Saturday’s Book Goodness

Revenge  & Retriubution

Revenge and Retribution is the sixth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

Life in the Colony of Maryland is no sinecure – as Alex and Matthew Graham well know. But nothing in their previous life has prepared them for the mayhem that is about to be unleashed upon them.

Being labelled a witch is not a good thing in 1684, so it is no wonder Alex Graham is aghast at having such insinuations thrown at her. Even worse, it’s Matthew’s brother-in-law, Simon Melville, who points finger at her.

Not that the ensuing hearing is her main concern, because nowadays Alex’s entire life is tainted by the fear of what Philip Burley will do to them once he gets hold of them – there is no longer any ‘if’ about it. On a sunny May afternoon, it seems Philip Burley will at last revenge himself on Matthew for every single perceived wrong. Over the course of twenty-four hours, Alex’s life – and that of her family’s – is permanently changed.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Alex also has to cope with the loss of one of her sons. Forcibly adopted by the former Susquehannock, Samuel is dragged from Alex’s arms to begin a new life in the wilderness.

How is Alex to survive all this? And will she be able to put her damaged family back together?

Revenge and Retribution is very much about loss. In the excerpt below, Alex can do nothing when the Susquehannock chief, Qaachow, comes to claim her son as his.

Alex stuck her face up to the sun. Insects buzzed; birds chattered and squabbled; in the distance, a cow lowed; the sound of laughing children came in snatches with the wind; and somewhere to her left, Carlos was singing out of tune. Sarah seemed on the verge of sleep, her breathing slowing, and Alex was considering whether to stretch out for a little nap when a shrill sound sliced through the air. Alex rose, making Sarah grumble loudly when her pillow disappeared.

“What was that?” Alex said, tilting her head in the direction of the river.

“What was what?” Sarah yawned.

“Don’t you hear it?”

A carrying keening, and Alex shielded her eyes with her hands, swallowing back a gasp when she recognised the tall Indian who was jogging towards her home.

“Qaachow!” She snatched up her shawl and ran for the house with Sarah running beside her. Alex’s head was spinning with thoughts: Qaachow here. Oh God, oh God, why had he come? But she knew, even more so when she saw just how many Indians were filling her yard. Matthew was far away, out with the other men in the fields that lay to the south-east. Not Ian, she recalled with a flare of hope. No, Ian was at home, hurrying into the yard with his musket in hand.

“Go!” Alex wheeled to Sarah. “Fetch your father. Run like the wind! Tell him Qaachow has come.”

Sarah nodded and turned to leap away, her skirts bunched high around her legs. Fleet like a deer she was, speeding away among the trees like an arrow, and Alex turned to rush down to the yard.

Alex skidded to a stop, panting heavily. Her hair had come undone. She could feel it stand like startled vipers round her head but, despite her disarray and her unorthodox dress, she pulled herself together to stand very straight and eyeball Qaachow who was waiting in the yard. Samuel, where was Samuel? With the men, she hoped, but then she saw that he wasn’t. He was already standing with the Indians.

“Unhand my son,” she snapped, striding over to take Samuel by the arm and yank him free. She hugged him to her side and glared at Qaachow who glared back.

“It’s time.” He pointed at Samuel who shrank away from the piercing look in those dark eyes. “White Bear must learn about his other people. He must grow into a brave with Little Bear.” He made a gesture with his hand, and a young boy came to stand beside him, stark naked except for a breech cloth. His hair was the same blue-black it had been when he was a baby, and he peeked at Alex, a timid smile hovering over his mouth.

“You said twelve,” Alex said hoarsely.

Qaachow hitched his shoulders. “It’s time,” he repeated. He said something in a low voice, and his men spread out in a half-circle. Suddenly, there were arrows and muskets aimed at Ian. He said something again, and a group of at least ten Indians slipped away up the lane.

“You promised it like a gift. You take him under threat,” Alex said. “I don’t want to let my son go with you, and so you show up in force to compel me to give him up.”

Qaachow regarded her stonily. “My foster son.” He nodded in the direction of Samuel. “He and my son have nursed at the same breast.”

“Because I chose to save your boy!” Alex’s voice rose in anger and fear. “Am I now to regret that I did? Should I have left him and your wife to starve?” Qaachow flinched but kept his eyes locked on Samuel.

“You come across the seas,” he said bitterly. “You step ashore on our land, and you say it’s yours. You kill, you rape, you offer trade with one hand and stab us in the back with the other. My people are no more because of you. The lands that were ours since the Earth was new are trod by the feet of white men. You bring sickness with you, and our people die while you multiply. How many sons have you got, Alex Graham? Seven? I have one – one left alive. But I have buried three and just as many daughters, and they have died because of you.”

“Because of me? I saved him!” Alex pointed at Little Bear.

“Your people are our destruction,” Qaachow went on, ignoring her interruption. “And now I come to take something back. A son, a healthy, well-grown boy.”

“He’s mine,” Alex groaned.

“And mine,” Qaachow replied, not giving an inch. He made as if to grab Samuel. Alex slapped at his hand.

Anna Belfrage photo 2

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 favourite 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.

Author Website

Available on Amazon

Book Spotlight: Blood Divide by John Sadler

 

02_Blood Divide

Publication Date: January 27, 2015 Lion Fiction Paperback; 352p ISBN: 978-1782640899

Genre: Historical Fiction

Gripping, visceral, and accessible historical fiction.

The Battle of Flodden in September 1513 was one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on British soil, in which James IV, King of Scots, and virtually the whole of his nobility and gentry were annihilated in an afternoon along with 15,000 soldiers. Five centuries later, the slaughter still occupies a core position in the Scottish nationalist debate and in the pantheon of heroic failures. This novel puts you in the heart of the action; you’ll feel the sweat and the fear, the curtain of red mist.

The narrative covers April through September 1513, focusing around a handful of key characters: John Heron, Bastard of Ford, swaggering, violent, and disreputable, the black sheep of a good English family; Sir Thomas Howard, leader of the English forces and skilled strategist; Alexander, 3rd Lord Hume, leader of the Scots, bold but impetuous; Isabella Hoppringle, Abbess of Coldstream, hub of a web of influential women throughout the Scottish borders, a woman of significant influence and charisma.

Laced with dark humor and fascinating period detail, Blood Divide reminder readers that political intrigue and human folly are timeless.

Buy the Book

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kregel Publications

About the Author

03_John Sadler Author

John Sadler is an experienced military historian, a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and the author of more than two dozen books. He is also a much traveled battlefield tour guide covering most major conflicts in the UK, Europe, and North Africa.

For more information please visit John Sadler’s website.

Blood Divide: A Novel of Flodden Field Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 26 Review at Ageless Pages Reviews Spotlight & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Tuesday, January 27 Review at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, January 28 Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

Friday, January 30 Spotlight at Layered Pages

Sunday, February 1 Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Monday, February 2 Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Tuesday, February 3 Spotlight & Giveaway at Words and Peace

Thursday, February 5 Interview and Review at A Virtual Hobby Store and Coffee Haus

Saturday, February 6 Review at Book Nerd

Monday, February 9 Review at Just One More Chapter

Tuesday, February 10 Review at Broken Teepee Spotlight at Historical Fiction Obsession

Wednesday, February 11 Review at Forever Ashley Review at The Mad Reviewer Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, February 12 Interview at Books and Benches

Friday, February 13 Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes

04_Blood Divide_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Alan Bray

Al Bray-BRAG

Alan Bray started writing fiction sixteen years ago and has published a fair number of short stories in literary journals. The Hour of Parade is his first novel. He is currently working on a second, also set in historic time. Alan lives in New Hampshire with his wife and daughter. He has worked as a musician and clinical social worker.

Hello, Alan! Thank you for chatting with me and today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for your book, The Hour of Parade.

Alan: Many thanks, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Please tell me how you discovered indieBRAG and what has your experience been like with self-publishing thus far?

Alan: I believe I learned about IndieBRAG through an internet search regarding self-publishing resources. I sent in an application and was delighted to be accepted. They have been very helpful with promoting my book.

I self-published The Hour of Parade through CreateSpace, and it’s been very positive. Their design team seemed to grasp right away what I wanted on the cover. I wanted a man’s face looking out at the viewer in a haunted way—in my mind he’s Alexi—and they nailed it. The editor there was also excellent, although I paid for a second round of independent copy-editing just to be sure there were no errors. The distribution and print quality of the book itself has been outstanding.

I wish there were more people buying and reading the book, but my sense is this is something all authors probably feel, self-published or not. I have done a bit of advertising, including an ad in the New York Review of Books, and solicited many reviews.

Stephanie: How much time do you spend on writing, research and what is your process?

Alan: The Hour of Parade was written over a ten-year period. I can’t say I worked on it every day but a lot of time went into it, both research and writing. There must have been four or five major revisions; I think I learned to write by writing this book so there was just a lot that had to be developed. And I’m a pretty heavy editor of my own work. I like to get initial scenes down on paper in a pretty simple way and then start going over and over them, developing character and description and language. It takes a long time. But it’s a labor of love.

Stephanie: Please tell me about your story?

Alan: The book is set in 1806 in Munich, Germany. It’s told from the viewpoint of two characters, one a Russian cavalry officer searching for his brother’s killer, and the other a young French woman whom he meets and has a love affair with.

The Hour of Parade

Stephanie: Could you please share an excerpt?

“Good morning, Alyosha.” Marianne came in smiling from the bedroom, wearing the silk dressing gown he’d purchased for her, a man’s gown that was much too large so that, as she walked, it dragged along the rug. She sat down on the sofa, curling her feet beneath her hips, her bare knees peeking out through the opening in front. “Will he bring me tea? What are you doing?”

“Reading some correspondence. Yevgeny, tea.”

“You opened one of the letters from Russia? You said you’d let me see what the writing looks like.”

He sat and gave her the letter filled with Cyrillic script. “It’s curious,” she said. “What does it say?”

“From my father. Here, do you see? This word—father. And here—my name.” She looked from the paper to him, rolling her eyes as if he were teasing her. “You don’t believe me, do you? You’re so funny.”

It was good—to keep the world of these letters at arm’s length and as an object of humor.

But it’s a mistake, to allow her to come so close.

“Well, what’s it about?”

“I’ll tell you the story. I haven’t written him for weeks, and he wants to know why and what I’m doing here.”

“Oh that. What will you say? You need his money; that’s what you told me.”

“True.”

“Then you must write him—today. Tell him you love him and that you’re learning all about Munich—that’s it—you’re receiving an education here.” She laughed and dug her elbow into his side. For a moment they were silent, and she took the letter from his lap and studied it. “And this part” she said, pointing halfway down the page, “what does it say here?”

“He wants me to kill a man—a man who killed my brother in the war.”

“It says that too?” Her eyes were steady and clear. “What will you do?”

He rose and took a turn around the room, stopping before the toiletry box on the table. He opened the lid and—ignoring the mirror—began looking in all the drawers and compartments, sticking his fingers inside to see if something might be hidden in the back. His father had mentioned a chance for happiness; could that justify murder? “About whom?” he said. “My father or—”

“The man who killed your brother.”

“I’ve already tried to kill him once,” he said, bent over, speaking into the empty drawers. “He’s here in Munich, a French officer.”

“He killed your brother in the war—but isn’t that a soldier’s job? Your brother was a soldier.”

“I suppose he was.”

“So your father wants this death out of vengeance—blood vengeance. Is that right?”

On the left-side bottom drawer, behind his father’s original letter, there was a thing stuck against the back, a paper of some kind. He worried it loose with his fingernail and saw that it was a tiny corner of a bigger page, torn off. Curious to see if it retained any message or clue about its origin, he examined both sides.

“Alyosha?”

Both sides were blank. “I’m a bad man, my dear.”

“No, if you obey your father’s will, then you’re good; that’s what the priests say. What are you doing with those drawers? Come, write a letter to him. Tell him you love him and you’ll do what he wants. Then we’ll all be happy.”

Why Historical Fiction?

Alan: I guess I think of Hour as being a novel about people who happen to be living two hundred years ago, rather than a novel of historic themes. However, I’ve been fascinated by the Napoleonic Era for a long time, not only the military side but on a deeper level, the effect on people of a much less developed technology, the masculine code of honor with its darker side of revenge, the very limited roles available to women, and how, as a result, women had to struggle to find expression.

Stephanie: Alan, I have several authors who are interested in your premise, the period you write about and so forth. One lady who loves history is interested in your story would want to know what the historical basis for this premise might be, as well as how, logistically, this Russian is going to get close enough to the French officer and men to discover the location of the Frenchman he wants to kill. But I’m sure you can’t give all that away without spoiling the plot! We look forward to reading your book to find out! Here are a few questions they would like to ask.

Alan: A major historic source was The Cavalry Maiden by Nadezhda Durova, the memoir of a young Russian woman who dressed as a man and fought in the Napoleonic Wars as a cavalry officer. It’s a fascinating story, in part because it seems most of the men around her knew that she was a woman and chose to ignore it.

Author Lindsay Downs: How where they able to survive the winter?

Alan: Brrrr. Fortunately for the characters, a lot of the story takes place in the spring and summer. My sense is that, in winter, people were very tied to hearths and stoves, and perhaps, more accustomed to physical hardship than many of us are.

Author Malcolm Noble (mystery writer): I am always interested how slow communication complicated military action in those days. For example, Govts back home decide on a new approach, or some high profile character dies, or allies change sides, but it can be several days before local commanders get to know about this. CS Forrester used this dynamic to advantage in his Hornblower stories, In fact, in the old days, a war would end on different dates in different part s of the world to allow for communication. Did such slow communications impact on The Hour of Parade?

Alan: This issue did impact the characters in the book. There is an inevitability about the French army returning to war throughout the summer of 1806, they finally do in September. The characters are waiting for word of when and where war will break out again, and there are many rumors. Also the communication between Alexi and his father is very poor (a situation Alexi likes) because of the long delay in letters reaching Munich from Russia. The characters read newspapers to try to make sense of world events, knowing they are out of date by the time they read them.

Author Jude Knight: I’m intrigued by why you chose a Russian hero and a French heroine – and at this particular point in time, when the Russians (as part of the Fourth Coalition) have just been defeated. I guess I’m going to need to read the book to find out how a Russian cavalry officer manages in in the winter quarters of the French army. We read so much of the English perspective on Napoleon. I’m excited to hear about something different. How big a role does Napoleon play in the book? Is he seen from the Russian perspective, the French perspective, or both?

Alan: The Emperor himself never appears directly as the book is more about average people on the margins of great events. He’s certainly referred to though, more from the French perspective, a bit of the Russian, although the main character, Alexi, begins to question whether the Russian perspective might not be mostly propoganda. And he is able to get very close to the French because, well, he doesn’t tell the truth about who he is.

Stephanie: As I understand it, Rousseau’s novel Julie is a major presence in your book. You told me the story refers to some of the themes and plot in Julie, and I translated epigrams from Julie to begin each chapter. What inspired you with this idea? And what a brilliant idea it is! I have read quite a bit of Rousseau…

Alan: I was originally fascinated at the idea of what a huge best-seller Julie was, how the characters were so familiar to people as a result. I began by writing about Alexi’s reading of the book, and this developed into a bit of an obsession for him. Then, in my own reading of Julie, I was struck by some of the parallels—the issue of sexual attraction across class, the way infatuation can lead to poor judgement, the frankness and value given to sex. I tried to pick out epigrams that would refer to whatever was happening to the book and function as a kind of commentary on them. One reviewer said the book Julie becomes a character in my book, and I like that very much. I translated from the French to avoid copyright problems.

Jude: Would a familiarity with Julie change the way a reader experiences your book? How does Rousseau’s book change the characters or the story?

Alan: I think a reader familiar with Julie might pick up on some of the connections in the story, and there are some references to it thrown in. I thought of my book as having a humble relationship with Rousseau’s, like that of a poor cousin. I’m not sure about how Julie changed my characters or story. It probably did in ways that I’m unaware of. I was quite surprised when I read the story of Lord Bompston in Julie and saw the parellels to Alexi and Marianne.

Stephanie: Since the book is written closely to the character’s experience. What were the challenges in doing that and could you please tell me a little about them? Their strengths, weaknesses and all that.

Alan: I think that’s where writing gets really interesting—to find a way to express the more intimate sides of characters. I used third person close narration (I believe that’s the technical term) for two of the characters, and then often dipped into first person reverie, fantasy, and dream to try to capture more of what was under the surface. Alexi Ruzhensky is someone very much “in his head.” He thinks a lot about everything that’s happening, questions himself, and rationalizes his actions. He’s very self-aware, although has some really unfortunate blind spots about himself. Anne-Marie is less cerebral, very concerned with her survival. She’s calculating at times but in my mind, makes several decisions that are motivated more by passion than anything else.

Stephanie: What is Alexi Ruzhensky relationship like with his father?

Alan: Yes, it’s alluded to, and he and his father are seen in Alexi’s memory. It’s conflictual. His father wants him to be a traditional Russian man of the minor nobility, and Alexi has already begun to be someone very different before the novel begins.

Jude: Alan, you clearly did a lot of research for the book. Was there anything that gripped you and that you would have liked to have used in the book, but couldn’t without moving the history more to centre stage than you wanted?

Alan: I did do a lot of research on the historical events as background and found them quite interesting but didn’t want to overload the story with them. So I’d have to say no.

Stephanie: What are you hoping your readers will come away with this story and if you were to speak to anyone about your book that has never read Historical Fiction before or about history. What would you tell them to encourage them to read your book?

Alan: I think I’d say don’t be put off by the idea the story is set two hundred years ago because it has a pretty contemporary feel. It’s not filled with a lot of historical detail, and hopefully, the characters would seem like people you can relate to.

Stephanie: What’s up next for you?

Alan: I am working on a second novel that I hope will be ready by next year. It’s set in 1807 in Poland with different characters. I also write short stories and am in the middle of several right now.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Alan: Amazon, both print and Kindle. It’s also been taken by pirates, so you could probably get it for free somewhere. But please don’t unless you’re very poor.

Stephanie, many thanks again for the interview. More information on The Hour of Parade can be found here

Author Website

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Alan Bray, who is the author of, The Hour of Parade, 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 Hour of Parade, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Darah Zeledon

Girl with a Crooked Smile

Darah’s completely bilingual (English/Spanish) and holds a B.S. in Cognitive Psychology and M.A. in International Relations. The devoted mom of five and wife of one, when Darah’s not mothering or “wife‐ing,” she’s a suicide prevention activist, youth development coach, keynote speaker, and author.

Her highly-acclaimed debut memoir, Girl with the Crooked Smile – Stuck in a Moment, is a story that reveals what it really takes to weather life’s storms. It resonates with anyone who has had to muster up the courage and find the faith to press on through hard times.

***When not tethered to the washer or drier, Darah is passionate about reading in her hammock, exercising outdoors and listening to music. Yet above all else, she loves to watch her precocious children negotiate treaties with one another.

Hello, Darah! Thank you for chatting with me today about your B.R.A.G. Medallion Book, Girl with the Crooked Smile – Stuck in a Moment. Tell me how you discovered indieBRAG and what has your self-publishing experience been like thus far? Hi Stephanie.

Thanks so much for giving me a platform to rattle on. I discovered indieBRAG through a writer’s forum on LinkedIn and it came highly recommended for serious self-published writers. My experience so far has been great; Geri has been super enthusiastic, supportive and proud of her community of Medallion honorees, and I truly appreciate her obvious love and appreciation for quality writing and a good story. As you know, writing and the publishing is the easy part; it’s the marketing and promoting that comes with it and long after a book’s release that can become a full-time job if you let it. So I’ve had to let it go somewhat to pursue other related career objectives, and allow things to unfold organically.

Please tell me a little about your story.

Sure, it’s a memoir and chronicles a six-year stint that my family and I were beset with adversity of all kinds, and how we struggled to make it through together with our family intact.

I like to begin the storytelling with a challenge to all my readers: “You don’t know what you’re made of until you are ripped apart.”

Girl with the Crooked Smile takes readers on an intense and moving journey that begins with my diagnosis of a brain tumor. At the time pregnant with the fourth of my five children and living in Latin America, I undergo surgery that steals the hearing in one ear and leaves my face deformed. But those concerns quickly take a backseat to dealing with the hardships that follow: a suicide, an armed robbery, a gruesome accident and a business collapse that leaves my family penniless. Somehow, by sheer defiance and an unbreakable will to survive, I fight to keep my sanity and family tight. And, along the way, find the strength to share my newfound insights and inspire others going through crises of their own.

Could you please share an excerpt?

My pleasure; the below is excerpted from Chapter 25: Stability, Self-Acceptance, and Brighter Days

“Over a period of six difficult years, I had become a chameleon, a true master at adapting to the fluctuations of fate. A realist who never lost hope, I embarked each day on a personal journey to start fresh, as if yesterday’s bad luck never existed.

All the suffering, stress and losses have made me into the person I am today. During this metamorphosis, I became a warrior as I traveled a labyrinth of instability and insecurity.

When my life began to unfold like a soap opera, there were only two choices: adapt and plough through, or shrivel up and perish. I chose the former. My family looked to me to be strong, to hold it together. So I dove into a parallel reality and fancied myself a soldier. By evoking my rich childhood imagination and assuming the mindset of a combatant, I pushed on through years of darkness.

Now, life was better. Our existence no longer was defined solely by a struggle to survive; conflicts that previously had zapped all our energies and time now almost entirely disappeared from our everyday life. A semblance of routine and stability filled the void of gratuitous chaos.

The familiar cries of my loyal companions—anxiety and desperation—slowly died down. I found solace in writing. I preferred this form of communication above all others, perhaps due to my sensory impairments and inability to multitask.

Throughout it all, I grew in character and depth. I learned to handle crisis like a full-fledged grownup.

And despite this newfound adulthood, I discovered that even in the aftermath of radical life-changing experiences, a residual part of my former self still lingered. Somehow I would have to embrace it all and integrate the old, carefree dabbler with the new, war-torn me.

Despite this existential tug of war that assaults my soul, each day I strive to channel a smorgasbord of emotions, destructive tendencies and impulses in a positive direction. Because if nothing else, I’ve learned that problems are disguised opportunities for personal growth.

My overriding goal is this: discover what I am made of so I can strive to be the woman I want to see reflected in my children’s eyes. They and my loving husband keep me on task. My life force is driven by a hunger to be accountable to them.

My story is just one of many that are testament to the unbreakable will of the human spirit. For so many of us, the struggles of the heart never end. We must trust in the process, for growth and character are born from pain and suffering. There are no ways around this, no shortcuts. An easy life will not yield the same results.

When trouble strikes, all we can do is stay the course and wait out the storm. Persevere. We have to find comfort in, or in spite of, the uncertainty, and accept that many of life’s questions are unanswerable.”

Titles are so important in the overall package of making your book stand out. You have such a great title for your book, how did the title come to you?

Funny because like most writers, I was torn between so many titles and had lists upon lists of possible titles scattered all over the house. Stuck in a Moment was in the lead almost up until print time because it is the title of a 2000 U2 ballad that literally became my mantra of hope and inspiration—my religion— during all those years of hopelessness and despair. And then one day, I returned home from a live interview and was relating to my dear friend and publisher, Jodi Nicholson, how I chose, last minute, to present my crooked left-sided profile to the audience, instead of sitting to the right of the hosts as originally planned. Seconds before I appeared on camera, I had this epiphany that I had to own my imperfections and embrace and love them wholeheartedly. And so I insisted on shifting seating positions at the table so that my twitching left eye and semi-paralyzed left side would appear glaringly on camera. When I proudly told Jodi the story, she nonchalantly replied: “Of course you should do that, Darah, you’re the girl with the crooked smile.” And that was it. A light went off inside my head. (Naturally, because I am dreadfully stubborn and loyal to a fault, I was compelled to still use my beloved Stuck in a Moment and so I put it as a subtitle because after all, it encapsulates the entire premise of my story.)

Your story touches on a few themes that hit home with many people’s lives-myself included. Was there any challenges about writing these themes and what would you like readers to come away with when reading your story?

The challenge for me primarily was in finding time to write it and in finding the emotional space to really feel it. With five young kids and a great husband that likes to hang out with me, I had to get really creative. Usually, I’d stay up late or wake up early and guzzle obscene amounts of coffee at ungodly hours; I had to take advantage when I was inspired and in the flow. Because most the situations I had gone through and wrote about in my book were pretty intense emotionally and life-altering, as I write in my story, I’d become a robot, moving forward from crisis to crisis in a state of emergency without feeling a thing. When I had to sit down and recall the events, and connect spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and even physically with them for the first time, years later, it was like giving birth to myself. It was the most cathartic and painful and draining experience I’ve ever been through in my life. A real paradox. And yes, most importantly, I wrote it for my community of readers, and for all the people out there who are suffering from what I call the human experience—adversity of any kind. I want them to know that if I, an ordinary person, could endure and even thrive through all that I did, anyone could. As stated at the beginning of the interview, once you observe yourself overcome one of life’s hurdles previously deemed impossible, you emerge stronger, more self-confident, and more resilient. You become infused with love and gratitude for what still remains.

Your story begins in Barcelona, Spain, and then moves between Costa Rica, Panama, New York, and South Florida beginning in 2000. What are some of the cultural comparisons made between these countries?

Whoever has lived in a developing country as an ex-pat knows that you must have reserves upon reserves of patience. Because as a rule of thumb, nothing will go according to plan and many times, the rules are mere suggestions. Thus, if you begin with that premise in mind, you’ll be elated when things do work out as they should. Personally, I had to bend and transform and re-invent myself as a type-b in order to navigate these foreign soils like a local. So I did and buried the old type-a-gotta-have-it-my-way-now-and-perfect. In all seriousness though, I learned a lot in those warm Latin cultures, particularly, how to enjoy life and just be and that spending time face-to-face storytelling with friends over coffee is time well-spent. Back on US soil since November of 2008, I sometimes catch myself feeling guilty if I spend time having coffee or lunch out with a friend, as if I’m not busy enough and have no right to such pleasurable downtime. When those admonishing thoughts creep into my mind, I quickly shut them down.

What is the historical significance in your story of the Rebbe and Lubavitch movement?

We were, at the time of my diagnosis of the brain tumor, practicing Orthodox Jews and had the support and prayers of an entire community back in Panama. The movement we followed was the Lubavitch one as I am of Ashkenazi lineage, which means my ancestors came from Eastern Europe prior to settling in the US. It’s a very beautiful and spiritual perspective and brought us much comfort at first, while we were in the thick of it. I wanted to share with readers a bit of insight into the history and teachings of this Old World looking sect of Orthodox Jews whose monochromatic wardrobe belies the colorful richness, joy and depth of their spirituality and customs.

How long did it take for you to write your story and where in your home do you like to write?

I wrote a blog called Warrior Mom – Straight Talk from the Heart. Initially, it was purely for therapeutic purposes; I craved an outlet for my grief, confusion, and rantings, and psychotherapy was financially inaccessible. I was overcome with culture shock, experiencing motherhood and life in the US after eight years away. Essentially, I’d become a foreigner in my own country. When I decided to get serious about putting it all into a book—at the urgings of many of my blog readers—it took no less than three solid years of revising, editing, tweaking and rewriting the whole darn thing. I would write anywhere, and I mean anywhere. Sometimes I’d scribble on notebook paper while the kids slept in an idling car; I’d write seated in the bathroom. Many times, while my kids were tuned into something on television, I’d plug up my hearing ear and close myself off from the world—seated in the middle of the fray in our tiny rental.

What’s up next for you?

Oh, I am working on several initiatives at this time. Primarily, I focus on youth development and build leadership and life skills programs that encourage kids to think outside-the-box, and become globally savvy and confident navigating an international milieu. In aaddition, I love to speak and inspire others and recently delivered several keynote addresses at suicide prevention fundraisers. My incurable wanderlust has taken me in a new direction as of late and together with a partner, we are building strategic alliances with local communities in the developing world so we can take offer unique, enriching volunteer travel opportunities to students where they’ll also earn community service hours.

Where can readers buy your book?

I sell signed and dedicated copies on my website . They are also for sale on Amazon , barnesandnoble.com, smashwords, and are in all digital formats: Kindle, Nook, iBook—you name it.

Thank you, Darah! It has been a pleasure.

Thank you, Stephanie, for the opportunity!

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A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Darah Zeledon, who is the author of, Girl with the Crooked Smile, 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, Girl with the Crooked Smile, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

The Importance of Beta Readers with Author Jude Knight

Jude Knight

Jude Knight is the pen name of Judy Knighton. After a career in commercial writing, editing, and publishing, she is returning to her first love, fiction. Her novella, Candle’s Christmas Chair, was released in December 2014, and is in the top ten on several Amazon bestseller lists in the US and UK. Jude’s novel Farewell to Kindness, will be released on 1 April. It is number one in a series: The Golden Redepennings. She have several novels in progress, and plot outlines for 40+, all set in the early 19th century. The plans include seven series, several stand-alone novels, novellas, and short stories, and a number of characters who intersect across series.

Thank you, Jude for taking part in the Layered Pages Beta Readers Series. Do you use beta readers?

Yes. I’ve been in commercial writing most of my life, part of the time as a technical writer in the software industry. I’ve always sought peer review of my work, and user tested it with readers. There was never any question that I would do the same with my fiction. I just had to figure out how to go about it.

I know of a few authors who use beta readers for different phases of their manuscript. How many do you use and in what phase of your WIP do you require them?

I send a few chapters at a time to two wonderful people as I finish them. One is my first reader, my sister Sue. The other is my critique partner, Cathy. This lets me incorporate feedback as I go.

I send a draft that is as good as I can get it to a wider audience. By this stage, it has been through several edits. I edit as I go; I do a second edit incorporating the feedback from Sue and Cathy, and picking up story threads that I dropped on the way through, and I then I chart all the plot lines and the characters, and do a third, major edit, with extensive rewriting where I think I need it.

For the novella, I was working to a very short timeframe, and I sent it to only three people. I sent Farewell to Kindness to 20 people, and heard back from 17 of them in the six week timeframe.

Jud Knight Book Cover

What is it that you look for in a beta reader? And what is the importance of them?

Ideally, I want a mix of readers and writers. Writers are far more critical of the technical skill I’ve used, which is very helpful. Both react as readers.

I want a large group, because life happens. People promise to respond, but it is a huge ask. I got 17 responses out of 20, which was better than I expected.

I want people who read in my genre, people who write in my genre, and — if possible — an outlier or two who don’t normally read historical fiction.

And I want at least one man to tell me if the men I write are credible. Fortunately, I have a wonderful husband who will give me his honest opinion.

To me, beta readers are vital. I’m too close to the story to be able to judge it. I don’t know whether I’ve kept the secrets I want to surprise the reader with. I don’t know if my clues are too obscure or too obvious. I don’t know if my characters come across the way I want them to.

Each reader picks up different things. Every view is helpful.

How do you choose your beta readers?

I put out a request on the Facebook Groups I belong to, at the office where I work, and through family. I accepted everyone who offered. Next time, I’ll approach those who gave me the most substantive feedback, and also directly ask a couple of writers and readers I’ve become friendly with. Over time, I hope to build up a group of people I can ask. I’d like around 30 people, to allow people space to say ‘no, not this time’.

What has been your experience with them?

My experience has been very positive. I’ve had both affirmation and really practical suggestions. I’m very grateful to all those who have taken time out of their busy lives to not just read a book that is only 90% polished, but to also give me ideas for the last 10%.

How often do you take their advice and what is the impact they have had on your writing?

At the end of the day, it’s my book, and I’m responsible for the decisions I make. But when two or beta readers tell me that the number of characters in the early part of the book is confusing, or ask if I can inject more humour in the interactions between my hero and heroine, you can bet I’m going to listen. How I solve the problems they uncover is over to me.

Often, one reader will make a great suggestion. For example, one reader suggested putting a key to the language of flowers into the back of the novella, since the language of flowers was an important part of Candle’s courtship. Great idea. Why didn’t I think of that.

Or one reader might cause me to question and go and check my research. Someone from Southwest England suggested that I had the dialect a little wrong. I was basing it on an aunt from the region, but when I checked, my reader was right. My aunt had picked up the expression she was using from her north-England born father.

Beta readers pick up glaring errors, parts of the plot that don’t work, and trudging bits of prose. I’d far rather find out about them before I publish than in a one-star review on Amazon.

As I write my second novel, I’m keeping in mind many of the lessons I’ve learned from the beta readers of the novella and the first novel. We’ll see whether the beta readers of Encouraging Prudence agree that I’m getting better!

Do you use them for every book you write?

I intend to use beta readers for every book I write.

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Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Laurie Boris

AuthorLaurieBoris_small

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of five novels: The Joke’s on Me, Drawing Breath, Don’t Tell Anyone, Sliding Past Vertical, and Playing Charlie Cool. When not hanging out with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she enjoys baseball, cooking, reading, and helping aspiring novelists as a contributing writer and editor for IndiesUnlimited.com. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley.

Hello, Laurie! Thank you for chatting with me today about your B.R.A.G. Medallion book, Don’t Tell Anyone. First tell me about how you discovered indieBRAG and what has your experience been like with self-publishing.

Hi, Stephanie! I’m grateful to be aboard today and so excited that Don’t Tell Anyone is an indieBRAG honoree. I discovered indieBRAG when my friend and fellow Indies Unlimited contributor Martin Crosbie had his first novel, My Temporary Life, selected. Since I kind of stalk him and do everything that he does (kidding!) I decided to submit one of my books. Then I had the pleasure of meeting the founders of indieBRAG at the Self-Publishing Book Expo in New York. They gave a terrific presentation about what readers respond to when choosing a book. It really stuck with me. Writing fiction is fulfilling and wonderful work, but finding a connection with readers makes all those hours in my little room worthwhile. As a self-published author, I get to see that on the front lines. I like the control self-publishing offers me: the topics I write about, the publishing platforms. If I’m not reaching readers, I am free to try something new: change my pricing, find a new category, or a new place where readers can stumble across my work. The ground is constantly shifting. It’s a challenge, but it’s also energizing to learn new things, connect with other supportive authors, and discover something that works.

Please tell me about your book.

In Don’t Tell Anyone, a family already steeped in sibling rivalry and old grudges is thrown another curve: their matriarch, Estelle Trager, has a terminal illness. If not for its accidental discovery, she would have taken the secret to her grave. Now her two sons and her daughter-in-law are scrambling to do what they think is best for Estelle, even though it’s sometimes not what she wants. Can they keep their own lives together long enough to help Estelle with hers?

DontTellAnyoneCover_LBoris300px

Could you please share an excerpt from your story?

Happy to! This comes toward the beginning of the book: Estelle had found the first lump by accident on the morning of Adam’s wedding.

The night before, Charlie had given her a pill and she’d overslept. She’d rushed through her makeup, painting on eyebrows and coloring her cheeks. She’d been zipping herself into her dress, but it didn’t sit right in the bosom. As she slipped it this way and that and adjusted her bra, she felt something hard and uneven in her right breast, like the end of a chicken bone. She thought about all those medical shows, the books she’d read, and the women she’d known who’d gone through such things. They compared the size of their tumors to food: a pea, an orange, a grapefruit. This lump was nothing that familiar and nothing that round. This was like a knuckle, a dagger, a hand grenade. She sat on the edge of the bed and smoked three cigarettes in a row. The phone rang twice and each time she just sat on her damask spread and smoked.

The first time the answering machine picked up, the caller didn’t leave a message. That was Adam. Adam didn’t leave messages.

The second time it was Charlie. “Hi, Mom. Just seeing when you want me to pick you up.”

This is meshugge, she thought.  People do this every day. People got married. Other people dressed up and traveled for hours to see the bride and groom recite their vows and step on the wine glass. They ate fancy food and slipped checks into the groom’s pockets. They smiled, wished them well, gossiped about the in-laws, and debated the couple’s chances in the car on the way home.

Estelle didn’t know about that Liza. There was something wrong with the way she was raised by her father, like a boy. Adam needed a woman. But she seemed like a smart girl, a practical girl. Estelle hoped to God Liza was smart enough to figure out how to make the marriage work. The phone rang again.

If she didn’t answer, the boys would think something was wrong and rush over. She couldn’t tell them, not on Adam’s wedding day. Whatever her opinions about Liza, Adam seemed happy. She wouldn’t make this the day he found out the time bomb went off. It was Charlie, asking how she’d slept. Fine.

She’d slept fine. “Your father,” she said, “may he rest in peace, he couldn’t drop dead on the golf course like everybody else? He couldn’t go quietly in his sleep? No, he had to have a massive coronary in the middle of synagogue on Yom Kippur and make the newspapers and scar the entire community for life.”

“I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose, Mom. Although if you have to go, it might as well be memorable.”

“Adam could have gotten married anywhere. A catering hall. Or that beautiful park on the river. But no, he had to pick Temple Beth Make-the-rest-of-your-mother’s-hair-fall-out.”

“You need more Valium?”

Estelle lit another cigarette. “Bring the bottle.”

Fantastic! Looking forward to reading your story! What was Estelle’s childhood like and does this in any way affect the decisions she makes in adulthood?

Estelle Trager was raised in a conservative Jewish household in New York in the 1940s. Growing up on the back end of the Great Depression and a war that required many sacrifices, most children were taught to be grateful for what they had and to shut up about it. A common refrain (this is what I hear from my family, at least) was that it always could be worse, and that children were starving in Israel, so consider yourself lucky. Parents sometimes spoke Yiddish in the house when they didn’t want the children to understand what they were saying. The expectation for most girls in that subculture was, upon graduating from high school, marriage and babies would quickly follow, and that would become the focus of your life. Essentially Estelle is taught to never put herself first. This is one of the reasons she chooses to conceal her breast cancer as an adult: She doesn’t want anyone to fuss on her account. She’d also watched her grandmother and her mother die from the disease, in a time when treatment was like taking an atom bomb to an ant, and she doesn’t want to put her own children through the same pain she suffered.

What was Estelle’s young married life in New York’s outer boroughs in the 1950s and 1960s like? And why did you choose the New York boroughs as the setting for those periods.

Because of my family history, it was a setting that was almost mythical in my eyes. It seemed natural to put Estelle in an apartment in the Bronx. She lived near her parents and in-laws; everything she needed was in the neighborhood. It seemed to me a crystalline bit of time, before families began moving out of the city into suburbs and relative isolation. Her husband had a blue-collar job, didn’t make enough money, spent too much time playing cards with his friends, and was not around much for the boys. But Estelle had been taught to make do, to put up with it (at least in public), because according to her upbringing, that’s the bargain you make when you get married.

Please tell me a little about her children.

Adam, a stockbroker, is her first-born. In Estelle’s tradition, the first-born son often gets more attention. This ground to a halt when Adam was five, because Estelle got pregnant with Charlie, her second son, and Estelle’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Nearly every afternoon, Estelle would leave Adam with a sitter and go cook for her parents. Charlie was Estelle’s sunny salvation, her miracle baby who brightened her mother’s days and Estelle’s own grief. Adam grew from a sulky child to a quick-tempered and petulant man while Charlie, now a television producer, was and continues to be her golden boy. Even Adam’s wife likes Charlie better sometimes. Estelle struggles with the guilt that she does not love her two sons equally. As adults, the sibling rivalry between Adam and Charlie is an undercurrent that gets stronger in Estelle’s presence and comes to a head when she becomes ill.

If there is any message in this story for a reader to grasp, what would it be?

I don’t like to start writing with a message in mind. But I did want to explore why Estelle chose to conceal her condition from her family. That led to themes about personal choice in treatment and end-of-life decisions. And the effects those choices have on all members of a family.

How long did it take for you to write your story and were there any challenges?

I wrote the first draft in a month as a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project, although the story had been burning inside me for a while. Subsequent drafts took longer, because I wanted to get the medical details right and flesh out the characters and their motivations and conflicts. My biggest challenge came as I was wrapping up the final proofread—the marketing. I had a mini panic attack: How do I position a novel about cancer in a world of inspirational memoirs of cancer journeys? Who will read this? After a lot of deep breathing and some good advice, I focused on the family. That first and foremost this is a family story, something a lot of people can connect to, rather than “a story about cancer.”

What genre does this story fall under and what do you like most about writing in the genre?

It usually falls under contemporary fiction or women’s fiction. I love writing contemporary because today’s problems are so complex, and we’re trying to do our best with what we have. I like to see how other people handle difficult situations. Maybe they’ll do a better job than I have with some of them.

What are some of the things readers have said about your book?

I’ve heard from several readers who appreciate the compassion and humor the characters have lent to the story. Some readers are either survivors themselves or have lost loved ones to cancer and they can relate to the perspectives from all sides. Some like the fact that I’m addressing “the elephant in the room” as one reader put it, that we’re opening up the discussion about end-of-life decisions. Several have called it a page-turner and could not put it down once they started reading. And many of them adored Charlie so much that I gave him two books of his own.

How much time do you spend a week writing and do you work with an outline?

Writing time varies, but averages five to ten hours a week. I just finished a year of experimenting with a modified type of outline, and in the end, it began to weigh on me. I may go back to some hybrid of that at some point, but for my own work right now, I prefer to sink into the characters and find the story organically.

As a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer, what advice would you give to writers who are about to self-publish their work?

Above everything, I’d suggest they focus on quality. Put out as a good a product as you can. That means a professional-looking cover, polished writing that has gone through as many drafts as it needs, attention to editing and proofreading, appropriate formatting for e-book and print, and a compelling description. You do not have to do this alone. Even though it’s “self-publishing,” you can still gather a support team that can help you in many ways, from getting a fresh pair of eyes on your writing to asking if your cover design speaks to the readers you want, as well as what marketing and promotion venues have worked for other authors. We’re all out there; just ask us.

Where can readers buy your book?

Don’t Tell Anyone is available from most major online retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and Smashwords. Amazon

Barnes & Noble

itunes

Smashwords

Kobo
Thank you, Laurie! It has been a pleasure chatting with you! Thank you, Stephanie! It’s been fun, and thank you for your support and work with indieBRAG.

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A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Laurie Boris, who is the author of, Don’t Tell Anyone, 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, Don’t Tell Anyone, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Kristen Taber

Krsiten Taber

Born in Bangor, Maine, author Kristen Taber spent her childhood at the feet of an Irish storytelling grandfather, learning to blend fact with fiction and imagination with reality. She lived within the realm of the tales that captivated her, breathing life into characters and crafting stories even before she could read.

Those stories have since turned into over a hundred poems, several short tales, and five manuscripts in both the Young Adult and Adult genres. Currently, Ms. Taber is completing the five-part Ærenden series from her home office in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Hello Kristen! Thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion. 

Thank you so much! It’s such an honor and it’s an honor to be here today, as well.

First, tell me how you discovered indieBRAG and what has your experience been with self-publishing thus far?

I found indieBRAG through another writer’s blog while surfing the net a couple of years ago. To be honest, I don’t remember whose! But I’m glad I ran into it. It’s a wonderful group and community and I’m proud to be a part of it. In fact, I’ve found the Indie community at large to be a wonderful family environment. Every author I’ve met has been so willing to share advice and help their fellow Indie artists. I think this is what I love most about self-publishing. It’s not about competition, but about doing our best to hone our craft and become the best writers we can be; it’s encouraging and humbling at the same time.

How often do you write?

These days, not as often as I’d like. Typically I follow the 1,000 words a day rule of thumb for writing, because it can be difficult to spend hours at a time writing with a toddler and job to manage. Lately, though, that’s been difficult. I have my second child due in two weeks, so I’m prepping for her arrival. I plan on taking a month or so off after she’s born to get our new schedule settled, then hopefully I can get back to my minimum daily word count. At least, I’d better! I’m nearly finished with book 4 in the Ærenden series and I don’t want to keep my fans waiting any longer.

In your bio you mention that your Irish grandfather would tell you stories. Can you share one with us?

My grandfather is a private person. It’s not often that he gives me permission to share his stories, though I do have one story he allowed me to share on my blog; I hope you don’t mind me re-sharing it here. Someday I hope to get him to record all of his stories so I can write a book about his life. I have no doubt it would be fascinating.

He called me tonight, after I sent my mom an email requesting his permission to use some of his stories on my blog.

“Hello, kid,” he greets me, as he usually does. His down east accent drawls in my ear, a reminder of home as much as a reminder of the warmth his love provides. “How’s my favorite granddaughter?”

“When did I move up the ranks?” I ask.

He laughs. All five of us get that greeting, I think, unless he really feels like teasing us. Then we’re last.

But he gets to his point quickly, also as he usually does.

“Well, I can’t think of any stories right now, but you can use ’em. Can you not use the names?”

“I can change them.”

“Good, good. Well, see, there’s one. Did I ever tell you about…”

(They always start like this)

“…one of our ancestors? Tommy Collin was his name. He came across from Ireland direct. His family wanted him to marry an Irish girl, so they sent back to the old country for one. She came, a lovely girl, and they got married. One day soon after, he took her into town.”

He pauses, then says. “Well, this is a true story, you know. He goes into town with her on the trolley, then returns home. Only he forgot he was married and left her right there in town.”

“Wait, he left her behind?”

“Ayuh, without any money. She eventually got home, but until the day of her death, she never forgave him. She walked ten feet behind him for the rest of their lives. She refused to walk beside him. You’d think since he forgot her, that wouldn’t be the smart thing, but that’s what she did. She could always see him that way, you see. And that’s the God’s honest truth.”

Somehow, I believe it is.

That is really special, Kristen! How neat!

Please tell me about your story, Ærenden: The Child Returns and what genre does it fall under.

The Child Returns centers around two protagonists: Meaghan, a typical 17-year-old who lives an uneventful life on Earth, and her friend and love interest, 21-year-old Nick who rents the apartment above her parent’s garage. Of course, this is an Epic Fantasy, so it doesn’t stay uneventful for long. Meaghan soon learns that there are other worlds beyond hers and a much bigger purpose for her life, all while on the run from magical creatures intent on killing her.

Kristen Taber book cover

What is a Mardróch?

A Mardróch is a part-human, part-monster created by Garon, the self-appointed King of Ærenden. Their supernatural powers, impervious cloaks, and lack of morals make them nearly impossible to defeat.

Could you please share an excerpt?

My pleasure! The following is the beginning of The Child Returns, a dream-memory that haunts Meaghan throughout the novel.

THE WALLS fell in first. A flash of light and smoke came next. Or could it have been the other way around? It happened so fast, she could not remember. The air smelled funny, like when Papa put out the fire before bed. It filled her mouth and her nose. It stuffed her lungs and clogged her breathing. Then it turned thick and black so she could not see. She coughed. She tried to stand, to run, but her legs sagged beneath her. Tugging on a curtain, she pulled three times before she grew tired of toppling over, and crawled toward her bedroom. She called for her mama, but heard only the sound of distant screams through the smoke. None of them was Mama.

“Mama? Mama?” she cried again, feeling her way along the floor. Her fingers brushed a rug, soft and cool compared to the stone floor. A glowing fire consumed part of the room, heating the stone. It crept toward her. Fires hurt. Papa had told her she should not touch them. Sometimes she thought about trying to see if he was right, but she did not want to try with this one. It seemed angry. Its flames popped and snarled.

The couch began to glow, and then disappeared as the fire swept over it. It folded in half, crashing to the floor with a loud bang. She yelped. Tears stung her eyes and wet her cheeks. Her arms shook. Her legs trembled. She backed away, and found the table that usually stood in the middle of the living room. It must have toppled over too. It lay on its side next to a body that looked like Mama.

What is one of the challenges Meaghan faces and how does it affect her?

Meaghan’s biggest challenge in this book is learning her true strength and identity. She starts out believing she knows everything about her life. She has a plan in place of exactly how she wants her future to unfold, but in one horrible day, she learns that everything she ever knew has been a lie. As more secrets are exposed, she must come to terms with who she truly is and decide if she wants to accept her new life or try to reassemble the fragments of her former world. Throughout this week-long journey, she also learns that her strength runs deeper than she ever imagined.

Why did you chose an epic fantasy saga to write and what interests you most about the genre?

I’ve always been a huge fan of epic fantasy, ever since I picked up my first copy of Lord of the Rings and then later, fell in love with David Eddings. I like having an element of reality to the stories, while still being surprised by elements of the impossible—dragons, elves, horrific creatures, nightmares and beauty beyond what we have ever thought possible, yet so believable at the same time.

I can’t say that I chose my first book so much as it chose me. All of my stories stem from dreams. In this case, I saw Nick and Meaghan in their confrontation with his mother (it’s near the end of The Child Returns, so I’ll say no more about it here!) and I had to continue following their journey, so I did. This happened way back in high school, so it’s been percolating for more years than I’m willing to mention. The fact it’s epic fantasy probably has a lot to do with the books I like to read, so as my dreams (and later writing) continued to unfold, they followed that familiar path.

Could you give me an example how you blend both a part-modern, part-medieval kingdom? I love the idea of that.

Although this story begins on Earth, which adds an element of modern times to both the plot and character experiences throughout the book, the kingdom of Ærenden also has its own unique blend of modern and medieval. They use electricity, thanks to an electrical power, and a clock system for time, yet they have no concept of guns or modern weapons. They use swords and arrows for their primary fighting (alongside their active powers, of course). This sort of juxtaposition and their knowledge of other worlds, like Earth, can sometimes lead to a fascinating blend of philosophy for the Ærenden people.

What is an example of how you utilize Celtic and tribal influences, in your story?

My tribal influences show up strongly with the Zeiihbuans. Although technically a part of the kingdom, they don’t consider themselves similar to the Ærenden people. They’ve lived as tribes throughout their history and hold some of the same philosophies attributed to nature-loving tribes on Earth, including some of their rituals and respect for animals.

Celtic influences tend to show up more in how I name my characters and creatures. I lean toward researching Gaelic and Celtic roots as a nod to my own heritage.

How long did it take for you to write your story and who designed your book cover?

The Child Returns took about 3 months to write and another year to edit, partly because I’m a strong pantser when I write. I’ve tried the outline route, but find that not only is it limiting, my characters go in different directions anyway. Of course, that means a lot has to change after the first draft to ensure the book doesn’t tangent too much.

Don’t you love the Mardróch on the cover? They creep me out! Katarina Vamvasaki designed the front and Lance Ganey designed the back and spine.

What advice would you give to a writer who wants to write in this genre?

Have fun with it. While it is important to make sure your story is believable, fantasy works best when you let your imagination run wild. So have at it! Take those creatures you imagine in the closets and under the bed and harness them for your books. The more you jump into the deep end of that pool, the more creatures will show for you, so exercise your creativity (but maybe sleep with a light on).

Thank you Kristen! It was a pleasure chatting with you!

Likewise! Thanks so much for having me on Layered Pages.

Links:

Website

Ærenden

Also, social links may be found here

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Kristen Taber, who is the author of, Ærenden: The Child Returns, 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, Ærenden: The Child Returns, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Barbara Ann Mojica

Barbara Ann Majica

Award winning author Barbara Ann Mojica is a historian and retired educator living in New York State. Barbara spent more than forty years teaching in NYC in the fields of preschool, elementary and special education. She also served as a special education principal for a school devoted to developmentally delayed children and a special education administrator providing services to the special education population. Barbara, although retired from teacher, is staying busy: along with her series of Little Miss History travel books she writes historical pieces for The Columbia Insider, Pat Fisher and Ed Pollack Editors, under the banner “Passages.” Marrying her love of teaching and history, Barbara hopes her Little Miss History character will inspire children to learn about historical people and visit landmarks such as those in MOUNT RUSHMORE, The STATUE of LIBERTY, SEQUOIA National Park, and FORD’s THEATER, which are covered in the first four books of this series.

Hello Barbara! Thank you for chatting with me today and welcome back to Layered Pages to talk about your newest B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree book, Little Miss HISTORY Travels to SEQUOIA National Park. Congratulation on the medallion. That is praise indeed! First please tell me how your experience with Self-publishing has been and what have you learned along the way.

I choose to self-publish for two reasons:1) it allows me the freedom to determine release dates and scheduling and 2) it allows me to control my subject matter. The boundaries between self-publishing and traditional publishing have blurred because the mergers and acquisitions of large publishing houses and the resulting diminished staff have resulted in the authors taking on the bulk of promotional activities. So I would probably be doing most of the marketing tasks anyway. Marketing is time consuming and difficult, but putting in the effort leads to steady progress. As a bonus, I have acquired many wonderful friendships with parents, teachers, readers, and fellow authors.

Tell me a little about Little Miss History and her new adventure at SEQUOIA National Park.

Little Miss HISTORY is the main character. She looks like a wannabe park ranger wearing pig tails and hiking boots three sizes too big. Little Miss HISTORY is telling her story today in SEQUOIA National Park, which is located in northern California. Since her last expedition to the Statue of Liberty, she is flying across the North American continent to the recesses of Sequoia National Park, where she is skydiving into its forest. Here in the “land of the living giants,” the reader will learn about the differences between redwood and sequoia trees and of its first inhabitants and wildlife. Through breathtaking illustrations, adventurers will traverse its trails and immerse themselves in the awesome beauty and magnificence of Sequoia National Park. Readers will also discover the hidden dangers lurking there.

Little Miss History and her new adventure at SQUOIA National park

What are the advantages that Little Miss History has to learn so much about American History?

I am a firm believer in the philosophy that if one doesn’t understand his mistakes, one won’t be able to avoid making them again in the future. Little Miss HISTORY and I live by the motto, “If you don’t know your history, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively through the United States and far afield. When travel behind the Iron Curtain opened up to western tourists, I was one of the first to book a tour. My journeys include visiting much of China as well as Western Europe. Right now my focus is on travel to historic sites in the United States because they are so interesting, diverse and easily accessible to most tourists.

Tell me about one of her experiences meeting anyone of these characters, Hale Dixon Tharp, John Muir, William Tecumseh Sherman, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

If Little Miss HISTORY had to choose one character in her Sequoia adventure to meet in person, I think it would be John Muir. As the Father of National Parks, he was the first to bring issues of conservation of natural resources to the attention of the United States government. I would ask him about his talks with Hale Dixon Tharp and his experiences in settling the wilderness. Of course I would not hesitate to ask why Muir fled to Canada rather than serve in the army during the Civil War, and what he did in Canada while he was a refugee.

I love the whole premise of a nonfiction historical book using a fictional character as a guide. What a fantastic way to get kids excited about history. How did you come up with the idea?

Little Miss HISTORY is portrayed as a cartoon-like character whose aim is to make learning about people and places of historical importance both fun and educational. In reality, she is based on a younger version of myself. When I retired from a long career as a teacher and school administrator, I wanted to combine my two loves, teaching and history. My husband, who is an illustrator with many years of experience, came up with the idea of basing the character on me. My father had large feet and the oversize hiking boots are in his memory. The safari outfit she wears is reminiscent of the park ranger uniform. I really wore a pair of sunglasses like Little Miss way back when. What’s wrong about seeing the world through rose-colored glasses?

How long does it take you to write children’s books and who is your illustrator?

The entire process of writing takes three to six months. First, I decide on the place or event. Then the book becomes a research project. I research online and in the library and/or my personal history collection and experiences. Next I write a draft; I never work from an outline. Then I begin revising. I go back to each draft after a couple of weeks and do that several times. Picture books need to be concise so I am ruthless with the editing. I will also be writing press releases and doing preliminary marketing. My husband/illustrator makes thumb nail sketches for each page. Then they morph into a sketch for each page. We confer together on the images. My illustrator then colors them and in some instances combines them with photos or other images. When finished they are placed in a template. We do a final edit. Then it is off to the printer for a proof copy. If that comes back perfect, we approve it. Voila! Now it’s time to release and market the book.

Where in your home do you like to write and how much time do you spend on the craft?

My books are written at my desk with my computer in eugenus® STUDIOS. My husband/illustrator has a drafting table and computer set up in the same room. We generally work at least eight hours a day, almost every day of the week.

What’s up next for you?

Next up for me will be a new adventure with Little Miss HISTORY visiting Intrepid Air and Space Museum, which I hope to release in the first half of 2015. I have already written two other books, and have two more in the preliminary stages of writing. In addition, I continue to write bi-monthly historical articles for a local news magazine, and I read and review family friendly books for my blog and the Quest Teaching/Reading website.

What are some of the positive reviews you have received for you book(s)?

I have been fortunate to receive B.R.A.G. Medallions for the first three books in the Little Miss HISTORY series. The recently released fourth book visiting FORD’S THEATER is currently being considered. All four books have received FIVE STAR READER’S FAVORITE reviews and numerous four and five star reviews on amazon. The SEQUOIA Book also received the 2014 Honorable Mention for grades 3-4 in the Children’s Literature Independently Published

Principal’s Awards (CLIPPA) Here are a few snippets from reviews…..

What a great series of books to get children interested in history … and such a fun way to learn history!! This book starts with a bang … and is packed full of historical facts about Sequoia National Park told in a way that will entice children to become curious about finding out more. I know I am! The illustrations are fabulous! Right from the beginning, the book drew me in with “Little Miss History,” as the guide. She’s a strong (and fun) guide and spokesperson. I can see these books being presented as an animated TV series, possibly on the History Channel, or similar channel! I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, which is cleverly introduced to readers on the last page of the book. Another delightful read from Barbara Ann and Victor Ramon Mojica! Little Miss History Travels to Sequoia National Park is the third children’s book in the “Little Miss History” series. I must admit I am hooked on “Little Miss History” stories. Don’t even start me on the amazing artwork that charms readers from the first page. I’ve read the two first books (Little Miss History Travels to Mount Rushmore and Little Miss History Travels to the Statue of Liberty), and they are fantastic!

Thank you, Barbara and please come back soon to chat with me. It was a pleasure.

Thank you so much, Stephanie for giving me the opportunity to chat with you on Layered Pages. Looking forward to connecting again soon!

Little Miss HISTORY series:

Little Miss HISTORY Travels to MOUNT RUSHMORE

Little Miss HISTORY Travels to The STATUE of LIBERTY

Little Miss HISTORY Travels to SEQUOIA NATIONAL FOREST

Little Miss HISTORY Travels to FORD’S THEATER

SOCIAL LINKS:

Little Miss HISTORY website

This website contains previews of books in the series, book purchasing links, my email contact information, video, Little Miss HISTORY store merchandise, and link back to my blog.

Barbara Ann Mojica’s Blog

This is my blog which provides updates on the Little Miss History series, book reviews of family friendly books, book blasts, giveaways, and book blog tours.

Facebook Fan Author Page

Updates, events, posted reviews and communication with fellow authors.

Twitter Fan Page

Up to date information on children’s books, publishing, classroom news, and current events.

Google +

Information on profile, communities and shared information with fellow authors.

Linked In

Resume, professional contacts, communities and discussion groups.

Goodreads

Goodreads author page for profile, book reviews, current events, and discussions

Amazon Author Page

Author Profile, events, book buying links, reviews and current events.

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Barbara Ann Mojica, who is the author of, Little Miss History and her new adventure at SEQUOIA National Park, 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, Little Miss History and her new adventure at SQUOIA National park, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

 

A Writer’s life with Author Wendy J. Dunn

Wendy Dunn

I’d like to welcome Author Wendy J. Dunn to Layered Pages today to talk about her writing. She is an Australian writer who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel.

While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her own family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wendy is married and the mother of three sons and one daughter—named after a certain Tudor queen, surprisingly, not Anne.

Wendy tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program. She also works as a literature support teacher at a primary school.

Why do you write?

Why do I write, Stephanie? Writing is the way I achieve a complete life. Text is my mirror to look at myself and my world, and one of my means to achieve personal growth. I have learnt through writing the truth of Jacques Derrida’s words: “human beings require the mediation of consciousness, or the mirror of language, in order to know themselves and the world” (Derrida Online). Through the act of writing, life, that glass darkly, becomes less dark and clearer. I see writing as a space that creates and builds empathy – not only for the reader, but for the writer, too.

How has writing impacted your life?

Writing has not only impacted on my life, but also moulded it into an authentic life. I was only eight when I committed myself to writing. At ten, I won my first writing competition for a poem. I was also ten when a friend gave me a child’s book of English history and I read its story of Elizabeth I. As an unwanted and seemingly unloved daughter of a father who valued only sons, I connected to the story of another seemingly unwanted daughter. That book changed my life and began my lifelong desire to learn and then write about the Tudors.

Writing shaped my identity, my life and continues to do so. Writing is my life-tool. I re-storied and reshaped my life through writing.

My father came from the slums of London. Growing up for him was a constant struggle against adversity and deprivation. The tragedy of my father’s life was similar to many of his generation. He received no opportunities to fulfil his potential and this left him a tormented man. He believed he did his children no favours by giving them a happy childhood. He also believed you could not change the narrative of your life: if you were born poor, you died poor. But, like many Cockneys, my father was a born storyteller; his occasional bedtime story was one of the best times of my childhood. His vivid retelling of history, folklore and family stories fed my imagination, and built the first stones to my writerly self.

My father devoured books. Once he read them, he discarded the books into our spare broom cupboard. I burrowed my way through them: history, philosophy, the complete works of Shakespeare, politics and classic novels. My love of reading increased my daydreams of a future as a writer.

My father balked (or maybe panicked) at the thought of supporting two daughters (my older sister was a gifted Mathematics student and that pushed her through the door) during the years of university and pulled the plug out of my hope to complete High School. I left school and home at seventeen, and became a shop assistant.

Not long afterwards, I met my husband, married him at eighteen and had our first child ten months later. But my desire to write never left me.

Years later, I entered a local University through their early leavers’ scheme, academic success gave me the confidence to return to writing and pursue a career in education. Employed as an Arts and Craft teacher, I decided to a complete a Graduate Diploma in Visual and Performance Arts. It immersed me in the creative process and the floodgates opened to the novel I had started to write in my twenties. Words poured out of me. I emerged from the end of the course with the first draft of my first historical novel, Dear Heart, How Like You This? Over ten years later, and lots of re-writing during my summer breaks from teaching, an American small press publisher offered to published it in 2002.

Writing is a way of being to me now rather than a way to earn a living. That no longer matters so much because I have something richer in its place, a deeper appreciation of how writing has helped me to grow and claim my true identity.

More than a decade ago, a year or two before my first novel was published, the very lovely Sandra Gulland (LOL – she does not remember this!) told me: Perseverance furthers. Smile – it became and remains my creed. Following it, I may not have achieved what society regards as true success for a writer, which tends to be measured in money and fame, but I have experienced a wonderful and exciting life adventure.

Wndy Dunn book cover

What advice would you give a beginner writer?

Write because you’re passionate about the craft of writing, not because you see it as a way to make money or become famous; very few writers support themselves purely through writing.

Join a supportive writing group and strive to be a supportive member. Keep reading. Reading is a serious and necessary tool of study for the writing craft. (I always find myself bemused when another writer tells me they don’t read books. In my humble opinion, reading is the other side of writing.)

One of my most favourite sayings is this: ‘Aim at the sun, and you may not reach it, but your arrow will fly far higher than if aimed at an object on a level with yourself’. If you love to write, then write and aim at the sun.

Bibliography:

Jacques Derrida Assessed online

Author Website

 

 

 

Sunday Book Highlight

Edinburgh

November 1745

The Chidren in the shadows

As the nights grow longer in the depths of a Scottish winter, Robert Young, Captain Travers, their families and friends chase the darkness away as they gather to celebrate a joyful engagement. But grim news cast a pall over the happy atmosphere.

A sobbing woman has carried the body of a child into the headquarters of Edinburgh’s Town Guard. In her hand she still clutches a bloody dagger.

What at first was thought to be no more than a domestic tragedy soon becomes a hunt for a cold blooded killer who runs the worst possible sort of brothel.

Robert Young faces a race against time to find the guilty and save other children from the same fate.

His investigation will bring him face to face with his deadliest and most ruthless adversary to date and leave him fighting for his life!

Excerpt…

Robert Young shifted his weight slightly onto his rear foot as he took up the en-guarde position as he stared along the length of his rapier blade towards the unblinking eyes of the handsome young man before him. Neither spoke but watched with all their concentration for the smallest opening in their opponents defence. With a half step forward Robert flicked aside the man’s blade and forced him back a step but instantly his blade came back in a flurry forcing Robert to parry first one attack and then another as he gave ground steadily before the assault. With sweat stinging his eyes Robert realised that this young man was his superior in fencing and was forced to try an attack of his own. From the high guard position Robert jumped forward into a desperate lunge which the man only avoided by twisting to the side and retreated several steps.

“Nearly Mr. Young” he said with a thin smile. “But not quite near enough I fear. Now I think it is time for me to show you how to do it properly”. With his rapier flicking back and forth in the quarter guard he began once more to advance on Robert whose own blade could only parry each move towards him as he once again was forced to retreat before the relentless attack. Despite his clear advantage the man did not press forward to deliver the coup de main and after forcing Robert back until he was almost pressed against the wall of the large empty room where they fought he broke off and walked away leaving his back defenseless as though daring Robert to strike at him.

Wiping the sweat from his face with his left sleeve Robert gulped down several breaths and slowly followed the man who now stood in the centre of the room with the mocking blade slowly weaving a figure eight in the air before them. Robert could feel himself tiring already and knew that if he intended to win he had to do something soon. His opponent was simply toying with him and both men knew it was only a matter of time before the man swept past his defences and delivered the final blow. Silently damning the man Robert drew to a halt just beyond striking distance and brought his blade back into the en-guarde as he took up the stance once more with his left hand folded into the small of his back.

His opponent was his equal in height and build being six foot tall with a slim athletic figure and with the same long dark hair they would have been difficult to tell apart from a distance. Only the flat grey eyes of the man in comparison to the warm dark brown of Robert’s set them apart. Both men were in their late twenties and were even dressed the same in loose white shirts, black britches and stockings. The other outward sign was that while Robert was sweating with exertion the other looked as fresh as someone who had just spent the last five minutes reading a book and not desperately trying to avoid being struck with the blade of a rapier.

Forcing himself to smile confidently Robert held his blade before him as he tried to relax his aching wrist and forearm. “En-guarde” he said quietly as the blades kissed as lightly as nervous lovers for the first time.

Author Bio:

Stuart Laing

Born and raised on the east coast of Scotland in the ancient Pictish Kingdom of Fife Stuart grew up looking across the Firth of Forth towards the spires and turrets of the city of Edinburgh and its castle atop its volcanic eyrie.

He has always been fascinated by the history of Auld Reekie and has spends most of his life studying Scottish history in all its aspects whenever he finds the time between family, work and the thousand and one other things that seek to distract him.

Despite the vast panorama of Scotland’s history he always find himself being drawn back to the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Those streets have provided the inspiration for his stories and characters.

He would urge all visitors to Scotland’s ancient capital to (briefly) venture into one of the narrow closes running down from the Royal Mile to get a flavour of how alive with mischief, mayhem, love and laughter these streets once were.

Purchase Links

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Author Website

Twitter: @fiferover