Writing in the Time of COVID-19

Change of Planspills on gray background

A week ago right now, I’d finished a full day of revisions on one of manuscripts and was attending my son’s first school volleyball game. Two days later, school had been canceled for the next three weeks, possibly longer, the aisles of my local grocery store had been cleared out in a rush of panic buying, and my kids were fighting over my computer. What a difference a week can make.

I realize I’m not the only one whose life has been set into a tailspin. This virus is affecting everyone, nobody more so than the people who are infected. Of course, my family and I are doing our part to “flatten the curve.” We’re staying inside, except to take long walks or play sports in the backyard. We’ve stopped getting together with friends. We’re working and schooling from home. Sadly, my husband and I had to our cancel our trip to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary in New York City in May. That will have to wait.

The first two days with all four of us home felt long at times. I found it difficult to focus with a steady stream of interruptions and loud noises emanating from around the house. (I’m one of those people who can only write in complete silence.) But we’re slowly getting into a new routine. I’m claiming the morning hours as my writing time. My husband has set up his home office downstairs in the living room. My kids use their tablets to check emails from their teachers and use my computer in the afternoon.

Silver Linings

I have to admit, there have been a few silver linings to the quarantine. It’s nice to eat

landscape photo of pathway between green leaf trees

lunch with my family every day. I usually eat alone during the week, in between revising or writing chapters. My tri-weekly trips to the gym have been replaced with long, hikes in nature or around our neighborhood with my husband, kids, and dog. Thankfully, the weather has been sunny and spring-like. Another bonus–and I’ve heard other writers mention this too–the pages read of my YA mystery series on Kindle Unlimited are WAY up. I agree there’s no better way to pass the time than reading a book! Finally, is it just me, or are people being nicer to each other? I’ve noticed this at the grocery store and while out on walks and also online. People are smiling, saying hi, asking how I’m doing, and simply checking in. The sense of community has never felt stronger.

I hope everyone who reads this is staying safe and healthy. By all accounts, the worst may still be ahead of us, but we are all in this together. We will get through it, and I’ll be back to my silent days of writing in no time. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the gift of time with my family.

How are these difficult times affecting your writing or reading?

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!

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

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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!

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?

My Video Podcast is LIVE!

Podcast Video Interview with Carly Kade

I was thrilled to be interviewed recently on Carly Kade’s equestrian author spotlight podcast! Check out our conversation on writing, publishing, horses, and my Dark Horse series on her website, and discover lots of other great horse book authors while you’re there!

Carly Kade Podcast

View it on YouTube

Listen to the audio-only version

Many thanks to Carly Kade for the opportunity. Visit her website HERE!

 

 

 

To Vlog or Not to Vlog?

My First Vlog Interview

black action camera
Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

I was recently contacted by fellow equestrian author, Carly Kade, to participate in her new equestrian spotlight vlog series. A vlog? It’s like a podcast with video, in case you’re slightly behind the times, like me. Being an extreme introvert, my initial reaction was NOOOOOO! I emailed her back and asked if I could do an audio podcast without the video. I’ve done podcast interviews before and gotten through them without too much embarrassment. She graciously accepted my audio-only podcast alternative and we set a date.

Later that night, I told my husband what happened. He looked at me with a disapproving look. “Why aren’t you doing the video?”

“It makes me uncomfortable.”

“So? Visual marketing is what everyone does now. It would be great exposure for your books.”

Ugh. I hate it when he’s right. It was a good reminder that the easiest thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do. I emailed Carly back and told her that my husband gave me a kick in the butt and that, yes, I would now like to do the video. I was worried she’d be annoyed with me, but she thought it was funny. Apparently, I’m not the only one to receive kicks in the butt from my significant other.

My stress level steadily increased as the interview date drew closer. The time arrived two nights ago. I set up my screen, background, Bluetooth earbuds, and microphone. I reread the questions she had sent me a couple of weeks earlier. I gave my kids strict instructions to stay in a room on the other side of the house (with the dog) and not to come out unless it was an emergency. My kids proceeded to ask me many questions outlining hypothetical scenarios and whether or not they constituted an emergency (FYI, being hungry for marshmallows does NOT equal an emergency!)

At last, Carly and I connected via an app called Zoom. She made me feel at ease immediately. I was thankful to learn that if I messed up, I could clap my hands (her signal to edit something out) and redo my answer, which I did a few times throughout our discussion. I was nervous for the first five or ten minutes, but after a while it seemed more like we were just two friends talking about writing and publishing. The hour went by fast.

I have not seen the final product yet. I might look terrible or sound unsure about my answers, but I hope not. Overall, I’m glad I took a risk and stepped out of my comfort zone. it was a great experience and I was thankful for the opportunity to talk about writing and to promote my YA horse books, including the upcoming January 2020 release of the third book in the series. I will post a link to the vlog on this blog, my Facebook page, and Twitter account as soon as it is ready, which I’m told will be sometime in November.

A final suggestion to my fellow introverted writers who might be presented with the question, “Would you like to appear on my vlog?”

The answer is “YES!”

 

Writing through the Snow Days

photography of fir trees covered in snow

It has been just over thirty days since I started my own personal NaNoWriMo. The goal was to write 50,000 in thirty days. I know at least one of you is dying to know….did I do it? Before I share my results, I’d like to give a piece of advice for any writers who live in Michigan and have school-aged children:  Never attempt to write 50,000 words during the month of January! My kids had nine snow days over the last three weeks. NINE! Plus, three additional holiday break days. By the ninth snow day, I was practically begging for someone to shoot me.

Okay, seriously now. I love my kids. They are mostly well-behaved, and it wasn’t that bad. Despite the *minor* interruption in my writing schedule, I did manage to write 38,457 words. I wrote another 2,000 words today (they had school!), so I’m now past the 40,000 mark. My crappy first draft seems within grasp. Then the real fun of revising and expanding on certain themes, plot points and character backstories will begin.

ChemistryIn addition to typing words, I’ve also been doing a lot of research. My new novel-in-progress involves a murdered high school teacher, and one of the main characters is a high school chemistry teacher. I remember next to nothing from high school chemistry, so I’ve been spending more than a little time researching chemistry projects and everyday chemical reactions. Does anyone remember a favorite chemistry experiment from your high school days? Tell me! Who knows? I might incorporate it into my story…

Until next time, here’s to writing, reading, clear roads and unexpected chemical reactions:)