What is your Character’s Superpower?

boy child clouds kid

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Another example comes from Mara, the MC of my yet-unpublished suspense novel, Top Producer.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

IMG_4690(Edited)
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?

Get Writing in the New Year!

close up of hand over white background

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

pexels-photo-1148998.jpeg

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!

What’s on my Summer Reading List?

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and you know what that means… It’s time for SUMMER READING! The same excitement that comes from my childhood memories of summer reading has carried over into adulthood…maybe because I picture myself devouring books while lounging by a pool, sipping a glass of wine and completely uninterrupted by kids (yeah, right!) Before checking out my list below, please note that it comes with two BIG disclaimers:  #1–I’m constantly (everyday) finding new books to read, so this list is likely to evolve and expand, and #2–My reading lists are usually over-ambitious, meaning it is likely I may not actually read every book this summer, but it’s good to have goals!

The-Girls-Emma-Cline1. The first book on my list is one I’ve been wanting read all year — The Girls by Emma Cline. It tells the story of a 14 year-old girl who gets drawn into a Manson-like cult in 1960’s California. It promises to be a mesmerizing read involving cult psychology, teenage insecurity and murder. The book has received rave reviews and was named an Amazon Best Book of June 2016. Sounds like the perfect beach read to me!

2. I love everything by this next author, Liane Moriarty. Her writing style is Truly-Madly-Guiltyfast-paced, humorous, and suspenseful– all of my favorite things. I was so thrilled when her novel (and one of my all-time favorite books), Big Little Lies, was recently made into an HBO mini-series. I haven’t had a chance to read her latest book, Truly Madly Guilty, and I can’t wait!

These next two books fall into my favorite reading (and writing) category–Psychological Thrillers!

All the missing girls3. All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda has been calling my name for a few months now. The premise of a suspenseful tale told backwards intrigues meThis book has received tremendous reviews and was named as A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice. I’m excited to read it.

4.  Because I enjoyed Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, I look forward into-the-water-678x1024to reading her new novel, Into the Water. While I see it has received mixed reviews on Amazon…frankly, I don’t care. Just from reading the back cover blurb I want to know why a single mother was found dead at the bottom of the river and what she had to do with the teenage girl who was found dead in the river before her. I’m eager to read this best-selling story of psychological suspense written by a talented author.

And in the Historical Fiction category…

Two Family House5. The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman has been sitting on my Kindle for months. I’ve heard great things about it and I’m going to make time to read it this summer. I love historical fiction because it transports me to another time and place. This family saga is set in post WWII Brooklyn and follows the lives of two brothers who share a house with their wives. It promises to be an emotional page-turner featuring vivid characters, life-altering secrets, lies, love and redemption.

Now I’m moving on to one of my favorite categories–  Equestrian Fiction!Ride Every Stride

6. Ride Every Stride by Amy Maltman appears to encompass everything I love in a great book–horses, dark secrets and plot twists! This novel is set against the backdrop of a prestigious stable and one man’s quest to earn a spot on the Canadian Olympic equestrian team, despite the personal demons that threaten to destroy his dream. Bring it!

Showdown7.  Showdown (Red Rock Ranch, Book Two) by Brittney Joy I read the first book in the Red Rock Ranch series, Lucy’s Chance, and very much enjoyed it. I found the first book to be a fun and quick YA read that transported me into the world of Western riding and contained just the right amount of suspense, romance and, of course, horses. I look forward to escaping into Book 2 on one of my beach days.

Continuing on the YA Theme, I’m eager to read…

8. The Art of Holding on and Letting GoArt of Holding on and Letting Go by fellow Michigan author, Kristin Bartley Lenz. This Fall 2016 Junior Library Guild Selection tells the coming of age story of a teenage competitive rock climber who is forced to take a year off after tragedy strikes on an Ecuadorian mountaintop. I love learning about cool sports and enjoy journeys of self-discovery, so I’m beyond excited to read this highly acclaimed book.

Fault in our Stars9. Because I’m the last person on the planet who hasn’t read this book, I’m adding YA bestseller The Fault in our Stars by John Green to my list. I’ve been hesitant to read it because it just sounds so depressing, but millions of people can’t be wrong…right? I’m not going to bother telling you what it’s about because you’ve probably already read it. And, no, I haven’t seen the movie either.

I also love reading Non-Fiction books, and have several on my summer reading list, including…

10. The Dogs Who Found Me: What I’ve Learned from the Pets who were Left Behind by Dogs who found meKen Foster. I’m a sucker for animal rescue stories, and I’ve already got my box of Kleenex ready for this one. Animals can teach us so many things about ourselves if we would just pay attention. This tale of multiple rescues is bookended by the tragedies of 9/11 and hurricane Katrina. I can’t wait to learn how this author was touched by a loveable array of abandoned dogs.

Edible11. Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet by Daniella Martin has peaked my interest. As if my mostly-vegan diet wasn’t “crazy” enough, now I’m going to learn about eating bugs? Absolutely! Hey, I didn’t say I was actually going to eat insects, I’d just like learn about the people who do. And because I believe in science and I’m all for saving the planet, I’m reminding myself to never say never…

12.  Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance is Hillbilly Elegyanother non-fiction read that sounds timely and fascinating. This book is described as a passionate and personal analysis of poor, white, working class Americans, and how one man achieved upward mobility while the rest of his family was left behind. I’m hoping this book will delve deep into another way of life–one that I know little about–and might help offer a new perspective.

Because the next novel I’m going to write is an Eco-thriller/Suspense story, I’m trying to read as many similar-type books as I can. Here are a couple that are at the top of my eco-thriller list:

Open SeasonTipping Point

13.  Open Season by C.J. Box

14. Tipping Point by Simon Rosser

 

 

Finally, (although I won’t be reading my own books this summer) I have to give a quick darkhorse[3612]shout out to my Dark Horse Series. These YA mysteries set against the backdrop of a summer camp in northern Michigan make the perfect beach read for anyone who loves fast-paced mysteries, creepy ghost stories, and/or horses.

That’s it! What’s on your summer reading list? Now please excuse me because I need to start reading…