Cover Reveal – TWO WIDOWS

It’s Cover Reveal Day!

I’ve had an exciting week in writing. On Tuesday, I released my commercial fiction suspense novel, Top Producer. Today, I get to reveal the fabulous cover of Two Widows, my first suspense novel to be published with Bookouture this August!

So, without further ado…

TWO WIDOWS Cover

Two Widows releases August 27th from Bookouture, but is available for pre-order now on Amazon, iBooks, Google, and Kobo!

From the back cover –

I’d grown desperate for company since the discovery of the dead woman in town…

Gloria lives alone in an old farmhouse surrounded by empty land, miles from the nearest town in northern Michigan. Widowed and grieving her husband, mourning her broken relationship with her estranged son, lonely Gloria searches for answers in self-help books and has only faded photographs and stacks of unpaid bills for company. Her days all look the same.

Then the dead body of an unidentified young woman is found on the beach near Gloria’s house.

When freelance travel writer Beth arrives with her trailer to live on Gloria’s land, Gloria is relieved not to be alone. The police have no suspects in the murder and fearless Beth makes Gloria feel safe. Then Gloria discovers Beth is a widow too: the women become closer and begin to share their secrets.

But soon Gloria starts to wonder… what does she actually know about Beth? About what brought her to this isolated spot? About how her husband really died? Is it a coincidence that she’s arrived just as this small town has seen its first murder in decades?

Gloria thought that Beth had told her all her secrets. She was wrong.

A deeply compelling suspense novel that will have you hooked, this is a gripping thriller that will keep you up all night. Perfect for fans of Lisa Jewell, The Couple Next Door, and The Woman in the Window.

Thanks for checking it out!

Eco Author Spotlight – Jenny Roman

March Author Spotlight

I’m excited to spotlight this month’s ecologically aware author because we have so much in common. What are the odds I’d run into another person (on Twitter, of all places) who also loves writing, horses, and sustainability? Well, I did! Her name is Jenny Roman, she lives in the UK, and she writes short stories. Here’s more about her.

The Author

Jenny Roman HeadshotJenny Roman has written short stories and articles for a variety of magazines, and is the author of three short story collections. She has had stories published online and in anthologies, and she has readers around the world. Jenny has an MA in Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University. She has been short-listed or placed in a host of writing competitions, and has also acted as reader, short-lister and judge – so she knows what it feels like on both sides of the fence. She is a member of a Writers’ Group and strongly recommends this to anyone thinking of writing creatively. When she’s not writing, you’ll probably find her in the garden, walking the dogs, or mucking out the horses! Please visit her blog HERE.

The Interview

Hi, Jenny! Tell us about a character in your book who fights for the environment. What issue is of main concern to him/her?

My latest short story collection includes a story which was first published in a magazine in the UK. It’s about a girl called Leah who develops an interest in bees as a child. As she grows up, her mum starts to see it as an obsession, and worries about her, especially when Leah falls in love with a postgrad and they end up travelling and campaigning together about the plight of bees. Eventually, Leah goes on to build a university career based around her passion – a career which outlasts the love affair!

What eco-friendly habits or actions do you take in your own life?

We used to live in a rented house with a huge back garden, grew our own veg, kept hens, and tried to be as self-sufficient as possible. Any leftovers went to feed the hens, and any eggs we didn’t need we sold at our gate. The money from the eggs helped to pay for additional hens’ feed, or seeds for the veg garden. We’ve since moved to our own home, and our garden is too small for a veg plot, but we try to source our food from local producers and support our local shops etc. We’ve deliberately bought a small house – sufficient for the two of us – with a spare bedroom which doubles both as my writing room, and a place to put up friends when they come to stay. We aren’t minimalists, but we are attempting to live with fewer material possessions.

What sparked your love for nature and the outdoors?

As a child our garden backed onto a farmer’s fields, in which there were variously horses, cows or sheep. My parents were both keen gardeners, and I always loved playing outside. Our holidays were spent camping – usually staying in wild places such as Exmoor, the New Forest, or occasionally Scotland – beautiful landscapes for walking and spotting wildlife. I started learning to ride when I was about 10. I was desperate for a pony of my own, but my parents couldn’t afford it, so eventually I worked at the local riding school in return for rides, and then rode horses for other people. I was 28 before I was able to afford my first horse!

Is environmentalism the main theme of your writing, or do you write mainly in another genre?

Environmentalism itself isn’t a main theme of my writing. In my short stories, I generally write about domestic situations – the small details of life – so themes might include having less, or how people and relationships are of more importance than the accumulation of wealth and things. I firmly believe that lots of small changes make a big change. I personally hate waste (of money, effort, time, and the earth’s resources) so I think that comes across in my writing. Many of my stories are centered around love – though not necessarily in the romantic sense. They explore the way things can go wrong, or be misunderstood, or the way people behave badly because their nature conflicts with the situation they find themselves in. What I love about a collection of short stories is that they allow you to explore a range of different scenarios within one overarching theme.

Do you have any upcoming book releases you’d like to tell us about?

I’m currently working on a book of horse-themed short stories for grownups. I’m aiming them at those people who used to be avid readers of pony books when they were kids. Perhaps they no longer ride, perhaps ‘real life’ has got in the way of something which used to feel fundamental to them. I’m fascinated with exploring the way our response to a ‘grand passion’ changes as we grow older. I still love horses as an adult, but not in the same, all-consuming way I did as a kid. Now I have a job and a mortgage and a husband and the ‘grand passion’ has to fit in with all these other things. I kind of wish I still had that overwhelming feeling I did as a child, but your perspective changes as you get older and that’s what I hope these stories will explore.

Thanks, Jenny. Your upcoming horse stories for adults sound perfect for me and I can’t wait to check them out! In the meantime, find Jenny’s currently available books of short stories below.

The Books

Find Jenny’s books on Amazon by visiting her Amazon Author Page!

Until my next post, stay safe and healthy, everyone!

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?

Writing through the Snow Days

photography of fir trees covered in snow

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

 

Writing with a Grateful Heart

GratitudeFor my first post of 2018, I thought I’d write about one of my New Year’s resolutions–to be grateful everyday. In all aspects of my life I’m making a conscious effort to be grateful for what I have, rather than focusing on what I wish I could change, or comparing myself to others who (seemingly) have more than me. I’ve learned from others who are wiser than me that being grateful is one of the easiest ways to be happy. Gratitude forces me to focus on the positive rather than the negative. I’m a big believer that positive energy attracts more positive things into my life, and vice versa.

I’m extending my mindful gratitude to my writing journey. Those of us who write knowDeepak-Chopra-gratitude-quote how easy it is to get down about the business, dwell on slow book sales and rejections, or wonder why certain friends refuse to read our books. None of those thoughts are productive, though. So, instead, I’ve gotten into the habit of writing down five things I’m grateful for every day. Here’s an example of one of my writing-related gratitude lists (For the purpose of this post, I’ve added explanations after each item):

  1.  Winning NaNoWriMo–I finished the month of November with a complete first draft of my newest novel, coming in at just over 50,000 words. Rather than focusing on the many revisions and additions that await me in the coming months, I’m choosing to be grateful that I completed the challenge and that I have an exciting new setting, story, and characters to work with.
  2. Signing with a literary agent–A few months ago, I finally signed with a literary agent in New York. I’m grateful that she took the time to read my manuscript and that she saw something special in it. I’m grateful every time I receive an email from her because I know she’s working hard to help me find the best publisher for my book.
  3. Having a supportive husband and family–This one is self-explanatory. They seriously never give up on me!
  4. Contributing to Anthology–I was asked to contribute a short story featuring a character from my books to an anthology compiled by my publisher. I’m grateful that I was included and that I finished the first draft of that short story earlier today.
  5. Working in a home office–After years of working in an office building wearing uncomfortable suits and high-heeled shoes, I’m so thankful every time I sit down in front of my computer wearing jeans and a sweatshirt in order to do something I love. One of the best perks? I get to work with my sweet dog by my side and take Frisbee breaks. It doesn’t get much better than that!

The things I’m grateful for don’t need to be big events or life-changing news. Some examples from last week–I wrote 500 words today, I found a writing conference I’d like to attend, or someone left a positive review of my book on Amazon. When I don’t have time to write these things down, I’ve found just thinking about them during a quiet moment is equally as effective.

Have you practiced gratitude in your writing? What were the results?

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