state area of Missouri and Illinois around St. Louis, where I lived from about junior high to early adulthood, the place I've returned to live now.

Tap or click the book covers below to find each book in the Indie Missouri list. Merry Christmas, and happy reading!

BRAG medallion ebook CAT IN THE FLOCK

Framed and Burning w Medallion

BOUND TO THE TRUTH 1400x2240 indieBRAG

 


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

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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

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

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

FINAL COVER ART CATINTHEFLOCK

The original cover for Cat in the Flock.

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

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

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

Broom of anger

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

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

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

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

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

FRAMED AND BURNING IndieBRAG 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boxed set

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

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

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

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

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

Loading Screen

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

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

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

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

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

Game-design

Image courtesy of Webster Today.

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