Death at the Rectory

October 1, 2019 at 8:01 pm (I get paid for this, Interactive Fiction, My Novels, Well written)

It’s been a long, long time but I finally have another ChoiceScript interactive story.

DEATH AT THE RECTORY (iOS, Google Play, Amazon, etc) is a cozy crime mystery (with magic) which was very much inspired by the real-life rectory of St John’s Anglican in Gundagai. Here are some pics from the actual rectory:

 

And here’s a bit of the church, made of the same beautiful local slate:

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I’m no professional photographer, though, so here’s the real cover (and an unrelated church):

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Want those shiny links again? Here they are!

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Goulburn Comic Con & Wagga GammaCon

March 15, 2019 at 12:22 pm (Daily Awesomeness, I get paid for this)

So I’ll be quite busy for the next 8 days as Goulburn Comic Con is literally tomorrow (free entry, Veolia Arena, 10am-5pm) and Wagga Wagga Gamma Con is literally one week later.

I haven’t been to either event before but I’m very excited about both.

Goulburn Comic Con is actually the reason my kids’ fantasy trilogy is accepted for publication. My publisher was there two years ago and came home desperate to have some more Middle Grade (roughly age 10-14) fiction. Guess who happened to have a completed middle grade trilogy sitting on her hard drive?

I literally received the physical copies of Book 2 yesterday, ready for Comic Con. Here it is!

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Or, if you prefer to see your books side by side…

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Look, I know book covers don’t gotta be pretty to be fantastic, but MINE ARE and I’m glad of it.

My parents lived in Wagga not long ago, and both my sister (of “Octopus and Family” fame) and I will have stalls there. ROAD TRIP BABY.

Right now I have the flu and I am semi-delirious. Tomorrow should be an interesting day!

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Shooting Through: the escape room that comes to you

January 26, 2019 at 6:45 am (Escape Room, I get paid for this, Interactive Fiction)

It’s happening.

I’ve playtested the escape room three times so far, spotting serious mistakes on my part every time and fixing them for the next time.

Today is the beginning of the Invasion Day long weekend, so I’ll be at CanCon—Canberra’s annual board gaming conference.

The perfect place to test it way, way more!

This weekend I’ll be running free tabletop versions of the game… and signing people up to play it for real.

Here are some gorgeous pics, all taken by Louisette!

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Zipper investigates.

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Zipper cheats her way out.

Naturally, Louisette focused on the lollies (literally).

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Everything in the above picture was laying around the house, waiting for this moment.

 

Tentative price list:

$25 per person, with the following minimums:

$100 minimum if it’s in my back yard (running approximately 8-9:30PM including introductions).

(NB This will be moved inside if the weather is too hot/cold/rainy, which is rather cramped by climate controlled. It should be noted that my cat will almost certainly come and say hello, and that I supply bug repellant.)

$200 minimum elsewhere in Canberra (or by appointment when I’m at a nearby conference/fair/festival).

(I require a room that can be darkened, free of trip hazards, with a table and chairs—in a house that is fairly accessible by moving trolley.)

 

I’ll almost certainly increase the price when I’m more confident.

How to book/ask questions:

At the moment, email fellissimo@hotmail.com and/or magicinthemailstories@gmail.com to talk dates and times. Most Saturdays are good for me coming to you, and 8pm is usually good at my place any night except Wednesdays (but definitely including Saturdays).

How long does it take:

Theoretically 1 hour, but usually closer to 2. Allow 2.5 hours if you can, and advise me if anyone in your team has specific time restrictions.

Physical restrictions:

It’s great for wheelchair users (because you can play sitting at a table—although your team members will need to cooperate to pass things close enough for you to examine).

I think most physical or mental restrictions can be balanced by having a range of ability in the group (in much the same way that there’s bound to be ONE person who can add a string of numbers without screwing them up… right?)

There are no physical challenges.

Is it scary?

You will be operating under a threat of (fictional…) monsters, competing against a clock, in near darkness. So the level of scariness depends on your imagination. But it’s definitely rated G, and safe for kids of virtually any age BUT escape rooms are intrinsically frustrating and some items are fragile or sharp. Use your discretion. Kids 10+ should be genuinely useful in places; kids 4+ should be okay IF they’re very well behaved and calm.

 

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Art for Schools

August 28, 2018 at 12:10 pm (I get paid for this, Murder in the Mail)

The full list of MURDER IN THE MAIL: A BLOODY BIRTHDAY contributors is here, but this article is specifically about the art from the exhibition currently showing at The Front cafe & gallery, with teachers and school principals in mind. I have chosen the most school-appropriate image from each artist to recommend (and have neglected Annabelle Lee because her books are too naughty, and I know she’ll forgive me).

These pictures are especially well suited to English, Art, History, and Psychology departments.

YES, Felicity Banks (yours truly; curator, head writer, and novelist) is available for discounted school author visits and the MURDER IN THE MAIL: A BLOODY BIRTHDAY story can be purchased here. It is suitable for 12+.

For schools/libraries, some prices are negotiable if the art is not sold during the exhibition period (especially if you buy more than one picture).

Michelle Bedford (Kija/Jaru people)

Full Moon Beaming

original painting

55 x 65 cm

$600 framed

Why buy it?

Because every school should display some original Indigenous Australian art. Michelle is a Canberra artist and poet who is active in the local community.

This is a great piece celebrating nature and it’s best hung next to a window so the specks of shining paint in the moon can be brought out.

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Shauna O’Meara

 Naomi’s Room

fromMurder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

limited edition print

42 x 30 cm

$250 framed

Why buy it?

This is an incredibly detailed piece that works best in the context of the MURDER IN THE MAIL: A BLOODY BIRTHDAY story. I can include a folder/display version of the story so students can explore interactive storytelling.

There are five clues in the picture, some of which require specialist knowledge (such as written Japanese) as well as a large number of ‘Easter Eggs’ (such as books by several authors who each wrote a character in the story).

Shauna O’Meara is an award-winning Canberra artist and writer.

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Jane Virgo

Cattitude

fromMurder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

“There’s something you don’t know about me.”

original painting

42 x 60 cm

$500 framed

Why buy it?

This is a painting of Canberra writer Cat Sheely by Canberra writer and painter Jane Virgo.

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 Adam Lee

National Museum

fromMurder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

“I kept her secret because it was hers.”

 photograph

60 x 42 cm

$350framed

Why buy it?

This is a stark and elegant photograph of a Canberra icon by a Canberra photographer.

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Tash Turgoose

Hands

fromMurder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

“When I draw, the world disappears.”

limited edition print

30 x 42 cm

$250framed

Why buy it?

This minimalist picture shows how a skilled artist can use detail to render a simple image powerful—and that it is possible to draw hands well!

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Keely Van Order

Rorschach

fromMurder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

“It’s over. And also beginning.”

limited edition print

42 x 60 cm

$350framed

Why buy it?

This complicated image has a million different interpretations. Is it wings? Faces? A blot of ink? A person could see a different image every day and never run out of impressions.

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Murder in the Mail Art Exhibition Opening

August 25, 2018 at 10:27 pm (Daily Awesomeness, Food, I get paid for this, Murder in the Mail)

Today is Saturday, August 25, 2018.

Today MURDER IN THE MAIL: A BLOODY BIRTHDAY was officially launched with the beginning of a week-long art installation at The Front cafe & gallery (1 Wattle St, Lyneham, Canberra).

It featured all eight pieces of story art (you can see them here), plus several bonus pieces (three Octopus pics/puns from Annabelle Lee, who designed both the MURDER and MAGIC logos; a Ditmar Award-winning piece by Shauna O’Meara; a second portrait by Jane Virgo—of the famous writer Isobel Carmody; and one sneak preview of the MAGIC IN THE MAIL exhibition which will run at The Front on precisely this weekend in 2019).

And cake, by Cassie’s Custom Creations, based on the cake drawing by Shauna.

All the Canberra MURDER artists attended—Annabelle Lee, Adam Lee (yes, they’re husband and wife as well as being two extremely different visual artists), Jane Virgo, and Shauna O’Meara. (Tash Turgoose lives in Brisbane and Keely Van Order lives in Melbourne.)

I very much enjoyed having several of “my” artists in the same room, and although all the artists are scattered about Australia and the world, I was able to gather all but one of their books (Phil Hore’s book is soon to be published by Odyssey Books) which was awfully enjoyable for me too.

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You can see them all rather more clearly here, of course. It’s rather a respectable bookshelf—and all Odyssey and Obscura authors, naturally.

But of course you want to see the cake, don’t you?

Well… you can’t.

The above (and below) photos were taken on my phone just before I packed up. My good friend (and printer) Jason Tankard was the official photographer, and he took about a billion photos, especially of the cake… so I knew it would be most thoroughly documented… and didn’t take a single pic of it myself.

Here’s the art by Shauna O’Meara, if that’s any comfort:

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And here are some lollies. That’s Lindt on the table, and the mini trifle dish has Kool Mints, dark chocolate Maltesers, and Jaffas.

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But of course it’s the art you really want to see. This is a terrible picture, but it’s better than nothing:

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The art will stay at The Front for at least a week. If you like coffee, art, or cafes in general, go and check it out!

The food is rather good too (I was careful to test it, because I’m a professional in such matters).

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That’s ginger and sweet potato hotcakes on the left, and “AVOCADO” on the right (with sourdough bread, beetroot hummus, etc).

The crucial questions:

Did I sell billions of dollars’ worth of stories, books, and art?

Just hundreds.

Did I have fun?

So, so much yes.

Was the cake good?

Yup.

UPDATED: Here is the cake!

I realised alarmingly recently that everything I know about running an art installation I learned from Ocean’s Eight. So there were certainly some bumps along the road (to this day I don’t know what percentage the cafe gets from my sales… somewhere in the vast gulf between 20% and 60%) but the art is in a great public space, MURDER IN THE MAIL: A BLOODY BIRTHDAY is on sale there, and it was an incredible day.

Tune in tomorrow for the thrilling debrief of the Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights book launch at Kings Hall, Old Parliament House (aka the Museum of Australian Democracy) 2:45-3:15pm.

Or, you know, just come 🙂

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Say what??

August 22, 2018 at 12:13 pm (Advanced/Publication, I get paid for this, My Novels, Steampunk, Steampunk Australia Stories, Writing Advice)

This weekend is the Canberra Writers Festival, and I have not one but TWO book launches.

Saturday is the official launch of MURDER IN THE MAIL: A BLOODY BIRTHDAY (complete with a week-long art installation) at The Front cafe & gallery (Lyneham shops, 3:30-5pm). It’s not officially connected to the Canberra Writers Festival at all, just happening on the same weekend.

Sunday is the official launch of ANTIPODEAN QUEEN 3: IRON LIGHTS at Kings Hall in Old Parliament House (2:45-3:15pm).

Here’s where it gets interesting.

The organiser told me that Kings Hall had standing room only for up to fifty people, and  no catering available.

This is a pic of Kings Hall from the Museum of Australian Democracy (aka Old Parliament House) web site:

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So it looks like there may have been a typo in the organiser’s info. Just a zero. Nothing much.

The space is suitable for FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE.

From the MOAD web site: “The bronze statue of King George V in the regalia of the Order of the Garter has been a central feature of the hall since the opening of the building in 1927. Open to the public from the earliest days and situated between the House of Representatives and Senate Chambers, it was a busy crossroads. During parliamentary sittings King’s Hall was a hive of activity swarming with members and senators, officers, journalists, secretaries, public servants, lobbyists and tourists.”

It’s really just a foyer/hallway. But WHAT a foyer (from the same web site).

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Since then I’ve spoken to the organiser again, who assured me there’s lots of other stuff going on, and that his description of “standing room only for 50 people” was accurate.

So, in conclusion, the space is SOMEWHERE between tiny and enormous. We may or may not have a microphone. We may have all of Old Parliament House mostly to ourselves, or we may be cramped behind a column in the foyer. Anything could happen!

See you Sunday?

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Book Week activity for pre-school to Year 4 kids

August 20, 2018 at 11:30 am (Beginners, Cat pics, I get paid for this, Writing Advice)

Last year, I wrote a story with my daughter’s Kindy class. This year I’m going one better (or at least noisier) and writing a story with my son’s pre-school class. This is a fairly fancy* pre-school, so even in pre-school the kids are encouraged to write their own names, and most can write the first letter.

I start off the class by saying that I’m a writer, and waving a book around—perhaps one of mine; perhaps one from their shelf (pointing out the author name in either case).

Optional parts of the opening (for older kids):

-Talking about how a lot of books have both an author/writer and artist/illustrator.

-Talking about how books can be true stories or made-up stories (fiction and non-fiction), keeping in mind that younger kids genuinely can’t distinguish between reality and fiction in the same way older kids can.

-Talking about how writers send their words to a publisher, who arranges printing and sends the books to a shop.

-Reading a book to the class.

 

The central message of the opening spiel:

I have written a book but it’s not finished and I need your help! There are no names in the book, and no pictures!

 

Preparation:

-A binder with lots of those clear plastic sheets inside, like these.

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-A title page and beginning to the story, an end, and a lot of pages that are complete (and interchangeable) except for requiring a name.

Eg. For pre-schoolers:

Title Page:

1R [or whatever the class is called] Story

Page 1:

One day there was a pre-school class with lots of friends.

Middle (many copies of each):

______ is clever.

______ is kind.

______ is strong.

______ is funny.

Final page: What a great class!     The End

 

I explained that there were four describing words and that all of the kids were all of those four things, but they needed to pick their favourite (and I also had four people—my two kids, and two teachers) stand in different parts of the room to gather their groups (the kind group, the strong group, the clever group, and the funny group). I was quite pleased with how gender-diverse the results were (although of course one boy said “[Girlname] isn’t strong!” and I said, “Yes she is!” and moved on).

Then I handed out the piles to each group, and had the kids write their names and draw a picture on their page, giving them back to me when they finished.

I put them back into the folder in random order, checked it was all legible, and then when everyone was done I gathered them back on the mat and read the finished story. Then I let the class have the finished story. (The teachers can photocopy it and email copies to all the parents if they want.)

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Feel free to use and adapt this lesson as much as you like.

If you feel grateful, buy one of my books from my storeThe Monster Apprentice is suitable for 8+ (it’s like Narnia with pirates) and the Antipodean Queen steampunk fantasy books are suitable for 13+ (with bonus bits of much-mangled Aussie history). In both cases, advanced kids can go ahead and read them at a younger age. I read The Monster Apprentice aloud to Louisette when she was 5, but skipped a couple of scary bits.

*debate the merits of early literacy training in the comments!

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Magic in the Mail

May 12, 2018 at 12:33 pm (All Steampunk Fiction, I get paid for this, Interactive Fiction, Murder in the Mail, Steampunk, Steampunk Australia Stories, Steampunk Series)

The (first?) “Murder in the Mail” Kickstarter was successful, raising thousands of dollars. You can read more about that story here.

As you can probably guess from the title, this led to further shenanigans.

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There are currently TWO “Magic in the Mail” stories in development:

Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae

This is a tale of two missing magical creatures; a phoenix and a water dragon.

Phoenixes and dragons hate one another, so foul play seems likely. Their concerned parents team up with some magic-sensitive mortals to follow the missing “children” and perhaps save their lives. The missing ones have left a trail of art behind them (because an encounter with a magical creature inspires wonderful art).

It is posted in three parcels, and includes artistic objects which you’re going to love!

It is also 100% G-rated.

$50 plus postage (or $40 if you buy the boxed set in person at a conference/fair) through the store right here.

The first mail-out will be June **2019** but you can make preorders now.

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This beautiful anuragnathus (yes it’s a real dinosaur) by Alan Lam is part of the story—and yes, the Chinese character is both a clue and a red herring.

What does a dinosaur have to do with a story of magical runaways?

You’ll have to buy the story to find out.

Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire (mini story)

This is a steampunk fantasy tale set in the same world of magical metals as all my other steampunk, including my novels (in fact it takes place at the same time as part of Iron Lights and the game Attack of the Clockwork Army).

A Perfectly Ordinary (she says) shop-keeper named Xiong joins a fledgling rebellion headed up by the famous Emmeline Muchamore. It’s a tale of secrets, hope, aeronauts, lighthouses, an alternate reality Charles Dickens, and fruit ices for all.

$30 plus postage (in a single pack because I’m trying to keep it affordable) from my store here. Available now!

The first mail-out is. . . within 6 months of the first order. Probably more or less instantly. This story is a much smaller operation than the others. I’ll be feeling my way as I go.

A stripped-down version will be included with my third steampunk fantasy novel (available in August 2018), with just two black and white pieces of art included. The full version has a build-your-own hot air balloon, handmade jewellery and a steampunk song by the Littmus Steampunk Band!

Here’s one of the pieces of art. This is a print of an oil painting by Graham Gercken, who takes special orders.

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Since people tend to feel strongly about the genres of both crime and fantasy, “Magic in the Mail” has its own forum, here.

 

All my stories are available through my store here.

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Murder for Kick(starter)

April 17, 2018 at 5:45 pm (Advanced/Publication, I get paid for this, Murder in the Mail, Writing Advice)

Last Saturday at midnight, my first ever Kickstarter Campaign ended, raising funds via pre-orders (and special rewards) for “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday”.

Mistakes were made.

One of my main mistakes was that, after looking at the Australia Post web site, I thought an A4 envelope thinner than 2cm would cost $1.

Turns out they cost $2.

Ouch.

Another was that I sent out my review copies too late. Only one actually arrived in time to get a review during the campaign (and that was mainly because I literally delivered it to her door here in Canberra). You can read that review here, and listen to her interview here.

Other review copies went elsewhere in Australia, to New Zealand, the US, and Canada. Last I’ve heard, NONE of them have been fully received yet. I do know that the first envelope took almost a month to reach Canada.

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(Review copies ready to get their postage on – John Scalzi is on top because his address is public.)

So, as I mentioned, the Kickstarter is over now.

I mentioned “Murder in the Mail” on a few forums when the Kickstarter began (int-fiction and choiceofgames.com, which I’m fond of), and there was a clear bump in US sales as a result, and a little bit of conversation in those forums.

But asking $40 for a thing that doesn’t technically exist yet is a lot! Even though this is dramatically cheaper than anything else similar.

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(That pic is review copies getting put together)

I also didn’t realise in my planning that Kickstarter’s maximum time for a campaign is 60 days. I’d been planning a three-month campaign (which included Melbourne Supanova, as well as giving the writing team more time to get certain bits and pieces done in time for those review copies). So that was… unhelpful.

I also named an extra-high amount because… oh, I can’t even remember properly. I need to sell around 100 copies to break even, but there are so many tiny expenses (seed envelopes, special pens, etc) that I would have to audit myself to figure out the actual cost (as opposed to the estimated cost).

That’s not quite true. I’ve been careful to record everything over about $2, and I do know how much I’ve spent. I’ve just ordered a bunch of stuff printed in batches of 100, so after that invoice comes in I’ll know what the actual total cost per 100 turned out to be (approximately; I bought larger quantities of some of the items because it was cheaper that way). Plus I know Kickstarter can take up to 10% (depending on… stuff I don’t understand enough to calculate) so I figured 100 x $40 = $4000; eh, let’s make it $5000. It all seemed so shiny and easy back then. NB: I don’t have to sell 100 copies during the Kickstarter to break even. Didn’t remember that at the time.

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(Louisette and I making up hand-written packets of sunflowers that we harvested from our own garden. If the reader plants them in late Spring/early Summer, I think they’ll actually grow.)

Ultimately (and very much saved by the loving support of extremely trusting parents and in-laws) the Kickstarter was a success.

I am VERY relieved, as you can imagine! Kickstarter has a rather exciting rule that if you’re not fully funded by the end of the campaign period, you get nothing. All the pledges already made simply vanish into thin air!

So that didn’t happen, but my parents & in-laws are unlikely to save the day so dramatically in future.

So…..

There WILL be a new story. This one will be fantasy, called “Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae”. It will have 3 parcels instead of 8, and although it’ll have a Kickstarter Campaign the goal will be much smaller.

I’ll also be selling special boxes/folders of “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” at all the conferences I attend this year.

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(An array of pretty containers for the story.)

Specifically, these:

Melbourne Supanova (April) in the Artist Alley stall “Aussie Spec Fic”
Nimmitabel Steampunk Fair (May)
Sydney Supanova (June) in the Artist Alley stall “Publisher Obscura”
GammaCon Canberra (August) in Artist Alley
Canberra Launch (probably as part of the Canberra Writers’ Festival) August
Conflux Canberra (September-October)
Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk and Victoriana Fair (October)

There will be limited quantities of the packaged version, so email me in advance if you’d like to reserve one.

You can of course also give me money pretty much whenever (at conferences or online) to get a copy posted to you over the normal 8 week period (or in a single parcel if you absolutely insist).

There will be one “lot” posted out in June-July, another in September-October, and then… more mail-outs sometime after that 🙂

“Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” will be officially launched in August 2018, and will be available to buy until September 2019.

“Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae” won’t be finished until 2019, although if you specifically want to order THAT story then just make it clear when you email me (and/or email MagicintheMailStories@gmail.com). Keeping in mind it MIGHT be cheaper than $40. I’ll probably have a price in a couple of months. I already have some REALLY COOL STUFF AND ART AND THINGS.

The simplest way to get the story is to email me at MurderintheMailStories@gmail.com with your ADDRESS, EMAIL (in case things go wrong), and PAYMENT DETAILS (eg “I just deposited the full payment into your account/PayPal, under the name “Bob Flibbertigibbet”).

Make sure to label your payments with something unique to you (your name and/or the name of the recipient). Labelling things “Murder in the Mail” will NOT be helpful.

PayPal: MurderintheMailStories@gmail.com

Bank details:
Commonwealth Bank (Australia)
06 2692
3320 8197

And here’s a spot the difference game. If you’re very familiar with the Odyssey list, you’ll be able to tell which author was recruited at the last minute from these two pictures.

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Many many thanks go to Shauna O’Meara, the artist, for altering that pic more than once after it was finished. And to A Certain Writer for enthusiastically jumping on board when one of the other writers had to drop out.

Both will most definitely be involved in the next story!

(PS I don’t think anyone actually will solve this picture. There’s a LOT of stuff in it.)

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Murderous Kickstarter!

February 14, 2018 at 12:10 pm (I get paid for this, Interactive Fiction, Murder in the Mail)

The Kickstarter for the first Murder in the Mail story is now live. It’s packed with unique rewards. Most are available anywhere in the world.

Murder in the Mail tells stories through letters, objects, and artworks mailed to the reader over several weeks.

The first story is A Bloody Birthday.

Naomi, your cousin, is killed at her own birthday party. One of the guests is the killer, and you have asked them all to write to you and send artworks to help you figure out who could have done such a thing.

Every letter, object, and piece of (quality-printed A4 size) art holds at least one clue.

There is a forum for readers to talk to each other at murderinthemail.boards.net.

I am the curator as well as writing one of the characters. There are twelve writers/artists altogether.

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