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?

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!

Five Things I Learned at #WOTRC16

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the annual Write on the Red Cedar writing

Business seminar.

conference in E. Lansing, MI. The keynote speaker was Bob Mayer, author of over sixty published novels. Many other talented writers and presenters were also in attendance.  Friday consisted of a four-hour workshop with Mayer, while Saturday I hopped around to various break-out sessions on subjects that interested me. I left the conference feeling inspired and motivated to achieve my writing goals. Not everyone lives near areas where writing conferences are readily available, so I thought I’d share a few of my top takeaways:

1. Every story needs an antagonist.
This might sound obvious, but as I listened to Mayer speak about the conflict that must be present in a novel between a protagonist and an antagonist, I realized the novel I’m currently writing is lacking a clear antagonist. (I made major changes to my draft as soon as I arrived home!)  When identifying your antagonist, ask yourself “What is the climactic scene the entire story is driving toward?” The goals of your protagonist and antagonist must directly conflict and prevent the other from achieving his or her goal. Removing the antagonist from your novel should cause the story to completely collapse. If it doesn’t (as mine didn’t) there is a problem.
2.  The big idea of your book should be easily summarized in twenty-five words or less.
Trust me, this is harder than it sounds. Mayer recommended condensing your original idea into one sentence before you begin writing the book. Referring to your focused sentence while writing helps you stay on track and eliminate trajectories not meaningful to your overall story or theme. Later, this focused sentence will likely help you write a blurb and form a tag-line for your book.
3. Agents and best-selling authors are regular people.
I attended a question and answer session with international best-selling author Lori Nelson Spielman. While I had tons of questions for her, I hesitated to ask them in front of a large group. I worried my question might be too specific or would somehow annoy her or others attending the presentation. When I finally got the nerve to approach her (after the session ended), I was surprised by how friendly, down-to-earth, and genuinely interested in me she was. She not only answered my questions, but encouraged me. I’m so glad I took the risk of approaching her, which is not easy for many of us introverted writers. Next time you have a similar opportunity, please take it!
4.  A character’s most positive characteristic, if pushed too far, becomes their most negative characteristic.
On some level I already knew this, but I’d never heard it spelled out so clearly before. For example, a character who is tolerant might also have little conviction. A character who is idealistic might also be naïve. When assigning positive traits to your characters, think about the correlating negative traits and how to work them into your story.
5.  Characters who look in the mirror are cliché.

Wait. What? Uh, oh. I’m pretty sure I’ve had a character look in the mirror in every story I’ve written so that I can describe her to the reader. My bad.

I hope something in my five takeaways was helpful. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned at a writing conference?

Happy writing!

Writing and Marketing in the New Year!

2015-2016The new year brings a sense of renewal and hope–something most writers can always use! I kicked off my 2016 with several writing resolutions, including completing (and perfecting) my latest YA novel, Barn Shadows. I’m continuing my quest for an agent for my recently-completed thriller, Top Producer, and thinking of new and exciting ways to market Trail of Secrets. I plan to attend at least two writing conferences. Finally, I strive to read at least five books on writing in 2016.

I’m on track in the reading department. This month I read Stephen King’s highly-on writing stephen king tenth anniversaryacclaimed book, On Writing, and loved it! It was not what I was expecting, especially the first half which was more of a memoir and less of a “how-to” book. The second half covered the nuts and bolts of the writing process, as it applies to Stephen King. I found the whole thing engaging and difficult to put down. I don’t often read books more than once, but this is one that I may revisit in the coming year.

As for revising my work in 2016, I plan to make more use of a tool I discovered through my publisher called EditMinion.com. This fun website allows writers to paste one chapter at a time of their writing into its screen. The program identifies common mistakes, such as over-used words, clichés, adverbs, and so on.  The best part? It’s free! While the program may not replace the use of a human editor, it is a great way to get an extra set of (virtual) eyes on any work-in-progress.Minion_Coloring_Pages_03

Now for marketing in the coming year…I plan to win awards. Many awards. But if that doesn’t work out, I’m going to check out BookBub — a website which compiles free and deeply discounted books for its readers based on their interests. Authors may list their books when they have a sale or if they’re willing to give away their book for free for a limited time.  One word of warning, listing a book on BookBub takes some planning, as the website approves each book individually and coordinates posts with the book’s sale dates.

So that’s me. What writing tools and marketing ideas do you plan to use for 2016?

Be sure to check back in a couple weeks, when I’ll report back on the top five things I learn at the upcoming Write on the Red Cedar conference in Lansing, MI!

Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo!

PrintIt’s that time of year again. The leaves are falling, a chill whips through the air, aging pumpkins sit on every doorstep, and grown adults take on the personas of interesting and outlandish characters. No, I’m not talking about Halloween. I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month! For writers, November can be the most exciting and challenging month of the year. What could be more motivating than accepting a challenge to write a novel in thirty days?

This will be my third year participating in NaNoWriMo. I consider my first two NaNoWriMo years successful, even though I did not reach my 50,000 word goal in thirty days either time. In 2013, I ended up with a great starting place for what would later become my now published YA mystery, Trail of Secrets (Dark Horse Series, Book 1). In 2014, I wrote the bulk of the first draft of my adult thriller, Top Producer, which I recently finished revising (for the 800th time) and am currently submitting to agents. This year, I’m diving into NaNoWriMo with high hopes of writing the first draft of Book 2 in the Dark Horse series.

In order to prepare for the challenge, I’ve drafted a rough outline of my general storyline. I’ve fired up my Scrivner software. I’ve created my profile on NaNoWriMo.org to track my word count. Now all I need is for my kids to go away to boarding school for thirty days and to move Thanksgiving to the month of December. Oh yeah–I’d love to connect with some other NaNoWriMo participants for mutual motivation and support. Find me on NaNoWriMo.org under my username, LWolfeWrites, and add me as a writing buddy. LET’S DO THIS!!

Stay tuned for my NaNoWriMo mid-month update and end of the month results.

Do you have NaNoWriMo success story? Tell me about it!

Revision Tracks

I’ve been writing my newest novel–an adult thriller set in the world of real estate in downtown Chicago–for about a year now. I finished the first draft six months ago, and then added to it and revised it several times, including paying for a Revising-Your-Manuscript-4-Easy-To-Use-Revision-Techniquesprofessional edit. I knew my novel still needed a few tweaks, but I patted myself on the back thinking it was basically finished. After setting the manuscript aside for a few months, I blew away the cobwebs about a month ago, and asked a trusted and knowledgeable writer friend critique it. I so badly wanted him to tell me that it was perfect, that I should go ahead and send it out to agents, that it would be a best-seller. However, this is real life and that’s not what happened.

At first, some of his comments about my writing made me defensive. This book had become like a baby to me. No one likes to be told their baby is ugly. I spent a few days thinking about his suggestions, however, and realized many of his criticisms were correct. My main character did need more of a motivation for his actions, I did use too many similes, I did explain too much, etc. The realization my novel was not only incomplete, but that I might have to rewrite the entire thing, made me want to find the nearest tall building and jump off. The task before me seemed insurmountable. I had completely wasted a year of my life. What was I thinking? I crawled into bed, vowing to never write another word again.

Athletics_trackThankfully, I have a husband who is experienced in talking me off of ledges. He reminded me that he loved my book and that the two other people who had read it also enjoyed it. Yes. Maybe it needed some tweaking, but if I focused on one thing at a time, I could get it done. That’s when I remembered something I’d read a few years ago about “revision tracks”. Following different tracks of revision translates to reading through a work-in-progress several times, only focusing on and revising one thing each time. Changing just one thing isn’t so difficult, right?

I’ve already begun my first revision track–reading through my novel for unnecessary similes and removing them. Next, I’ll tackle creating a deeper back story for my main character which will make his later actions seem more believable. Then, I’ll move on to something else. You get the picture. The point is, now my revisions seem doable, and I’m actually excited about them! It’s simple and straight-forward–breaking an insurmountable task into smaller pieces is the best way to make it less daunting.

Have you struggled with revisions? What strategies worked for you?