Interview with Author Sheri Fink


Sheri Fink is a #1 best-selling, award-winning children’s author, creator of “The Whimsical World of Sheri Fink” children’s brand, and an international speaker. Sheri writes books that inspire and delight children while planting seeds of self-esteem. Her first children’s book, The Little Rose, was a #1 best-seller on Amazon for over 60 weeks, became the #1 top-rated e-book on Amazon, and received a gold medal in the 2012 Readers Favorite International Book Awards. Her subsequent books have all been #1 best-sellers. Her children’s book series recently received the Gold Mom’s Choice Award for excellence in family friendly entertainment. Sheri was recently selected by CBS Los Angeles as one of the top 3 authors in her local area, a distinction she shares with Dean Koontz.

Stephanie: Hello, Sheri. Congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion. Please tell me about your book, The Little Gnome.

Sheri: The Little Gnome is a charming story about a garden gnome experiencing the wonder of the four seasons for the first time. At first he doesn’t understand and resists the changes in his environment. That just makes him grumpy. Once he begins to understand the seasons, he finds something good in every change. The book helps kids ages 5-10 learn to embrace change. Published in March 2012, The Little Gnome debuted at #1 on the Amazon best-seller list.

Stephanie: What inspired you to write this story and to write in the children’s genre?

Sheri: I’m inspired by my experiences and how I feel about them. I love taking something that feels like a negative and helping kids discover a way to see it in a different light, one that can be truly positive and beneficial. My goal is to inspire and delight kids while planting seeds of self-esteem.

The idea for The Little Gnome came about when I was thinking about moving from Virginia to California. I moved to Southern California 12 years ago and the seasons are much milder here. I was wondering what it would be like for a kid who’s only known Southern California to live in Virginia and what that first year might be like. And, there are things that I miss about each season. Those are the things that are highlighted in the story.

the little Gnome

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?


Sheri: My books are available on, Barnes & Noble online, the iTunes store, my website (, and in select children’s boutiques and bookstores throughout North America.

Stephanie: Are you currently working on another children’s book?


Sheri: My current work in progress is the next book in The Little Series. It’s called The Little Seahorse and it’s about a bashful seahorse who learns to speak up for himself and ask for help. I’m really excited to explore the underwater world for the first time.

Stephanie: Are there any challenges you face when writing in this genre?

Sheri: I think the biggest challenge is telling the story in a meaningful, engaging way with so few words and pages. It’s like creating and solving a puzzle. I enjoy it!

Stephanie: Will you self-publish again?


Sheri: Yes, I’m very happy to be an independent author and publisher. I hold the rights and get to make the decisions about my books and my brand. I’m not opposed to the traditional publishing path, I just find that independent entrepreneurship is very rewarding. I learn new things every day and enjoy the journey.

Stephanie: Where do you see the self-publishing industry in five to ten years?

Sheri: I’m really not sure. It’s easier today than ever before to independently publish your work and reach your target readership. It’s an exciting time in the industry. My guess is that it will continue to grow as more authors become empowered to pursue their dreams of publishing through non-traditional paths.

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Sheri: I believe I first heard about it on Facebook when another author was celebrating her book winning an indieBRAG award. I love the power of social media.

Stephanie: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Sheri: My advice is to continue writing and keep dreaming. There are so many opportunities now for writers to get their work out into the world. I’m living proof that independent authors can be successful and make a positive difference for their readers. It’s a great time to be a writer!

Stephanie: What is your favorite quote?

Sheri: “The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.” ~ Confucius


Find Sheri’s books on Amazon:

Connect with Sheri on Facebook:

Visit Sheri’s website for free coloring pages, lesson plans, & activity sheets based on her best-selling books:

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Sheri Fink, who is the author of, The Little Gnome, one of our medallion honorees at . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Little Gnome merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

Interview with Author C.W. Gortner

Stephanie:  Hello, Christopher. It is a pleasure to be chatting with you today. I have read your books, The Queen’s Vow and The Tudor Conspiracy and have thoroughly enjoyed them both. Please tell your audience a little about, “The Tudor Conspiracy.”

C.W.: Hi, great to be here! The Tudor Conspiracy is the second book in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Series, about a young man with a secret past who becomes Elizabeth’s private spy in the years before she rises to power. In this book, the hero, Brendan Prescott, is recruited by his mentor Cecil to return to court, where Queen Mary Tudor now reigns, to help save Elizabeth from a conspiracy hatched against her by the Spanish ambassador. While at court, Brendan becomes entangled with a mysterious woman and suffers a personal tragedy as he races against time to uncover a wide-reaching plot that may be Elizabeth’s downfall. This is a fast paced suspense novel that explores another side to life in the Tudor court, as seen through the eyes of Brendan.

the tudor conspiracy

Stephanie: There are many stories of the Tudors. If a reader were to ask you what sets your book apart from the rest and what inspired you to write this particular story. What would you tell them?

C.W.: I’ve always been interested in the intelligence network that Cecil and Walsingham developed to protect Elizabeth. It was essentially the first modern spy system, in which countless men and women worked, and often sacrificed their lives, to defend the queen. I also am fascinated by the Tudors, but I felt as though the years of Elizabeth’s later reign were quite well covered in fiction, as were the years of her father, Henry VIII. However, that crevice in history between Henry and Elizabeth – when Edward VI and later Mary I became rulers— had not been written about as much, though it’s such fertile ground for a novelist. England was in tumult after Henry’s death, the religious and political situations unstable, and Mary, in particular, has a terrible reputation that obscures the reality of who she was as a person. Her bitter relationship with Elizabeth is truly a tragic one, in that these half-sisters who had lived together suddenly found themselves in opposing camps. I think my Spymaster books are different from other Tudor novels because I explore the underworld of the court and feature fictional characters, like Brendan, interacting with historical ones. Also, these are adventure stories with mysteries at their heart that explore the price of secrets—they are not biographical accounts but rather moments in history when everything hinges upon one crucial event.

Stephanie: Yes, I agree that Mary’s relationship with Elizabeth is a tragic one and I do wish the outcome could have been different for them. You did a fabulous job exploring the underworld of the court and you blended the fictional aspects splendidly. And the intelligence network of Cecil and Walsingham is fascinating.

 Brendan Prescott is a wonderful character. What inspired you to create his character?

C.W.: The genesis for this series sprang from a conversation that I had with a friend years ago. We were talking about what it might have been like to be a Tudor spy and who might have actually been recruited into this type of service. So many of those who fought to defend their country and queen are lost to us; we don’t know anything about them. Brendan is a composite character, based in part on one particular man, but also enhanced by my life-long love of the novels of Alexander Dumas, in which the main character often has a terrible secret he must hide because it could destroy him. I also wanted to create a hero who is both fallible and reluctant; Brendan doesn’t choose the missions he embarks upon. He yearns for an ordinary life, yet finds himself involved in danger and making split-second decisions that carry repercussions for him and those he loves. His service to Elizabeth exacts a personal toll, as I believe it must have for anyone who dedicated their lives to protecting her. Through Brendan, I can also explore how common people lived, as well as how different social classes and power structures in Tudor England played a role in people’s survival.

Stephanie: That is really cool.

 Even though his loyalty lies with Elizabeth, he seems to have a soft spot-if you will-towards Mary. He seems not to wish her any ill will. He is respectful and polite to her. In a way I wonder if he feels a bit sorry for her. What is your personal opinion of Tudor Mary and do you carry over some of your thoughts of her to Brendan?

C.W.: I think Mary was a product of her time and circumstances. She went from being the adored daughter of the king to being branded a bastard; she witnessed the chaos and tragedy that ensued from her mother and father’s acrimonious separation, and was, in modern-terms, abused psychologically and emotionally at a very impressionable age. I’m quite fond of Anne Boleyn, but accounts of her treatment of Mary are not nice. She saw Mary as a threat to her own position, and that of her child, Elizabeth, and she made certain Mary was denigrated. I don’t think people are born monsters; I think they are created. Mary believed in holding fast to the faith that had sustained her, both in memory of her mother Catherine of Aragon, as well as her fervent belief that Catholicism was the only path to salvation. Stepping into Mary’s shoes is always important when writing about her, because it’s too easy to condemn her otherwise. Brendan’s relationship with Mary begins in the first novel, The Tudor Secret; he meets her as she’s fighting against Northumberland for her throne and she impresses him with her valor and perseverance. There are hints even then of the queen she will become, but Brendan sees her as a woman who’s trying to do good even as she is misled by those around her, as well as haunted by her past. Mary could not forgive what had been done to her and her mother; it was, in essence, her downfall.

Stephanie: I agree with you your portrayal of Mary and how she was misled by those around her.  

 Will we see Brendan Prescott again in another story?

C.W.: Yes, absolutely. I’m currently writing the third Spymaster novel, tentatively titled The Tudor Vendetta. In this novel, Elizabeth has just assumed the throne and a near-fatal attempt on her life brings Brendan back to court. The new queen, however, has a special mission for him surrounding the disappearance of a trusted lady-in-waiting, which sends Brendan to Yorkshire. There, he becomes entangled with a strange family as he hunts for an opponent from his past, even as he begins to realize that Elizabeth may be hiding a catastrophic secret of her own.

Stephanie Oh, how exciting! I can’t wait to read it! Sounds wonderful.

Were there any challenges you faced while writing your story and how long did it take to write it?

C.W.: There are always challenges, because I combine three different plotlines in these novels: the historical event I’m depicting and historical characters involved; the fictional plotline involving Brendan; and the “what-if?” plot line, in which I look at the events and extrapolate an alternate scenario from the one which history has recorded. It’s like a puzzle. I have all the pieces but in order to create a cohesive whole, I have to figure out how they fit together. Like my stand-alone biographical novels, the Spymaster books take about eight months to research and a year to write, including the editorial and publishing process.

Stephanie: Well, you did a fantastic job!

 What is your writing process like? And where in your home do you like to write?

C.W.: I try to write at least 5 hours every day, except on weekends. Before I was a full-time writer, I wrote whenever I had a moment to spare; now, I write Monday through Friday, anywhere from between 11 pm – 5 pm, with an extra hour or two of revision in the early evening. I keep to a specific word count that I do my best to hit every day, but I’m flexible as well, because stories have their own ways of coming to life and you cannot force them. However, no matter what, I do sit down at my appointed time to face the page. Some days are easy, some days not, but that’s how novels get written. I have a studio in my house that is set aside for writing. My research books are on shelves around me and I just hunker down to work without distractions. I turn off my internet connection, too, when I write. Otherwise, I’d be tempted to shop online for shoes instead! I have found that the internet can be an impediment to creativity, so I remove it until I have my word count for the day and feel I have made satisfactory progress with the book.

Stephanie: Great writing strategy. I like my books around me as well when writing…however I tend to be bad about turning off my internet connection when writing. I need to be better about that.

Have you travelled to research for your stories? If so, where and what was your most favorite journey?

C.W.: I always travel for research whenever possible. To me, it’s vital to get a feel for the landscape, even though it’s usually changed radically from the time I’m writing about. I have many favorite journeys; one I most treasure is the time I went to visit Hampton Court. We happened to arrive on a day when performers in Tudor costume were offering a dance lesson in the great hall and my partner volunteered me. I found myself dancing under the very eaves where Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, and even Elizabeth herself had once danced. It was magical.

Stephanie: Sounds absolutely wonderful! Yes, indeed! That is magical. I would love to visit those places. One day!

 When did you first begun to write?

C.W.: As a child, I wrote stories in spiral-bound notebooks and illustrated them. I even made cover art. I’ve always written; but it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I decided to undertake my first historical novel and I wasn’t published until my late thirties.

Stephanie: That is really inspiring.

 What were your favorite books as a child?

C.W.: Curious George and Babbar. Growing up, I also loved the stories by Enid Blyton.

Stephanie: Those are great books!

 Is there a particular writer that inspires you?

C.W.: Every writer inspires me, because it’s a tough and lonely path. We create these worlds in our heads and spend years putting them into words, often without knowing if anyone will read them. It’s not a job we choose; writing by and large is a compulsion, something we simply must do.

Stephanie: I agree.

What is your favorite quote?

C.W.: “Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.”

Thank you for spending this time with me. I hope your readers enjoy THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY. To find out more about me and my work, please visit me at:

Stephanie: Thank you, Christopher!

About Author:

C.W. Gortner

C.W. Gortner holds an MFA in  Writing, with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies. Raised in Spain and  half Spanish by birth, he currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He welcomes readers and is always available for reader group chats. Please visit him at for more information.  You can also follow Christopher on Facebook and Twitter.

Praise for The Tudor Conspiracy

“The Tudor  Conspiracy weaves a suspenseful, tangled skein of intrigue. It is a  vibrant historical mystery and crime-thriller with an A-list cast of  characters. Here are Elizabeth Tudor and her Robert Dudley in a light  you’ve seldom seen them. —Margaret George, author of Elizabeth I

“C.W. Gortner has done it again! Intrigue at the Tudor court never  looked more lethal than in his capable hands, as forbidden desires and  deadly rivalries turn sister against sister and plunge our bold hero  into a labyrinth of deceit. Full of breathtaking action, dark twists and unexpected revelations, this is an unputdownable read!” —Michelle  Moran, author of Nefertiti

“In C.W. Gortner’s skillful hands, the plots and counterplots come  to seething life, with Brendan using every ounce of his brains and  courage to protect those he loves while struggling to stay alive. . . .  Lovers of Tudor history and suspense fiction will be riveted by this  swift-paced, sexy, enthralling novel.” —Nancy Bilyeau, author of The  Crown

“Suspense, intrigue, betrayal, and deadly rivalry: what more can you ask for? From the serpentine halls of the court to the vicious back  alleys and stews of Tudor London, Gortner has brewed a swashbuckling,  perilous adventure that you simply can’t put down!” —M.J. Rose, author  of The Book of Lost Fragrances

“C.W. Gortner has an unmatched talent for bringing the past to life. The Tudor Conspiracy is historical fiction at its best: a compelling  story masterfully told, vivid characters fully drawn, and an accurate  depiction of history of the time. A novel not to be missed.” —Tasha  Alexander

Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #TudorConspiracyTour

The Tudor Conspiracy Tour Banner

Review: The Tudor Conspiracy by C.W. Gornter

the tudor conspiracy


Hunted by a shadowy foe in Bloody Mary’s court, Brendan Prescott plunges into London’s treacherous underworld to unravel a dark conspiracy that could make Elizabeth queen—or send her to her death in C.W. Gortner’s The Tudor Conspiracy

England, 1553: Harsh winter encroaches upon the realm. Mary Tudor has become queen to popular acclaim and her enemies are imprisoned in the Tower. But when she’s betrothed to Philip, Catholic prince of Spain, putting her Protestant subjects in peril, rumors of a plot to depose her swirl around the one person whom many consider to be England’s heir and only hope—the queen’s half-sister, Princess Elizabeth.

Haunted by his past, Brendan Prescott lives far from the intrigues of court. But his time of refuge comes to an end when his foe and mentor, the spymaster Cecil, brings him disquieting news that sends him on a dangerous mission. Elizabeth is held captive at court, the target of the Spanish ambassador, who seeks her demise. Obliged to return to the palace where he almost lost his life, Brendan finds himself working as a double-agent for Queen Mary herself, who orders Brendan to secure proof that will be his cherished Elizabeth’s undoing.

Plunged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a mysterious opponent who hides a terrifying secret, Brendan races against time to retrieve a cache of the princess’s private letters, even as he begins to realize that in this dark world of betrayal and deceit, where power is supreme and sister can turn against sister, nothing—and no one—is what it seems.



This sixteenth century Tudor spy thriller was absolutely captivating and superbly well crafted. I’ve never read a Tudor story quite like this one before and I was immensely impressed with the intrigue, mystery, imagery, and the portrayal of the Tudors. The character, Brendan Prescott was a wonderful and clever addition to the story. I believe I formed a little crush on him from the beginning of the story. I can only imagine how exhausting and intense it must be to be a double agent. Gortner gives you that intensity perfectly.

I was really drawn into the story and the portrayal of the characters and their plight. Here is an example of the beautiful, vivid and suspenseful imagery: “The water carried me, tumbling, down an incline. I grappled with debris, clutching at anything I could, and then I was tumbling headlong into the conduit that spilled into the river, the sky wheeling above, scattered with stars, the moon in its cradle of cloud.” Just Stunning!

His portrayal of Queen Mary is one I have not seen before. She of course is pious and zealous of her religion and is obsessed with returning her country back to the Catholic faith. But at the same time…..Gortner shows a softer ‘almost’ forgiving or empathic side to her-if you will. Maybe that is because this story takes place in the early reign of her throne.

The Tudor Conspiracy is filled with beautiful and powerful historical detail and the characters are engaging and vibrant with personality. You will be swept away and not wanting to return to our present time….I am really looking forward to more of Gortner’s spy-thrillers and I’m crossing my fingers he brings his readers lots more of these wonderful stories. I highly recommend this story and I’m giving it a five star rating.

Be on the lookout for my interview with C.W. Gortner tomorrow on Layered Pages.


Layered Pages


Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #TudorConspiracyTour

The Tudor Conspiracy Tour Banner



Interview with Author Keith Robinson

Keith Robinson


Stephanie: Keith Robinson is a writer of fantasy fiction for middle-grade readers and young adults. His ISLAND OF FOG series has received extremely positive feedback from readers of all ages including Piers Anthony (best-selling author of the Magic of Xanth series) and Writer’s Digest.

Keith is a self-employed website designer with a wife and daughter. Originally from England, he moved to the United States in 2001 where he now resides in the sticks of Chickamauga, Georgia. Apart from writing, he collects young adult and children’s books. He has a bookshelf crammed full of secondhand hardbacks of varying authors from the 1940s-1960s, in particular those he grew up with in the UK. He owns and is webmaster of, both dedicated to the great author. Visit for more.


Hello Keith, congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion! Please tell me about your book, Island of Fog.
Keith: Thank you!

A lonely, foggy island is home to eight families. Twelve-year-old Hal and his friends have always wondered what happened all those years ago on the mainland, that unseen place Out There beyond the fog, and after an astonishing discovery in the woods the children are more determined than ever to find out what their parents are hiding. But their lives are turned upside down when Abigail reveals her closely guarded secret. According to her, the children are slowly changing into monsters! Are they freaks of nature, or subjects of a sinister experiment?

Each child reacts differently to his or her unique monstrous transformation; after all, one may feel proud to be a dragon, faerie, or centaur, but who in their right mind wants to be a sadistic manticore or cowardly harpy?

ISLAND OF FOG is a story of intrigue and conspiracy. The reader follows Hal Franklin as he struggles to accept that he and his friends are something more than ordinary children, and that their parents have been covering up the truth the whole time. With their trust shaken and the unexpected arrival of a strange woman from Out There, the children hide their frightening shape shifting abilities and pretend nothing is wrong.

Stephanie: What was your inspiration for your story?


Keith: I moved with my wife from England to America in 2001, and since I worked from home building websites, I was alone in my office for much of the day with no old friends to call on. That first year was a huge adjustment, and I didn’t have a whole lot of work, so I started writing. I remember standing out on the deck one morning with a steaming cup of tea looking at the thickest fog I’d seen in a long time creeping across the lawn. There was the inspiration right there — the germ of an idea about what it would be like to grow up and live in fog without ever getting to see a blue sky, to be able to see only as far as the end of the road. (I’m not sure where the turning-into-monsters part came from!)

Island of Fog

Stephanie: What are Hal Franklin’s strengths and weaknesses?


Keith: He’s loyal and fair with an unwavering sense of what’s right and wrong. He’s also a little slow on the uptake sometimes. For the purposes of the story, he’s our eyes and ears; readers follow the adventure from his point of view throughout. Since he’s been burdened with perhaps the most monstrous of shape shifting abilities, his friends often look to him to lead, a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.

Stephanie: What genre does it fall under?


Keith: This is urban fantasy with “ordinary” children from an “ordinary” setting. Characters that we can all identify with, who happen to have as-yet-unknown abilities, end up in a world of fantasy and adventure. The book, and the entire series, is targeted to readers aged 9-12 but suitable for all ages. I would estimate that half my readers are adults!

Stephanie: Is there a message you want your readers to come away with?
Keith: No, just enjoy the story. But many readers like the fact that the eight children — who seem perfectly normal at first, with quirks and clashing personalities — come together and stand united when faced with danger. And their younger, more innocent views of the world cut right through all that grown-up political nonsense. 😉

Stephanie: How long did it take you to write your story?

Keith: The first book in the series was a long process — over six years! This was partly because I was honing my skills and writing it bit by bit, changing my mind and rewriting entire chapters while learning that plot guidelines are in fact useful. But there were two years where I hardly wrote anything at all while my wife went back to school and our daughter arrived on the scene. And there was the fact that, as a newbie, I wasn’t convinced I had anything publishable. Once I’d self-published Book 1 in 2009 and received positive feedback, my confidence was boosted. Book 2 (and subsequent books) took only 6-8 months from start to finish.

Stephanie: Who designed your book cover?


Keith: Me. As a website designer by trade, I do a lot of graphic work, so this was just another aspect I could keep to myself. I enjoy the entire process — writing, editing, preparing the e-book, designing the cover — and couldn’t imagine hiring anyone to do any part of it for me. I’m a control freak. The only thing I share is the beta reading and proofreading. This is an essential part of the production, and something I would NEVER do alone.

Stephanie: What book project are you currently working on?


Keith: Three books, actually! FRACTURED is a collaboration with Brian Clopper ( It’s a sci-fi/fantasy novel for ages 10+ and will be available for free in September. It’s a full-length novel that we want to give away to introduce readers to us and our other work. Read more about it at

Another novel I’m working on is QUINCY’S CURSE, which is in the late stages of editing and should be available later this year.

And I’m working on Book 7 of the Island of Fog series titled VALLEY OF MONSTERS (, also available later this year.

Stephanie: Will you self-publish again and where do you see this industry in five to ten years?

Keith: Yes, self-publishing is my life now. Website design is still my main source of income, but the balance is starting to shift as I sell more books and do less work. It’s a shift in the right direction. As for the self-publishing industry, there’s no doubt that it’s here to stay, but I would expect (and hope) that in the future self-publishing will be somehow more regulated to weed out those who are more interested in making a quick buck than writing something decent. I think indieBRAG is a great step in that direction, a stamp of approval from a reputable organization.

Amazon is the giant bookseller at the moment, and although Apple’s iBookstore and Barnes & Noble’s NOOK are second and third places, they don’t come anywhere close to competing. I love Amazon, but I do want other substantial avenues with which to sell my books in case Amazon suddenly decide to pull the rug out!

As for marketing, there are literally hundreds of places to list a book during a promotion but very few actually deliver readers. I would love to see more services like BookBub and BookGorilla who have an awful lot of clout for a fair price. So: less saturation, and better ways for serious authors to be noticed.


Stephanie: What do you like most about writing and what got you started?

Keith: I’m not sure how to define that. Why does anyone like doing the things they like doing? I just like writing and creating. I wrote and drew comic strips when I was younger, and although they’re terrible to look at now, there was nothing like the feeling of writing a series of stories. I was always a collector of books, too, and back in England I spent all my pocket money (allowance) on Books 1-15 of one series, Books 1-21 of another, and so on, gradually filling my shelf with all the different series with their matching spines… Something about that just makes me happy. And writing my own series is the best thing in the world.

Book 1 is hard, developing characters and story. Book 2 is also hard because you have to hope it’s as well received as the first. Book 3 is a little easier in some ways, but harder in others because it might be the final book of a series (if you’re writing a trilogy). Now that I’m writing Book 7, a lot of it just flows naturally; the characters are established, the readership by this point clearly wants more (otherwise they would have stopped reading earlier in the series), and all I have to do is focus on the story — and right now there’s plenty of it.


Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Keith: A fellow author had been approved, so I applied by submitting ISLAND OF FOG. A couple of months later, I was the proud owner of a Medallion! 🙂

Keith Robinson


A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Keith Robinson, who is the author of, Island of Fog, one of our medallion honorees at . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Island of Fog merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.




Interview with Author Betty McMahon

A Rendezvous to Die For

Stephanie: Hello Betty! Congrats on winning the B.R.A.G Medallion. I see that your book (A Rendezvous to Die For) falls under the mystery genre and I do love a good mystery. Please tell me about your story.

Betty: Photographer Cassandra Cassidy does weddings – but only to pay the rent. She’d prefer more interesting subjects. Which gets our reckless heroine in a lot of trouble. During a newspaper assignment to cover a 1830s Rendezvous reenactment, she points her camera inside a sweat lodge, clicks the shutter, and finds the body of her nemesis with a tomahawk in his loathsome head. She can’t help but think “good riddance,” but the local constabulary thinks our meddling photog is the main suspect. Soon she’s up to her f-stops searching for the real killer – with her only investigative skills camera-related.

Stephanie: What was your inspiration for your story and how long did it take you to write it?

Betty: I’d been a working journalist for many years and decided to take a Writer’s Digest course in fiction writing. My mystery book was generated out of the exercises for that class. It took me a long time to write it, several years. Writing fiction is different from journalism and I spent a long time learning how – through writing workshops, tons of books about fiction writing, and lots of practice. It was the equivalent of another college degree!

Stephanie: Please tell me a little about your character, Cassandra Cassidy. How would you describe her?

Betty: She’s talented and independent, a little bit sassy, sometimes naïve and always impulsive.

Stephanie: Is this your first published story?

Betty: This is my first published novel. I won several award for short stories I entered in contests. I’ve been “publishing” for many years in newspapers and magazines.

Stephanie: What got you started in writing mystery?

Betty: The Writer’s Digest class exercises asked students to develop characters and a plot. In the process, I realized I had a mystery going and went with it. I’ve always read mysteries so it was a natural progression.

Stephanie: What is most challenging about writing in this genre?

Betty: Making sure you tie up all the details – and making sure it’s not easy to determine just who the villain is.

Stephanie: What’s up next for you?

Betty: Cassandra’s next adventure is set in New Mexico. I have it almost written and hope to publish it this fall. I still need to go through the editing/rewriting process.

Stephanie: What advice would you give to an aspiring author who wants to write mystery?

Betty: Most important – READ a lot of mysteries.

Stephanie: What is the one thing that sets your book apart from others?

Betty: Putting mystery’s new female sleuth Cassandra Cassidy in a setting at a 1830s Rendezvous reenactment is unique.

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Betty: From surfing the Internet to find reviewers for my Rendezvous book.

Stephanie: Thank you, Betty!

 betty M

I’ve worn many hats in my 30-year career as a writer — newspaper reporter, newspaper editor, magazine editor, copywriter, marketing communications specialist — and now, finally, author.

Here’s what made such a career possible:  a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Minnesota in 1982, and then lots of persistence to make that degree work for me. It had to work because I love writing and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

A RENDEZVOUS TO DIE FOR grew out of the intersection of my wide-ranging interests and my writing experience. Before spinning this mystery novel, I was an award-winning short story writer, and also won numerous awards in the field of journalism. A RENDEZVOUS TO DIE FOR actually became a finalist in mystery-writing contests.

I love the idea that A RENDEZVOUS TO DIE FOR takes place in a small Minnesota town and centers around the fictional Prairie River Trappers’ Rendezvous, a weekend reenactment festival involving local citizens and Indians from the nearby reservation. It was a great setup, just asking for a mystery story.

I’m still writing (do writers ever stop writing?) and have some scenes sketched out for Cassandra’s next adventure.


A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Betty McMahon, who is the author of, A Rendezvous to Die For, one of our medallion honorees at . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, A Rendezvous to Die For merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.



Interview with Author Phillip Winberry

Phillip Winberry

Stephanie: Phillip, it is a pleasure to be interviewing you! Congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion for your novel, “Reno Splits.” What an interesting title! Please tell me a little about your story.


Phillip: Thanks for having me as your guest, Stephanie. Winning the BRAG Medallion for Reno Splits is a great honor, a surprise to say the least. I’m glad you like the title. It’s meant to convey the essence of the divorce ranch era that prevailed in the mid twentieth century in a place that styled itself as the ‘Biggest Little City in the World.’ During a period of about 35 years (from 1931 to the mid 1960s) Reno was a mecca for divorce seeking women, particularly eastern socialites and Hollywood starlets wanting a quick and easy way to split the sheets of an unhappy marriage.


While establishing the six weeks residency required by the state of Nevada before being granted their independence, many of the split-seekers lived a luxurious and pampered lifestyle sampling Reno’s dazzling nightlife, high-stakes gambling, and majestic scenery.  When New   York lawyer Sam Carr’s twin sister, Sally, disappeared on the day she was scheduled to receive her divorce and later is found dead in the desert, Sam travels west to track down her killer. In the process he confronts his own troubled past and jeopardizes lives as he moves closer to uncovering a shocking secret.


During the forty-two days of their Nevada hiatus many of the split-seekers lived on dude ranches, exclusive enclaves the locals call “divorce ranches.” Those rustic establishments catered to their guests’ every need, something Sam quickly realized when his search began peeling back the seamy layers of Reno’s unique Wild West culture. To his astonishment he learned Sally had been an enthusiastic consumer of that way of life; or at least had been until she fell in love with a man whose identity no one seems to know—or is willing to reveal.


Sam’s hunt for Sally’s murderer becomes more complicated when he discovers that his fiancée before the war, a woman he’s searched for since returning home from Europe, fled to Reno after he broke off their engagement. She now helps run the divorce ranch where Sally stayed.


Struggling to come to grips with his feelings about rediscovering the woman he loves, Sam plunges ahead with his pursuit of Sally’s killer. Frustrated by the peculiarities of the Reno lifestyle, he soon stumbles into the sights of a madman, leaving him with only one choice—succeed in his quest or die.


Reno Splits


Stephanie: What inspired you to write this story? Was there research involved?


Phillip: One afternoon several years ago, close to the time my forty-year-long legal career was starting to wind down, I found myself sitting in my ophthalmologist’s office next to a stack of long out-of-date magazines.  By chance I picked up a copy of Smithsonian and thumbed its well-worn pages until my eyes settled on a two-page spread about the now extinct Nevada divorce ranch industry.  I smiled at what I was reading, not only because it brought back memories of a simpler time of life, but also because the story was planting a seed in my mind. What if I wrote a murder mystery centered around life on a divorce ranch? That would give me something to do with my newly found extra time.


Within weeks, as the first images of what such a story might include flooded my imagination, I found myself on an airplane to Reno to start the research process.  Growing up in the central valley of California during the 1950s, I had a vague recollection of hearing adults talk about the easy quickie-divorce process available just across the Sierra Nevada mountains, but had little knowledge of what a divorce ranch was, and much less about the people who took advantage of the opportunity. That trip, the first of three, was exciting and educational.  It opened my eyes to a slice of American history not known to many people other than those who lived it. During those trips, with considerable assistance from the staff of the Nevada State Historical Society, I was able to pull together enough material to validate going forward with the now fully germinating ideas that were spouting in my mind.


Stephanie: Were there any challenges along the way and how long did it take to write?


Phillip: Writing Reno Splits involved an exhaustive research process that took place over a period of almost eighteen months. The actual writing of the story took less almost twelve months with another six months devoted to editing and rewriting.


The main challenge I faced during the entire creative process was the fear I was writing a story that would not find an audience. The concept of what a divorce was and what went on there fascinated me. Would it intrigue others?  That fear dogged me until my last visit research to Reno and a side excursion to the Santa RosaMountains northwest of the town of Winnemucca where the novel’s concluding scenes occurred. Back home after that trip I felt confident I had a tale that others would enjoy.


Stephanie: What is your favorite scene in,” Reno Splits”?


Phillip: That’s a tough question, because I have several. But, if I have to make the hard choice, I opt for Chapter One. That’s the chapter in which the actual murder takes place.  I wrote it not just to hook readers, but also to push them to like and identify with the young woman being murdered so that they can better understand what drives the other characters in the book to act and react in the manner they do throughout the rest of the story.


Stephanie: Who designed your book cover?


Phillip: I used a company called BookBaby to convert my manuscript into the various eBook formats. The BookBaby Design Studio created the cover.


Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?


Phillip: Most internet bookstores including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBookstore, eBookPie, Kobo, etc.


Stephanie: Are you currently working on another book project?


Phillip: Yes. I’m in the final stages of editing my next eBook, Falling from the Sky, a suspense novel set in 1944 and 1947 England. The hero of the story is young American B-17 bomber pilot Alex Kent.  During the war when Alex isn’t struggling to survive bombing raids in the skies over Germany he busies himself pursuing a conundrum with even greater danger: uncovering the lost heritage of William Kent, his seventh great-grandfather. Alex knows nothing about William’s life prior to his arrival in 1740 colonial Virginia as an eleven-year-old indentured servant.  Kent family folklore suggests William might have been a member of the English aristocracy. Over the generations several Kent family members tried to prove that belief.  None succeeded.  Some died trying.


On leave in war torn London from his bombing duties, Alex meets Lady Sarah Perkins, fiancée of the Duke of Wyeford’s only son.  Alex and Sarah soon realize they are attracted to one another and she agrees to help him with his quest for William’s heritage.


When the duke learns of their collaboration, he understands Alex’s quest poses a threat to the conspiracy of silence concocted two hundred years earlier to deny William his birthright.  Discovery of the conspiracy would topple the Wyeford dynasty. The duke vows to take whatever actions are necessary to see that never happens. Danger and tension escalate as Alex’s quest barrels toward a conclusion that will change lives forever.


I’m excited to see reader’s reactions to Alex’s story because I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.


Falling from the Sky


Stephanie: When do your best ideas for stories come to you?


Phillip: Inspiration and ideas come from many places. I told you earlier in this interview about how I came to write Reno Splits. Falling from the Sky is the product of my discovering a minuscule reference to a distant relative when I was doing some family genealogy research a few years ago.  I let my imagination run wild with that minor detail and Alex Kent’s story was the result. The idea for my next novel comes from closer to home.  The story will be set on an island at the northern end of Puget Sound.  I live on such an island.  The tentative title of the story is Foxglove. Foxglove grows in the wild on my island.  Over the years, it’s been used for medicinal purposes. It has also been used as a murder weapon.  Put all of that together and you have the making of a great mystery.


Stephanie: What are the hardest things about writing?


Phillip: For me the hardest part is knowing when to stop the research and start the actual writing. The internet is a vast source of knowledge, but it can also capture you and keep you thinking the next discovery is just around the corner.


Stephanie: How did you discover IndieBRAG?


Phillip: I “discovered” IndieBRAG while doing an internet search on the subject of marketing indie books.  That proved to be a great find because IndieBRAG provides priceless assistance to writers like me who are seeking validation as well as a respected entity to help promote their stories. And, of course, as a result I’ve gotten to meet you.  Thank you for this opportunity to introduce me and my stories to your audience.


Stephanie: Thank you, Phillip!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Phillip Winberry , who is the author of, Reno Splits, one of our medallion honoree’s at . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Reno Spilts merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Review: The Reputed Wife by Jo Ann Butler

The Reputed Wife

Set in 17th century Northeast, primarily in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, The Reputed Wife is the story of Goodwife Herodias “Herod” Gardner a/k/a Hicks and her struggle to free herself from the bonds of a rash marriage to John Hicks. After Hicks beats her to within an inch of her life, Herod finds solace, love, and security in George Gardner, but in the process loses the children that she had with Hicks. It is the story of redemption and her efforts to vindicate herself in a patriarchal puritanical world.

The Reputed Wife is also the story of Rhode Island’s developing, and at times rocky, relationship with neighboring areas. A turf war between the governors over their fiefdoms is in progress at the start of the novel and continues throughout. Complicating this is that Rhode Island is viewed as an unruly step child that no one wants because it befriends Quakers and any others who have the audacity to call attention and protest against abuses, whether leveled by Puritans, government, or individuals seeking vengeance.


Butler’s writing is easy to get into, though at times, it is hard to tell who is speaking, particularly early on when the reader does not have the necessary background. In spite of this, the story resonated with me; I could identify with Herod in her quest to determine what she wanted out of life. In her time, women’s options were limited and as a result she finds her voice, in some rather painful ways. This pain is not borne in vain, however. Herod finds that the simple good life of home and hearth can be compelling, testimony, maybe more so than the vocal martyrdom engaged in by her friend, Mary Dyer and other Quakers. Butler also brings out through Herod’s struggle with recognizing when God has spoken that sometimes a quiet faith can be as powerful as fire and brimstone oratory.


In terms of the structure, I have no complaints, though I would have liked to have had the ending a bit more fleshed out. Herod’s story ended too quickly. I envisioned more detail of the understated tug of war for Herod’s attention and heart that was occurring between George Gardner and John Porter by bringing this conflict out in the open between Herod and Porter and then by giving the reader what my husband calls a snail’s eye view of Herod’s decision to resolve to make amends with Gardner and reclaim her life with him and their children.


All in all, The Reputed Wife was excellent and I learned a lot. If Goodreads allowed partial stars, I would have given the novel a 4.75.


A Layered Pages Review.

By Susan Berry


Interview with author Barbara Dzikowski

Stephanie: I would like to introduce Barbara Dzikowski. Winner of the BRAG Medallion. Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost is Barbara J. Dzikowski’s debut novel. She earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy and a graduate degree in counseling from Indiana University. These areas of study fueled her desire to create fiction that closely examines the human heart and its complex search for love and meaning. Fascinated by the passion, idealism, and lost hope of the 1960s, she is putting the finishing touches on her second novel, Losing Is Still Ours, about two families struggling with the changes and uncertainties of that decade, with a particular focus on the cataclysmic year of 1968. She is also hard at work on her third novel, which depicts a family’s personal struggle while caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.

I have been so intrigued about your story, “Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost.” Please tell me a little about it.

Barbara D.

Barbara: Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost is a story about coming of age during the tumultuous 1960s. Although it begins as a “look back” from an adult’s perspective, at its heart, it’s a story about Andi Powell, a young, lonely, eleven-year-old girl, who’s dealing with great fear and change. To begin with, she’s lost both her parents in a car accident, and she’s being raised by a grieving grandmother obsessed with her own daughter’s death. Andi harbors many fears and anxieties about death, dying, and what’s happened to her parents.

Over the 100-year history of her school, two sixth graders have purportedly seen Lincoln’s ghost in the school auditorium.  When Andi prays on her dead mother’s rosary to be the next sixth grader to encounter Lincoln’s ghost as “living” proof of an afterlife, a complex chain of events is set into motion, including the sudden appearance of a new boy at school, John Malone, who becomes her first love and who’s harboring a horrific secret—and mysterious moaning coming from the dark stage after school. While Andi desperately seeks answers to life’s most difficult questions, an unlikely new friend emerges—a mystical bait shop owner named Ezra, who seems to have all the answers she’s looking for.

Stephanie: You have come up with a fantastic title and it truly stands out. How does it tie into the story?

Barbara: Abraham Lincoln is that iconic hero that everyone can relate to—a symbol of honesty and truth—and studying the life of Abraham Lincoln is a part of most American childhoods.  I know it certainly was a big part of mine. And so are good old fashioned ghost stories!

As I was first beginning to envision the outline for this book, I came across some very intriguing stories about Lincoln’s ghost. I was so captivated by them that I wanted to weave them into the story.  The Lincoln image seemed like a great hook for a tale about coming of age during a very turbulent time in our nation’s history. In Andi’s case, her search for Lincoln’s ghost becomes her personal search for truth and meaning.

Stephanie: I really like the premise of your story and how clever you tied in your title. Who designed your book cover?

Barbara: I’m so glad you asked that—I think having the freedom to choose your own cover image is one of the greatest things about being an indie author! It’s like putting icing on your cake—part of the complete package. It’s so integral to the overall message you’re trying to convey and the type of readers you’re hoping to attract. I know a lot of my friends choose what books they’re going to read simply based on the cover design. I poured through dozens and dozens of stock images and nothing seemed quite right, until I finally discovered this particular image, which I found very compelling. I immediately knew it was the right one!

Searching for  Lincoln's ghost

Stephanie: I believe the cover and title is so important in a reader choosing a book to read. First impressions are reality when selecting a read.

What genre does your story fall under?

Barbara: That’s a great question, because I’m still not quite sure! Mainly, I describe it as a coming-of-age novel for young adults. I think that examining hard social issues and human nature through the painfully honest, innocent and impressionable lens of childhood can be powerful, and that’s exactly what many YA novels are able to accomplish. However, most of my readers have been adults who classify it more as historical fiction.

Stephanie: It does seem to have a historical feel to it.

Is there a character you connect to? And were there any challenges writing this story?

Barbara: Absolutely I relate most directly to Andi, but I think that there are pieces of every writer in every character that they create. The greatest challenge of writing this story was to tie all the disparate themes together in a logical, cohesive whole. I wanted to use the issue of segregation back in the 1960s to connect with current social issues that we’re experiencing today.

Stephanie: Could you please tell me a little about Andi Powell’s grandmother and why she is so obsessed with death? And how that might affect Andi?

Barbara: Andi’s grandmother lost her daughter very suddenly, in an automobile accident. To lose a child has to be the most excruciating pain imaginable. And sudden death is very difficult to process. The cruel combination left Andi’s grandmother stuck in her own grief.

I think that when we lose someone we deeply love for the first time, we really start pondering whether or not there is a life beyond this one. That’s exactly the impact that her grandmother’s prolonged grief had on Andi Powell.

Stephanie: That is really profound.  

Why did you chose the 1960’s as your time period?

Barbara: The 1960s fascinate me to no end! To me, it was a unique time in our nation’s history, when all the best and brightest dreams of youth—love over hate, peace over war—were all being birthed into a changing reality. It was a time of wild idealism, but also of great change, unrest, and turmoil. And great fear.

I felt that this era was a perfect setting to tell Andi’s story. A lot of bad things happen because of fear. Hatred arises from fear. And I wanted to use that period of life to explore the motivations of why people hurt other people, how we first learn fear and prejudice. The underlying message of this book is the power of the individual to make choices: how are WE going to respond to people or situations we fear or don’t understand?

The 1960s was a time when society was still very much segregated, but things were rapidly changing. Andi’s school is still experiencing segregation, with the white kids living in their neighborhood on one side of the school, and the black kids living on the other. Andi’s search for Lincoln’s ghost gives her the daring to cross over to the “forbidden side” of her neighborhood.

Stephanie: What are some of the historical aspects to your story?

I really wanted to capture what it felt like to grow up in the 1960s – the sights, smells, sounds of that era. The candy we ate. The paddlings that happened at school. The way teachers looked, dressed and acted back then, and the students. It was definitely a different era than the way children are raised today.

Stephanie: How long did it take to write, Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost?

Barbara: I researched, outlined and “incubated” for about six months before I actually started writing. That’s pretty typical of my style—but I think that the “gestation” period is really a critical stage of the writing process. At least it is for me. The actual writing took around six months, with about a year’s worth of revisions after that.

Stephanie: What is your next book project?

Barbara: Actually, I’ve got two novels in the offing. Losing Is Still Ours is an historical novel that examines the nature of love through the story of two families struggling with the changes and uncertainties of the 1960s, with a particular focus on the cataclysmic year of 1968. The second novel, which is at the editors as we speak, is a sequel to that book, depicting a family’s transformative journey while caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.

Stephanie:  How did you discover indieBRAG?

Barbara: I first discovered indieBRAG through Goodreads, and what an awesome and phenomenal discovery it was! And very forward thinking too, I might add. The indie author is here to stay, but it’s definitely not an easy road, particularly for fiction. IndieBRAG encourages and supports independent authors to strive for quality. I deeply appreciate their mission and positive support.

Author’s link:

Stephanie: Barbara, thank you for chatting with me today!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Barbara Dzikowski , who is the author of, Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost, one of our medallion honoree’s at . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

Review: The Prodigal Son by Anna Belfrage

The Prodigal Son

He risks everything for his faith – but will he be able to pay the price? Safely returned from an involuntary stay on a plantation in Virginia, Matthew Graham finds the Scottish Lowlands torn asunder by religious strife. His Restored Majesty, Charles II, requires all his subjects to swear fealty to him and the Church of England, riding roughshod over any opposition. In Ayrshire, people close ranks around their evicted Presbyterian ministers. But disobedience comes at a heavy price and Alex becomes increasingly more nervous as to what her Matthew is risking by his support of the clandestine ministers – foremost amongst them the charismatic Sandy Peden. Privately, Alex considers Sandy an enervating fanatic and all this religious fervour is totally incomprehensible to her. So when Matthew repeatedly sets his faith and ministers before his own safety he puts their marriage under severe strain. The situation is further complicated by the presence of Ian, the son Matthew was cruelly duped into disowning several years ago. Now Matthew wants Ian back and Alex isn’t entirely sure this is a good thing. Things are brought to a head when Matthew places all their lives in the balance to save his dear preacher from the dragoons. How much is Matthew willing to risk? How much will he ultimately lose? The Prodigal Son is the third in Anna Belfrage’s historical time slip series, which includes the titles The Rip in the Veil and Like Chaff in the Wind.


My review:

I really admire Belfrage’s use of voice and language. She makes it so that the characters are well developed and thought provoking. And I admire how her characters interact with each other and does a good job expressing their emotions. Her dialog is also engaging and flows really well.

She gives wonderful details of the domestic life of the time the story is written in and details of what they had to endure in the regards to the government’s (Charles ll of England) unreasonable rule. There were laws or should I say-Charles ll required his subjects to conform to the Church of England- on how they were to worship which as you know made it extremely difficult on the people. And that is putting it mildly.

Mathew Graham has risked much to support and protect his minister, Sandy Peden. And his family has suffered for that. I did not always agree with him and was often times frustrated with the decisions he was making. But having said that, he is one of my favorite characters in this story. I believe Mathew truly loves his family and has adjusted quite well to the fact that his wife-Alex-is from the future. I’m sure he is more tolerate to her ideas and beliefs than what most men during that time would have been.

Sandy Peden is a pious and fanatical minister who I actually enjoyed reading about in this story. He is opinionated- thinks women have their place and feels Mathew should put his wife in that place and has no problem telling him so. It is obvious he does not approve of her one bit. But she certainly matched wit for wit with Sandy. I do admire how Sandy is a survivor and he stands by what he believes and does not give into being told how he is to worship and what organized faith he is lawfully suppose too follow. Very entertaining….he adds a lot to this story.

Alex is a strong woman who is from the future and I believe her knowledge has really helped her and yet sometimes it was a hindrance for her, I think. I do however think she adapted quite well in the 17th century for someone being so forward thinking and modern of course. She does have a stubborn streak to her but so does her husband. I really enjoyed seeing the way they interacted with each other. Their relationship is really dynamic. And I do admire their strong sense of family and values. Alex does something in this story that I truly respect her for. But I cannot tell you! You will just have to read the book to find out!

I really have enjoyed this series so far and I look forward to continuing to read them! The Graham family are definitely among my favorite families to read about! I am giving this story a four and a half star rating and I highly recommend this whole series to people who are looking for a quality written time slip.



Layered Pages


About the Author

anna belfrage


I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favorite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.

I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.

For more information, please visit Anna Belfrage’s WEBSITE.

Layered Pages latest interview with Anna Befrage :

Links to where you can purchase her stories:

Interview with Author Mona Rodriguez

Forty years in a day book cover

Hello Mona! I read Forty Years In A Day and was absolutely intrigued with your story. Could you please tell your audience about your book?

Mona: Thank you, Stephanie, for hosting us today. It’s a pleasure. Our story begins in Italy, 1900. After years of torment and neglect, Victoria and her four small children immigrate to Hell’s Kitchen, New York, to escape her alcoholic, abusive husband. On the day they leave, he tragically dies, but she does not learn of his death for several years—a secret that puts many lives on hold.

Quickly, they realize America’s streets are not paved with gold, and the limits of human faith and stamina are tested time and time again. Poverty, illness, death, kidnapping, and the reign of organized crime are just some of the crosses they bear.

Victoria’s eldest son, Vincenzo, is the sole surviving member of the family and shares a gut-wrenching account of their lives with his daughter during a visit to Ellis Island on his ninetieth birthday. He explains how the lives of he and his siblings have been secretly intertwined with an infamous Irish mob boss and ends his unsettling disclosure with a monumental request that leaves Clare speechless.

The story takes the Montanaro family through several decades, providing the reader an opportunity to stand in the shoes of a past generation and walk in search of their hopes and dreams. It is layered with the struggles and successes of each family member, illuminating the fact that human emotions have been the same throughout generations; the difference is how people are molded and maneuvered by the times and their situations.

Stephanie: Is this story based on anyone you know or who you have come across?

Mona: The characters are based on family members, both deceased and living. I’ve had this particular story churning in my head for many years, sparked by the stories of my family’s past. Forty Years In A Day begins in 1900 and follows the incredible journey of a young mother and her four children as they escape from Italy into the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. That woman was my grandmother. The story ends with a woman who knows the father of her children is living a double life with another, but she loves him so much that she overlooks the arrangement rather than forfeit the man. Those were my parents. In between are the stories that I had heard from family members, intertwined with a twist of fiction and sensationalism to have some fun.


Stephanie:  Were there any challenges you faced while writing this story?

Mona: There were many challenges that I had faced undertaking this project. First and foremost, I had the idea of the story in my head before I had the skills to share it. I’m a mathematician and an environmentalist so this challenged the other side of my brain. While writing is something I always admired, to me, the passion was in the story and the writing was the vessel to get it told.

Second, people ask me how much of our book is realistic; especially family members who want to know if this is the actual story of what had happened. They try to draw a parallel between family members’ personalities and our characters’ personalities. The truth is that no one can totally piece together that puzzle of tales; there are parts to every family’s story that were pushed under the rug for fear it would tarnish the family’s reputation. The elders think they are doing their family justice by taking some of the more scandalous stories with them to the grave. When, as a writer, you realize all this, you are forced to conjure your own conclusions from the pieces of stories that you gather.

Third, I coauthored the book with my cousin Dianne Vigorito. She gave me the support and validation I needed to pursue this project. I was lucky to find a family member to work with, and she had an immediate interest in the idea. She grew up hearing the same crazy stories, some of which were almost unbelievable, that were told by our ancestors.  Working with another has taught me the power of more than one and the art of compromise.

Stephanie: Was there a particular scene you felt difficult to write?

Mona: The story of Vinny and Ava represents my parent’s story and the story that resonates closest to my heart. When they were alive, I had discovered secrets about their past that they didn’t want my siblings and me to know. When they died, I felt more compelled to delve into their past, but no one could (or would) tell me the whole story. I realized that I should have asked more questions when they were alive, been more adamant to learn the truth. I questioned aunts and uncles, but I sensed there were bits of their lives, and everyone’s in our story, that would never be unearthed. The story of Vinny and Ava is conjured from the pieces of stories I had put together, and my interpretation, especially emotionally, of what had happened between my parents.

Stephanie: What was the inspiration for your story?

Mona: We don’t realize what our ancestors went through to make life better for themselves and for us. What they faced was incredible—the living conditions, poverty, disease—and their work ethic was admirable. Although I had started with the intention of writing a story about my father’s family, it turned into a novel. There was so much more I wanted people to know about this fascinating era.


Stephanie How long did it take to write, Forty Years In A Day?

Mona: I started by writing down the stories I had heard and interviewing the elders that were still alive. It took seven years—researching, attending seminars, workshops, conferences, and reading everything from books on how to write dialogue to reading mainstream fiction and rereading classics. I also studied the history and lifestyles of the era.  Dianne and I worked on our own, and we also worked together several days a week, collaborating, rewriting, and editing. I had a story to tell and I knew it had to be told.


Stephanie: You did a fantastic job with your research. It’s truly a beautiful and thought provoking story. And I believe it’s written in such a way that the story transcends you into that period and gives you a wonderful picture of the human conditions.  


Is there a sentiment you hope readers come away with after reading your story?

Mona: Forty Years In A Day is more than an immigration story about an Italian family; it epitomizes the immigration experience and coming to America in the early 1900s. It reignites curiosity and admiration for what our ancestors had endured and accomplished to make our lives better. There are many themes that run throughout the story—the loss and rebound of hope, honesty, perseverance, forgiveness, survival, the list goes on—but I think the main theme is the importance of family. Forty Years In A Day also reminds us that every family has hidden secrets and that the choices one person makes echoes through generations.

Stephanie: The different themes in your story was well written and I felt that some of them hit home with me. Your story has given me a lot to think about. Especially about family and relationships.


Is there a character that you feel connected to in any way?

Mona: I have a connection to all the characters, but the one I admire the most is Victoria. She was an amazing woman who wanted to do the right thing for her children. Without giving away the story, I often wonder how she summoned the strength to do what she did, and if I would have been so courageous. She did it not so much for herself, but for her children. She was the ultimate mother.

Stephanie: I admired Victoria as well. She certainly pulled at my heart strings. What book project is up next for both?

Mona: There are six cousins at the end of our story. The idea is to take that next generation into the next era.

Stephanie: Ooo…I’m really looking forward to reading your next book! What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Mona: Read the works of authors you enjoy and respect, study and practice the craft, and try to develop a personal style and formula for success.  When reading a diverse collection of books, you take away, along with the story, a little of each author’s craft.

Thank you, Mona!

About the Authors

Mona & Dianne


Mona Rodriguez coauthored Forty Years in a Day with her cousin Dianne Vigorito.
Throughout their lives, they had heard many stories from family members that
were fascinating, sometimes even unbelievable, and decided to piece together
the puzzle of tales. Through research and interviews, their goal was to create
a fictional story that follows a family through several decades, providing the
reader an opportunity to stand in the shoes of a past generation and walk in
search of their hopes and dreams. What they realize in the process is that
human emotions have been the same throughout generations – the difference is
how people are molded and maneuvered by the times and their situations.

Mona Rodriguez has her MS in environmental Management from Montclair State
University. She is presently a trustee on the board of directors of a nonprofit
foundation created to benefit a local public library and community. She lives
with their husband in New Jersey, and they have two grown sons.

For more information, please visit the official website.


forty years in  a day tour banner

Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #FortyYearsTour