The Real Life Horses that Inspired My Writing

One of the most fun things about writing my Dark Horse series has been bringing to life the horses on the pages. While some of the equine characters in Trail of Secrets and Barn Shadows are purely fictional, others are based on actual horses I’ve met, ridden, known or loved over the years.

Louie
Louie

Let’s start with the leading man…er, gelding, Jett. During the time I was writing Trail of Secrets, I was half-leasing a wonderful appendix named Louie. Louie was a beautiful dark bay/black gelding full of personality and spunk. He wasn’t always easy to ride, but my riding improved dramatically during the year that I rode him. Saying goodbye to him was so difficult that I actually took a year off from riding after I stopped leasing Louie. He was THAT special. Jett is based on a combination of Louie and the horse I owned as a teenager, Snowman. While not black (obviously), Snowman was about as full of personality as a horse could be. Owning him was the culmination of all my childhood dreams. Whenever I write about Brynlei’s bond with Jett, I find myself reaching back into my memories of my love for Snowman.

Snowman 1988
My Snowman

Anna’s feisty mount, Rebel, is also based on a few spunky chestnuts I’ve known. Before

Edoras Wall 4.13
Edoras

Louie, I half-leased a mare named Edoras. She gave me a run for my money alright. Edoras taught me how to ride a “Whooa!” horse (Elbows bent, shoulders back, bend her in!) I’ve known other horses like Rebel, too. There’s currently a horse at the barn where I ride named Zara. She’s a sweetie, but has an accelerator that can take even the most experienced rider on an “exciting” trip around the ring. What is it about chestnuts?

In Barn Shadows, two new horses are introduced into the mix–Patches and Amigo. Patches is a beautiful Paint pony ridden by a new character, Bethany. The pony is based on an actual pony named Patches owned by my friend and her daughter (pictured below). The real-life Patches is a wonderful teacher, as is the Patches in the book. And both ponies are easy on the eyes…Don’t you agree?

An odd new girl named Grace joins the cast of Barn Shadows, along with her equally unusual mount, Amigo. Amigo does not possess the confirmation of the fancy hunters at Foxwoode so everyone is surprised when they witness the stocky horse’s natural jumping ability. This side storyline is loosely based on one of my favorite non-fiction books, The Eighty-Dollar Champion:  Snowman, The Horse that Inspired a Nation by Elizabeth Letts. Those of you who have read the book might see a few parallels between fictional, Amigo, and real-life, Snowman.

Sadly, I met my new favorite horse at the barn, Abby, after I’d already finished writing Barn Shadows. I’ll have to incorporate this special bay mare into my next book! Isn’t she cute?

IMG_2341
Abby

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the real horses behind many of the horses in my books. Until next time, happy reading, writing and riding!

Mystery Thriller Week Author Spotlight: Linda Kane

Welcome back to my Mystery Thriller Week Author Spotlight series. Today I’m pleased to welcome another fellow horse lover to my blog–Author Linda Kane!

linda-kane-headshot

Linda L. Kane MA in Education, PPS, School Psychologist, and Learning Disability Specialist, is the author of The Black Madonna, Witch Number is Which, Icelandia, Katterina Ballerina, Cowboy Jack and Buddy Save Santa, and Chilled to the Bones, 2017 release date, Clyde: Lost and Now Found, and Bottoms Up, A Daisy Murphy Mystery. She lives with her husband and three dogs and six horses.

 

And here’s her newest release,Chilled to the Bones, a young adult historical mystery set in Setauket, New York.

linda-kane-1

Author Interview:

Hi Linda! When did you first know that you wanted to become a writer?

I grew up in a very poor area where violence was common place. For me, writing and drawing was a means of escape. So, I guess, always.

If you could spend the day with any character from your novel, who would it be? Why?

Dealer, she’s a good kid, with a great heart who wants to help her father with his problems and save their home. I would want to know what makes her so strong, so resilient in the face of so much tragedy.

Is writing your full-time job? If not, what else do you do?

I am retired now and my full time job is writing and painting. My artwork has been at an art museum and is at a gallery in Pacific Grove, Ca.

What are your hobbies outside of writing?

My hobby and my love are my dogs and horses. I have four American Saddlebreds, one hackney pony, and one quarter horse. I compete nationally and my horse, Into the Cosmos is a national champion. I have three Australian shepherds that are smarter than I am and I have to work to keep up with them.

What are you working on now?

Actually I am working on a children’s story about a mini pony that was abandoned (true story), in an orchard. Our barn adopted Clyde. He was skinny, he had a broken jaw, a little timid, you should see him now. Love and food heal quite a bit.  I’m finishing up the editing for the first of a series of murder mystery books titled, Bottoms Up, A Daisy Murphy Mystery. I’m also working on a historical book regarding a man who people thought was the answer to their problems but found out to late that he was a monster, and the young people who stood against at the cost of their own lives. I am also working on a sequel to The Black Madonna and Chilled to The Bones.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog, it’s been a pleasure and I’ve enjoyed your amazing questions.

You’re welcome, Linda. It has been fun getting to know more about you and your books!

Thanks for reading…Please stay tuned for my next MTW Author Spotlight with thriller author Christina Hoag!

Real Life Inspiration

The Foxwoode Riding Academy I dreamed up in Trail of Secrets was purely a figment of my imagination, but some of the specific physical characteristics of the cabins, dining hall, and surrounding wilderness were based on a magical place from my real life–Camp Michigania in Petoskey, MI. This family camp set on over 350 magnificent acres in northern Michigan is run by the University of Michigan Alumni Association and holds a special place in my heart. I attended Camp Michigania for ten years growing up and now have been back for four years with my husband and our kids. Without exception, it has always been the best week of our summer.

Today, I’m sharing some photos from real life that inspired certain scenes in Trail of Secrets. IMG_1845While Michigania is not an English riding academy by any means, they do offer Western riding as one of the activities. In fact, this camp is the very first place I ever sat on a horse. (His name was Sassafrass!) I love this view of the horses grazing in the pasture with the expanse of wilderness in the background.

Brynlei’s Cabin 5 in Trail of Secrets is loosely based on this cabin at Michigania. I’m not sure why I chose Cabin 5 specifically, as I’ve never

The inspiration for Cabin 5 at Foxwoode
The inspiration for Cabin 5 at Foxwoode

actually stayed in this cabin, but all of the cabins at camp look basically the same. The thwack of the wooden screen doors closing behind people coming and going is one of the most recognizable sounds of camp. I couldn’t help but incorporate those distinctive slamming wooden doors into the cabins of Foxwoode Riding Academy.

A perfect place to hide
A perfect place to hide

Hiking is one of my favorite activities at camp. Trees like this one inspired the idea that a *certain* person could climb to the top and hide in the woods. Additionally, the miles of trails through dense forests provided plenty of material for Brynlei’s many trail rides in Trail of Secrets.

 

 

 

 

The sandy path leading through the woods down to the beach in Trail of Secrets was based on this beach at Camp Michigania with a few minor

View of Walloon Lake
View of Walloon Lake

differences. First, my imaginary Lake Foxwoode is much smaller than Walloon Lake. I had to create it that way so Brynlei could spot a ghostly figure on the other side. Secondly, the trees surrounding Lake Foxwoode are more dense than pictured here.  Again, I created it that way so Brynlei would be surprised at what she found every time she emerged from the woods onto the beach.

Me, hiking away from reality
Me, hiking away from reality

This last picture is of me hiking into the wilderness surrounding camp. The relief of disappearing into vast expanse of nature for a while is reflected in Trail of Secrets through Brynlei’s love of outdoors and her need to get away from mainstream society. Brynlei and I are alike in that way!

Thanks for taking this inspirational trip with me! Have you read Trail of Secrets? If so, let me know if any of the above the photos reminded you of the book!

Have you written a book inspired by a real life location? Tell me about it!

My family at Camp Michigania, August 2016
My family at Camp Michigania, August 2016

 

Book Marketing (that Works!)

Those of us who have authored and published a book, whether through traditional means or self-published, have experienced the initial elation at seeing our book sales take off on release day and riding the tide of the “new release” designation for the first few months. On the flip-side, we’ve probably experienced an equal measure of despair when our books have been out for a while and those sales start to dwindle. Since Trail of Secrets was published last August, I’ve tried numerous marketing techniques. Some were expensive and turned out to be complete scams (I’ve learned not to pay companies whose only marketing angle is to tweet about my book. It doesn’t work!) Others have produced better results. This summer, I’ve taken a more creative approach to marketing, and I’d like to share what has worked for me in the hope it might help you too.

  1. Library Postcards

After my book was named as a Finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, I decided to capitalize on the award and send postcards to libraries in my home state of Michigan. (Note: my book also takes place in Michigan so I thought it might have double-appeal to Michigan Librarians). Lists of libraries in your home state are easily accessible online through websites such as http://www.50states.com. The post card I created looked like this:

library postcard

Obviously, you will want to personalize your postcard to promote the selling points of your own book. Postcards such as these can be ordered cheaply through companies like OvernightPrints or Vistaprint. The back of my postcard displayed my name and website in the top left corner. I left space to write a short note on each one. My note said something like, Trail of Secrets makes a great addition to your teen library collection!”

A few weeks later, I noticed an increase in my print sales on Amazon from locations in Michigan where people had not bought my book previously. For example, someone in one Michigan city bought nine copies at once! Not surprisingly, when I later checked that city’s library catalog, my book was listed as being available in every branch. I’ve also done a cursory check of few other libraries where I’d mailed my postcard and found my book available at over half of them!

Before sending the postcards, Trail of Secrets might have been available for checkout at three or four public libraries in MI. After the postcards, I believe it is now available at somewhere around twenty public libraries (and counting). Well worth the investment.

2. Magazine Articles

PH Article Photo
My article in the July 2016 issue of Practical Horseman Magazine

 

Another fresh approach I’ve taken toward marketing, is submitting articles to “horsey” magazines and listing my name and website at the end of the article. Trail of Secrets is set at a horseback riding academy so my target audience includes people who ride horses.

What subjects does your book touch? Is it set at a winery? Submit articles to wine magazines. Is the main character a beautician? Submit to cosmetic magazines. Believe me, there are magazines having to do with just about every subject under the sun and most of them welcome new content from people who can write. Having an article published in a magazine related to your book’s subject matter has multiple benefits. First, most magazines will pay YOU for the article (EVEN BETTER THAN FREE ADVERTISING!) Second, the magazine provides you with a captive audience of people who are interested in the subject matter of your book and, therefore, will likely want to check it out. Third, having articles published in magazines adds additional credentials to your writing resume.

3. Group Sales

I’ll admit my last tip on marketing is not that innovative, but it is effective. Place your book on sale for a limited time if your publisher will allow it. Even better, group your book with others that have a similar theme and do a group sale. It’s always better to have six or eight authors promoting a sale than one. The digital version of my book is currently marked down from $4.99 to $2.99 as part of Fire and Ice’s “Beach Reads” sale. I’ve noticed a boost in my Amazon ebook sales since the sale began.

It also helps to have a graphic all the authors can use to promote the sale:

Beach Read Sale

What effective marketing strategies have you used to boost book sales? Please share!

A Night to Remember

As I may have already told you, I was shocked and elated when I found out Trail of Secrets had been named as a Finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards (First Novel). I read about the upcoming award ceremony at the Newberry Library in downtown Chicago, but wasn’t sure I wanted to take the time to attend. My husband, on the other hand, REALLY wanted me to go. He convinced me it was important to be recognized for my hard work and even took two days off work to go with me. The event also happened to fall close to our eleven year wedding anniversary, so we decided to make a weekend out of it. I’m so glad we did.

We dropped our kids with grandma and drove five hours to Chicago where we spent a whileBook Awards 3 shopping on Michigan Avenue and visiting our old haunts. (We lived in Chicago for many years before moving back to Michigan.) After cleaning ourselves up, we walked to the Newberry Library for the ceremony. Having never attended a book award ceremony, I was nervous and had no idea what to expect. The people who ran the event did a terrific job making us feel welcome as we walked through the front door. A smiling woman handed me a name tag and goody bag filled with extra award stickers and information on all the other winners and finalists’ books. Someone else escorted us into the room and introduced us to several of the judges. Dozens of authors and their guests mingled, each author holding a copy of their book. Waiters and waitresses circled the room with glasses of wine and champagne and appetizers. It was like being at a wedding where the books were the stars.

My nerves subsided, as I fell easily into conversation with a group of authors and judges. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in everyone else’s books, and with seventy categories of winners and finalists, there was a quite a variety of books. I was amazed by how far people had traveled to attend the ceremony and what a big deal being there actually was.

At last, the Awards Chairperson began announcing the Finalists and Winners in each category. Only the people who attended the ceremony had their books announced. When it was my turn, I walked up on the stage (focusing very carefully on not tripping) with my book cover on the screen behind me and lowered my head to receive the medal. I shook hands with Awards Chairperson and Coordinator and exited the stage. That was it–my fifteen seconds of fame!

IMG_1097

The top three winners gave short speeches and there were a few more photo opportunities. I left the award ceremony feeling happy and reinvigorated by all of the positive energy. After two hours of conversation, speeches, and clapping, my husband and I were ready for a quiet dinner in the big city. We caught a cab and made it to our eight o’clock dinner reservation right on time.

Book Awards 1IMG_1124

Trail of Secrets is an Award Finalist!

IndieBookAwards2Several months ago while searching online, I happened to come across the website for the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I perused the site, checking out the categories and last year’s winners. A category for First Novels under 80,000 words caught my eye. I had a first novel under 80,000 words! I thought, “Why not?” A couple of hours later I was standing in line at the post office to mail off a few copies of Trail of Secrets to Seattle, Washington. Then I got busy with life and completely forgot about this book award competition.

Fast forward to yesterday. An email from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards waited inCover with Sticker my inbox, promising “exciting news.” I still didn’t let myself get my hopes up. Perhaps the exciting news was only to let me know who the winners were. It didn’t mean anything. Then I read the first word- “Congratulations!” and I started to realize maybe this really was “exciting news.” As I read further, I realized Trail of Secrets had indeed been selected as one of five Finalists in the First Novel (under 80,000 words) category!

For all of the lonely, depressing, and frustrating moments that writing can bring, it can also provide the highest of highs. I know because that’s how I felt yesterday after reading that email. I’m so glad I took the chance and entered my book. I’m not sure if I’ll attend the award ceremony in Chicago in May. Regardless I am basking in the glow of unbiased validation of my book. There’s no better feeling!

Cover Wars Update

For the last five days I’ve been on an action-packed and computerless family vacation in

Cowboys 3.6.16
We ran into a few cowboys out in AZ

sunny Arizona. In between hiking, swimming, and helping my kids pan for gold in a wild west town, I monitored the voting on Cover Wars via my phone. As of last night, my family and I are back home, slightly jet-lagged, and a few days late reporting the results of Cover Wars. It was worth the wait because Trail of Secrets won Cover Wars and is now the BOOK OF THE WEEK on AuthorShout.com!

Cover Trail of Secrets
The winning cover!

 

Thank you to everyone who voted, and to Caroline Andrus of Fire and Ice for designing such an eye-catching cover.

In other exciting news, Trail of Secrets is now available as an audiobook on Audible. Check back soon for more about my experience turning my novel into an audiobook!

Trail of Secrets on COVER WARS!

I fell in love with the cover of my YA novel, Trail of Secrets, the moment I saw it. (Thank you Caroline Andrus!) So when I heard about Cover Wars on AuthorShout.com, I knew I had to enter the battle for the week’s best cover. Finally, MY WEEK has arrived and I really want to WIN!

Here’s how you can help:  Cover Trail of Secrets

  1.  Visit AuthorShout.com/Cover-Wars and select your favorite cover (Hint:  It’s Trail of Secrets!)
  2. Return ever day February 28th-March 5th to vote. You can vote once per day.

I’ll post an update on the final results after March 5th. The winner of Cover Wars receives a free week of advertising for his or her book.

Thanks for your support!

 

 

 

Book Marketing: Exiting the Comfort-Zone!

When I dreamed of the joys of being a published author, I guess I skimmed over all the parts about book marketing. I’m completely aware that authors are almost always one-hundred percent in charge of their own marketing, I just never promotionstopped to think about what that would mean for me until I was in the thick of it. After the first couple of weeks of promoting Trail of Secrets to everyone I know on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, newspapers, bookstores, libraries, and around town, I started to wonder if people were getting annoyed with me. Was I too “in your face”? Was I being too braggy? Were people sick of hearing about all the reasons to read my YA thriller? Despite my hesitations, I have to give my introverted-self a pat on the back. I’ve completely stepped out of my comfort-zone in order to do everything in my power to market my book.

Here are a few examples of things that I NEVER thought I would do:

1.  A podcast (Done!)
     Click HERE to listen to my podcast on Straight from the Horse’s Mouth Radio!
2.  A book signing event (Doing it on November 14th!)
     Click HERE for details!
3.  Speaking at a teen writing conference (Doing it on November 21st!)
     Click HERE to register for the Get Inked! Teen Writing Conference!
4.  Writing guest blog posts on other people’s blogs (Doing it! I’m currently writing three guest posts.)
5.  Meeting with owners of bookstores and librarians to persuade them to put my book on their shelves (Done! Trail of Secrets is in at least five MI stores and several libraries in MI and AZ.)
6.  An interview with the editor of a newspaper (Done!)
You’re probably wondering how all of this activity translates into sales. I’m wondering that, too. I’ll find out at the end of the quarter when I get paid by my publisher. As my husband said, it’s kind of like playing a football game and not finding out if you won or lost until months later. That might be true, but I know one thing for sure. Win or lose–I’ve played my heart out!
Have you done something you never thought you’d do in order to promote your book? Tell me about it!