Interview with Author Richard Denning

richard_denning_high_res

Richard Denning lives with his wife and two children in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands of England where he works as a General Practitioner (family doctor).

Away from his medical practice he is a writer of historical fiction and fantasy with a special interest in the early Anglo Saxon period. He owns a sizeable collection of Anglo-Saxon replica items which he takes to school visits and local history societies. Two of his books are BRAG medallion honourees: The Last Seal and The Amber Treasure.

A keen player of board games and other games he is one of the directors of UK Games Expo (the UK’s largest hobby games convention). He is also a board game designer and his first Board Game ‘The Great Fire on London 1666’ was published by Medusa Games and Prime Games in October 2010.

Stephanie: Richard I am delighted to be chatting with you today about your book, The Amber Treasure. Your story is one of the best I have read this year. I am so intrigued with the setting and period of your story and how complex your characters are and the vivid historical detail you give…

The Amber Treasure

597 A.D. Treachery in Dark Ages Northumbria

Cerdic is the nephew of a great warrior who died a hero of the Anglo-Saxon country of Deira. Growing up in a quiet village, he dreams of the glories of battle and of one day writing his name into the sagas. He experiences the true horrors of war, however, when his home is attacked, his sister kidnapped, his family betrayed and his uncle’s legendary sword stolen.

Cerdic is thrown into the struggles that will determine the future of 6th century Britain and must show courageous leadership and overcome treachery, to save his kingdom, rescue his sister and return home with his uncle’s s sword.

Richard: You are very kind with your comments. The point I try and make when I give talks on this period is that these people are not just dusty old names on manuscripts. They are not just bones in the ground. These folk lived their lives feeling similar fears, joys and passions that we feel today. The allies and the enemies may vary, the politics is different but the fundamentals remain the same. As I say in the book, you can tell they lived because the world changed whilst they were alive.

Stephanie: First, I would like to ask you what interest you the most about 6th Century Northumbria and the research that went involved for your story.

Richard: Ah well this period I label “the darkest years of the dark ages” because we are right in the middle of an absence of documentation. There is so little written down. What we have comes from no more than half a dozen documents over three centuries. Yet these years were the birth pangs of the British nations. It was these centuries from which England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales emerge into documented history. That fascinates me. That period took Briton from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Era of Alfred the Great and the Viking era and it forged much of what was the basis of the British races. I wanted to help tell that story.

Stephanie: Is Cerdic and his family fictional or were they real?

Richard: No, Cerdic is fictional as is his family. There are the lens through which we see the world inhabited by real characters. Aelle, Aethelric, Aethelfrith, Owain, Urien, Annerin the poet (who is mentioned here but we meet properly in Princes in Exile) and Aelle’s other children Acha and Edwin are all real. Cerdic is actually a British/Celtic name not a Saxon one. Why is he called that? Well maybe we will find out one day.

Stephanie: Is the Legendary Sword mentioned in your book real?

Richard: No but it is modelled on swords that were. The Anglo-Saxons believed in the power of swords. Tolkien years later took this concept when he created swords like Narsil, Flame of the West (Elendil’s and later Aragon’s sword). There are records of swords considered so powerful, so potent that they were “killed” by bending and distorting them before burial. Recently one was dug up which is strongly believed to be that of Ida, the first Bernician King who led his people off the boats and into Lindisfarne (now Holy island). He carved out the beginning of a nation there armed with a blade. Such a blade could never be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. So it was destroyed before burial with the great king.

Life in AD 600/Sword Demo to Students
Life in AD 600/Sword Demo to Students

Stephanie: What are Cerdic’s weaknesses and strengths?

Richard: Cerdic is deeply honourable and courageous and has a belief that somehow, somewhere out there, some fate or purpose e divinity is guiding his journey. I guess I hope that is true of all of us. His failing might be like, a bit like me, he perhaps is a too trusting at times and sometimes too likely to give people a chance when all the evidence runs contrary.

Stephanie: Will you please describe one for the battle scenes in your story?

Richard: The climactic battle of the book is the Battle of Catraeth. It is believed to have occurred in the 590s – maybe 597 as I placed it. This was one of the last chances for the British Kingdoms (the Welsh) to defeat the incoming Anglo-Saxons (the English) east of the Pennine mountains. At the time the British Kingdoms were still powerful and in possession of the last of the Roman style Cavalry. Battle in this period was between shield walls as it would be through to Hastings. It was brutal, close combat where heroism, strength and courage were paramount. It would have been all noise and blood and terror. That cavalry I mentioned was used in this battle and would have been terrifying.

Stephanie: There are a few places/areas that I was intrigued and would like to know more about. Catraeth-which you mention above- particularly stood out to me. What is it called now and where is it located?

Richard: Possibly Catterick in Yorkshire. There is some debate about it. The battle only really comes up in Y-Goddodin a Welsh Poem missed out of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle but that may be because the ASC is very south centric. This poem was written by Annerin a welsh poet who was present at the battle and later created once of the master pieces of the era in a poem about the battle. It described the Goddodin cavalry – from the region about Edinburgh and its fate.

Life in AD 600/Armour Demo to students
Life in AD 600/Armour Demo to students

Stephanie: Ah. It is really interesting. It keeps coming to mind and what a battle scene! I could see it being in Yorkshire and there definitely is a mysterious feel to the place when mentioned in your story.

Richard: There are SOME theories about it being elsewhere but the idea of it being at Stanwick Camp north of Catterick (an old Bronze Age fortress I believe which I visited) has long been postulated and seems to work well

Stephanie: I agree and I can’t see it being elsewhere having read your story, that is… I wish I could visit an old Bronze Age fortress! That is so fascinating.

Richard: Actually one or two mere miles from my house – one in a park we go to, now mostly covered with trees. The Britons liked there hill forts. They mostly abandoned them when the Romans were here but on many cases reopened them in the post Roman period. Thus the Anglo-Saxons would have encountered them in some cases not long abandoned or even still lived in.

Stephanie: How neat! Do you see any stone or building remains in the park? Or are there markers to mark where the fort might have stood? For those who don’t know, could you please tell how long the Romans were in that area?

Richard: Most of Britain is littered with Bronze Age hill forts. Most are mere marks in the earth. Some more obvious. The best preserved is Maiden Castle in the South and the Wrekin not far from where I live in the Midlands. They did not build in stone. Earth banks and ditches were topped with wooden palisades. Now the Romans DID build in stone and again there are many forts and temples still to be seen – only the foundations mind you – and of cause the mighty Hadrian’s Wall. The Romans first tried a raid in Julius Casers time but it was in the 70’s AD and there after that they came to stay. They withdrew in the early 5th century. So there were here for 300 years. During this time the Romans and the British blended into a Romano-British race.

Life in AD 600/Shieldwall Demo with Students
Life in AD 600/Shieldwall Demo with Students

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

Richard: I started writing the Northern Crown series 15 years ago and published The Amber Treasure in 2009. So that book took ten years. Books since have got quicker but I needed to find out about the world first.

Stephanie: What was the writing process for Amber Treasure?

Richard: I was 32 years old and had taken a day off work. I needed thinking time. I am a GP (Family doctor) and at time that job can be a bit grim and demanding. I drove to Bosworth where Richard III died. I had no plan in mind but as I drove I thought. We had restructured the practice lately at that point and I had a bit more free time. Now apart from playing more board games – a passion of mine – I had an urge to write. But what, what about? For years I had been reading historical fiction with a passion. Bernard Cornwell in particular is a hero of mine (and a nice guy actually – I have met him twice briefly). I eventually realized that almost no one had written much about the Saxon period. (This was before Cornwell’s own awesome Viking era books). So I started reading … and reading about the Saxon period. (I now have a LOT of books about this period.) I came across the story of the Kingdom of Nothumbria and how it came to be. I realized then that this story needed to be told. Actually I originally called it “the Northern Crown” and it originally told Cerdic’s (and Northumbria’s) story from 597 to 616. Later I realized there was a whole series here and so the third book now has reached 604. The events of 616 are 2 or maybe 3 books away.

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

Richard: Lack of reliable information. We know almost nothing of any detail at all of this period. Literally a decade can go by with NO documentation. An awful lot of guess work and improvisation is needed to construct a plausible version of history.

Stephanie: What are you currently working on now?

Richard: I am editing the third of my Hourglass Institute young adult Time Travel stories, Today’s Sacrifice. I am also starting the 4th Northern Crown book. Off to Wales on a bit of a field trip soon to check out the area. I do like to physically go places where a book is set if at all possible. There is something inspiring about standing where history happened and thinking about what occurred. It also helps a lot getting the lay of the land right.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Richard: It is available in paperback via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, WH Smiths etc websites. Most book shops can order it in for you. It is also out in e-book form and mostly for FREE on Kindle, Nook, Apple and pretty much all e-book sites.

Stephanie: Thank you, Richard for this wonderful chat and I’m looking forward to reading and chatting with you about the next book in your trilogy, Child of Loki, soon!

Richard: Many thanks to you. You are doing a great job helping Indie authors get some recognition. I am glad you enjoyed the period of The Amber Treasure.

 

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Merle R. Saferstein

Room 732

Stephanie: Hello, Merle! Congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion and thank you for chatting with me today about your medallion book, Room 732. Before we begin talking about your book, tell me how you discovered indieBRAG.

Merle: Thanks, Stephanie. I learned about IndieBRAG from a friend of mine who had written a novel and had become a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner. She suggested that I enter my book.

Stephanie: What are your thoughts of the self-publishing industry today?

Merle: When I first started to write Room 732, I knew that I was going to self-publish. By 2012, the industry had changed significantly. Instead of the stigma that used to exist years ago, self-publishing had become mainstream and popular.

I felt sure that this was the right choice for me. At that point in my life, self-publishing meant I was saving myself from the grueling process of trying to find an agent and the possibility of agonizing rejections. Besides, self-publishing would allow me to have complete control over my work. I could write the book, edit it, submit it and would not have to wait for a publisher’s schedule to get Room 732 into readers’ hands.

The process of working with CreateSpace, the self-publishing company I chose, proved to be easy and freeing. The cost was much less than I had originally anticipated. I appreciated that someone at the company was available at any hour to answer questions. I found it to be a positive experience in every way.

Stephanie: Please tell your audience a little about your book and your inspiration for the story?

Merle: Over the last forty years, I have greeted many mornings by walking at Hollywood Beach in South Florida. On one stretch of the beach sits the Hollywood Beach Hotel (now known as the Hollywood Beach Resort). As I passed the hotel, I would often think about its fascinating history and would wonder what had taken place in its many rooms.

In my journal in 1985, I had written that someday I would like to write a book telling different stories that would capture the essence of the famed Hollywood Beach Hotel. My hope was to bring to life a variety of characters, all of whom stayed in the same room over the years.

The hotel was built as an elegant getaway in 1926. During World War II, it was converted into a U. S. Navy training and indoctrination center. After the war, the upscale hotel re-opened. Then, in 1971, Florida Bible College moved in, followed by timeshares and condos. More recently, the ever-changing edifice was restored to the vacation resort it was originally intended to be.

Through intimate letters, journal entries, and private conversations, each story explores the threads of connection, communication, and life experiences and echoes the culture of the times. Breathing life into the walls of Room 732, the characters experience a range of emotions as they live with the effects of war, the joy of discovering faith, the death of a loved one, the challenges of marriage, and the intimacy in relationships.

Stephanie: What was the process in your decision to choose the setting and time period for your short story?

Merle: I first made a timeline of the hotel’s history. Then I decided what year I would choose for the time period of each story, making sure to include each change the hotel had undergone.

Right before I began to write the book, I met with the general manager of the hotel and took a tour of every floor in order to choose the exact room I wanted for the setting. Most important to me was that the room faced the ocean and was on the top floor. Another criterion was that the numbers in the room number added up to twelve–my favorite and lucky number. Room 732 turned out to be the perfect choice.

Stephanie: Tell me a little about the Naval Officer and his life.

Merle: Hutch, as he was known to his family and friends, comes from a small town in Wyoming. He spent most of his thirty-year career on board a ship. During World War ll, Hutch was stationed at the Hollywood Beach Hotel and trained soon-to-be commissioned officers in flight navigation.

He communicates with his loved ones through a series of letters. In them he shares his love of family, the Navy, and his country. As a sensitive man, Hutch writes about how pained he is to see the segregation in the South and to watch a fellow sailor and friend from home suffer from the traumas of war. He shows his concern for his daughters and wife who, because of the war, have been forced to work when women in those days hardly had jobs outside of the home.

Stephanie: I admire writers who write short stories. I hear in many ways it is not always easy….did you face any challenges?

Merle: Before this, I had not written short stories. In general, I did not find them hard to write.

However, the single challenge in writing the short stories for Room 732 was the one about Florida Bible College. I had interviewed eight women who had attended school there, one man who was the dean of the college and another who was the pastoral musician. Since they were born-again Christians and I knew almost nothing about their beliefs, I needed to ask a lot of questions and listen carefully. It was important to me that this story be authentic.

I stopped interviewing people when I felt that I had a clear sense of what they believed in and also what taken place at the college. However, when I sat down to write the story, I found it almost impossible. I would write a few paragraphs and then be stuck. At one point, I completely stopped writing and took a few days off. I needed to understand what was holding me back. It eventually occurred to me that I was trying to put myself into the characters. I knew I needed to distance myself and invent characters and their lives that had nothing to do with me. Once I did that, the characters wrote the story.

In addition to the stories all taking place at the Hollywood Beach Hotel in Room 732, I wanted each of them to have a connection with one another. One way I did that was to add the concept of hope to every story. I also decided that each would contain some form of motherhood. Figuring out how to do that was a bit of a challenge but one I enjoyed. The eighth story has an element from each of the first seven stories in it, which weaves them together in a subtle way.

Stephanie: Is there a particular character in your book that made an impact on you in any way?

Merle: The character who impacted me the most was the grandmother in Grandma’s Loving Legacy. I suppose the reason is that the story literally poured out of me in two days. Through letters, the grandmother shares her philosophy of life, her hopes and dreams and life lessons with her granddaughters. I didn’t realize when I was writing it how much of myself I was putting down on paper. Yet, when I think about the process of writing that particular story, I now understand that I felt one with the grandmother with every word I wrote.

Stephanie: How long did your book take to write and who designed your book cover?

Merle: I began the book toward the end of January 2012. On April 22, 2012, I had completed the first draft and had checked into Room 732 at the hotel to write the author’s notes. Originally, I had intended to take approximately a year to write the book, but once I began there was no stopping me. I slept no more than four to five hours a night. Aside from my early sunrise walks at the beach, I wrote during almost every waking moment. I pretty much checked out of my life as I knew it and focused solely on writing.

I had asked my friend, who is a photographer, to come to the hotel and take pictures, with the intent to use one of hers for the cover. Meanwhile, I had taken photographs throughout my stay there in April. After the two of us sat down to decide on the best of her photos, she asked to see mine. As soon as she saw a particular one, she said, “That’s your cover!”

My nephew did the layout of the cover and also took the photograph of me. He prepared it so that all I had to do was submit it in a PDF form, and it was done.

Stephanie: What advice would you give to beginner writers?

Merle: Probably the most important advice I would offer to any writer is that writing is rewriting. There’s little that matters more than carefully editing one’s work. I spent a total of six months reading my book over and over making corrections–fifteen times, in fact. Plus, I had six people edit it to ensure that there were no errors. It took a tremendous amount of patience, but it was well worth it in the end.

When I first began writing, a friend told me that the best thing I could do to become a writer would be to choose one person and write to him/her every day. I did that for years on end. I also think journal writing is a tremendous help in writing.

Few people talk about the vulnerability of being a writer. It’s important to understand that there will be days when we’re in love with our writing and other days when we wonder why we are even bothering. I think being aware that this is a normal part of the process is important. Long ago a Holocaust survivor who had written a book gave me some great advice. She said, “Wrap a steel door around your heart.” That being said, it’s not always easy to do.

I also think that it is wise not to share one’s work with anyone initially. If I speak about my ideas, I find that the energy gets dissipated. Also, others have opinions and some of them might not be favorable to our work. Long ago, I was shut down and not able to write for months on end after a friend read something I had written and told me she didn’t like it. So, I feel it’s best to keep the writing under wraps until it is completed.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Merle: My book is available on Amazon.com and also on barnesandnoble.com. It’s also available through Smashwords’ many listings.

About Author:

Merle Saferstien

A graduate of Ohio State University, Merle R. Saferstein spent the majority of her career in the field of education as both a teacher and an administrator. For twenty-six years, she served as the director of educational outreach at the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center in South Florida where she worked closely with Holocaust survivors ensuring that their legacy was perpetuated for this and future generations

Since 1974, she has completed over 350 volumes of personal journals in addition to compiling and editing resource manuals for the state of Florida and books for non-profit organizations. Ms. Saferstein authored Room 732, a collection of short stories, which has recently been selected as a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree. She has been working on a project in which she is reading her journals and, from them, is taking excerpts on approximately fifty topics.

Ms. Saferstein created and now teaches a course entitled Living and Leaving Your LegacySM.  She is facilitating a Part Two and Part Three class for those who completed the first classes and are interested in more. She has trained hospice staffs and volunteers showing them ways in which to help patients leave their legacies. Ms. Saferstein speaks on the subject of legacy throughout South Florida and beyond.

Merle Saferstein facilitates a writing group at Gilda’s Club for individuals who have or had cancer. Recently, she had an article published in the Huffington Post.

Living in Miami, Florida with her husband of 47 years, Ms. Saferstein is the mother of two children and has two granddaughters.

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Merle R. Saferstein, who is the author of, Room 732, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . 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, Room 732, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Brenda Ortega

Brenda O cover final with medallion

Presley may be smart, but she buckles under pressure – or more specifically, she alphabetizes. In stressful moments her mind grabs words and compulsively sorts the letters, like a frightened guard dog chasing its tail. So it’s no surprise when signs from the universe constantly warn her: stay out of the spotlight. That’s hard to do when her Elvis-loving mom, the school secretary, plays embarrassing snippets of The King’s hits on the PA every day. It’s even harder when the school’s biggest goofball nominates Presley for president and her campaign speech turns disastrous. Her greatest refuge from the drama is her adorable nephew. But Luke’s mom – Presley’s teenage sister – has a secret that threatens to tear the boy from the family forever, unless Presley can stop it. Maybe the universe is out to get her. Or perhaps it’s whispering a new message: Stay cool. Step into the spotlight. Summon your inner Elvis.

Stephanie: Hello, Brenda! Congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion and thank you for chatting with me today about your book, THE TWELFTH OF NEVER. Please tell me how you discovered indieBRAG.

Brenda: Hi, Stephanie. Thank you so much! I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to receive the B.R.A.G. Medallion, knowing what a high bar it represents. As for the IndieBRAG site, I discovered it and bookmarked it well before I published, when I was first starting to think about going indie and looking for resources. I can’t remember how I found it – one of those serendipitous trips down the internet rabbit hole – but I’m glad I did! In addition to being awarded the medallion, I’ve found great reads there!

Stephanie: Please tell me about your book? And what genre it falls under.

Brenda: THE TWELFTH OF NEVER is a contemporary young adult novel about a brainy but neurotic teen who discovers her inner Elvis while fighting to hold on to the little boy she loves most.

The story has a dual plot line, with the main character Presley facing challenges at school and at home, which dovetail in the climax. The central conflict involves a terribly difficult family situation.

I write novels along the lines of what Ellen DeGeneres described as her favorite movies in a Parade magazine article a few months back. She said, “I love stories that are inspirational yet have a lot of heartache, because I think that’s what life is.”

I’m the same way. If a story can inspire tears and cheers, then I’m in love with it. Throw in humor, and I’m over the moon. My novel adds humor to the mix, and many readers have said THE TWELFTH OF NEVER made them laugh, cry, and cheer.

Stephanie: What is one of the challenges that Presley faces at home?

Brenda: Presley lives with her mom, her sister Linda, and Linda’s almost-three-year-old son Luke. Luke is Presley’s refuge from the drama and difficulty of school. He’s lively, and smart, and funny, and he thinks the sun rises and sets behind Presley.

Linda is starting college, and because she’s a teen mom she’ll be attending a local community college instead of University of Michigan as she always dreamed. She’s waitressing six days a week, and going to school, and she’s sullen. She’s not getting along with Mom, and she has a secret. It turns out she’s thinking of giving up custody of Luke to his father, whose family does not get along well with Presley’s family.

Stephanie: Please give me an example of Presley’s personality and what her relationship is like with her sister.

Brenda: Presley is very smart, but unsure of herself. She tends to read signs from the universe when unusual occurrences happen. For example, she has a few years’ evidence to show that bad luck follows whenever her mom plays Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock” at school. And when a very large antlered deer appears at her bedroom window one night, she’s convinced he’s trying to tell her something about Linda.

Presley and her sister are close, although Linda has become increasingly distant and hard to read – sort of like the giant buck at her window, doing a stare-down in the moonlight. In Chapter Seven, titled “Always on My Mind,” Presley describes it to her friend Yvonne this way:

“You don’t have a big sister,” I say. “You don’t know what it’s like. They think they know more than you, like you’re too young to understand, but they can be touchy about it. They want to be confident, but they’re not. So I have to be careful. Linda’s like a deer that’s standing so close, I think I can reach out and touch it. But if I make a sudden move, I’ll scare it away.”

Stephanie: Does Presley get teased at school because her mom is the school secretary? How does she deal with it?

Brenda: Presley gets teased at school because her mom, the school secretary, is an Elvis fanatic. Her mom plays Elvis hits over the PA system with the morning announcements, has an Elvis clock on the office wall, and keeps a shellacked potato chip in a plastic display case on her desk, because she thinks it resembles The King.

Of course, Presley also gets teased just because some kids can be mean. Presley’s goal is to stay out of the limelight as a way of avoiding the mean girls, but at the beginning of the novel she gets elected to student council with them. What’s worse – she gets paired on a committee for planning lunchtime activities with the world’s biggest goofball, Conrad Grover III. He wants her to emcee an air bands show with him, but her answer to that is “Never.”

She doesn’t know how to deal with her troubles. That’s where her anxiety comes in – along with her compulsion to alphabetize. Her brain does it all the time, speed-sorting the letters from random words into alphabetical order, but it’s louder and faster – more distracting – when she’s nervous. It’s sort of her way of digging a hole and hiding.

Stephanie: What was your inspiration for this story? And did it come from being a teacher?

Brenda: I drew inspiration from lots of different places, including my work as a teacher. I’ve taught at a number of different schools and grade levels, and everywhere I’ve seen smart, funny, wonderful teens who are uncertain of themselves. One of the great joys and wonders of teaching is to help them emerge from the shadows into a strong, confident sense of themselves.

It was fun pairing a not-so-confident girl like Presley with another main character, Conrad, who’s the zany, look-at-me, joker type of guy. Conrad seems oblivious to the fact that a lot of his classmates are laughing at him, not with him, but he’s not clueless. I’ve known a lot of kids like Conrad, who never question their worth no matter how others might try to. I’ve always admired people like that, because I wasn’t one. I’ve had to work at being comfortable and sure.

Another inspiration came from the many teen parents I’ve encountered in my life. They have a difficult road – much harder than they know when first starting down it – and I wanted to convey the struggle of that.

More than anything in my writing, I’m interested in the paths people take to find their true voice. With this book, I wanted to layer the main story about a teen girl stepping through her fears with the difficult choices her older sister – a teen parent – is grappling with at the same time.

Stephanie: How long did it take to write your story and who designed your book cover?

Brenda: I worked on the story on and off for eighteen months, taking it to a writing group for feedback, revising, taking it back to my group, and revising some more, on and on.

A talented designer named Derek Murphy of CreativINDIE designed my cover, and I love it. With the simplicity of the crazy Elvis clock, Derek captured so much of what I wanted the cover to convey: the quirkiness of Presley, her mom’s obsession and Presley’s love-hate relationship with Elvis, plus the forever time reference in the title – which is also the title of an Elvis ballad, by the way. THE TWELFTH OF NEVER and all of the chapter titles refer to Elvis songs.

Stephanie: What do you like most about writing and how much time do you devote to the craft?

Writing for me is love and joy and pain and laughter and struggle and escape and… you get the idea. It’s part of the fabric of my life. I’ve always done it, and I always will. I love every aspect of it – even the tear-out-my-hair moments when I’m not sure I can craft a piece the way I imagined it. I love the intensity of focus, the immersion of diving into my own depths.

Unfortunately, I don’t always have as much time for writing as I would like to spend doing it. Because I’m an overworked high school English teacher, and I’m the mom of two active young people, I sometimes have to steal moments here and there for writing my own stuff. But I’m always working on craft – even if it’s just by reading constantly, reading as a writer, and rereading my favorite works.

Stephanie: Do you work with an outline or do you just write?

Brenda: I’m an in-betweener. I have a rough sketch of three acts, with a general idea of movement that will occur within the acts, but I don’t have details worked out. For me, part of the joy of writing is the discovery that occurs during moments of struggle. I write my character up a tree, throw rocks at her, and then I must determine a way out.

Stephanie: What book project are you currently working on?

Brenda: I’m working on another young adult contemporary novel, titled UNLEASHED, about a teenage girl struggling with her family’s breakup, whose revenge plan goes awry – and ultimately shows her the way back from despair to hope.

It’s about how families can seem so fragile yet prove so resilient, about being lost and finding a way home.

Stephanie: What advice would you give to a teenager on how to define themselves in school among peer pressure and all sorts of challenges a teenager faces?

Brenda: I think peer pressure is a subset of a larger issue: the fear of not fitting in. Only fearful students succumb to peer pressure, so developing courage and fortitude in students is important for me as a teacher.

I tell my students the most freeing thing in the world is to accept that some people will like you and some won’t, and it’s not necessarily rooted in logic or even personal interaction. I remember a time when I was in the library of my high school, and I overheard some girls talking about me – negatively, to say the least. I peeked around the bookshelves to confirm who was talking, without ever revealing my presence there, and I couldn’t believe it. These girls had never hung around with me or had any sort of real conversation with me, yet they had all kinds of ugly opinions about my looks, personality, and general shortcomings.

That was a light-bulb moment in my life. I realized I had no control over other people’s opinions of me. Some people were going to view me negatively, and I couldn’t dazzle them into liking me, or I couldn’t hide away to keep them from noticing me.

More importantly, maybe, was the fact that their opinions really had no bearing on me or my life. So what if I heard them? Those mean words from girls who barely knew me weren’t accurate or true. Their words didn’t even hurt, as much as they perplexed me. At that moment, I realized they didn’t matter to me. I could do and be anything I wanted, and people might whisper behind my back, possibly even laugh out loud, but who cares?

If we can reach that point, then we all can engage in the struggle of trying to figure out who we are, what we’re good at, and what truly brings us joy. That’s not easy, either, but it’s better than being buffeted by the opinions of strangers.

In THE TWELFTH OF NEVER, Presley builds to a similar yet different light bulb moment in the climax.

Stephanie: What are some of the positive things people have said about your book?

Brenda: Many of my reviewers say the characters seem real – complex and flawed and relatable – and that Presley’s journey feels triumphant.

I’m always happy when readers tell me they laughed and cried while reading it. When I was a kid, books seemed magical in that way. It amazed me how – from across the span of space and time – a writer could use words on a page to connect with a reader so intensely as to make him feel something – anger, sadness, joy, fear, surprise – whatever, anything at all. My teenage daughter is one of my first readers, and a tough critic, and the day when a particular chapter made her cry was an exhilarating moment in my life! Hmm. Does that make me a bad mother?

Here are some of the reviews for THE TWELFTH OF NEVER:

From Midwest Book Review: A riveting good read from beginning to end, “The Twelfth of Never” is a unique and entertaining young adult novel that showcases author Brenda Ortega’s genuine gift for storytelling! Very highly recommended for personal, school, and community library YA contemporary fiction collections.

From The Girl With Book Lungs (review site): The Twelfth of Never is a sweet coming of age story about finding the courage to be yourself and being brave enough to act even when you’re afraid. Author Brenda Ortega has a well-written young adult story that deserves a wide readership. This is a great read – a welcome change from the other books on my reading list and one that I’ll be recommending as one of my favorites of the summer.

From Back Door Books (Amazon reviewer): “The Twelfth of Never” is a well-told story about a teenage mom and an agonizing family situation…”The Twelfth of Never” is also very funny in places–no mean feat considering how tough the subject is! Don’t expect any easy answers to tough family problems, but do expect to be surprised and encouraged. The author has courage to be realistic, while still compassionate and hopeful.

Stephanie: Thank you, Brenda!

Brenda: It was my pleasure, Stephanie. Thanks for all you do!

About Author:

Brenda O-BRAG

Brenda Ortega started out writing for newspapers in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Detroit. She lives with her husband and two children in Michigan, where she now works as a high school English teacher.

Like the main character Presley in her debut teen novel, The Twelfth of Never, Brenda is a compulsive alphabetizer. Her mind sorts the letters from random words into alphabetical order on a daily basis. It happens instantaneously, which her students think is pretty cool. However, as a kid Brenda feared the out-of-control alphabetizing meant she was mentally ill – because wouldn’t that be a definition of the term? Unable to control one’s own mind? Now she knows we probably all have mental oddities that could classify us as less than normal, and there’s a better word for it: human.

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Brenda Ortega, who is the author of, The Twelfth of Never, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . 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 Twelfth of Never, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

Interview with Author Ned Hayes

Sinful Folk II

A tragic loss. A desperate journey. A mother seeks the truth.

In December of 1377, four children were burned to death in a house fire. Villagers traveled hundreds of miles across England to demand justice for their children’s deaths.

Sinful Folk is the story of this terrible mid-winter journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village. For years, she has concealed herself and all her history. But on this journey, she will find the strength to redeem the promise of her past. Mear begins her journey in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and transcendence.

Stephanie: Hello, Ned. Thank you for chatting with me today and I’d like to say what a profound premise for your story! First, tell me a little of the historical history of your story and what made you chose to write it. Was Mear a real person in history?

Ned: In the Middle Ages, women’s voices were commonly silenced, and most women were illiterate – so even if Mear was a real person, it would be highly unusual for us to know her, and to hear her voice! However, as far as I can tell, Mear (or Miriam) wasn’t a real person. However, in the novel SINFUL FOLK I used the possibility of her existence to fill many interesting gaps in real history – such as why Edward wanted to be buried in a different place, with a strange (untranslatable) inscription over his head, and other points of interest in history. Interestingly enough, as I wrote this book, I came to believe that perhaps Mear was real, after all – I kept hearing her voice so realistically in my head that I couldn’t help but think she was real.

Stephanie: There are many and I mean many turbulent times in England history that is much talked about by historians and authors who write historical fiction. What stands out to you the most about fourteenth century England?

Ned: I find the high Middle Ages to be endlessly fascinating. Barbara Tuchman called it a “Distant Mirror” to our own time – and I very much agree with this assessment. It was a time of radical change and societal upheaval (much as our own time has been). It was also a time when enough leisure existed that we could begin to complement big ideas and philosophical theories about the meaning of life. If you know medieval thinking well, you see echoes of that period everywhere, from the “hippy” abnegation of corporate life to the questions of the “Singularity.” Both of these ideas were very obvious in theological and cultural discussions in the medieval era, and when we study the past, we gain new insight into the present.

Stephanie: What is one of the dangers that the Villagers face while traveling hundreds of miles across England to seek/demand justice for their children’s death?

Ned: One danger that I thought might strike my readers as a surprising one was the danger that came from noble or wealthy travelers themselves. The lives of peasants were relatively worthless, and any high-born traveler could attack or kill them with impunity. The danger of being on the open road – for a peasant – was a great one: travel itself was perilous. I hope I was able to communicate this danger, and I think to many modern travelers this idea would be a new experience.

Stephanie: Tell me a little about Mear’s weaknesses and strengths. What is one of the challenges she faces?

Ned: Mear’s great challenge is facing her own worth and her own abilities, and claiming her own voice. The outside challenges she faces are actually no match for Mear when she fully claims her own power. But for so many years she has buried her true strength, that it is a bit of a struggle for her to realize that she can step forward again, and become the powerful woman she was destined to become.

One thing I’d like to mention is that some readers and reviewers have pointed out that they’ve found it a little unbelievable that a woman could live disguised as a man for years, without anyone noticing. What’s interesting about that is that these reviewers (often women) give men too much credit for observing people – as a man, I’d say that we often don’t notice what is right in front of our noses (my wife would agree with me). I’d also like to point out that there’s a LOT of historical precedence for women living quite successfully disguised as a man. In the U.S. alone, there are numerous examples of women successfully pulling off this feat of disguise for many, many years – sometimes helped by other women!

Here’s a short article listing some of the women (with pictures), as well as a top 10 list of women who have lived as men. It’s an interesting cultural phenomenon, and one that has allowed many women to make their own way in the world, over the centuries.

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

Ned: I originally read Chaucer in Middle English in graduate school, when I first read of this strange incident of people carrying the bodies of their children across England. I thus began writing the first chapters of this novel years ago, when I was much younger and before I had children. After I wrote the first draft, I put the novel on the shelf for nearly 15 years. Then, when I returned to the story, I found that I had a radically different perspective on the journey, and when I began to write the story from the point of view of a woman who had hidden herself for years, I found her voice just flowing through me.

Stephanie: In their Journey, what are some of the towns they travel through?

Ned: In the novel SINFUL FOLK, my group travels from a now-defunct medieval village named “Duns” (I found it on a map made in 1375), to the road that passes to the city of Lincoln, and then to a Cluniac monastery which was on the route towards London at that time. (I researched which institutions and monasteries they could have encountered, in order to find the right sect for them to know on their route.) My troupe then encounter a manor house, which I placed somewhere near Coventry, in Northampton. Following their escape down a river there, they came into the outer villages around Cambridge – and in fact, they see the university of Cambridge from their campsite. From Cambridge, they travel to London. For them, London is an immense place, but to our modern sensibility, it would have been seen as a muddy bedraggled little town – hardly a city from today’s perspective.

Stephanie: What do you like most about writing Historical Fiction?

Ned: I love the opportunity visit past places and cultures, and see the world through different eyes. I find the whole process of getting into another time to be endlessly fascinating. I feel that my humanity – and the humanity of my readers – is deepened and enriched by experiencing a very different time and place.

Stephanie: Do you have any rules you follow when writing in this genre?

Ned: As much as possible, I try to avoid making anything up from whole cloth or changing any history at all. Instead, what I try to do is weave my story through the threads of the existing history, and I try to have my story fill in the gaps in that real history. The historical fantasy writer Tim Powers has a name for this kind of work – he calls it “playing card tricks in the dark” – and I agree with his idea of not changing a single iota of the real history, but instead in trying to have your story weave naturally into the weft of the real historical narrative. I also try, as much as possible, to have my characters have a sensibility and a voice that is realistic to the time period and their station in life. I dislike historical fiction that does not actually show how people thought differently of their era at that time, compared to how we think of it now. One example in SINFUL FOLK is the fact that Mear, without question, accepts generally the Christian worldview, even though her background and training would today find that worldview antithetic to her heritage (when you read the novel, you’ll see exactly what I mean). Few people questioned that worldview, and if you did question it, you were killed.

Stephanie: Are you working on another Historical Fiction story? Will it take place around the same time period as this story?

Ned: Yes, I’m actually working on two books right now. One is called GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHT, and it is a sequel to SINFUL FOLK, and follows up on the story of Mear a few years later, during the time of the Peasant’s Revolt in England. Mear is now on the other side of the table, as a noblewoman. But during this revolt, she has to go back into disguise, as a peasant, in order to protect her property and family. I won’t say anymore about this novel, so that I don’t spoil it for readers, but I’m quite excited about it. To get early notice about the publication date of GARDEN – and receive the first chapters for free, when they are available – you can sign up on my mailing list right here.

Stephanie: Thank you for chatting with me!

Buy the Book

Amazon (Kindle) Amazon (Hardcover) Audible.com Barnes & Noble (Nook) Barnes & Noble (Hardcover) Books-a-Million iBooks IndieBound

About the Author

03_Ned-Hayes-Credit-Linda-Marus-2012-300x265

Ned Hayes is the author of the Amazon best-selling historical novel SINFUL FOLK. He is also the author of Coeur d’Alene Waters, a noir mystery set in the Pacific Northwest. He is now at work on a new novel, Garden of Earthly Delights, also set in the Middle Ages.

Ned Hayes is a candidate for an MFA from the Rainier Writer’s Workshop, and holds graduate degrees in English and Theology from Western Washington University and Seattle University.

Born in China, he grew up bi-lingually, speaking both Mandarin and English. He now lives in Olympia, Washington with his wife and two children.

For more information please visit www.sinfulfolk.com and www.nednotes.com. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestBooklikes, YouTube, Google+, and Goodreads.

Sinful Folk Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, October 20 Review at Flashlight Commentary

Tuesday, October 21 Review at Historical Novel Review

Wednesday, October 22 Spotlight at What is That Book About Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Thursday, October 23 Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective Guest Post at Books and Benches

Monday, October 27 Review at Just One More Chapter Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

Tuesday, October 28 Interview at Layered Pages

Wednesday, October 29 Review at Back Porchervations

Thursday, October 30 Interview at Back Porchervations

Friday, October 31 Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict

Monday, November 3 Interview at Triclinium Spotlight at Boom Baby Reviews

Tuesday, November 4 Spotlight at Historical Tapestry

Wednesday, November 5 Review at Deal Sharing Aunt

Thursday, November 6 Review at bookramblings

Saturday, November 8 Review at Book Nerd

Monday, November 10 Review at Book Babe

Tuesday, November 11 Review at Impressions in Ink Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Friday, November 14 Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, November 18 Review at CelticLady’s Reviews Review & Giveaway at Beth’s Book Reviews

Wednesday, November 19 Review at Books in the Burbs Review at Bookworm Babblings

Thursday, November 20 Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book

Friday, November 21 Review at Library Educated

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Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Janet O’Kane

J O'kane

Janet O’Kane is a British mystery writer. Originally from the south of England she now lives in the Scottish Borders. Her varied career before moving to Scotland and writing full-time included selling underwear to Roger Moore in Harrods, the famous London department store, and marketing nappies for a national chemist chain. It was when she helped run a family doctor’s surgery that she decided a doctor would make an excellent main character for the series of crime novels she had always wanted to write.

Janet lives with her stonemason husband and a cat, two dogs and far too many chickens. She is now writing the sequel to No Stranger to Death and learning to tap dance.

Stephanie: Hello, Janet! I am delighted to be chatting with you today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion! I see that in your bio that it was working in a family doctor’s surgery that inspired a character for crime stories…It truly is fun and amazing where you find inspiration for stories. Please tell me about your book, No Stranger to Death and how you discovered indieBRAG.

Janet: Thanks Stephanie. I’m thrilled to have been awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion for No Stranger to Death, which is a mystery novel set in the south of Scotland. The book’s main character is recently-widowed doctor Zoe Moreland who moves to the Scottish Borders for a fresh start among strangers unaware of her tragic past. However, her hopes of a quiet life are dashed when she finds the grisly remains of a woman’s body in the village’s Guy Fawkes bonfire and gets caught up in the resulting murder investigation. When someone else dies unexpectedly and Zoe herself narrowly escapes death, she is forced to dig beneath the tranquil surface of the close-knit community to find out who is committing these horrible acts.

As you say, I worked for a team of GPs (a General Practitioner or GP is what we call a family doctor in the UK) for about a year and it was one of the most formative experiences of my life. Because of our wonderful National Health Service, patients are cared for from the cradle to the grave and GPs are their first port-of-call for most health issues. GPs often deal with people in extremis who tell them things they can’t share with anyone else. At the same time, GPs often find themselves in contact with the police and other authorities. This seemed like a perfect setting for a mystery, especially when I created a GP as my main character who has even more secrets than her patients.

I’m a big fan of Twitter (I’m @JanetOkane) and follow Alison Morton, the alternative history author who writes about 21st century Romans. When she mentioned being awarded a Medallion, I thought this was a great way of helping readers find quality indie writing and decided to apply. It was daunting but also confirmation that a Medallion is worth having, to find that only 10% of books submitted actually get through.

No Stanger to Death by janet O kane

Stephanie: As Doctor Zoe Moreland gets caught up in a murder investigation, what is one of the challenges she faces that could possibly put her in danger?

Janet: Zoe finds that because she’s a doctor, people tell her things and ask her advice, even outside the consulting room. Because she’s bound by confidentiality, she has to deal with information she can’t share with the police, and this brings her too close to solving the mystery for the killer to ignore.

Stephanie: When Zoe moves to the Scottish Borders looking for a quiet life after the death of her husband, what is an example of what she expected?

Janet: Zoe had lived in a large English city, where it was easy to be anonymous, before moving to the Borders. She’s shocked how in a small, rural community everyone knows (or think they know!) everyone else’s business, making it impossible for her to keep the low profile she had planned. When she gets caught up in the murder investigation, she finds it hard to cope with people’s expectations that she’ll want to discuss what’s going on.

Stephanie: Please tell me a little about Zoe’s childhood and how she came to be a doctor.

Janet: Zoe never knew her father and was raised an only child by her mother until the age of twelve when her mother died in a road accident. She went to live with elderly grandparents who had no idea how to deal with her, but instead of sending her off the rails, their benevolent neglect made her self-reliant and a keen student. Zoe knew from an early age that she wanted to be a doctor, although she cannot pinpoint where this compulsion came from.

Stephanie: Tell me a little about Zoe’s friend, Kate Mackenzie and what is their friendship like?

Janet: Kate Mackenzie is Zoe’s opposite in just about every way, yet they become firm friends as soon as they meet. Divorced with three young children, she has several elder brothers, parents who dote on her, and lives on her family’s farm. She is outgoing and inquisitive, and tries to bring Zoe out of her shell and be more trusting of people. Totally deaf due to a childhood illness, Kate is a skilled lip-reader and works as a genealogist, tracing clients’ Scottish ancestors.

Stephanie: What is a typical day like for the people who live in the Scottish Borders? Does Zoe have a hard time fitting in or is the expectations of what she thought it would be like, how it is?

Janet: I thought it would be interesting to write about an English woman who moved to Scotland because that was my experience 22 years ago. There’s no border crossing to negotiate and no need to change currency or buy a foreign phrasebook, but Scotland is still a different country. Zoe has also swapped city-living for life in the country, where the main industries are farming and tourism. It’s a big culture-shock for her. For example, when she drives anywhere she always gets there early because she builds in time for traffic jams which never happen, unless you count being caught behind a collie herding sheep along a narrow lane.

When I worked at the GP practice I often heard myself referred to as ‘the English girl’ and people struggled with my accent as much as I did with theirs! I had fun introducing Zoe to the Scots words I’ve learnt since I came here, like ‘swither’, which means to be indecisive about something.

Stephanie: Could you please tell me a little about why the location of your story is important?

Janet: Scotland is rightly famous for its ‘tartan noir’ crime fiction, with writers like Ian Rankin and Christopher Brookmyre mainly setting their books in cities. I wanted to show a different side of Scotland, although setting my book in a rural community risks disappointing readers who expect the story to be cosy, which it isn’t.

You can get to the Borders from Edinburgh in less than an hour by car, yet the surroundings and way of life are reminiscent of Scotland’s more remote highlands and islands. We have stunning scenery and an abundance of wildlife and castles, but also the same social problems found in any city – only they’re better hidden. Living somewhere beautiful doesn’t stop people making a mess of their lives. Murder is dreadful wherever it happens and I wanted to reflect this.

I use actual Borders locations in No Stranger to Death as much as I can, because I think this makes imaginary events seem more real. It has also pleased readers who live here; I’ve been told by many people they enjoy spotting places they know. Finally, and I acknowledge this may seem strange, setting a crime series in the Borders is my way of saying thank you to the community where I now live very happily.

I did, however, create a fictional setting, the village of Westerlea, for the book’s main events. Given the grim circumstances Zoe gets caught up in, it seemed unfair to saddle a real community with even a fictional notoriety.

Stephanie: How long did it take to write your story and who designed your book cover?

Janet: I’d be embarrassed to say how many years it took me to write No Stranger to Death, but in my defence I did several jobs and studied for an Open University degree during that time.

I was lucky to be put in touch with a friend of a friend, Kim McGillivray, when I was looking for someone to design my book cover. Kim has produced many excellent covers in the past but he had never worked directly with an author before, so it was a learning experience for both of us. (I blogged about the process.) While I was researching cover designs, I spent a lot of time on Joel Friedlander’s, website, which includes a monthly e-book cover design competition. Kim’s wonderful cover has garnered a lot of positive comments, but I was especially pleased when it recently won a coveted gold star and praise from Joel.

I’m looking forward to working with Kim again in 2015 on the cover of my second book, Too Soon a Death.

Stephanie: How much time do you spend on your craft and where in your home do you like to write?

Janet: My study is at the back of the house and I purposely positioned my desk away from the window, although I get up regularly to stretch my legs and look out on my chickens. Until recently, I’ve always had a cat keeping me company – Doris used to sleep in the cupboard next to me and her successor, Katy, shared my chair – but sadly they’re both gone now, although I’m not alone as Harry the bichon frisé and Bella the border collie regularly wander in to check up on me and demand biscuits.

Because I’m lucky enough to write full-time now, while also helping my husband run his business, I try to keep regular office hours. Sometimes this can be very productive, other times less so, but by sitting in front of my pc every day I know my word count will steadily rise and eventually I’ll finish what I started. I also find having readers who say they’re looking forward to No Stranger to Death’s sequel is hugely encouraging.

To keep up with Janet’s news:

– Visit her Facebook Author Page

– Follow her on Twitter: @JanetOkane

– Read her blog

Amazon links for No Stranger to Death are:

UK

USA

*I don’t know if Americans are aware of the British Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night tradition. Every year on November 5th we celebrate with bonfires and fireworks the failure of a plot to blow up Parliament in 1605. Guy Fawkes was one of the plot’s leaders who was subsequently executed.*

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Janet O’Kane, who is the author of, No Stranger to Death, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . 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, No Stranger to Death, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

 

 

Great Halloween Books at indieBRAG!

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honorees

HIGH-MOOR

When John Simpson hears of a bizarre animal attack in his old home town of High Moor, it stirs memories of a long forgotten horror. John knows the truth. A werewolf stalks the town once more, and on the night of the next full moon, the killing will begin again. He should know. He survived a werewolf attack in 1986, during the worst year of his life.

It’s 1986 and the town is gripped in terror after the mutilated corpse of a young boy is found in the woods. When Sergeant Steven Wilkinson begins an investigation, with the help of a specialist hunter, he soon realises that this is no ordinary animal attack. Werewolves are real, and the trail of bodies is just beginning, with young John and his friends smack in the middle of it.

Twenty years later, John returns to High Moor. The latest attack involved one of his childhood enemies, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. The consequences of his past actions, the reappearance of an old flame and a dying man who will either save or damn him are the least of his problems. The night of the full moon is approaching and time is running out.

But how can he hope to stop a werewolf, when every full moon he transforms into a bloodthirsty monster himself?

THE HARROWING

Zoe Flynn’s sister, Lucy, is dead. The police call it suicide and indeed it was. Murder by suicide. After witnessing an apparition of her sister, Zoe, a private investigator by trade, uses her skills to delve into Lucy’s life and death. What she discovers is a world she had believed to be a figment of her over fertile childhood imagination. A world of Angels and Demons, zombies and witches, monsters and heroes, ghosts and ghouls. Zoe, a disgraced ex-detective, uncovers things about her sister that she never knew and finds links to her own past and the death of her mother twenty years ago.

SAVING HALLOWEEN

When book-smart Anne Parson meets Halloween Spavento, she sees exactly what she wants to see — a friend. Halloween waves away trouble, magically silences school bullies and offers Anne unfailing friendship. But, when the Spavento family’s enchanting exploits are exposed, will Anne face her fears and save Halloween? A spellbinding tale of outcasts who find acceptance, a girl who discovers the true meaning of family, and characters who are not always what they seem.

DR. GROSS

Donald is at peace in knowing that he was born in another dimension, no longer insecure when being picked on by the other orphans for his differences. His father, only able to talk to him from his home world through dreams, appears one night to warn Donald of an approaching evil. Donald is still pretty insecure about approaching evil. Dealing with demonic worms and the undead can be a pain, but can also strengthen the bonds of friendship, as Donald is soon to learn.

TOO MANY WITCHES

When Moanica Moonsweep plans a special Halloween party, her witch’s brew has to be just right. So she invites her witchy friends over to help her plan the perfect kettle of gruesome stew.

But when they can’t agree on the nastiest ingredients, they have a very messy problem. A bedtime, read-aloud story for ages 5 through 8, teaching all little witches how to work together to solve a problem.

THE-HARVESTING

“The world, it seemed, had gone silent. It was something we knew but did not talk about. We were alone.”

While Layla Petrovich returns home to rural Hamletville after a desperate call from her psychic grandmother, she never could have anticipated the horror of what Grandma Petrovich has foreseen. The residents of Hamletville will need Layla’s cool head, fast blade and itchy trigger finger to survive the undead apocalypse that’s upon them. But even that may not be enough. With mankind silenced, it soon becomes apparent that we were never alone. As the beings living on the fringe seek power, Layla must find a way to protect the ones she loves or all humanity may be lost.

This exciting new dark fantasy/horror hybrid blends the best of the zombie genre with all the elements a fantasy reader loves!

It’s all fun and games until someone ends up undead!

HOLLOW

Freed from a stifling marriage by her husband’s sudden death, Bunny Elder struggles to find herself in a maze of romance, moral dilemmas and murder.

Bunny Elder’s safe, secure world comes crashing down when the death of her pastor husband thrusts her into a surprising and dangerous world that challenges all her preconceptions and beliefs.

Join her as she becomes entangled in a series of grizzly murders and untangles the threads of her true self.

Will her adventures lead her into the arms of her first love? Or into the clutches of a madman?

BLOODY MARY

“What’s wrong with relaxing in the evening with a little sip of wino?” asks Carakas, an alcoholic vampire whose primary concern is maintaining his buzz. But finding a steady supply of heavy drinkers to feast upon is a challenge. Until, that is, he meets up with Rudt, a corrupt police detective with ambitions to advance through the ranks by eliminating his competitors.

Strain the situation by adding in Carakas’s mentor, Thedouros, who is threatened–or is it tempted?–by a sexy vampire huntress who crashes town suddenly and who harbors a deep secret of her own. Add a dash of peril as Carakas and Thedouros must try to keep their many enemies from killing them both…unless their friends do it first.

Mix and shake well to serve up this hilarious, upended romp about sex, love, loyalty, betrayal, and people viewed as beverages.

 

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Gwen Dandridge

The Stone Lions

Stephanie: Hey, Gwen! Congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion! That is wonderful and what high praise indeed for your story. How did you discover indieBRAG?

Please tell your audience about your book?

Gwen: The Stone Lions is a multi-cultural fantasy that takes place in the late 1300s in Islamic Spain. As a minor note, it also teaches band symmetry so it is idea for the common core curriculum. It can be read as a pure fantasy or used to understand historic Islamic culture or teach symmetry. There are levels upon levels that it touches. Here’s the basic story:

In the last throes of the 14th century, Islamic Spain is under pressure from Castile and Aragon. Ara, the twelve-year old daughter to the Sultan, finds herself in the center of a political intrigue when her eunuch tutor is magically transformed by the evil Wazir.

Can a little girl save her friend and tutor with the help of a Sufi mathemagician? Intertwined in a mystery of math, art and magic, Ara races to find the seven broken symmetries before time runs out.

Stephanie: What genre would you say this falls under and why did you chose the middle age group to write the story for?

Gwen: The genre is fantasy.

I was asked to write a book for younger readers by a Dartmouth math professor that would teach band symmetry. As someone who is wary of any math, I wanted to make the math part so organic to the story that it didn’t feel like a lesson, but more of a mystery or a puzzle.

Stephanie: Are there any messages in your book you would like your readers to grasp?

Gwen: Perhaps two messages. One, that people throughout time and cultures have the same basic desires and hopes. And, two, that math is something other than numbers. Arithmetic is numbers, math is not necessarily so constrained.

Stephanie: Why did you chose Alhambra in the late 14h century for your period and setting for the story?

Gwen: I was visiting the Alhambra with friends when I started the story. I fell so in love with the place and the design work that it tumbled out from there. The patterning on the wall and floors and ceiling were inescapable and awesome. I chose the 14th century because it was a time of flowering for the Islam. They were ahead of their time then, women could inherit (which they couldn’t in Europe), they allowed other religions to exist (as long as they paid a tax), they bathed (European weren’t quite so clean). Interestingly some women in other area of Europe also were veiled during that time.

Stephanie: Tell me about the little Islamic girl named Ara, who is the Sultan’s daughter? What are her strengths and weaknesses and what is an example of her life in the palace?

Gwen: Ara is curious and a little impulsive. She’s a risk taker. She’s someone who has lived a life of privilege within the confines of her time and culture. And she wishes for more: more freedom, more learning and more knowledge. I picked her age as young enough to have some freedom within her world. She not reached the age when she is cloistered with the harem or required to wear a hijab.

Stephanie: How does art/math play a role in your story?

Gwen: The math is the heart of the story. The symmetries within the Alhambra are being broken and Ara must repair them or the Alhambra will fall.

Stephanie: What are the historical significances in your story?

Gwen: Gosh, so much. I tried to be true to the time and culture. Grenada was under pressure from all sides at that time. But it was a time of great beauty.

So many, many of the details that you see in there are lifted from information that I learned during this process.

Stephanie: How did you research the Islamic life in the period this story is written in? And what fascinates you about the culture?

Gwen: I read over thirty books on Islamic culture and history.

I went to museums here in California, in NY, in Spain, in France and England. There I was able to see what kind of art existed during that time period. I took an art history class on Islamic art.

I spoke to a Sufi and she read an early version of The Stone Lions for me. I joined the Medievalist History listserv and looked over their shoulders.

I communicated with an expert of the Alhambra who is a professor in Spain. He helped me with details of what the Alhambra looked like during that time.

During my travels I’ve discovered hidden gems of stories that we aren’t exposed to here in the states. Everywhere you go, whether it’s a small town in Mississippi or deep in the Scottish highlands there are stories waiting to be gleaned. Everyone has a story.

Stephanie: Tell me about the photo shoot of all the images in the original Owen Jones book on the Alhambra you did and how does this relate to your story?

Gwen: When I wrote the book, I realized I would need lots of images for the symmetries. I wanted them to have a connection to the Alhambra. Not all are, but my daughter and her husband helped me photograph each page of the Owen Jones book. Santa Barbara City College did an interlibrary loan for me so that I could have access to that book. I couldn’t remove it from the library but we could carefully turn each page of this delicate and huge book while one of us stood on a chair and photographed page by page.

Stephanie: When you spent two weeks in Spain, what are some of the sites you visited and what was your impressions of them. And did this help you with your story?

One of the cool things we did in Spain was live in a cave, the Sacramento Caves. You can rent them and they have bedrooms and a bath. It is very dark when the light are off.

We also travel to Cordoba and went to the Great Mosque there.

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

Gwen: At that time I worked as a systems’ analyst so I had limited time to write. I made sure to sit down three times a day for twenty minutes each to write. Sometimes I wrote on my lunch break. It took me about nine months to get a strong draft with all the images done. I was pushing a deadline as it was going to be used in a patterning class at Dartmouth.

Stephanie: Who are your influences? What are you currently reading?

Gwen: I read a lot of fantasy.

Stephanie: How much time weekly do you spend on writing and how much time do you spend on research?

Gwen: It depends on the book. The Stone Lions was the most intensive for research. I had to learn symmetry and Islamic history and culture. It took a huge amount of time. Fortunately, a number of my friends are professors of chemistry and math and they spend oodles of time teaching me symmetry so that I could, in turn, explain it to middle grade readers.

Normally I try to write every day, but I also do art, so many things via for time. When I am focused on a book, I do write every day. I drag my manuscript around with me wherever I go.

Stephanie: Have you ever come across anything unexpected or something that caught you off guard in your research?

Gwen: Many, many times. I hadn’t known the Lions’ fountain that is currently in the Court of the Lions was not the original one. It was stolen centuries ago.

Stephanie: How do you organize your research?

Gwen: When I research, I keep notes of anything that I find interesting. I’m not very organized. I do own a lot of books, so I can always return to them when I need a particular piece on information.

Stephanie: What is up next for you?

Gwen: The second book of The Stone Lions (The Jinn’s Jest) is almost ready to fly. I also have a book that is ready, The Dragons’ Chosen. I’m hoping this will be out soon.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Amazon or B&N or most of the online dealers have it available.

Stephanie: Thank you, Gwen!

About Author:

Gwen Dadridge-BRAG

My romance with fantasy was started when at age eight I discovered libraries, in libraries were fairy tale books. After that, I always expected to find a fairy beneath each flower, each rustle of leaves.

From there I went on to Walter Farley’s Stallion books. But my love went into a full blown affair at an Outward bound trip when half-way down the Colorado River one of the men talked about reading the Hobbit. I’ve been hooked on fantasy ever since.

I’ve been the SCBWI co-coordinator for Santa Barbara County and still function as the listserve administrator for the tri-county region.

My degree in psychology has only been used to understand dragons.

I worked as a system’s analyst (Oracle databases) at Santa Barbara Community College but much of my outside work time is spent doing art of various sorts: stained glass, pottery, basketry, large boulder mosaics, silk wall hangings, etc. I have a B.A. in Psychology, a two year certificate in Computer Information Systems and many classes in Writing, Art and Art History. I bake regularly and garden seriously (I have over 40 different fruit trees on the property).

Reading is my passion as is notable by the walls of books in my house.

My golden retriever and my husband keep me active hiking and roaming the Santa Barbara hills. 

Author Links:

Amazon

Goodreads

Author Website

Author website II

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Gwen Dandridge, who is the author of, The Stone Lions, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . 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 Stone Lions, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.