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!