Mystery Thriller Week Author Spotlight: Sarah Key

Today is the first official day of MYSTERY THRILLER WEEK and I’m pleased to welcome thriller author Sarah Key to my blog. I’m sure you’ll find Sarah’s unique background as fascinating and impressive as I do. Please read more about her and books…

sarah-14-of-182644Sarah Key’s working life has followed many paths; English teacher, Adult Educator, HIV and AIDS activist, mentor to apprentice jockeys and writer. She holds a Masters Degree in Adult Education and her research report focused on perspective transformation for tolerance education.

Sarah is passionate about the rich cultural diversity of her country and has gathered many powerful narratives from a range of personalities including Apartheid resistors, Holocaust survivors, initiates from a rural circumcision school and survivors of sexual abuse.

Her novels are gritty, grisly psychological thrillers set in Southern Africa with its blends of old and new, mystical and modern, city and country. Aside from being entertaining and exploring deviance in its many guises, they attempt to challenge notions and shatter taboos surrounding sensitive cultural issues.

In 2011 Sarah began her journey writing fiction and is published by Rebele Publishers (Detroit). She is currently completing the final book in The Sisters of Light trilogy.  Sarah is married and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, with her husband and two daughters. Connect with Sarah on FACEBOOK and GOODREADS.

cover-weeds2645Back Cover Blurb:  When lives collide, and time runs out, will there be a final chance for redemption?

Aden Cassalotti, damaged by childhood trauma, tragedies and disappointments, is financially and emotionally insolvent and seeks solace in a crack pipe.

Volatile Noel Schuurman, Aden’s lifelong friend and business partner, feels neglected living out of town running their marijuana and magic mushroom operation. The brooding recluse has killed before and, with escalating pressures, not even his mother and sister are safe on their isolated plot.

Aden takes a job with a ruthless criminal enterprise in an urban slum where dope and flesh are pedaled. He encounters Mandipa Ndlovu, who is being held with other sex slaves waiting to be sent to work.

Kgotso Shelile and his cousin, Senatla, search for Mandipa, Kgotso’s abducted girlfriend. In the underbelly of Johannesburg, they encounter Aden. Having grown up together, the men share an immediate bond and, when fate throws the three together in a Hillbrow strip club, the potential for peril is fraught with danger.

Key’s debut psychological thriller, Tangled Weeds, is sure to get your pulse racing.

Author Interview:

When did you first know that you wanted to become a writer?

I was about 11 and walking in the bushveld with my father. We came across an abandoned tumbled-downed house. My imagination took flight and I told him that I wanted to write a book filled with villains, robbers and smugglers. That realisation has never left me.

If you could spend the day with any character from your novel, who would it be? Why?

My antagonists are downright twisted and malevolent so if I had to spend a day with a character it would be one of the Sisters of Light and probably Joanie Parks, a young artist whose background story is fully explored in The Butterfly Wind. Joanie is complex, confrontational and feisty and harbors a shameful secret. She’s also fiercely loyal and grapples with her own insecurities and need to be loved. Joanie is fun and fearless. I would have to be twenty five years younger, though, to keep up with her antics!

If your book was made into a movie, who do you envision playing the leading roles?

I feel that my debut novel, Tangled Weeds would translate well into a mini-series.  It is a graphic thriller set between Zimbabwe, the fertile farmlands of the then Northern Province of South Africa known for its cultivation of mangoes and litchis, and Hillbrow, an urban slum.

Aden Cassalotti is a complex character who becomes addicted to crack cocaine. To support his drug dependency he takes a job with a deadly sex trafficking ring and gets much more than he bargained for…

I’m not very up to date on movies and movies stars, preferring to read books. The South African accent is one that presents actors with a huge challenge. In Invictus, a 2009 sports drama about Nelson Mandela and events surrounding the 1995 rugby world cup, Matt Damon did a fair job. With his blond good looks and ability to portray emotion he could give Aden a bash!

What attracts you to writing in the mystery/thriller genre?

We didn’t have television until I was 12 so I grew up listening to dramas on the radio.  My father studied psychology when I was a pre-teen and I was fascinated by his textbooks and poured over pictures of people with anorexia, catatonia and other disorders. I have always been fascinated by the aberrant human mind and have an overactive imagination.

Thrillers are supposed to do just that – thrill. I do not enjoy reading or writing books that are uber violent or horrific having learned that the power of suggestion can just as successfully heighten tension.

With the help of my editor, I have worked hard to incorporate techniques that ensure my readers are gripped and find the experience electrifying. A fast pace and using varied perspectives that allow events to be understood from disparate characters’ points of view (particularly perverse antagonists) keep the pages turning. Enjoyed from the safety of one’s armchair, exploring the dark hearts of humans gone bad can be an exhilarating ride that is far removed from the mundanity of regular life.

What are your hobbies outside of writing?

I enjoy cooking and socialising greatly and keep fit attending a woman’s outdoor bootcamp programme most weekday mornings. I derive great pleasure from my two cross-breed dogs and am kept busy with family responsibilities. I read widely and enjoy travelling particularly locally – South Africa is an amazing, diverse country.

How do you deal with rejections and/or negative reviews?

I haven’t focused much on marketing my books until recently. For the past years I have concentrated on raising our two daughters and getting the stories that are inside me down. I received two or three rejections from local publishers for my first novel, Tangled Weeds. Reading rejection letters is not pleasant – it’s like someone telling you that you have an ugly child!

Writing is a high point in my life’s journey and I had blind faith that my books would be published. Fortunately, I was accepted in 2011 by Rebele Publishers and have never looked back. I have three books published by them and am close to finishing the final book in my trilogy.

My books are enjoying a positive response. Reading is highly subjective so it is unrealistic to expect everyone to like your work and constructive criticism is necessary for improvement. Being a writer, like most jobs in this day and age, requires resilience, determination and a personal passion that drives you to continue.

What time of day do you prefer to write?

In a block in the morning from about 10.00am – 13h00 and then for an hour in the early evening around five or six.

What are you working on now?

I am completing the final book in my Sisters of Light trilogy. It is called The Starlight Tide and follows The Dandelion Clock and The Butterfly Wind.

Which well-known authors have inspired your writing?

I studied English at university and, for a short while, I was an English teacher so I have read  many books that have had a bearing on my writing. For a while I read a glut of Scandinavian crime; Jussi Adler-Olson, Camilla Lackberg, Lars Kepler. I found them atmospheric and try to effectively create mood in my books. Stieg Larsson’s incredible trilogy inspired me to write one.

What subjects do you enjoy writing about most? Why? 

The essential themes I explore in my writing are the conflicts between good and evil. I believe that all people have the choice to take certain life paths. Circumstances and pre-dispositions will, of course, influence their decisions. If a character decides to try drugs, commit a murder or indulge in dark crafts and fantasies, there will be consequences to. Morality, or lack thereof, is a personal decision.

Living in a multicultural society in South Africa – which has an extraordinary history – I use my novels as a lens to explore diversity and different cultural belief systems. I believe that by presenting readers with different perspectives and practices, wrapped in the guise of fiction, a greater level of understanding and tolerance can be achieved.

Thanks for reading! Leave your comments and questions for Sarah here, and stay tuned for my next MTW Author Spotlight with Linda Kane!

Mystery Thriller Week Author Spotlight: Anne Carmichael

Today I welcome Anne Carmichael to my Mystery Thriller Week Author Spotlight series. I’ll start by admitting that I’m completely jealous of Anne who holds my dream job at a thoroughbred horse farm. No fair! Her new novel, Elderhaus, sounds intriguing and mysterious. I’ve already added it to my 2017 reading list. Now, here’s more about Anne: 

ANNE CARMICHAEL was born in Lexington, KY, Thoroughbred Horse Capital of the World. She began writing at a very early age. She majored in Fine Arts at the University of Kentucky. Anne has two grown children and five grandchildren, all of whom inspired her first series — a poetry collection about precocious children called, ‘ The Gertrude Ann & Banjo Series‘. Anne is internationally known for The Magoo Who Series, which includes:

…. and other books:

Enjoy Anne’s Blog: Geri-Antics: The Ramblings of a Crazy Old Broad on Facebook and visit her website: www.annecarmichaelauthor.com

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Elderhaus Back Cover Blurb:  Gertrude spent the better part of her adult life scouring Europe for Helmut Klingenfelter, the father who vanished not only from her life and that of her mother’s, but had forsaken everyone in his past.

With midlife looming on the horizon, Gertie made the decision to stop chasing the ghosts of the past and return to her childhood home of Pitch Pine, where she purchased a century-old house at 1211 Castle Lane sight unseen.

Elderhaus, as it came to be known, had a mysterious past of its own, one that would threaten more than Gertrude’s desire for finding happiness.

 

 

Interview with Anne Carmichael: 

Hi Anne! Thanks for participating! If you could spend the day with any character from your novel, who would it be? Why?

The book has been out less than two weeks and I’ve already had a couple of readers (who are close friends) tell me that I am Sally Jaeger. Sally is extremely independent and take charge. She has no filter. What you see is what you get. That describes me to a T. Would I get along with someone as outspoken as myself? Probably not. Therefore, since Sally and Gertie became good friends in spite of their differences, I would spend the day with Gertie

What attracts you to writing in the mystery/thriller genre?

My first six books were all-ages books about animals. I switched to mystery because I needed something that would challenge me more. Writing a mystery, as I quickly found out was indeed a challenge because every sentence written had to be intricately woven into the overall plot and make the outcome viable. My next book is already in the works and will be more about the paranormal – a historical ghost story if you will. Again, I will be challenged to stay true to the factual portion of my storyline, while weaving in fictional characters.

Is writing your full-time job?

No, for the past 10 years, I have been the Executive Assistant to the President of a thoroughbred horse farm. I have, however, gone part-time and work only 20 hours a week. I now job-share with another assistant who takes over my duties each day at noon.

How do you deal with rejections and/or negative reviews?

Honestly? I brood for a while…not long – just a few hours or overnight and then I analyze what has been said. If it was said just out of meanness, I ignore it. If it was constructive and I believe it to be correct, I learn from it. I HATE it when someone who has never read my work goes on Amazon or B & N and leaves a one or two star review just to get a rise out of me or to start an argument with other reviewers. That brings down the overall rating level unjustly.

What time of day do you prefer to write?

I prefer to schedule my writing on days (preferably rainy) when I can lose myself in the story. I usually begin as soon as I get out of bed and literally get so wrapped up in it that I forget to eat, take nature calls and often find myself wondering why I’m having trouble seeing the computer screen (it’s because it’s nighttime and I’ve been sitting writing for 12 hours or more.) This has happened so many times that I now give my daughter a heads up and ask her to call me periodically and remind me to take a break.

LOL! I think many of us writers can relate to that.

Leave your questions and comments for Anne here, and stay tuned for my next Mystery Thriller Week author spotlight with Australian author, Sarah Key!

Mystery Thriller Week Author Spotlight: Judy Penz Sheluk

 

Today I’m pleased to welcome Canadian mystery author, Judy Penz Sheluk, to my blog. Although I haven’t read her books (yet!), I’m a fan of any novel with characters fighting to preserve a small town’s historic district from big box stores. I think Judy and I are on the same wavelength! Here’s more about Judy…

judy-penz-sheluk2158Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery (Barking Rain Press), was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic (Imajin Books), the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016. Her short crime fiction appears in several anthologies and collections. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at her website/blog, www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.

noose2161Back Cover Blurb From The Hanged Man’s Noose:

Small-town secrets and subterfuge lead to murder in this fast-moving, deftly written tale of high-stakes real estate wrangling gone amok.

Journalist Emily Garland lands a plum assignment as the editor of a niche magazine based in Lount’s Landing, a small town named after a colorful 19th century Canadian traitor. As she interviews the local business owners for the magazine, Emily quickly learns that many people are unhappy with real estate mogul Garrett Stonehaven’s plans to convert an old schoolhouse into a mega-box store. At the top of that list is Arabella Carpenter, the outspoken owner of an antiques shop, who will do just about anything to preserve the integrity of the town’s historic Main Street.

But Arabella is not alone in her opposition. Before long, a vocal dissenter at a town hall meeting about the proposed project dies. A few days later, another body is discovered, and although both deaths are ruled accidental, Emily’s journalistic suspicions are aroused.

Putting her reporting skills to the ultimate test, Emily teams up with Arabella to discover the truth behind Stonehaven’s latest scheme before the murderer strikes again.

View all of Judy’s books on Amazon.

Interview with Judy Penz Sheluk:

Thanks for joining me today, Judy! When did you first know that you wanted to become a writer?

I’ve always wanted to write. As a kid, I wrote stories in my head, on the way to school and back again. I thought all kids did that! In 2003, I left the corporate world to try life as a freelance writer. I’ve never looked back. In late 2011, after taking some courses in Creative Writing, I decided to start The Hanged Man’s Noose. It was an instant addiction.

If you could spend the day with any character from your novel, who would it be? Why?

I love Arabella Carpenter. She owns the Glass Dolphin, an antiques shop owner and the sidekick in The Hanged Man’s Noose, the first book in my Glass Dolphin Mystery series. She’s going to be the protagonist in the sequel, and she has a small role in Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in my Marketville series. Arabella is smart, feisty, loves shortbread, chardonnay, and cognac. She’s also loyal to her friends—even her ex-husband, Levon— wears her heart on her sleeve, and firmly believes that authenticity matters in people as well as the antiques she sells.

If your book was made into a movie, who do you envision playing the leading roles?

Jennifer Lawrence for the protagonist in Skeletons in the Attic, Callie Barnstable. Bradley Cooper for her next-door neighbor and possible love interest, Royce Ashford. Chris Noth in the role of Leith Hampton, lawyer.

What attracts you to writing in the mystery/thriller genre?

It’s what I read, and I’m an avid reader – about a book a week and at least 3 or 4 mystery anthologies or collections a year. I try to write what I’d like to read. People ask if it’s difficult to separate the books I read by other authors from my writing, but the reverse is true. A well-written or clever mystery inspires me to try harder. Reading is the best teacher.

How do you deal with rejections and/or negative reviews?

I won’t lie. Rejection hurts, but there isn’t a writer, alive or dead, who hasn’t experienced rejection. When I was shopping for a publisher/agent for The Hanged Man’s Noose, I wrote a heartfelt and honest blog about the experience titled The First Cut is the Deepest. It still gets a lot of hits, as does the series, My Publishing Journey. I’ve also blogged about Learning from Rejection.

Both Noose and Skeletons have primarily good ratings, with an average of 4.18 and 4.34 respectively on Goodreads. When I received my first 1-star review (after a string of 5-star reviews on Amazon) for Skeletons, I was crushed. I went to my fellow Sisters in Crime Guppy group and lamented. I was congratulated for finally making it “into the club.” Apparently readers are leery of a book that only has 5 star reviews. Then I went and looked at the reviews for Gone Girl, and sure enough, among the 5 stars there were a few 1 stars. I felt comforted by that: I should be as successful as Gillian Flynn!

Thank you for sharing your insights, Judy! I know many of us wish we could be as successful as Gillian Flynn. It’s been a pleasure learning more about you and your books.

Check back on February 5th for my next interview with environmental thriller author, Pamela Lazos!

 

 

Mystery Thriller Week Author Spotlight: Cheryl Lane

Today I welcome author Cheryl Lane to my blog. Her novel, Starlight Wishes, is sure to appeal to anyone who prefers a hefty dash of romance with their mystery and suspense! And to make things even more exciting, Starlight Wishes is FREE on Kindle today so there’s never been a better time to read it!

While interviewing Cheryl, I discovered that both of our families accuse of us cheating whenever we play the board game, Clue. Maybe mystery writers are just really good at playing Clue…Did our families ever consider that? In any event, here’s more about Cheryl:

cheryl-lane-headshotAuthor Bio:  Cheryl R. Lane was born and raised in Tennessee and went to college at East Tennessee State University before marrying her high school sweetheart and moving to Virginia Beach, Virginia. She started writing as a hobby when she was in college after purchasing a couple of Southern Heritage cookbooks, which were filled with pages of beautiful old plantation homes. She used to sit outside in her backyard and type on a manual typewriter at a picnic table under the trees.  She continued writing after moving to Virginia Beach and visiting beautifully restored homes in Williamsburg as well as plantations on the James River. She has worked as a medical transcriptionist for over 20 years while writing on the side, and finally decided to self-publish “Wellington Cross” on Amazon in December 2012. Since then, she has published more in the series to include Wellington Grove, A Wellington Christmas (a novella), Wellington Rose, and recently Wellington Belle. She has also started writing a modern-day paranormal romance Angel Series, set in Virginia Beach, which includes Starlight Wishes and Sunrise Kisses. She is still married to her sweetheart after 28 years, and they have one son and a Havanese bichon. Her website is www.cheryllaneauthor.com, and you can also connect with her as Cheryl R. Lane on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Pinterest, YouTube, and StoryFinds.

starlight_wishes_cover_for_kindlejpg2135Starlight Wishes Back Cover Blurb:  What would you do if you fell in love with your guardian angel?  Only you didn’t know he was your guardian angel.  You just knew he was a handsome, mysterious guy who helps you get your life in order and who has incredible blue eyes.  That’s just what happens to Cassie Callaway who, at sixteen, gets herself into some trouble in her hometown of Virginia Beach.  A guy named Skyler saves her from drowning in the ocean and she ends up falling in love with him.  He has many secrets, however, including the shocking revelation that he is actually her guardian angel, and that their love is forbidden…

See more of Starlight Wishes on Amazon.

 

Interview with Cheryl Lane:

Hi Cheryl! Thanks for taking part in my Mystery Thriller Week Author Spotlight series. If your book was made into a movie, who do you envision playing the leading roles?

I envision Britt Robertson as Cassie, Stephen Colletti as Skyler, Jennifer Aniston as Jen, and Keith Urban as Luke.

When did you first know that you wanted to become a writer?

I think when I first saw The Waltons as a kid.  I loved John-Boy.  He was my favorite character, and I loved how he wrote (typed) by the window.

What attracts you to writing in the mystery/thriller genre?

I have always loved reading mysteries since I was a child reading Nancy Drew Mysteries, Sherlock Holmes stories, and Agatha Christie.  I love trying to solve a mystery, trying to figure out who did what and when.  One of my favorite board games was Clue.  I’m pretty good at it, too.  My husband and son say I cheat – I don’t!  I just take lots of notes!

What time of day do you prefer to write?

I try to write from 3:00 to 5:00 in the afternoons and/or from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.  I would write more if I had the time – see next question.

Is writing your full-time job? If not, what else do you do?

No, not yet.  Right now, I am also a medical transcriptionist and work from home.  I hope to quit this job someday and write full-time.

What are your hobbies outside of writing?

I do some kind of exercise every day, in the form of run/walking, yoga, Zumba or Cize dance classes, strength training, P90X and Boot Camp classes, bike riding in the neighborhood, or kickboxing.  I have participated in 10 half-marathons and countless other shorter races like 5Ks, 8Ks, 10Ks, and a 14K.  Other than that, I read every day, and on occasion, I do a little knitting.

Thank you for joining us Cheryl. It has been a pleasure! Post your comments to Cheryl here or email her at:  Cheryllaneauthor@gmail.com.

Stay tuned for my next interview with mystery author Judy Sheluk on Feb 1st!

 

 

Clear the Clutter and WRITE!

Happy New Year! It’s that time of year filled with hope and possibility when people make long lists of resolutions which they may–or may not–keep. I’m happy to announce that I’ve already accomplished one of my goals: DECLUTTERING my writing space! Over the last six months, my home office has fallen into a state of utter chaos. It was the room where my family stashed all of the items that didn’t have a clear place of their own. My desk had become hidden under piles of half-written manuscripts and book order forms. My extra books lay stacked in the corner. My husband’s old work papers overflowed in an unorganized heap, leaving almost no room for my computer. My daughter’s art supplies invaded every nook and cranny. Don’t believe me? Check out this “BEFORE” picture of my office. And, yes, that’s a bag of Mrs. Pastures horse cookies in the background (my bad.)

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I’m a big believer that the state of one’s surroundings is generally a reflection of their life as a whole. Amid the claustrophobic atmosphere it became almost impossible for me to create anything new. There was simply no room to think! It’s no surprise that during the last 2-3 months of 2016 I did not write a single word (other than making some edits to an already completed manuscript and sending out a few query letters.)

But have no fear-I have retaken control of my writing life. It took several hours of lugging old papers, folders, and envelopes to the recycling bin. I filled two trash bags with, well, trash. I delivered a carload of random office supplies and picture frames to the Salvation Army. I dusted. I vacuumed. I moved my riding equipment to the basement. And here is the result…

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What you can’t see are the empty drawers. Yes-EMPTY DRAWERS! Oh, the possibilities! In case anyone was wondering, the dog bed stays because of my writing partner, Milo.

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One more view of my clean desk. I can’t wait to get started on my next novel!

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Have you recently decluttered your workspace? Tell me about it!

The Emotional Stages of Editing

heart-touching-feelingsRecently, I’ve been working with a copy editor to put the finishing touches on my YA mystery, BARN SHADOWS (Dark Horse, Book Two). Our mission:  to identify and correct all typos, grammatical errors, inconsistencies, and overused words/phrases in my novel. Thankfully, we’ve almost reached the end of this back-and-forth editing process which has been successful (yeah!), but also a roller coaster ride of emotions. Because I experienced a similar set of emotions when editing my first novel, I’ve outlined my own Emotional Stages of Editing below in order to help other writers going through this harrowing ordeal–or at least to make them laugh.

Emotional Stages of Editing:

  1. Fear–Your publisher notifies you that the copy editor has your manuscript. She’s probably reading it right now. Will she like it? Will she hate it? Will she understand your jokes? You break out in a cold sweat and lie down in the fetal position while repeating positive phrases in your head.
  2. Anger–A few days later, you click open the Word doc entitled, First Round Edits, expecting to see a few extra commas and comment proclaiming “WELL DONE! BEST BOOK I’VE READ ALL YEAR!” but what you see instead is a blur of red typing and strikethroughs. As your eyes focus on the specifics, the heat rises to your face and your hands shake. Why has the word “that” been added to the third sentence of the opening paragraph? Why have those two short sentences been combined into one long run-on sentence? Where is the joke about the baby llama who works at the cheese factory? This editor is trying to ruin your book! You’re sure of it!
  3. Despair–After exchanging a livid email voicing your displeasure with the suggested changes, the editor sends you a point-by-point outline of why she made each change. You slump into your chair and suck in your breath as you realize she was right–an em dash does work better than a comma in that sentence, and the word “that” is sometimes grammatically necessary. How could you have made so many mistakes? Your book must be horrible. Once again you curl up in the fetal position, only this time no positive thoughts pop their way into your head.
  4. Determination–After several martinis and a good night’s sleep, you open your “motivational phrases” Pinterest Board and realize that no mountain is too tall to climb and everything worthwhile is worth fighting for. You determine to get through these edits, one by one, word by word, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter. You sit down at your computer and start re-reading your book for the 803rd time.
  5. Hope–The editor looks through your responses and sends you round two edits. Hey! There are only a few comments this time. And she added that joke back in–the one about the baby llama and the cheese factory! She probably realized how funny it was the second time she read it. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  6. Joy–All edits have been approved by both parties. The work is done! You jump up from your chair and wish you had a co-worker to high-five. Your dog will have to do. Soon your publisher will present you with the most dazzling cover ever created. Oh, the joy of all this hard work coming together! Editing isn’t so bad after all…o-book-wrapped-gift-facebook

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

 

Book Marketing (that Works!)

Those of us who have authored and published a book, whether through traditional means or self-published, have experienced the initial elation at seeing our book sales take off on release day and riding the tide of the “new release” designation for the first few months. On the flip-side, we’ve probably experienced an equal measure of despair when our books have been out for a while and those sales start to dwindle. Since Trail of Secrets was published last August, I’ve tried numerous marketing techniques. Some were expensive and turned out to be complete scams (I’ve learned not to pay companies whose only marketing angle is to tweet about my book. It doesn’t work!) Others have produced better results. This summer, I’ve taken a more creative approach to marketing, and I’d like to share what has worked for me in the hope it might help you too.

  1. Library Postcards

After my book was named as a Finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, I decided to capitalize on the award and send postcards to libraries in my home state of Michigan. (Note: my book also takes place in Michigan so I thought it might have double-appeal to Michigan Librarians). Lists of libraries in your home state are easily accessible online through websites such as http://www.50states.com. The post card I created looked like this:

library postcard

Obviously, you will want to personalize your postcard to promote the selling points of your own book. Postcards such as these can be ordered cheaply through companies like OvernightPrints or Vistaprint. The back of my postcard displayed my name and website in the top left corner. I left space to write a short note on each one. My note said something like, Trail of Secrets makes a great addition to your teen library collection!”

A few weeks later, I noticed an increase in my print sales on Amazon from locations in Michigan where people had not bought my book previously. For example, someone in one Michigan city bought nine copies at once! Not surprisingly, when I later checked that city’s library catalog, my book was listed as being available in every branch. I’ve also done a cursory check of few other libraries where I’d mailed my postcard and found my book available at over half of them!

Before sending the postcards, Trail of Secrets might have been available for checkout at three or four public libraries in MI. After the postcards, I believe it is now available at somewhere around twenty public libraries (and counting). Well worth the investment.

2. Magazine Articles

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My article in the July 2016 issue of Practical Horseman Magazine

 

Another fresh approach I’ve taken toward marketing, is submitting articles to “horsey” magazines and listing my name and website at the end of the article. Trail of Secrets is set at a horseback riding academy so my target audience includes people who ride horses.

What subjects does your book touch? Is it set at a winery? Submit articles to wine magazines. Is the main character a beautician? Submit to cosmetic magazines. Believe me, there are magazines having to do with just about every subject under the sun and most of them welcome new content from people who can write. Having an article published in a magazine related to your book’s subject matter has multiple benefits. First, most magazines will pay YOU for the article (EVEN BETTER THAN FREE ADVERTISING!) Second, the magazine provides you with a captive audience of people who are interested in the subject matter of your book and, therefore, will likely want to check it out. Third, having articles published in magazines adds additional credentials to your writing resume.

3. Group Sales

I’ll admit my last tip on marketing is not that innovative, but it is effective. Place your book on sale for a limited time if your publisher will allow it. Even better, group your book with others that have a similar theme and do a group sale. It’s always better to have six or eight authors promoting a sale than one. The digital version of my book is currently marked down from $4.99 to $2.99 as part of Fire and Ice’s “Beach Reads” sale. I’ve noticed a boost in my Amazon ebook sales since the sale began.

It also helps to have a graphic all the authors can use to promote the sale:

Beach Read Sale

What effective marketing strategies have you used to boost book sales? Please share!

A Night to Remember

As I may have already told you, I was shocked and elated when I found out Trail of Secrets had been named as a Finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards (First Novel). I read about the upcoming award ceremony at the Newberry Library in downtown Chicago, but wasn’t sure I wanted to take the time to attend. My husband, on the other hand, REALLY wanted me to go. He convinced me it was important to be recognized for my hard work and even took two days off work to go with me. The event also happened to fall close to our eleven year wedding anniversary, so we decided to make a weekend out of it. I’m so glad we did.

We dropped our kids with grandma and drove five hours to Chicago where we spent a whileBook Awards 3 shopping on Michigan Avenue and visiting our old haunts. (We lived in Chicago for many years before moving back to Michigan.) After cleaning ourselves up, we walked to the Newberry Library for the ceremony. Having never attended a book award ceremony, I was nervous and had no idea what to expect. The people who ran the event did a terrific job making us feel welcome as we walked through the front door. A smiling woman handed me a name tag and goody bag filled with extra award stickers and information on all the other winners and finalists’ books. Someone else escorted us into the room and introduced us to several of the judges. Dozens of authors and their guests mingled, each author holding a copy of their book. Waiters and waitresses circled the room with glasses of wine and champagne and appetizers. It was like being at a wedding where the books were the stars.

My nerves subsided, as I fell easily into conversation with a group of authors and judges. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in everyone else’s books, and with seventy categories of winners and finalists, there was a quite a variety of books. I was amazed by how far people had traveled to attend the ceremony and what a big deal being there actually was.

At last, the Awards Chairperson began announcing the Finalists and Winners in each category. Only the people who attended the ceremony had their books announced. When it was my turn, I walked up on the stage (focusing very carefully on not tripping) with my book cover on the screen behind me and lowered my head to receive the medal. I shook hands with Awards Chairperson and Coordinator and exited the stage. That was it–my fifteen seconds of fame!

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The top three winners gave short speeches and there were a few more photo opportunities. I left the award ceremony feeling happy and reinvigorated by all of the positive energy. After two hours of conversation, speeches, and clapping, my husband and I were ready for a quiet dinner in the big city. We caught a cab and made it to our eight o’clock dinner reservation right on time.

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Trail of Secrets is an Award Finalist!

IndieBookAwards2Several months ago while searching online, I happened to come across the website for the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I perused the site, checking out the categories and last year’s winners. A category for First Novels under 80,000 words caught my eye. I had a first novel under 80,000 words! I thought, “Why not?” A couple of hours later I was standing in line at the post office to mail off a few copies of Trail of Secrets to Seattle, Washington. Then I got busy with life and completely forgot about this book award competition.

Fast forward to yesterday. An email from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards waited inCover with Sticker my inbox, promising “exciting news.” I still didn’t let myself get my hopes up. Perhaps the exciting news was only to let me know who the winners were. It didn’t mean anything. Then I read the first word- “Congratulations!” and I started to realize maybe this really was “exciting news.” As I read further, I realized Trail of Secrets had indeed been selected as one of five Finalists in the First Novel (under 80,000 words) category!

For all of the lonely, depressing, and frustrating moments that writing can bring, it can also provide the highest of highs. I know because that’s how I felt yesterday after reading that email. I’m so glad I took the chance and entered my book. I’m not sure if I’ll attend the award ceremony in Chicago in May. Regardless I am basking in the glow of unbiased validation of my book. There’s no better feeling!