Laura Wolfe’s Secrets
Welcome back to the sixth installment of Mystery Thriller Week (2/12-2/22) and this time we’re deep in the heart of it with author Laura Wolfe, a self-described lover of animals and nature. When Laura isn’t writing, she can be found playing games with her highly-energetic kids, riding horses, growing vegetables in her garden, or spoiling her rescue dog where she lives in Michigan with her husband, son, and daughter. Laura’s YA mystery, Trail of Secrets (Dark Horse, Book 1), was named as a Finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards—First Novel category. Laura holds a BA in English from the University of Michigan and a JD from DePaul University. She is an active member of multiple writing groups, including Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the SCBWI. For more information on her upcoming books, please visit Laura’s website.
Spending three weeks of her summer at the elite Foxwoode Riding Academy in northern Michigan should have been one of the happiest times of sixteen year-old Brynlei’s life. But from the moment Brynlei arrives at Foxwoode, she can’t shake the feeling she’s being watched. Then she hears the story of a girl who vanished on a trail ride four years earlier. While the other girls laugh over the story of the dead girl who haunts Foxwoode, Brynlei senses that the girl—or her ghost—may be lurking in the shadows.
Brynlei’s quest to reveal the truth interferes with her plan to keep her head down and win Foxwoode’s coveted Top Rider Award. To make things worse, someone discovers her search for answers and will go to any length to stop her. When Brynlei begins to unravel the facts surrounding the missing girl’s disappearance, she must make an impossible choice. Will she protect a valuable secret? Or save a life?
Sounds like an exciting read, Laura. And now, the questions:
What’s your writing background (schooling), backdrop (where you work at writing), and backstory (what you will tell the world when you become super famous)?
I have a B.A. in English from the University of Michigan. Unfortunately, while I was in college I hadn’t yet realized I wanted to be a writer, but I’ve always loved to read and delve deep into books. I became serious about learning the craft of writing a few years ago after leaving my full-time job to stay home with my kids. Now that my kids are a little bit older, I spend almost every minute they’re at school in my home office typing away or connecting with other readers and writers on social media. Deep down, I always knew I wanted to be a writer, I just didn’t know how to get there. It wasn’t until I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) three years ago that I realized that I could write a novel. Of course, it takes much longer than thirty days to get from the first draft to the final product, but NaNoWriMo gave me the confidence that I needed to see myself through the entire process.
I also participated in NaNoWriMo and it helped me jump start the book I’m working on now. It’s a great organization. How about reading? What are your favorite books?
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Pretty Baby and Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
I have SO many more, but I’ll end it there!
I’ve always heard that you should write the book you want to read. I love figuring out a good mystery and reading books with unexpected twists and turns that suddenly make sense in the end. It’s natural that I’d want write similar books. It’s a challenge that I enjoy.
Do you see the need for all these sub-genres or do you think we’ve become over-specialized?
I do feel that over-specializing books may limit the number of readers who may have otherwise been interested in them. For example, my book, Trail of Secrets, is a mystery, but also a young adult novel. On top of that, it can also be characterized as an equestrian or horse book. While all of these categories may help attract certain readers, they could also turn away potential readers who would have enjoyed my book had it not been called “YA” or an “equestrian” mystery. After all, people do not need to like or know horses to enjoy my book—which is a mystery at its core. I guess all of these sub-genres are somewhat of a double-edged sword.
Why writing and not ceramics, or gourmet cooking, or anything else really? If not writing, then what?
I write because I have to write. I have ideas swirling around in my head that I simply need to get down on paper. Writing is somewhat therapeutic for me and also a creative outlet. That said, I enjoy other hobbies outside of writing, like horseback riding and running.
Totally agree about writing being therapeutic. From where do your ideas come?
I have no idea. Sometimes these thoughts just pop into my head and I can’t get them out. For example, with Trail of Secrets, I was horseback riding one day and thought, What if a horse returned from a trail ride without its rider and the rider was never seen again? I couldn’t stop thinking about that scenario and it ended up becoming the premise of my first novel. I also watched a lot of horror/thriller-type movies as a kid, so I think those movies have influenced the darker tone of my work.
What’s your routine? Do you work out while writing, take breaks, or simply gut it out?
When I’m writing a novel I like to start writing first thing in the morning and go until mid-afternoon. I take a break for lunch and to play with my dog. I don’t get anything done when my kids are home from school, so everything productive happens on weekdays between 9am-4pm.
What is your favorite place to walk?
In the woods, preferably with my dog.
We talked a bit about writing being therapeutic. Has it helped you work through anything in particular?
Yes, absolutely! I’m always amazed at how the subconscious mind works. The main character in Trail of Secrets is a “highly sensitive person” or HSP. I wrote the entire novel without realizing that I, myself, am also an HSP. I even did research on it and still did not make the connection until months after my book was published! It happened when I took a quiz to help people determine whether or not they are HSPs. My score was off the charts, leaving no room for doubt. I was floored, but at the same time it all made sense. Writing about another character with the same condition helped me be more accepting of myself and how my brain sometimes processes things differently than others.
Pantser or perfectionist who meticulously plots out their stories?
I’m definitely a perfectionist who plots out my stories. I don’t plot out every detail, but I do make a general roadmap to follow as I’m writing so my story doesn’t get too far off base.
Your perfect day – go.
A trip to the barn, including a riding lesson on my favorite horse, Abby.
An afternoon spent writing.
Dinner with my family.
Playing a board game with my kids and husband.
Watching Homeland while drinking a glass of wine and snuggling with my dog.
Reading in bed (assuming I’m still awake at this point!)
Sounds idyllic! What has been your greatest writing or life lesson?
For writing (and life), I love the phrase, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” It’s so important not to give up. Sometimes things don’t happen the way you want because you’re not ready for them to happen that way. I believe the universe has a way of knowing when you’ve put in the work, when you ready for the next phase, and when you’ve earned it. Until then, keep trying and don’t give up!
And the final question, do you think writing can save the world and if so, why?
Yes. Words are powerful. They matter. Writing allows people to share ideas with one another. Books can (and do) change people’s outlooks, educate people, and incite change—hopefully, for the better.
Thanks so much for talking with us today, Laura. Good luck with your second book due to release March 14th. Love the cover!
Want more? Then read on for an excerpt from Trail of Secrets:
Excerpt from Trail of Secrets:
“I have a ghost story,” Alyssa’s high-pitched voice called from the back row.
“This should be good,” Anna muttered under her breath.
“It’s scary because it’s true,” Alyssa continued. “It happened here. At Foxwoode.”
With the exception of the crackling fire and a few crickets chirping in the distance, there was complete silence. Everyone turned to look at Alyssa.
“It happened just four years ago,” Alyssa said. “Caroline Watson was fifteen and from a small town somewhere near Lansing. It was her first summer at Foxwoode. She was young, but she was a kickass horse trainer and one of the best riders ever to come through Foxwoode. She was also gorgeous. Tall and model thin with perfect skin, long, shiny black hair, and bright green eyes, Caroline turned heads. Some of the other girls didn’t like that. They were jealous of her riding and her looks.”
“Is that how you feel, Alyssa?” someone said with a hint of sarcasm.
“Every day.” Alyssa flashed her perfect smile, and a few of the girls laughed. She clearly enjoyed being the center of attention.
“Anyway, two weeks into Caroline’s three-week session, she was the favorite for the Top Rider award. Everyone knew she would get it. One afternoon, Caroline took a trail ride on the young horse she was helping to train. Then, she screwed up big time. She went on the trail ride by herself and wasn’t wearing her helmet. She didn’t tell anyone she was leaving or where she was going. No one even realized she was missing until her horse came back that night, his saddle hanging to the side. He was covered in mud.”
Brynlei had never heard of a horse returning from a trail ride without its rider. She dug her toes into the sand and leaned forward, not wanting to miss a word.
“The search for Caroline began immediately. Search teams canvassed the forest for three miles in every direction. The second day of the search, someone discovered one of Caroline’s paddock boots floating in Big Rapids River about a mile and half east of here. They found her blood and hair on a jagged rock near the river’s edge. They said she must have lost control of her horse, fallen off, hit her head, and drowned in the river or died somewhere out in the woods. She was presumed dead. To this day, her body has never been found.”
The girls listened in silence. Only the lapping waves and chirping crickets hummed in the background.
“Some believe her death was an accident. Others believe it was something more sinister. Perhaps she was murdered by some of the girls who were jealous of her. Some people suspect the creepy barn hand, Bruce, who still lurks around our cabins.”
Some nervous laughter escaped from the mouths of a few.
Alyssa lowered her voice. “They say Caroline’s spirit never left Foxwoode. They say she will never rest in peace until her body is found and given a proper burial. Over the years, people have seen her ghost in the woods and in the barn. She is there one moment and gone the next. Sometimes items go mysteriously missing from the cabins. Two summers ago, one girl woke up in the middle of the night and saw a ghost with long black hair and glowing green eyes standing over her bed. She closed her eyes and tried to scream, but no sound would come out. When she opened her eyes again, the ghost was gone.”
As much as Brynlei disliked Alyssa, she had to hand it to her. Alyssa could tell one heck of a creepy story.
“So, if you awake to a thump in the night or you’re on a trail ride and suddenly feel uneasy, you know that the ghost of Caroline Watson is there. She’s in your cabin. She’s hiding among the trees. She is always watching you.”
“BOO!” someone yelled. Everyone jumped and screamed, and then laughed.
“Is that really a true story, Alyssa,” asked the girl who had told the babysitter story earlier.
“The part about Caroline disappearing on a trail ride is true,” Alyssa said. “Everyone knows about that. The stuff about the ghost is a load of crap. People keep adding to the story every summer.”
“Okay, girls. That’s enough talk about Caroline Watson. It was a tragic event. The Olsons don’t need us spreading rumors,” Miss Jill said. “It’s after nine thirty. We all need to get back to our cabins.”
Some of the girls filled buckets of water to put out the fire, but Brynlei shuffled her feet through the sand toward the path. She couldn’t wait to climb into her tightly made bed and sleep away the stress of the day. She gazed out at the glassy black lake, mesmerized by the rhythmic sound of lapping waves. Something caught her eye in the woods beyond the lake. A hint of movement, almost imperceptible, except for the thousand pin pricks of static electricity surging through her body. She froze. She could feel a presence. Brynlei squinted into the darkness, searching for the shadowy figure she thought she’d glimpsed. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone.