The Real Life Inspiration for Cabin 5

The Andrew J. Blackbird Museum

Last summer, my family and I took our yearly summer trip to beautiful northern Michigan. Usually, I take a break from writing during the summer, but there’d been an idea percolating in my head for a third book in my Dark Horse YA mystery series. The premise involved Brynlei, the highly-sensitive MC from the first two novels, returning to Foxwoode Riding Academy as a counselor, instead of a camper. I had a few other plot points worked out in my head, but my story was still missing the paranormal/magical realism elements of the first two books in the series.

andrew Blackbird museum

A few days into our trip, my husband and I were strolling through quaint downtown Harbor Springs when the Andrew J. Blackbird Museum caught my eye. It would have been easy to miss, being only one room in an unassuming white storefront at the very end of the main drag. Having nothing else to do, and never having noticed the museum on any of our previous trips, we went inside and checked it out.

Once inside, we were initially underwhelmed by the small museum and slightly uncomfortable being the only people there, aside from a woman behind the counter in the adjoining chamber of commerce. But we were already through the door and committed, so we began to browse. The room housed various Native American artifacts, inlcuding a canoe, pottery, moccasins, and arrowheads. I paused in front of a specific arrowhead believed to have belonged to the Ottawa tribe. It was nearly perfectly preserved. The artifact sparked an idea for my story.

Certainly there were more arrowheads from the Ottawa tribe buried beneath the earth that hadn’t yet been discovered. What if Brynlei uncovered one of them during her stay at Foxwoode? What if her sensitivities allowed her to feel its history? What if the arrowhead was related to the bad things happening to her campers? You can see how my imagination stampeded ahead. Brynlei already had so much in common with the Native Americans–her love of nature, her respect for animals, her belief in living for the seventh generation. With Foxwoode’s location in a fictional town in northern Michigan, the discovery of an arrowhead just like the one in the case was a natural addition to the storyline. I snapped a photo. (below)

Arrowhead

We left the museum, my phone loaded with pictures and my creative mind brimming with inspiration. On the way out, we spent more time reading the sign out front about the history of the man, Andrew J. Blackbird, who the museum commemorated. And what an unbelievable history it was! Here’s the short version:

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Andrew J. Blackbird, the son of the last known Ottawa chief, was born in 1815 in what is now Harbor Springs, MI. After white settlors overtook their land and forced them into “Christian” schools, Andrew assimilated to the new culture and attended what is now Eastern Michigan University. He lived with one foot in the old world and one foot in the new. He fought for Native American veterans to receive pensions. He helped settle land claims and worked to achieve citizenship for Native Americans. He married and bought a house in Harbor Springs, and even became the town’s second postmaster in 1858.

I was so intrigued by Mr. Blackbird’s story, that I bought his memoir, History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan, which was first published in 1887 by volunteers. The book was printed in the tiniest font I’ve ever seen and I practically had to use a magnifying glass to read it. However, I did learn several interesting tidbits from Blackbird’s firsthand account of his history, including one particularly horrific story about white men spreading small pox to the natives by giving them a tiny box filled with virus spores and instructing them to take it back to their village many miles away. This tragic story found its way into my book, as Brynlei does her own research on the Native Americans who lived in the area.

In any event, I was thankful to have learned more about the Native American tribes of northern Michigan and that Andrew J. Blackbird’s history has been preserved. As a bonus, the arrowhead ended up being an integral part of Cabin 5.

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Have you ever been inspired to write a story based on a real life artifact? I’d love to hear about it!

What is your Character’s Superpower?

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Have you ever noticed how truly memorable characters have a larger than life quality that makes them stand out from everyone around them? I’m talking about their superpowers. A superpower doesn’t have to refer to the ability to fly through the air or bend a steel beam in half (although if your MC can do that, that’s pretty cool!) A superpower can be something much less dramatic, yet still pack the same emotional punch. In all my novels, each one of my protagonists has a distinct personality trait that allows her to overcome the odds and enjoy a satisfying resolution to her story. Notably, the superpower is, often times, the exact same trait that makes her life difficult.

Brynlei, the nature-loving, horse riding protagonist of my Dark Horse series provides a perfect example. We learn early on that she is Highly Sensitive Person, meaning she processes stimuli from the world around her more intensely. She shies away from bright lights, cowers at loud noises, and smells every ingredient baked into her mother’s lemon cookies. At times, she doesn’t fit in with other girls her age. Her sensitivity isn’t all bad, though. It also provides her an advantageous connection to the horses she rides, lets her sense dishonest people, and even interact with the spirits of the dead. In the end, it is Brynlei’s sensitivity to the world around her that enables her to solve the mysteries she encounters each summer while attending Foxwoode Riding Academy.

Another example comes from Mara, the MC of my yet-unpublished suspense novel, Top Producer. Her superpower is her street smarts. Her street smarts got her out of her dead end consulting job and into her dream position as the assistant to one of Chicago’s top real estate agents. But it isn’t long before she realizes her mentor is a criminal and a murderer. Not surprisingly, it is Mara’s street smarts that also allow her to escape the invisible prison her rival has built around her.

One more example comes from Jane, the snarky high school chemistry teacher from my recently completed psychological suspense manuscript. Like many of us, Jane is concerned about the future of planet. Teaching is her superpower. She believes the material she teaches her students might one day spark them to clean up the plastic in the ocean, invent a method to combat global warming, or clone the last-surviving rhino.  Meanwhile, it is also her position as a high school teacher that gets her caught up in the murder of the new teacher in the classroom next door.

Characters in my novels have other superpowers–humor, loyalty, determination. This

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My rescue dog, Milo.

exercise got me thinking…Do I have a superpower? I can tell you it’s definitely NOT cooking, making small talk, or volunteering for elementary school field trips. Mine is probably something closer to storytelling and empathy (especially for animals.) And, yes, those “superpowers” get me into trouble quite often, as evidenced by my hours spent on unpaid writing at the expense of most other things and my need to rescue cute puppy dogs.

What about your characters? What about you? Please share your superpowers!

Are Tiny Houses Creepy?

Tiny House Plaid Zebra

With the final book in my YA mystery series published and my latest psychological suspense manuscript sent off to my agent (hooray!), I’ve begun major revisions on another suspense manuscript I wrote last year. The story is partially set in a tiny house in northern Michigan. My latest round of revisions comes after receiving feedback from a few editors who thought the twists and turns at the end of the story weren’t “big” enough. I’m working on fixing that. They had positive feedback, too, and I was struck by one observation made by more than one editor–the tiny house made for a creepy setting.

While I was happy to hear the setting unnerved them (the novel involves an older widow who begins to believe her new best friend in the tiny house might be a murderer.) Still, I’d never thought of tiny houses as being inherently creepy. Admittedly, my knowledge of tiny houses comes mostly from watching episodes of Tiny House Nation on the FYI network. I originally placed the character in the tiny house to emphasize her free spirit, nomadic lifestyle, and belief in minimalist living.

The more I think about it, however, those editors might have been right about the creepiness factor. It’s something I’m going to play up in the next draft of my manuscript. For example, why would the young woman choose to live in a house on wheels? Maybe to make a quick getaway? Is she running from someone or something? And then there are all those secret compartments–drawers hidden in the sides of staircases, tables that fold out from the wall, storage bins built underneath the bed. What’s she hiding? At one point, her friend even observes, “My, you have plenty of hiding places. Don’t you?” And, in case you’re wondering…Yes. She is hiding something.

Aside from the abundance of hiding places, there’s also the sheer claustrophobia that might come with living inside a 200 square-foot space. I’m all for paring down my material possessions, but I’m not sure I could live in a house smaller than my modest-sized living room. There’s literally nowhere to run or hide.

Finally, the location where the tiny house is parked comes into play. In my story, it’s parked on field next door to a lonely widow’s farmhouse. The farmhouse is located on a ten-acre parcel of land “out in the boonies,” as the widow describes it. Maybe the house would have different vibe if it were parked in town next to a park? Or overlooking the ocean? I placed it in a remote location purposefully, to add a sense of foreboding to the story.

While I plan give an even more mysterious vibe to the tiny house in my story, my underlying view of tiny houses probably won’t change. Tiny houses are cool! Okay, maybe once in a while they can be creepy. What do you think?

My Video Podcast is LIVE!

Podcast Video Interview with Carly Kade

I was thrilled to be interviewed recently on Carly Kade’s equestrian author spotlight podcast! Check out our conversation on writing, publishing, horses, and my Dark Horse series on her website, and discover lots of other great horse book authors while you’re there!

Carly Kade Podcast

View it on YouTube

Listen to the audio-only version

Many thanks to Carly Kade for the opportunity. Visit her website HERE!

 

 

 

Dark Horse Series (2nd Edition) Just Released!

Hi all,

It’s hard to believe that summer is wrapping up and fall is in the air. I’ve been working on a BIG project all summer, and I’m happy to say that it is two-thirds complete! Last spring, I took back the rights to my Dark Horse YA Mystery series in order to make some revisions and gain more control over the marketing of my books. The series was re-released on Amazon a few days ago, and is now available in Kindle and paperback versions, and FREE for Kindle Unlimited readers! These are the perfect quick and thrilling reads to wrap up your summer! While the new versions are similar to the old ones, the revised mysteries are now fully appropriate for ages 12 and up.

So, what’s the other one-third of my project? The third (and final) book in this YA mystery series is in the works. I’m over halfway done with the first draft and am happy with the way the story is shaping up. I’m excited to announce that Cabin 5 (Dark Horse, Book Three) will be releasing winter 2020! I already have the cover and can’t wait to share it with you when it gets closer to the release date.

In less exciting news, my backyard vegetable garden is in full production mode. My husband and I are having a competition to see how many tomatoes we can eat every day. Any other veggie lovers out there? Here’s a quick photo of a recent morning’s harvest. Let’s enjoy the fresh produce while we can!

Writing through the Snow Days

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It has been just over thirty days since I started my own personal NaNoWriMo. The goal was to write 50,000 in thirty days. I know at least one of you is dying to know….did I do it? Before I share my results, I’d like to give a piece of advice for any writers who live in Michigan and have school-aged children:  Never attempt to write 50,000 words during the month of January! My kids had nine snow days over the last three weeks. NINE! Plus, three additional holiday break days. By the ninth snow day, I was practically begging for someone to shoot me.

Okay, seriously now. I love my kids. They are mostly well-behaved, and it wasn’t that bad. Despite the *minor* interruption in my writing schedule, I did manage to write 38,457 words. I wrote another 2,000 words today (they had school!), so I’m now past the 40,000 mark. My crappy first draft seems within grasp. Then the real fun of revising and expanding on certain themes, plot points and character backstories will begin.

ChemistryIn addition to typing words, I’ve also been doing a lot of research. My new novel-in-progress involves a murdered high school teacher, and one of the main characters is a high school chemistry teacher. I remember next to nothing from high school chemistry, so I’ve been spending more than a little time researching chemistry projects and everyday chemical reactions. Does anyone remember a favorite chemistry experiment from your high school days? Tell me! Who knows? I might incorporate it into my story…

Until next time, here’s to writing, reading, clear roads and unexpected chemical reactions:)

 

 

Get Writing in the New Year!

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Happy 2019! My kids are back in school (Yay!), I got a much-needed new laptop for Christmas, my revisions to my suspense novel have been completed and sent to my agent and I have the seeds of a psychological thriller clawing inside my mind, struggling to materialize. Why, then, have I languished at my desk for the last three days, my shiny laptop gleaming in front of me, and not been able to write a single word?

Instead, I’ve been plotting my story, drawing time lines, doing character sketches, tinkering with my website and trying to achieve 10,000 steps per day on my Fitbit. These are all good things, but my “novel” still contains zero words. Despite the excitement of starting a new project, writing the first chapter (or even the first line) of a novel can be difficult, overwhelming and even a little scary. The fear is amplified even further after taking a three-week break over the holidays.

I’ve now had a few days to think about my writing drought, and here are a few explanations I’ve come up with, along with solutions, that I’m hoping will help both myself and fellow writers facing similar struggles.

Making my own NaNoWriMo

My four previous completed novels have one thing in common — they were all written (or at least started) on November 1st as part of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. The clear goal of the challenge, to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, was a huge motivator for me. I knew exactly how many words I needed to write every day (1,667) to achieve the goal. This past November, I was swamped with rewrites to my existing manuscripts and did not have a chance to participate. To compensate, I’m declaring January 15th-February 15th as my personal NaNoWriMo challenge! I won’t have the fancy NaNoWriMo website to track my word count, but I do have a bare-bones excel spreadsheet that accomplishes the same goal.

 It doesn’t have to be perfect

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This might be the hardest part of writing for me–knowing that the sentence, paragraph or even an entire chapter is dog poop, but writing it anyway. Perfection does not happen in the first draft. A worthy story comes with editing, input from critique partners and many rounds of revising. So, go ahead and write that run-on sentence, ridiculous dialogue and scenes that come out of nowhere.  Everything can be fixed during round two.

Butt in Chair

Getting more exercise is always a noble New Year’s resolution, but enough with the Fitbit already! (I’m talking to myself here.) I may not get my 10,000 steps today, but there’s always February 16th for that. Starting January 15th, I vow to not leave my desk until I achieve my goal of writing 1,667 words per day.

So, that’s my simplified plan for jump-starting my 2019 novel. I’ll check back with you on February 16th to let you know how I did.

Are you writing a new novel for the new year? Tell me about it. We’ll cheer each other on!