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:

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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!

Book Release Day for Cabin 5!

The Dark Horse series is complete!

The big day is finally here. CABIN 5 is available on Amazon. My Dark Horse YA mystery series is complete!

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Are you a horse-crazy, nature-loving, ghost hunter age 12 and up, or an adult who enjoys reading YA and/or twisty mysteries? This award winning series might be for you. Here’s all the information you need for the newest release in the Dark Horse series, CABIN 5…

Back Cover Blurb:

Brynlei returns for her final summer at Foxwoode Riding Academy, this time as a counselor for the girls in cabin 5. Unfortunately, her nemesis, Alyssa, has also returned, and it doesn’t take long for their past differences to rise to the surface.

After Alyssa tells a ghost story about the curse of cabin 5, a series of accidents and near catastrophes befall the girls in the cabin. The discovery of a Native American artifact in the woods leads Brynlei to believe the curse may be real. When Brynlei finds her own life in danger, she realizes evil is hiding in plain sight. Can she uncover the truth behind cabin 5 before Foxwoode is forced to close its doors forever?

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Find it on Amazon. Also available on Kindle Unlimited!

New Year, New Blog!

You might have noticed my blog has been renamed, The Sustainable Writer. While I’ll continue to write about my general writing and publishing adventures, I’ll also be livening up my feed with eco-friendly content that’s so important to me, including minimalist living tips, incredible photos of tiny houses and natural vistas, delicious plant-based recipes, calls to action, land conservation and animal rescue stories, and previews of books by fellow writers that feature environmentally conscious characters and plots! My goal is to create a community of like-minded readers and writers who support each other and fight to protect our planet, one story at a time. Thanks for hanging around!

Dark Horse Series (2nd Edition) Just Released!

Hi all,

It’s hard to believe that summer is wrapping up and fall is in the air. I’ve been working on a BIG project all summer, and I’m happy to say that it is two-thirds complete! Last spring, I took back the rights to my Dark Horse YA Mystery series in order to make some revisions and gain more control over the marketing of my books. The series was re-released on Amazon a few days ago, and is now available in Kindle and paperback versions, and FREE for Kindle Unlimited readers! These are the perfect quick and thrilling reads to wrap up your summer! While the new versions are similar to the old ones, the revised mysteries are now fully appropriate for ages 12 and up.

So, what’s the other one-third of my project? The third (and final) book in this YA mystery series is in the works. I’m over halfway done with the first draft and am happy with the way the story is shaping up. I’m excited to announce that Cabin 5 (Dark Horse, Book Three) will be releasing winter 2020! I already have the cover and can’t wait to share it with you when it gets closer to the release date.

In less exciting news, my backyard vegetable garden is in full production mode. My husband and I are having a competition to see how many tomatoes we can eat every day. Any other veggie lovers out there? Here’s a quick photo of a recent morning’s harvest. Let’s enjoy the fresh produce while we can!

What is a Thunderclap?

Secret confession:  I sometimes find marketing my own books tedious and frustrating. (Shocking, isn’t it?) I’ve made full use of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to get the word out, but my reach is limited and I’ve had to face the cold truth that not all of my friends and family want to read my books, much less help me with marketing. I decided to try something new with the recent release of my second YA novel, Barn Shadows. Enter Thunderclap

You might be wondering, what is a Thunderclap? Basically, it is an online crowdspeaking platform that allows you to connect with other people’s social media accounts in order share a message. First, you have to create a campaign. (For example, my campaign was the Book Launch for Barn Shadows.) Within your campaign, you can post photos, write some backstory, and link to a website. Next, you invite people to join your Thunderclap. They will receive a message informing them of the date and time that your Thunderclap message will go out and they can choose whether to authorize their social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr) to share the message. I timed my Thunderclap to go out on the day of my book release. It’s fun to watch your social reach grow as each person joins your Thunderclap.

Here’s what my Thunderclap page looked like a few days prior to my set date…

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Thunderclap is free, as long as you reach the required number of supporters (100). There are also paid versions for people who can’t reach up to 100 supporters. I joined a Facebook group where people supported each other’s Thunderclap campaigns. Between the Facebook group and my friends, family and writing colleagues, I easily reached 100 supporters by my end date. Here’s what my final numbers and social reach looked like…

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So I reached 230,672 people, instead of just 3,000 of my own Twitter followers and 250 of my Facebook followers. I was happy I took a chance on Thunderclap. It worked out for me, as I saw a big spike in sales on the first day my book was released. I have to assume at least some of those sales were generated by the increased exposure from the Thunderclap campaign. It was easy to use and FREE. I recommend giving it a try to any of my fellow authors who have a book release coming up. What do you have to lose?

Author Spotlight: Nina Mansfield

I’m so pleased to feature Nina Mansfield on my blog for this month’s Author Spotlight! Nina and I share a mutual publisher (Fire and Ice), and her YA mystery, Swimming Alone, was released on the SAME DAY as my YA mystery, Trail of Secrets. It was an instant connection! I read Swimming Alone last year and recommend it to anyone looking for a fun and mysterious read that will transport you to a quaint, New England seaside town. Now here’s more about Nina and Swimming Alone

NinaMansfield2016[2854]Nina Mansfield is a Connecticut based writer. Her debut novel, SWIMMING ALONE, a YA Mystery, was published in 2015 by Fire & Ice YA. Her short mystery fiction has appeared in ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE, MYSTERICAL-E, KINGS RIVER LIFE MAGAZINE, and anthologized in FAST WOMEN AND NEON LIGHTS: EIGHTIES-INSPIRED NEON NOIR. Her graphic novel FAKE ID: BEYOND RECOGNITION (illustrated by Leyla Akdogan) will be published in installments online by PlumeSnake.com soon. Nina began her writing career as a playwright; she has written numerous plays, which have been published, and produced throughout the world. Visit her website at: www.NinaMansfield.com.

SwimmingAlonefrnt (2)[2855]Back Cover Blurb:  The Sea Side Strangler is on the loose in Beach Point, where fifteen-year-old Cathy Banks is spending the summer with her aunt (who happens to be mystery writer Roberta McCabe). Although thrilled to be away from her psychotic, divorcing parents, with no cell phone or internet access, Cathy is positive that her summer is going to be wretched. Just when she begins to make friends, and even finds a crush to drool over, her new friend Lauren vanishes. When a body surfaces in Beach Point Bay, Cathy is forced to face the question:  has the Sea Side Strangler struck again?

View Swimming Alone on Amazon.

 

Author Interview

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

I wrote and illustrated my first “book” when I was five years old. It was called CINDY AND SALLY IN POLKA-DOT LAND. I wish I knew what happened to it! So I guess I’ve wanted to be a writer for almost as long as I can remember, but I started to take my writing seriously about 12 years ago.

What attracts you to writing in the mystery genre?

I write mysteries because I have always loved reading mysteries. I am intrigued by the criminal mind. I also believe that all human beings are capable of both tremendous evil and tremendous good, and I love delving into what might motivate that evil side to come out.

What are your hobbies outside of writing?

I love seeing theater. I also write plays, and I was in actor once upon a time,  so I try to see as much theater as I possibly can. Luckily, I am a short train ride from New York City. I see everything from thought-proving dramas, to experimental theater, to Broadway musicals.. Lately, since I have a toddler, I have also been enjoying a lot of children’s theater.

What are you working on now?

I have a couple of short mystery stories in the works, and I have been revising and rewriting a young adult paranormal romance/thriller for quite some time. I hope to finish it soon! I also recently had my graphic novel FAKE ID: BEYOND RECOGNITION start coming out in installments at PlumeSnake.com, and I am working on promoting that as well!

What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?

Last year I attended a number of writing conferences and met so many wonderful people. One of the most amazing things I got to do was participate in Malice Go-Around at Malice Domestic, which is like speed-dating for authors. I got to “pitch” SWIMMING ALONE to over 200 mystery fans. It was so much fun!

Is the setting of your novel based on a real place? Tell us about it and why it inspired you.

SWIMMING ALONE is set in Beach Point, Rhode Island, a fictional location inspired by my childhood memories vacationing in Rhode Island. Every summer, my grandparents would rent a cottage near the beach. There’s something about being near the ocean—that salty sea air, the feel of sand on my skin, the sound of the waves—that has always relaxed and inspired me. Luckily, no serial killers were ever on the loose when I was vacationing there!

Yes, that’s a good thing! Thanks for participating, Nina. We look forward to reading more from you in the future.

In the meantime, stay tuned for next month’s Author Spotlight with YA fantasy writer, D.G. Driver!

Calling All #KICKASSGIRLSOFYA

This month, I’ve been honored to participate in a promotion sponsored by my publisher, Fire & Ice, to celebrate strong female characters in YA books–including my own Brynlei Leighton! I posted the calendar of events a week or so ago, but today I’m posting a reminder about a few exciting things…

SaleFirst, the epic 99-cent eBook Sale is happening now! This is such a great opportunity to try out some great new authors and their books in a variety of YA genres. The full list of books offered in this sale is HERE. (Note: Trail of Secrets is on the list!)

Not sure which books to buy? Eight Fire & Ice authors (including yours truly) have written short stories featuring our kickass female characters! Download our FREE Kickass Girls of Fire & Ice anthology on Amazon, B&N or Smashwords, and test the waters with a variety of characters, genres and authors.KickAssGirlsOfFIYA

Second, there’s an exciting Rafflecopter Giveaway also happening now! Just click HERE for your chance to win and eBook bundle from Fire & Ice (you choose which books you win!)

Next, please join the Kickass Girls of YA Facebook Party on Saturday, April 22nd. I’ll be hosting between 10-10:30am, but the party lasts from 10am-2pm with different authors hosting every half hour. Check it out to win entries for great prizes and swag, including autographed print books!
Finally, don’t forget our Twitter chats on Friday nights from 9-10pm EST. Use the hashtag #kickassgirlsofya to connect! Good luck and have fun!

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BARN SHADOWS Release Day!

Today is the Day for my Book Release!

barnshadows42737The second book in my YA mystery “Dark Horse” series–BARN SHADOWS–is now available in PRINT and KINDLE and on KOBO!

While BARN SHADOWS can stand alone, I recommend reading Book One–TRAIL OF SECRETS–first because the second book gives away the ending of the first book.

BARN SHADOWS Back Cover Blurb:

A year after her tumultuous exit from the prestigious Foxwoode Riding Academy, seventeen year-old Brynlei returns determined to confront her demons and win Foxwoode’s elite Top Rider Award. When she stumbles over an antique doll at the construction site of a new barn, a series of inexplicable occurrences force her to question whether her condition as a “Highly-Sensitive Person” is to blame or if something more sinister is at play.

As Brynlei becomes consumed with discovering the history of the unearthed doll, the bizarre happenings escalate to dangerous levels. She soon realizes that someone close to her is lying. But who? Could a decades-old tragedy and the threatening events at Foxwoode be more closely entwined than she ever imagined?

Watch the BARN SHADOWS Book Trailer on YouTube!

Thanks for stopping by and supporting my books!

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The Real Life Horses that Inspired My Writing

One of the most fun things about writing my Dark Horse series has been bringing to life the horses on the pages. While some of the equine characters in Trail of Secrets and Barn Shadows are purely fictional, others are based on actual horses I’ve met, ridden, known or loved over the years.

Louie
Louie

Let’s start with the leading man…er, gelding, Jett. During the time I was writing Trail of Secrets, I was half-leasing a wonderful appendix named Louie. Louie was a beautiful dark bay/black gelding full of personality and spunk. He wasn’t always easy to ride, but my riding improved dramatically during the year that I rode him. Saying goodbye to him was so difficult that I actually took a year off from riding after I stopped leasing Louie. He was THAT special. Jett is based on a combination of Louie and the horse I owned as a teenager, Snowman. While not black (obviously), Snowman was about as full of personality as a horse could be. Owning him was the culmination of all my childhood dreams. Whenever I write about Brynlei’s bond with Jett, I find myself reaching back into my memories of my love for Snowman.

Snowman 1988
My Snowman

Anna’s feisty mount, Rebel, is also based on a few spunky chestnuts I’ve known. Before

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Edoras

Louie, I half-leased a mare named Edoras. She gave me a run for my money alright. Edoras taught me how to ride a “Whooa!” horse (Elbows bent, shoulders back, bend her in!) I’ve known other horses like Rebel, too. There’s currently a horse at the barn where I ride named Zara. She’s a sweetie, but has an accelerator that can take even the most experienced rider on an “exciting” trip around the ring. What is it about chestnuts?

In Barn Shadows, two new horses are introduced into the mix–Patches and Amigo. Patches is a beautiful Paint pony ridden by a new character, Bethany. The pony is based on an actual pony named Patches owned by my friend and her daughter (pictured below). The real-life Patches is a wonderful teacher, as is the Patches in the book. And both ponies are easy on the eyes…Don’t you agree?

An odd new girl named Grace joins the cast of Barn Shadows, along with her equally unusual mount, Amigo. Amigo does not possess the confirmation of the fancy hunters at Foxwoode so everyone is surprised when they witness the stocky horse’s natural jumping ability. This side storyline is loosely based on one of my favorite non-fiction books, The Eighty-Dollar Champion:  Snowman, The Horse that Inspired a Nation by Elizabeth Letts. Those of you who have read the book might see a few parallels between fictional, Amigo, and real-life, Snowman.

Sadly, I met my new favorite horse at the barn, Abby, after I’d already finished writing Barn Shadows. I’ll have to incorporate this special bay mare into my next book! Isn’t she cute?

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Abby

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the real horses behind many of the horses in my books. Until next time, happy reading, writing and riding!

Trail of Secrets Audiobook #Giveaway!

Audiobook Giveaway!

To celebrate Mystery Thriller Week, I’m hosting a giveaway on my blog. Five lucky winners will receive a promo code for a free download of my YA mystery, Trail of Secrets (Dark Horse * Book One), audiobook on Audible! The second book in the series (Barn Shadows) is being released on March 14th, so there’s never been a better time read–or listen to–Book One!

The Giveaway runs February 12th-21st, 2017. Click below to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And after you enter, be sure to stop by Mystery Thriller Week to discover more great edge-of-your-seat reads and giveaways!

BARN SHADOWS COVER REVEAL!

I’m so excited to share the cover of my new YA Mystery, BARN SHADOWS (Dark Horse, Book Two) which will be released March 14, 2017! Many thanks to Caroline Andrus who is a cover designer with my publisher, Fire and Ice. Her design captures the essence of my story while tying it in perfectly with the first book in the series–TRAIL OF SECRETS. I also love, love, love the color scheme! So without further ado…

 

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Does the cover make you want to know more? Here’s the back cover blurb:

The darkest secrets can be found in the most innocent places…

Brynlei returns to the prestigious Foxwoode Riding Academy determined to work through her condition as a “highly sensitive person” and win the Top Rider Award. When she stumbles over an antique doll near the construction site of a new barn, a series of inexplicable occurrences force her to confront another one of Foxwoode’s long-buried secrets.

Meanwhile, swirling rumors of Foxwoode’s strained finances, the arrival of a strange new girl in her cabin, and a brush-off by Brynlei’s former love-interest contribute to the troubled atmosphere and distract her from her riding. After a suspicious fire threatens her life, Brynlei realizes someone close to her is lying. But who? Could a decades-old tragedy and the dangerous happenings at Foxwoode be more closely entwined than she ever imagined?

For those of you who haven’t read Book One yet–don’t worry! There’s still time… In the meantime, thanks for stopping by and let me know what you think of the new cover!