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Another example comes from Mara, the MC of my yet-unpublished suspense novel, Top Producer.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?

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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?

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!

Revise, Revise, and Revise (Again!)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about my current works-in-progress. Maybe that’s because I was hoping to wait long enough to share some good news. While I’ve spent the last ten months diligently writing my newest manuscript, a psychological thriller entitled, THE SPACE BETWEEN, my agent has been submitting TOP PRODUCER (my completed suspense novel) to the larger publishing houses. We’ve spent weeks patiently waiting and receiving bits and pieces of feedback–some positive, some negative, but so far no “takers.”

After three months, my agent and I had to decide what the next move would be. Keep submitting? Or…revise based on the feedback I’ve received from the editors who’ve read TOP PRODUCER.

A part of me wanted to keep submitting, hoping we just hadn’t found that one person who could connect with the characters and see the brilliance of my writing:) Admittedly, this desire may have been spurred by the harrowing thought of digging back into a manuscript I thought I’d already completed. Something deep inside me knew what I had to do. Revise. Again.

chalkboard_quotes_twainIt might be important to note that I’ve already rewritten Top Producer three times. Three times! But after having a year away from it and armed with feedback from some major editors, I felt a renewed burst of determination and inspiration to make it better.

With the two comments I received from multiple editors–1) I wished the main character was a woman, and 2) the pacing in the first half of the book is too slow, I’ve begun digging back in. Some friends have joked that my revision is as simple as doing a find and replace of “he” to “she.” Oh, how I wish that was the case! As it turns out, changing my leading man to a leading lady alters not only the character, but major plot points of my book. I’d become attached to my main man, so killing him off was a little bit painful. Surprisingly, I’m beginning to love my new main character (her name is Mara) even more. She’s insecure, but determined. She does some dishonest things, but for honorable reasons. She wants to shed a few pounds, but she loves chocolate and beer. You get the picture.

Secondly, going back over my manuscript after a year away from it has been an enlightening experience. There are so many places where I’ve been able to enhance the description, cut out unnecessary back story (thus increasing the pacing), and create more likeable, well-rounded characters. I’ve even been able to add a few scenes to up the stakes and make the reader realize early on that there is something very wrong with Mara’s new “dream” job with this successful Chicago realtor.

As for my more recent manuscript, THE SPACE BETWEEN, I’m almost finished with my first round of revisions and am hoping it will go out on submission soon. I’ll keep on revising TOP PRODUCER while we wait. Oh, the joys of writing and publishing! But as they say, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” I’m trying to remain hopeful that “luck” will find me soon.

How is your work-in-progress going? I’d love to hear your revision success stories!

Are Independent Book Awards Worth It?

Several months ago I entered the second book in my YA mystery series, Barn Shadows, into two indie book award competitions. Each had an entry fee somewhere between the $50 and $100 range which seemed a somewhat extravagant price to pay considering how little indie authors are paid.

I debated for a few days, wondering if I should roll the dice…

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On the one hand, the entry fees could be a waste of money–funds I could have spent on promotions or a new pair of shoes. On the other hand, what if my book won? It’s always difficult to get people to leave reviews for the second book in a series. Maybe an award would shine a spotlight on my book. Then there’s my need for validation. Friends and family will often tell me my books are great, but I never really know if they’re just being nice. To have independent and unrelated judges choose my book would be a true testament to quality.

Because I’ve had success in the past (my YA mystery, Trail of Secrets, was nominated for best First Novel in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards), I decided to make the investment.

Chanticleer InstagramLast week, I discovered Barn Shadows has been shortlisted in the Chanticleer Paranormal Book Awards! It was a thrilling boost to learn that my little book made it through the slush pile and onto the shortlist. Even if it doesn’t win first place (the winner will be announced on April 21st), the fact that it made it onto the shortlist of twelve books provided me with much-needed validation. Additionally, letting potential readers know that a book has been nominated gives an author something new to promote and might encourage readers to choose one book over another. With over 2,000,000 books published each year, every advantage counts.

I’m still waiting for the results from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Whether or not Barn Shadows makes the cut, entering these awards was worth it for me. These awards do more than just boost an author’s ego. They provide validation, encouragement, recognition, and differentiation in an industry that is so often full of negativity and rejection. I encourage other indie authors to enter their books in whatever writing competition is appropriate for them. What’s the worst that can happen? Your book doesn’t win? Who cares? No one has to know…unless you win!

Don’t know where to start? Here’s a list I put together of few well-known indie book award organizations. (Hint:  Make sure you enter your book in the right category!) A quick Google search in your genre of choice will lead you to many more options. Good luck!

INDIE Foreword

Next Generation Indie Book Awards

National Indie Excellence Book Awards

Chanticleer Book Awards

Feathered Quill Book Awards

Independent Publisher Book Awards

Readers Favorite Book Awards