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!

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:

HSAHS_andrew_blackbird

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!

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

 

Writing Inspiration is Everywhere

Please stop by fellow Fire and Ice author, Nina Mansfield’s, blog today to read my guest post on writing inspiration and to enter to win a digital copy of Trail of Secrets! Nina is the author of Swimming Alone (Fire and Ice YA, 2015), a fun and suspenseful YA mystery. I read it a few months ago and highly recommend it to any mystery-lover!

CLICK HERE to visit Nina’s blog – NOT EVEN JOKING

Not Even Joking

Please stay tuned to this blog for an exciting announcement related to the imminent release of my children’s picture book, Henrietta’s Hoof Polish!