Spring and New Beginnings

yellow tulip flower field during daytime

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. Today is a perfect example. After months of cloudy skies, slushy snow, and freezing rain in Michigan, the sun is shining, the remnants of old snow are melting, and daffodils are sprouting up. Two Canadian geese have arrived on our pond, as they do every spring (much to the dismay of our dog.) I’m eager for the ducks to arrive and hoping this is the year they have ducklings.

That’s one of the best things about spring; it’s filled with hope. The awakening of animals and plants outside bring forth a rebirth and new beginnings for the rest of us. Doesn’t anything feel possible on a sunny spring day?

I’m feeling spring’s positive energy in my writing life, too. There’s an idea for a new novel percolating in my head (that’s how novels are born.) Hint: It’s about a girls’ weekend gone murderously wrong. I’ve planted the seeds of the story by writing a rough outline. Next week, I’ll come up with character sketches (that’s the water), and maybe April will be the month I try to write 50,000 words in thirty days (the writing version of photosynthesis.)

It’s wonderful to be able to focus on a new project. This past winter, I went through a

book book pages college education
Photo by Victor on Pexels.com

dark period in my writing life. I’d completed major rewrites to two of my suspense manuscripts, Top Producer and All the Tiny Spaces, but my agent dragged her feet on resubmitting the new versions. When I sent her my newest psychological suspense manuscript, Where She Lies, the same thing happened. I didn’t understand her lack of urgency and support. What was I supposed to do with all of these novels I’d spent literally years of my life writing, rewriting, editing, and polishing? The feelings of despair intensified when people would ask me, “Do you have anything new I can read?” I would answer, “Yes, I have three novels, but…” and explain the whole story. It was depressing to know my manuscripts were being held hostage with no viable plan going forward.

With the rebirth of spring, I harnessed the courage to break away from my agent and pursue new representation. It feels like I can breathe again, like I escaped a stagnant relationship. I am now shopping Where She Lies to a dozen or so literary agents who specialize in my genre (my previous agent did not.) Two of them have already requested the full manuscript. Oh, the possibilities of spring! I am submitting my two rewritten manuscripts to smaller publishers and awaiting responses. For some inexplicable reason (maybe because the sun is shining and flowers are sprouting), I am hopeful my stories will soon find their ways into the hands of readers.

What new beginnings are you pursuing this spring? I’d love to hear your stories of hope and renewal!

#NaNoWriMo is Almost Here!

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResIs it possible to write a novel in a month? That’s 50,000 words in thirty days. It’s an intimidating goal, but also one that makes my heart pound faster, as glimpses of soon-to-be-created characters and plot twists dance in my head. For the last few weeks I’ve been gearing up for the challenge of National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, for short). It’s a test I’ve participated in three times before–each time leading (eventually) to the completion of a full-length novel.

As a goal-oriented person, NaNoWriMo is exactly what I need to get myself in a chair and spewing out words from my keyboard. Most writers agree that the first draft is the tallest hurdle when writing a novel. NaNoWriMo forces me to produce the words, and not worry about whether they’re perfect the first time–they won’t be! The months following the whirlwind thirty-day challenge will provide plenty of time for revisions, but at least there will be something to work with.

Another reason I’m a big believer in NaNoWriMo is because it’s worked for me in the past. To be completely honest, I’ve fallen short of reaching my 50,000 word goal in 30 days every time. Last time, I ended up with 27,530 words. BUT…of the three novels I began during NaNoWriMo, two are now published with a small press in Minnesota, and the third is sitting with a literary agent in New York, looking for a bigger home. I’m hooked! pearson-creative-writing

So, how does one prep for NaNoWriMo? I’ve learned from past experience that I’m a “planner” not a “panster”–meaning I need a plan before I start writing, in contrast to some writers who write by the seat of their pants. (How do they do that?) This year, I have a rough outline completed, as well as character sketches of the main characters. Additionally, I’ve done some preemptive research into some unfamiliar subject matters featured in my new book. Finally, I’ve logged into my NaNoWriMo account and “created” my new novel so that once November 1st arrives, I can track my daily word count. My goal will be to write at least 1,785 words per day–that’s based on 50,000 words in 28 days. I subtracted a day for Thanksgiving and a couple of weekend days when I know I won’t get any writing accomplished.

Another way I prepare is by finding writing “buddies” on NaNoWriMo.org. That way, we can cheer for each other and even engage in some friendly competition. I’m always looking for new writing buddies, so please friend me if you are doing NaNoWriMo this year (username LWolfeWrites). I’d love to connect! You can use NaNoWriMo to find local writers in your geographic area by selecting your “home region” on the website. I can’t believe all of the events that are happening at my local library.

I probably won’t be writing any blog posts in the month of November–for obvious reasons–but I will check in to share my results after NaNoWriMo is over. Good luck and happy writing!

A New House and Other Updates

New homeI haven’t posted in a while due to my family’s move this summer. Nothing interrupts a writer’s flow quite like selling one house, buying another, and relocating a family of four (plus our dog) and all of our stuff. It was a huge undertaking. Our new house (originally built in 1931) remains a work-in-progress, but we are all unpacked and my home office is set up. We now live in Ann Arbor, MI, where my husband and I both went to school at the University of Michigan. After living in a small town for the last seven years, it has been amazing to return to a city with so much to offer, especially when it comes to the arts. Just yesterday, I participated in the Kerrytown Bookfest where I got to mingle with readers and fellow writers while selling and signing my books. Sitting next to me was none other than Jack Cheng, author of See You in the Cosmos. So cool! I got to chat with him about writing and publishing, and bought a signed copy of his book for me and my kids to read. Obviously, he was selling way more books than me, but seeing his success and the way readers flocked to his book inspired me to keep going.

 

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A few scenes from the Kerrytown Bookfest

Now that we’re all moved in and our kids are back in school, I’m finally getting back to writing. What’s next? The idea for my newest project has been percolating in my brain all summer:  an adult suspense/thriller novel involving a woman who lives in a tiny house, her dead husband, a missing hotel worker and lots of secrets. I’ve developed the characters and written a general outline to give me a roadmap to follow. Now all I need to do is write the darn thing! I was going to wait until November (NaNoWriMo), but I may not be able to wait until then. There will be many updates to come…

 

Speaking of updates, it’s time for me to check in with the results of my Summer Reading List. Here we go…I read 8 of the 12 books on my list (plus two that weren’t on the list):Summer Reading Images

The Girls by Emma Cline, Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty, All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda, Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman, Ride Every Stride by Amy Maltman, Showdown by Brittney Joy, and The Dogs Who Found Me by Ken Foster.

The two extras were:  The Lying Game by Ruth Ware and Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica.

Oddly, the last two that weren’t on my list were my favorites, but I also devoured Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty. I found all of the books I read to be enjoyable. There weren’t any major disappointments, but I didn’t love The Girls by Emma Cline as much as I thought I was going to. While it was beautifully written, the subject was too disturbing for me. As for the four books I didn’t get to yet, I’m still going to read those, too. I ran out of time! For more on what I’m reading, feel to friend or follow me on Goodreads. It’s always fun to see what others are reading.

Until next time, keep reading (and writing). I’ll be checking in a lot more often in the coming months!

 

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?

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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!

The Surprise Benefits of Journaling

quotes-writing-virginia-woolf-600x411I organized my thoughts on journaling a few weeks ago for a guest post on another blog. Here is a revised version of that post…

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On my recent birthday, my seven year- old daughter handed me a few tattered horse stickers, a purple pencil, and a blank notebook that she’d salvaged from her bottom desk drawer. I must have given her a confused look because she pointed to the notebook and told me it was for me to practice my writing. How cute! I thought as I hugged her and thanked her for the thoughtful present. It wasn’t until later that I realized what a powerful gift she had actually given me.

I kept that notebook next to my bed where it lay untouched for several days. Before falling asleep one night, I decided to open it and give journaling a try. At first, writing down my thoughts felt awkward and strange. Why did I need to write a note to myself about what I’d already experienced? What if someone read this? Why was my handwriting so horrible? By the third entry my handwriting was still illegible, but the words started flowing easier. Now, two months—and dozens of pages—later, I’m hooked on journaling. I’ve outlined some ways journaling can help writers below:

  1. Journaling sparks creativity – Stream of consciousness writing—or writing without thinking—brings forth thoughts you didn’t know you had. Journaling has no rules! There’s something freeing about filling a blank page with ramblings meant only for yourself. A journal allows you to explore crazy ideas and exercise your expressive muscles without the worry of what others will think.
  2. Journaling eases stress – Had a horrible day? There’s little worse for your health than keeping your emotions bottled up inside. Writing it down on paper can somehow contain the situation and make it seem manageable. You can even take it one step further and write a happy ending to your sad story. Now that’s my kind of plot twist!
  3. Journaling eliminates writer’s block —Journaling documents snapshots of your life which may eventually become segments of your novel. Drawing a blank? Look out the window and describe the weather. Describe the room you’re sitting in. Write a letter to a friend you haven’t spoken to in years. Describe what you ate for lunch yesterday. You get the picture. The topics of journal entries don’t have to be life-changing. Revisit these seemingly mundane journal entries when you’ve reached a tough spot in your novel and see how they inspire you.
  4. Journaling transforms your emotions into words – When drama does occur in your life be sure to record your feelings while they’re fresh. Journaling preserves the sensations you experienced during times of intense emotions. Chances are good that the characters in your novel will experience similar periods of love, hate, despair, elation, anger, contentment, etc. Pull details from your journal to bring truth and authenticity to your writing.
  5. Journaling makes you more likely to achieve your goals – There is something about the written word that holds people accountable. Writing down a goal may prompt you to outline specific mini-steps for achieving that goal. The words may cause you to visualize and feel your own success. Make sure to take time to write down—and occasionally revisit—your goals while journaling.

As it turns out, my seven year-old daughter somehow knew  that a blank notebook sitting at the bottom of her desk drawer was just what I needed to jolt me out of my writing slump. Journaling has benefited me in all of the above ways and I’m happy to have rediscovered this simple writing tool. Do you have a birthday approaching? Perhaps you should ask for a journal!

 

 

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