Review: Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

Season of Storms

A mystery trapped in time…

In 1921, infamous Italian poet Galeazzo D’Ascanio wrote his last and greatest play, inspired by his muse and mistress, actress Celia Sands. On the eve of opening night, Celia vanished, and the play was never performed.

Now, two generations later, Alessandro D’Ascanio plans to stage his grandfather’s masterpiece and has offered the lead to a promising young English actress, also named Celia Sands—at the whim of her actress mother, or so she has always thought. When Celia arrives at D’Ascanio’s magnificent, isolated Italian villa, she is drawn to the mystery of her namesake’s disappearance—and to the compelling, enigmatic Alessandro.

But the closer Celia gets to learn the first Celia’s fate, the more she is drawn into a web of murder, passion, and the obsession of genius. Though she knows she should let go of the past, in the dark, in her dreams, it comes back…


This is the first book I have read by Kearsley and I hear so much about her stories… When I first saw this book I was captivated by the cover and when I read the description I was even more drawn in….so my expectations were rather high.

First, I must say what a great plot and setting for a story! An isolated villa, mysterious happenings, Italy, playwrights, murder, and a hunting past that stays in the present. Themes of an enthralling read. So why wasn’t I hooked in as thought I would be? I felt some scenes were slow or not important to the story and I felt that some things weren’t fully drawn out as they should have been. And the plot took too long to fall into place, the character development could have been stronger in the beginning and middle. Alas, It got better towards the end.

I will say it was atmospheric and I love the descriptions of the villa’s surroundings. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the premise but this was an okay read for me.

However, I’m not giving up on the author’s books and I look forward to reading more of her stories soon.

I have rated this book three stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Nancy Lucas

Nancy Lucus-BRAG

Nancy Lucas lives in Charleston, SC. Scout is her favorite Springer Spaniel and she insists on writing silly stories about his capers. Stay tuned for the third tail in the Springer Spaniel Mystery series, “The Missing Tulip Bulbs”, in which Scout and his friends search for tulip bulbs that mysteriously disappear night by night. And Scout suspects one of his best friends is the culprit!

Hello Nancy! Thank you for talking to me today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for your book, A Ghostly Tail: A Springer Spaniel Mystery (#2).

How neat to write stories about your Springer Spaniel! Please tell me a little about your story.

A ghost dog bully lives next door to Scout and taunts him rudely. Then, when Scout spends the night in that house, the ghost dog bully, Hamish (an Irish Wolfhound), tears up a box of cheese crackers and scatters it all over a room. The guy housesitting cannot see Hamish and therefore might think Scout had done it. So Scout and Chisolm quickly clean up the mess before the housesitter-friend wakes up in the morning. And that’s not all. The ghost dog bully is mean to everyone and when Scout asks why, he confesses his people moved away without him. Scout and Chisolm hatch a plan to return him to his people.

Do Scout and Chisolm get into some mischief?

Scout does, of course. Chisolm usually looks on and offers very polite advice. They met in the Charleston sewers when Scout was looking for some missing Boston Terriers in the first book. Chisolm was distracted by food lying around and Scout had to keep him focused on their mission. Also, Chisolm knew how to calm Hamish and make him help clean up the cheese crackers since he knows Hamish is terrified of Possums and Palmetto Bugs.

A Ghostly Tale

I love how your story is set in Charleston, SC and you use real street names that are well known. Could you name a few?

Montagu Street (our neighborhood), King Street (shopping), Meeting Street, Wentworth Street

What age group would this a good read for?

This is a good introduction to chapter books for 8 year-olds and up (and some of my friends have been reading a chapter per night to their very young children). I use all the big words in context so young people can be exposed to as many large words as possible. The dogs and possum all have an amazing vocabulary!

Who designed your book cover?

I drew all the illustrations and designed the book cover. I laid out the book for printing and Kindle in Adobe InDesign.

Charleston is such a great place and an inspirational place to write stories. Will you write stories that are set there other than children books?

Yes, I have finished a novel called “Courage of a Vampire” that I will self-publish next month. I sought an agent, but did not have any luck. This book follows a teen girl as she graduates from high school in South Carolina and moves to Richmond, Virginia where all her real vampire problems begin, and then she finds herself living and working in Charleston, pining after the lost love of her life and pondering immortality.

The second novel I’m working on right now is satire about the Charleston real estate market called “The Big Deal, A Charleston Real Estate Caper”. A UFO appears in the harbor one day, blocking the shipping channel and the whole city must evacuate. Chaos, of course, ensues!

So, I like to write about different things, as you can see.

Where do you like to write and how long does it take to write your stories?

I wrote my vampire novel in three months in my kitchen and dining room. I tend to work on the Springer Mystery books once a month, making up conversations in my head as I walk my Springer around my neighborhood, which is how it all started.

Will there be more in this mystery series?

Absolutely! The third book, “The Missing Tulips” is already available at Amazon in print and Kindle. The printed illustrations are in black and white, and in color on Kindle. I have started working on the fourth book, “The Curse of the Carriage Mule” and hope to have it published later this year. A NEW PUPPY is introduced in the “Tulips” mystery.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

I was doing research on marketing and it was suggested that I submit my books for reviews and awards to gain credence and exposure. indieBRAG has been extremely helpful with all their marketing tips and shout-outs. Many thanks to you and indieBRAG!

Where can readers buy your book?! This link leads to a page that shows all 3 books.


Scout’s Blog

Thank you, Nancy!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Nancy Lucas, who is the author of, A Ghostly Tail: A Springer Spaniel Mystery (#2), 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, A Ghostly Tail: A Springer Spaniel Mystery (#2), merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.



Book Spotlight: Between the Cracks by Carmela Cattuti


Publication Date: August 15, 2013 Three Towers Press Formats: eBook, Paperback Pages: 324

Genre: Historical Fiction


Join Angela Lanza as she experiences the tumultuous world of early 20th century Sicily and New York. Orphaned by the earthquake and powerful eruption of Mt. Etna in 1908, Angela is raised in the strict confines of an Italian convent. Through various twists of fate, she is married to a young Italian man whom she barely knows, then together with her spouse, immigrates to the U.S. This novel is an invitation to accompany the young Angela as she confronts the ephemeral nature of life on this planet and navigates the wide cultural gaps between pre-World War II Italy and the booming prosperity of dynamic young America. Author, artist, and teacher Carmela Cattuti created Between the Cracks as an homage to her great-aunt, who survived the earthquake and eruption of Mt. Etna and bravely left Sicily to start a new life in America.

Book Giveaway here

Buy the Book

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Book Depository

About the Author


Carmela Cattuti started her writing career as a journalist for the Somerville News in Boston, MA. After she finished her graduate work in English Literature from Boston College she began to write creatively and taught a journal writing course at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education As fate would have it, she felt compelled to write her great aunt’s story. “Between the Cracks” has gone through several incarnations and will now become a trilogy. This is the first installment. To connect with Carmela email her or leave a comment at

Between the Cracks Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, February 9 Guest Post at Book Babe

Tuesday, February 10 Spotlight at What Is That Book About

Thursday, February 12 Guest Post at Boom Baby Reviews

Monday, February 16 Review at Back Porchervations Spotlight at Bookish

Wednesday, February 18 Review at Book Nerd

Thursday, February 19 Spotlight at Historical Fiction Connection

Friday, February 20 Spotlight at My Book Addiction and More

Tuesday, February 24 Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, February 25 Guest Post at A Literary Vacation Spotlight at Layered Pages

Thursday, February 26 Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Friday, February 27 Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Between the cracks banner


What is in a Name with Author Lindsay Downs

Character Names and where to find them, maybe


I would like to thank the inestimable Stephanie for saving me from a fate worse than death-boredom. Yes, ladies and gentlemen a writer can be bored when they don’t have a book to write or edits to do.

On 2/19/15 I finished the rough draft to The Duke’s Bride. I planned to take until March 1 off from starting the next book in the Rogues and Rakehells series, An Earl’s Queen. By the next day with nothing to do or write it was taking its toll on me so I posted about it on one of the social media sites.

That’s when Stephanie came to my rescue. She asked, via IM, if I’d like to do a post for her Layered Pages blog. After conversing for a few minutes we came up with a plan, how and where I find some character names.

To me a name is just that, as name and it doesn’t have to tell the reader something about the character. Look at my name, Lindsay. Oh, and that’s my real name. Granted there are some you can’t use—Rocky, Bubba, Benji, Kade. And that’s just a few of the men’s. There are also limitations in the names we can use for the ladies as well.

As I’m currently writing three, yes three, different regency series: Markson Regency Mystery, Rogues and Rakehells Mystery and my newest, The Radcliffes (tentative series title) finding character names can be difficult.

Of the two name, Christian and surname, the first name is the most difficult, unless you know where to look. All around you.

When I was planning out the first book in the Markson Regency Mystery series, The Masked Lady and The Murder, for the heroine I wanted a name people would remember since she and the hero would appear in all the books. As it turned out one of the baristas at my favorite coffee shop had it-Kristin. To make the name more interesting I added an “a”. Thus Kristina was born. For the hero I went vanilla-Robert.

When it came to La Contessa and The Marquis once again I found the name at the same coffee shop. When I asked if she’d mind me using her name ‘Bianca’ she loved the idea.

La Contessa with Lindsay Downs

Where I live there are several stores I frequent and some of the employees know I’m an author. Several times they’ve asked to be included in one of my books and if possible I accommodate them. One person in particular wanted his name used and of course being Patrick it would fit nicely in one I was currently writing. Oops, not just one but two different books. I didn’t want that since the character was going to be the villain in both.

One day I’m in my local grocery store, talking with one of the staff and another overheard us. His name was Justin and it hit me, this person’s name would work perfectly in The Duke’s Bride. Asking if he’d like to have character named after him he say yes.

Then I told him, “Oh and by the way you’re going to be killed.”

His face lit up. “How?”

Being the nice guy that I am I answered, “You’ve two choices, dance the hangman’s jig or be shot.”

Needless to say he chose the latter.

My point is, if you know the person and they say “yes” you can use their name, get them partially involved in what will happen to them, in the book that is. This can help bring a stronger connection between you and them and you might have a new follower.

Here are two websites I use to help with finding names-

This is for first name- Behind the Name

This is for surnames- Surnames/Behind the Name

Just make sure the name you choose fits into the genre you’re writing as mentioned above.


When Bianca Maria Ledford Goretti, La Contessa de Massa, flees back to her homeland and the safety of her godmother, The Duchess of Gorham, little does she realize whose arms she lands in.

Lord Rainer Cross, Marquis of Hathaway, is a well-known and dangerous rakehell within the ton. Little does he suspect his godmother has set him up to halt his skirt chasing day’s.

Over time the reason for Bianca’s return comes to light which has Rainer deeply concerned. Not sure who he can trust Rainer turns to has several of his more interesting staff. He has them use their talents to ferret out the truth.

Everything get more complicated when they learn a friend might not be who he claims to be. Not sure who to trust, except Rainer and the duchess, Bianca learns several startling facts which could protect her from harm.

Once everything is revealed the duchess steps in with a surprise, something neither could have ever seen coming.

Buy Links-

Amazon US

Amazon UK


Lindsay Downs

I’ve been an avid readers ever since I was old enough to hold a red leather bound first edition copy of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake in my lap.

So it only seemed natural at some point in my life I take up pen and paper to start writing. Over time my skills slightly improved which I attribute to my English teachers.

My breakthrough came about in the mid 1970’s when I read a historical romance written by Sergeanne Golon, Angelique. This French husband and wife team opened my eyes to the real world of fiction. Stories about romance, beautiful damsels, handsome heroes and plots which kept me hooked. Of course, being a man, I had to keep my reading hidden from others as that wasn’t appropriate reading for men.

With this new found appreciation of the written word I took up other books and devoured them as a starving person would a plate of food. I them attempted to write again. I still wasn’t satisfied so I put it aside for years as other events entered my life.

Finally, in the early years of the new millennium I tried again to write and once again met with limited success. At least now I was able to get past the first page or two. Then, in 2006 a life changing event brought me back to my love, I took a job as a security officer. This allowed me plenty of time to read different genres.

My favorite was regency. As I poured through everyone I could get my hands on I knew this could be something I wanted to attempt.

Since 2012 when my debut regency romantic suspense released I was hooked and have, except for a few contemporaries, focused on this genre.

Since 2012 I’ve lived in central Texas. I’m also a member of Romance Writers of America and their local chapter.

Facebook Lindsay Downs

Facebook Pages- Lindsay Downs

Regency by Lindsay Downs

Twitter- @ldowns2966



Lindsay Downs-Roamnce Author


Life of a Writer with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Gwen Dandridge


I’d like to welcome, B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Gwen Dandridge to Layered Pages to talk about her writing. Gwen, why do you write?

I’m always the odd person out on this question. Everyone else says “because I must.” Not me. I write because I want to know what happens to my characters. They grow as a write and revise. My time spent at the computer or scratching out dialogue at a coffee shop breathes life into them and day by day I see where the story takes them. This is fun! I’m intrigued by the process, the fact that day by day a story grows and characters develop. They wouldn’t exist if I didn’t create them.

How has writing impacted your life?

Any creative undertaking changes your life. It turns you in a new direction and just the doing of it affects who you are. I’m not one to say that I’ve become a better person because of writing. I’m still me, warts and all. But writing has provided me with new avenues on interest. Friends look at me funny when asking about the “Raising Ferrets” book in my house. Or the research into medieval dyeing. Or the many, many other subjects that I’ve delved into for a writing project.

Most importantly, I’ve made many friends spread across multiple continents. People I would never have interacted with before writing but now we correspond and critique each other’s manuscripts. These are the people who understand when writing is hard, when plots need tightening or characters need additional depth.

The Stone Lions

B.R.A.G. Medallion 

What advice would you give to beginner writers?

Just the usual advice.

Get a writing group.

Write regularly, every day if you can.

Get lots of feedback on what you write. Listen to that feedback. Learn the craft of writing by reading books

Read books on writing

Commit to going to workshops/conferences about writing.

Enter contests.

Get critiqued.

Do not rush to submit your work. Make sure it is polished and re-polished.

Here are some specifics to check.

Make sure each of your characters have their own arc, not just the protagonist.

Try to have each chapter end on a page turner.

Do your research. For example, make sure you don’t have new world foods in medieval fantasies.

Remove adverbs.

Strengthen your verbs.

Check that you don’t repeat the same word over and over.

Avoid using “Suddenly.”

Be careful with your point of view that you don’t “head hop.”

If you are going to self-publish, do the following:

  1. Do your research. Make sure you know what is out there. Read many, many books in the genre you are writing.
  2. Know the basics for the book you are writing. In children’s literature, (YA, Middle Grade, Picture Books, Chapter Books) each one has specific guidelines. Make sure you know them.
  3. Take your time. Revise until your plot is tight, the characters breathe and the dialogue snappy.
  4. Put the manuscript aside for three months and then reread.
  5. Get a good cover.
  6. Be careful with how you format the inside of your book. Make it look professional.
  7. Make sure that you have a professional editor edit your book.
  8. Decide how you are going to market your book once it is published.

The end result should be a product that you love and wish others to enjoy.

About Author:


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 Websites:

Gwen Dandridge

Gwen’s WordPress









Sunday Book Highlight

The second Robert Young of Newbiggin Mystery

A Capital Crime

September 1745

Robert Young of Newbiggin finds himself in the unusual position of working side by side with his friend Captain Charles Travers of the Edinburgh Town Guard as they investigate the murder of a popular young man.

It soon becomes apparent that the victim was more than he seemed as the investigation is drawn into political machinations with obstructions galore to contend with. Charles has also to somehow pluck up the courage to propose marriage to the girl he loves; Estelle Cannonby.

To add to their problems the Jacobite army of Bonnie Prince Charlie is about to capture the city. From the gaiety of High Society weddings and balls at Holyrood Palace to the vermin infested drinking dens on the Cowgate they have to deal with Rebellious Princes’, slave traders and a missing woman as they search for clues in a race to deliver justice before the guilty can escape


Her reply was cut off as a woman dramatically swept through the door leading to the garden calling out loudly her apologies for being so late in arriving. Her lack of decorum was only matched by her brazen appearance and beauty. Dressed in a full dress of bright red tartan with a sash of royal blue over her left shoulder decorated with a large white cockade, the emblem of the Jacobites, she strode across the room towards the bride with all the bravado of a cavalier and to the girl’s evident surprise hugged her closely and kissed her on both cheeks. “My fool of a driver got lost on the road” she exclaimed as she released the bride and stepped back to admire her. “My, but you make a bonny bride!” she exclaimed firmly as her eyes twinkled merrily without the least embarrassment at her unconventional entry. “A fair and bonny bride I say. Now let me see your new husband and I shall judge whether he is a fair match for such a beauty!” Stepping away from the poor bride who looked amazed at this vision of reckless elegance the newcomer scanned the crowd until her eyes fixed upon the groom and once again she marched forward to hug him in turn and kiss him twice. “Aye, you’ll do!” she said with a laugh that rang merrily around the silenced room as she turned to his brother. “My Lord Elcho. It is always a pleasure to meet you sir. Your brother is as handsome as you I declare. It must be that good Fife air that breeds such fine young men!”

Lord Elcho gave her a slight bow of his head in response to this flattery. Turning towards his bemused brother he said “may I introduce you to Mrs. Margaret Murray of Broughton”

The groom smiled uncertainly but gave a slight bow as the beautiful woman laughed joyfully again as she turned away from both men to scan the assembled throng who were smiling somewhat uncertainly at all this. Several of them obviously knew her and were now approaching her cautiously as though she were in some way dangerous. Turning back towards Lord Elcho she studied him briefly before giving a disapproving shake of her head. “You are lacking one final detail for your dress sir!” she said with a wagging finger towards him. “But luckily for you I have the very thing you need!” With this said she strode back to the garden door where a footman now stood holding a small silk bag which she took from him and returned to Lord Elcho and from it produced a white cockade of fine muslin which she held out to him. “Will you wear the emblem of your Prince sir?”

Lord Elcho paused briefly as though not sure that he should but then graciously accepted the cockade and fixed it his lapel while Mrs. Murray smiled with delight. “Now you are properly dressed my lord” she laughed happily as she offered another to the groom who accepted it but held it in his hand rather than pin it to his coat. The irrepressible Mrs. Murray merely smiled and turned towards the crowd who had slowly been gathering around them.

“Who else shall wear the cockade for their Prince?” she said with more laughter although there was a definite air of challenge in her words as though such an open display of reckless behaviour and open opposition to the Crown was the most natural thing in the world. Her happy eyes never left the faces before her as she held out a handful of cockades towards them and blessed each man or woman who took one with a dazzling smile.

Robert and Euphemia had stood bemused by her arrival and subsequent display and despite their own political views couldn’t help but warm towards this vision of Jacobite defiance. She was, it had to be admitted, a strikingly beautiful woman of above average height with a mass of raven black curls cascading about her flawless face and seemed completely oblivious to how her actions were being viewed by some guests. Staunch Whigs positively shied away from her and refused to even speak when she offered them a cockade but she remained completely unperturbed by these snubs. She merely smiled, laughed happily and moved on although as this was just a harmless jape with no repercussions for anyone involved. Eventually her travels around the room brought her towards Robert and Euphemia who exchanged a careful look as she drew to a halt before them.

As she held the carefully sewn cockade out towards Robert she openly appraised him with her dancing, bright and merry eyes. “Sir, shall you wear a cockade for your Prince?” she said as though such open treason was nothing to worry about although her words alone could send her to the gallows if she was reported to the authorities. Robert found himself smiling despite his own feelings and felt a strange desire to protect the young woman from herself. She acted with a childlike innocence as though her words and actions were to be seen as light hearted and not meant to offend or upset anyone despite the very nature of her every word.

With a gentle shake of his head Robert declined the proffered cockade which produced only another smile in response as she turned to Euphemia with her hand held towards her. For a second the smile faltered as she studied Euphemia closely before the smile broke out wider than ever. “I know you!” she said happily. “I have seen you in Edinburgh but we have never been introduced I fear”.

Euphemia nodded in confirmation of this as Mrs. Murray continued. “Yes, I have seen you on the High Street and thought to myself I should hate you for you are even more beautiful than men seem to find me! Tell me; are you a black hearted vicious shrew of a woman with a tongue like an adder? Please tell me you are so I can console myself that someone who looks so perfect is a monster beneath the skin!” This was all said with the same light hearted tone and smile as though she wanted to reassure Euphemia she meant no offence.

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 spent 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.

Author Website

Buy the Book:

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Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Virginia King

Virginia King

Virginia King

Stephanie: Hello, Virginia! Thank you for chatting with me today. Please tell me a little about yourself?

Virginia: Hi Stephanie. Great to be here. I started my career as a teacher then moved to unemployed ex-teacher, before landing a job as a producer of children’s read-along audio-books and from there getting into writing for children. Fifty books later, I started publishing books written by children and my publishing company won an innovation award in Australia. Along the way, I created writing workshops for adults and children, based on my philosophies – ‘let the writing be the thinking’ and ‘say yes to serendipity’. But my real passion wasn’t publishing or teaching, it was writing and I wanted to write for adults. So in 1999 I sat down at the keyboard and wrote one sentence: All she had to do was jump. I had no idea how to write a novel or what it would be about but 15 years later it became the complex psychological mystery The First Lie and won a BRAG Medallion.

My other interests include yoga, acrylic painting (quirky French interiors), and learning French.

Stephanie: Please tell me how you discovered indieBRAG? How has your self-publishing experience been thus far?

Virginia: Before The First Lie was published I stumbled across indieBRAG during some online research. The website looked classy and the process looked rigorous and I hoped my book might be good enough to win a Medallion.

Self-publishing has been an adventure for me – expensive, stressful, but also a lot of fun. Although I’ve been a publisher it was before social media and I didn’t have any kind of profile when I published The First Lie. I’ve written a good book so now it’s a matter of learning the best way to find the right audience. I don’t give up – as evidenced by the long lead time in writing the book.

Stephanie: Please tell me a little about your story and what genre it falls under?

Virginia: Selkie Moon is a woman of thirty-four who has fled to Hawaii to escape an abusive husband. Selkie was named after the Celtic seal people – they peel off their skins and dance in the moonlight on human legs. The irony of her life is that she almost drowned as a toddler and has been afraid of the sea ever since. Selkie thinks she’s free but soon her refuge begins to unravel. A series of bizarre events force her to investigate the past and face the shocking truth about herself.

The First Lie is a bit of a genre-bender – psychological mystery with touches of the mythical and mystical. After reading Haruki Murakami, I got very courageous about playing with elements of the surreal to add to the psychological layers. Selkie is a business woman who’s very grounded in the modern present but she does get to ride a wild mythical roller-coaster at times.

 The First Lie

Stephanie: Why did you choose Oahu (Hawaii) and Sydney (Australia) for the setting of your story?

Virginia: Sydney is my home town and The First Lie was set there for a long time. Then one day when I was struggling with the writing, I grabbed the camera and set out to visit all the locations in the book thinking I’d get my mojo back. This involved a whole day in the car because I now live a couple of hours out of town. When I got home totally exhausted, I burst into tears because none of the places in Selkie’s story spoke to me. So it was an act of desperation to send her to Hawaii but the pressure it put on me worked.   Selkie was suddenly on the run, a stranger in a new place and I got to go on a journey of discovery with her – which has given the story the edge it needed.

Stephanie: What is one of the examples of the mythical traditions you used to create the complex layers of the mystery in your story? And what fascinates you about that tradition?

Virginia: Selkie herself is named after the Celtic myth, so that’s the basis of the story. I adore folktales and mythology for their psychological layers and I’ve been collecting versions of the selkie story for years, not knowing why. I created an imaginary cove on Oahu with Irish connections and interwove Celtic mythology with Hawaiian mythology. Without giving too much away, there’s a mirror that has visions and a Kahuna (oracle) who lives in a bus shelter and makes one-word prognostications. I also had a lot of fun with graveyard symbols from folktales.

Stephanie: Your character Selkie befriends interesting people in Hawaii. Name one and please tell me about Selkie’s weaknesses and strengths in her relationship with that person.

Virginia: Selkie’s mother died when she was a baby. Her step-mother and then her husband both controlled her in a way that amounted to psychological abuse. Selkie’s only answer was to run away, but in Hawaii she runs into the arms of an Englishman called Roger Nightingale. He seems so different from her ex, but she’s vulnerable because she hasn’t yet learned to trust her own intuition. The reader and Selkie’s new friends aren’t too sure about Roger – he seems harmless with his goofy sense of humour as he peppers his speech with puns, but he likes to photograph gravestones and he keeps his filing cabinet locked. The discovery of his dark motivation causes shock waves in more ways than one. It’s one of the harsh realities Selkie has to face on her journey of self-discovery.

Stephanie: Please tell me a little about Selkie herself.

Virginia: Selkie is a modern woman who presents business seminars. When she escapes to Hawaii she says she’s ‘all alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean without a life raft’. She makes new friends but she doesn’t know who to trust. Past experience has made her wary of close relationships. When she’s confronted with a series of bizarre ‘happenings’ she’s pushed to the edge of sanity. Through it all she keeps her quirky sense of humour but the reader senses her vulnerability. She’s on a journey and, as the tension mounts, she knows there’s no turning back.

Stephanie: Were there any challenges in writing your story? If so, what were they? How long did it take and where in your home do you like to write?

Virginia: I’ve already touched on the fifteen years it took to write the book and the challenge of changing the location of the story. The other real challenge was working with an editor – and trusting her – when she proposed some serious changes to the manuscript. For example, what I called ‘interesting detail’, Nicola O’Shea ( called ‘padding’. Whole chapters disappeared! I’ve learnt that when she thinks something isn’t working she’s right. The pressure this puts on me always makes something ‘pop’, with amazing results. I now understand the meaning of ‘an elegant solution’ because Nicola’s comments inspire me to find them. This relationship has been extremely important for my writing journey and has resulted in the quality of The First Lie.

I live in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, overlooking a valley full of birds. It used to be a tiny holiday house so I had to write on the kitchen table getting crumbs in my keyboard. Then we were able to add on an extra room. So these days I’ve got my own writing room with colour on the walls and surrounded by paintings – some of them my own. I’m lucky enough to also have a rural retreat – with two pet alpacas. Both homes are great places to write.

Stephanie: What was your inspiration for this story?

Virginia: Beyond my collection of selkie stories, I wanted to write a multi-layered psychological mystery series – the kind of involving books I like to read – so I started with the mystery of Selkie’s own history. I didn’t actually know her until I started writing. The story evolved as I wrote and I discovered its layers in serendipitous ways. Any tiny events from my own life have been fictionalized beyond recognition. I love that part of writing, taking some snippet of experience that’s true (like a conversation overheard on a bus) and letting the creative process transform it, sometimes into something surprising or magical. Because I don’t have a plan when I write, the writing itself is my inspiration.

Stephanie: You’ve just changed the cover of The First Lie. Tell us about both covers and what led you to make the change.

Virginia: In some ways writing the book was easier than choosing the title and the cover. Covers are your first chance to hook a reader in a crowded marketplace. Before they get to the blurb, a potential reader must choose to turn the book over or click on the thumbnail to find out more. The painted image of the woman’s face is the old cover and I was drawn to her haunted look. Before publishing, I showed it to booksellers who found it compelling. You can never really know if a cover is working but I’ve had a sense – based on statistics and feedback from reviewers – that the image doesn’t really work as a cover because it doesn’t tell a story or invite the reader in. It’s been a hard decision to change it, but I’ve worked with Julia Kuris at Designerbility ( and together we’ve come up with the new cover. It’s not trying to spell out the story in any literal way. It reflects a lot of elements from the book – the dark blue says mystery and moonlight, the water reflects Selkie’s frightening relationship with the sea, and the women’s faces give hints of the intriguing psychological layers that the story reveals.

If readers of Layered Pages would like to vote on their choice between these two covers, they can go to a cover poll on A Lover of  Books

the-first-lie-cover small rszd


The First Lie

Fantastic, Virginia! I voted.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Virginia: The First Lie is available in the Kindle store, and will soon be available as a paperback:

US Amazon

UK Amazon

For a notification about the publication of the paperback please email me from my website or follow my Facebook page.

Selkie Moon


Thanks so much, Stephanie, for this opportunity to talk about Selkie Moon and the first book in her mystery series. Book Two goes to Nicola O’Shea for a structural edit at the end of February.

You’re most welcome, Virginia! It has been wonderful to chat with you!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Virginia King, who is the author of, The First Lie 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 First Lie, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.



Review: Towers of Tuscany by Carol M. Cram


The Towers of Tuscany

Sofia is trained in secret as a painter in her father’s workshop during a time when women did not paint openly. She loves her work, but her restless spirit leads her to betray her extraordinary gifts to marry a man who comes to despise her for not producing a son.

After Sofia’s father is crushed by his own fresco during an attack motivated by a vendetta, Sofia realizes she must escape her loveless marriage. She flees to Siena, where, disguised as a boy, she paints again. When her work attracts the notice of a nobleman who discovers the woman under the dirty smock, Sofia is faced with a choice that nearly destroys her.


This story richly displays 14th century Italy and the world of painters of that time. I must admit though, I struggled to find my balance in this story. What does that mean? I sympathized with Sofia and her loss, the fact that she had to paint in secret, the relationship with her husband but towards the middle of the book, my feelings towards her to begin to change and I felt the story wasn’t holding my attention at first despite Sofia’s situation and the imagery the author sets. This is a wonderful period to write about, I adore the premise and feel this story has all the themes that readers want to read about. The story did pick up for me and I enjoyed the character development and the tone. I could really feel what Sofia was going through and I felt the author did a marvelous job with the secondary characters. I have rated this book three and a half stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author R. Cyril West

Rob West

Cyril West studied Arabic and International Relations at the University of Arizona, and grew up on Air Force bases ranging from Hickam A.F.B. to Lincoln A.F.B. He appreciates the work done by our veterans to keep America free and views the men and women who serve as the real heroes of our country. There is no freedom without the heroes who serve in our armed forces. He currently supports the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the Wounded Warrior Project. If he is fortunate enough to be successful as an author, he plans to create a MIA Recovery Fund to help families of the missing find and bring loved ones home.

Cyril West lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and children.

Hello, Rob! Thank you for chatting with me today. It is an honor and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for you book, The Thin Wall. I am intrigued by your choice of majors in college. How did you get from Arabic Studies and International Relations to writing about the military?

I am interested in global politics and history. When I was in high school. I was attracted to World War I history and the creation of the modern Middle East. I have always been fascinated by T.E. Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia.

I gather from your biography that you were an Air Force brat. Was that the basis for your interest in the military in general, and POW’s in particular?

I am a proud USAF brat! I grew up on Air Force bases and among military heroes. My father served for 20 years and most of his pals served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The military culture is in my blood. One of my earliest childhood memories was in 1973 when American Prisoners of War returned home during Operation Homecoming. In writing about the POW/MIA Issue, I hope to spread awareness to the fact that many servicemen are still missing, as well, that the U.S. government has lied to families of the missing and to American citizens about the status of many heroes who were abandoned by the country they served.

Please tell me about your book?

The Thin Wall is a character-driven portrayal of the 1968 Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, brought to life through the conflict between an intriguingly cultured, yet conniving KGB colonel and the people of a small village who courageously (and sometimes timidly) try to resist oppression. It also tells the story of American Prisoners of War who were secretly transferred from Vietnam to the Soviet Union. The story is filled with tragedy, yet hope for the human spirit.

The Thin Wall

What was it about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that caught your attention?

In my research on the POW/MIA Issue, I uncovered little known information that suggests American Prisoners of War were taken from the battlefields of Vietnam in the late 1960s and secretly transferred to the Soviet Union – via Czechoslovakia. Once in the U.S.S.R., the POWs were interrogated, experimented on, punished and imprisoned in the Siberian Gulags. None of them ever came home. I felt the immediate weeks following the 1968 Soviet invasion would make for the perfect setting to tell my story because it was a time of turmoil and uncertainty. While The Thin Wall is a work of fiction, I believe the book’s premise — that the U.S. government was aware POWs were secretly transferred to the USSR (and not just during Vietnam, but after Korea, WWII and WWI) and did nothing to stop it. Most American people are not aware of this dark chapter in our history. Perhaps this is because certain bureaucrats in the U.S. government have conspired to cover up and erase the past.

How did you do your research for The Thin Wall? And in particular, how did you research such a secretive organization as the KGB?

Like most authors, I read a lot of books and articles online. I enjoy reading non-fiction more than fiction. My goal as an author is to write novels that make people think, as well include real moments in history. In The Thin Wall, readers will learn a lot about the political life of people living in Czechoslovakia under communism during the 1960s. In some ways, my novel is also a work of non-fiction.

What more can the U.S. Government and/or military do to determine the fate of the 83 thousand servicemen still missing from foreign wars?

Firstly, most of the 83,000 heroes who are still missing died on foreign lands fighting for our freedoms. For some, their deaths were met in a plane crash that has yet to be found, others went down at sea, still others were lost in a labyrinth jungle or a battlefield, or died in prison and were buried in unmarked graves. We must never stop searching for the remains of these heroes. We must bring them home to the country they loved and served.

Secondly, some of the 83,000 missing servicemen were POWs (by my estimate 9,000) who were never repatriated and ultimately were killed by their captors and buried in unmarked graves. It’s possible a few POWs from Vietnam could still be alive and incarcerated in Vietnam, Russia, North Korea or China. The bottom line is that all of these missing POWs were abandoned by the country they served. We owe it to them to not only recover their remains, and any hero who might still be alive, but to expose the crime the government has committed and kept secret from the American people.

Please tell me about Ayna and her role in this story.

Ayna is a single mother and an outcast of her remote mountain village because she is said to be cursed. In her late twenties, she has been in three serious relationships and all three of her lovers have died sudden and tragic deaths. As the story opens, she has given up any hope for love. When a egotistical and cruel Soviet KGB officer enters her village and begins to torment the local people, she rises up to defend the village while the villagers hide in cowardice. She soon attracts the KGB officer’s attention and he attempts to court her, but she refuses him. He grows angry that she has rejected him and begins to pick on her. Along the way, Ayna meets a mysterious doctor who arrives to the village and falls in love again. But the relationship is doomed. Or is it?

Who is Dr. Husak? What are his strengths and weaknesses?

Without giving away too much detail (and plot twists) Dr. Milan Husak is an American who fought alongside the Czech resistance during WWII. After the war he agreed to stay behind and spy for the U.S. government. However he became lost in the shuffle and was never contacted by anyone in the CIA, therefore, never spied. During WWII, he accidently killed 13 orphans. He has spent his entire life in Czechoslovakia as a pediatrician, helping children. In The Thin Wall, he moves to the village (where the story takes pace) to open a clinic. There he meets and falls in love with Ayna. He eventually discovers that the Soviets in town are holding an American POW. Suddenly his past has come back to haunt him. He is contacted by the CIA and asked to help rescue the American. It’s confusing for Dr. Husak because he no longer considers himself an American citizen. In the end, he must choose between his love for Ayna and attempting to rescue the American. Which will he do?

Were there any challenges in writing this story?

The book is very dark and doesn’t have a happy ending. There was a point where I stopped writing and thought about making substantial changes to the plot because I was so depressed about what I had written. But advisors, several of them Vietnam veterans who are close to the POW/MIA issue, encouraged me to finish. They reminded me that the POW/MIA issue is not a happy story and that my telling is entirely plausible. So I finished the novel.

Why did you chose to write a political conspiracy book?

I felt the truth about what happened to our missing POW heroes must be told. It’s been 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War. We can’t allow the government – at this point the few who are tasked with keeping POW secrets hidden from the public – to get away with a crime like this. We must expose the truth about what happened: that the government left servicemen behind in Vietnam, in Korea and after World War I and after World War II. Almost all of these POWs were hidden in communist countries, and except for a few, never came home. We must expose this little known fact to the American people so that it never happens again.

What are some of the response you’ve reviewed about your book besides the B.R.A.G. Medallion?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. In particular, I have been contacted by family members of missing servicemen. Like me, they wonder what happened to their loved ones. Their story of loss and tragedy is personal and very real. There is no greater reward than to be thanked by a reader who is missing a loved one.

What has your experience been like with self-publishing so far?

I absolutely love being in control of the entire project. A true joy!

How did you discover indieBRAG?

I did a search for self-published book honors

And now, I have Author Stuart S. Laing as a guest interviewer on Layered Pages today who has some questions political to ask you.

Stuart: Had Dubcek’s attempt to loosen central control of the Communist Party succeeded in 1968, do you think it would have created a domino effect across the Warsaw Pact 20 years earlier than the era of Perestroika and Gorbachev?

In theory, yes. However I can’t imagine that it would have occurred because Brezhnev and his supporting cast of iron-handed cronies would have never stood by and allowed the reforms to take root. Keep in mind, the key to the break-up of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was having a reformer like Gorbachev at the top—someone who was looking to improve ties with the West. Like Dubcek, Gorbachev wanted to reform the political and social structure of what was defined as the communist nation; this included less government control over the lives of people and economic enterprises.

Do you think that Putin’s iron man image threatens to create a new Cold War?

It already has. Putin has nationalistic ambitions. He has secured Crimea and I expect before President Obama leaves office will make a move on the Baltics. If a major war breaks out in the Middle East with ISIS, or Iran, I expect the Russians to move quickly to secure their interests in Eastern Europe. As well, with the tanking Russian economy, Putin might do something desperate . . . like escalate the current hostilities in Syria. He has high approval ratings in Russia because he is seen by the Russian people as being a strong leader. He risks losing power by softening his image.

If so can you see a time when US service personnel risk being drawn into situations where they risk falling into the hands of Russian forces again, even if they are operating under the guise of anti-government rebels such as in eastern Ukraine?

We are possibly in the early stages of WWIII. If a large war breaks out in the Middle East, the Russians will likely side with Syria and Iran. If the war spirals out of control, and Russia invades the Baltics and also attempts to take over Ukraine, then yes.

And finally, does the situation in Ukraine have any parallels with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia back in ’68?

Absolutely. The leadership and people of Ukraine wanted to align themselves with democracy and with Western society. Only this time, when the Russians attempted to invade, the United States and NATO (and to some degree the world) were ready. But have they done enough to thwart a full-scale invasion? I am not so sure. I suspect the Russians will not withdraw from their proxy control over Crimea and have ambitions for future expansion. Right now everything hinges on how things play out in the Middle East with ISIS and the growing shadow of Iran.

Author Website

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview R. Cyril West, who is the author of, The Thin Wall, 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 Thin Wall, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.




Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Charlene Newcomb

Charlene Newcomb-BRAG

Hello Charlene! I am so delighted to be talking to you today about your B.R.A.G. Medallion Book, Men of the Cross. Before we get started talking about your book, please tell me a little about yourself.

Hi Stephanie! I was born and raised in South Carolina, but left home at 18 to “join the Navy and see the world.” That “world” ended up being duty stations in Florida, California, Texas, and Maryland. My job as a communications technician led to a post-Navy career in academic libraries, where I’ve worked since the early 1980s. Somewhere in there, I had 3 children – now all grown and independent – completed a B.A. in U.S. History and a Masters in Library and Information Science, and moved to Kansas. I started writing in 1993 and published a series of short stories in the Star Wars universe. Due to life’s curve balls, I didn’t publish my first novel, Keeping the Family Peace, until 2012. My love of history has taken me happily to the 12th century. Men of the Cross, published in April 2014, is book I of my Battle Scars series. Book II, For King and Country, will be published later this year.

Your life has been full of adventure and still is it looks like! How neat! I’m really looking forward to hearing more about your other books and the one you have coming out later this year. For now, let’s get started on talking about, Men of the Cross. When I first saw the cover and title of your book, I literally almost jumped out of my desk chair! Seriously. What a great cover and titles! And the premise! *love* I’m a history nut. Please tell your audience a little about your book.

I have to admit I love my cover design too! Men of the Cross is an epic novel of love and war. It started life as a short story called Battle Scars. My writers group and I still laugh about the time I told them I might be able to stretch the short story into a novella. The short story became the end of the novel. Before I knew it, I had 99,000 words and was well into planning Book II. At that point, I realized I wanted to use Battle Scars as a series title. With the novel set against the backdrop of the Third Crusade from 1190 to 1193 and men “taking the Cross” to free Jerusalem, I found Book I’s title: Men of the Cross.

The novel is an historical adventure that traces two knights’ journey from England to the Holy Land and back. I recall reading an interview with George R.R. Martin and Bernard Cornwell in which Cornwell says the historical novel “has two stories – the big one and the little one – and the writer flips them.” In Men of the Cross, Richard the Lionheart and the Third Crusade is the big one – those who are familiar with the time period will know how that ended. The little story has two themes: war’s impact on a young knight – post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) – and forbidden love. Can there be a happily ever after?

Men o

I absolutely LOVE your backdrop of the Third Crusade. Tell me why you chose this point in history to write about and why the Third Crusade?

Let me admit right up front: I majored in U.S. History in college and enrolled in a couple of survey courses in world and pre-20th century European history. I knew about the Crusades, but remembered sparse details. Ever since I was a kid, television and movies have sparked my curiosity to learn more about historical figures and events. I was the one who’d grab a volume of the World Book Encyclopedia from the shelf to read more about a subject. (That was back in the dark ages when all we had were print books.) About 8 years ago, I saw episodes of a Robin Hood BBC show that featured Richard the Lionheart. The show may have been filled with historical anachronisms, but the images of war’s impact on young men and the characters’ loyalty to the king and to each other were powerful. My exploration of Richard I and the Third Crusade began there. I was hooked by one of the first books I discovered: Chronicle of the Third Crusade : A translation of the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi. This contemporary ‘diary’ and ones by Ambroise and Roger de Hoveden, provide a play-by-play (well, close to one) of the events of the time, from the horrific to the humorous, to politics, and to personalities. Saladin had his chroniclers, too, which provided insights into Richard and other Christian leaders from the Muslim point of view.

As I mentioned, I had the novel’s ending – my original short story – long before I started plotting the rest of the tale. Does the story choose the writer? I had two knights recently returned from the Holy Land, their king captured by former allies. They’d left war behind, only to face the king’s enemies in their homeland. I needed to tell how they came to that point. This type of tale is timeless, isn’t it? It could have taken place in any era, but my fascination with the Lionheart, his family, religion, politics, and the logistics of moving a medieval army thousands of miles were at the soul of the story, and my heart was with Henry de Grey and Stephan l’Aigle.

War scenes can be tricky to write, I think. Often times a challenge for some. I tried to write one a few times and realized it wasn’t for me. Did you have any challenges in writing certain war scenes? How do you get in the mindset of doing so?

The battles of the Third Crusade provided a variety of situations – sieges, skirmishes, major attacks, and at least two fictional reconnaissance missions I created to beef up the tension and conflict in the novel. Still, the challenge for me is writing a battle scene that is different from the previous one. What is unique about each one – the point of view, the location and terrain, the tactics used by each side in the conflict. I’m still learning how to do this, but I try to visualize the scene as if I’m directing a movie. I may start with a grand sweep of the field of battle, but it’s important for the reader to connect emotionally so I hone in on the POV character, for example my main character Henry. He’s sitting atop his warhorse. What does he see, smell, hear, feel? Pull the camera back to see the knights charge. There are different sounds and blood and death. Draw in closer to the POV character, a sword’s length away. I can only imagine what it must have been like, and hope I’ve captured it and taken the reader to that place.

What was the required skill men needed to have to survive the crusades?

Was it skill, or luck? Skills helped, but being in the wrong place at the wrong time could be deadly. Disease and illness plagued the armies. Historian David Miller writes that during the siege of Acre “more Crusaders died from sickness than in military action.” King Richard and Philip of France both suffered from Arnaldia, a painful and potentially deadly illness characterized by fever and the loss of hair and fingernails. If men didn’t die from sickness, they had to contend with heat exhaustion, bitter cold in the winter of 1191/92, and damp and wet weather than rotted their food and rusted their mail. Reading about the harsh conditions makes you wonder how they survived.

But you asked about skills… Knights were skilled horsemen and trained with sword and lance for years, most as squires beginning around the age of twelve. Many had tourney experience where they’d honed their skills. The infantry was composed of foot soldiers with maces, axes, pikes and short swords and archers with bows or crossbows. Given that some had voluntarily taken the Cross, their mastery of the weaponry might have varied.

Undoubtedly, Richard’s skills as a military commander and strategist kept many men alive. Knights are accustomed to the charge. Saladin employed hit-and-run tactics to taunt and draw them out. In the aftermath of a typical charge, knights are separated and the fighting becomes more one-on-one. Saladin’s troops outnumbered the crusaders and could quickly overwhelm them. Richard observed this in skirmishes in the first few days of the march from Acre to Jaffa; and, he did not want to deplete his forces. He placed his most experienced divisions – the Templars and the Hospitallers – at the van- and rearguards of his column and ordered all his knights not to break ranks. They marched in tight formation: baggage train on the seaward side, the infantry on the landward flank, and knights between the two. The Saracen cavalry skillfully fired bow while charging. Their arrows were marginally effective against armor, but the crusaders’ horses were very vulnerable and many were killed. The deadliest fighting took place at Arsuf. Richard had expected a full scale assault there. He kept his troops marching despite increased attacks by the enemy. Oftentimes, this meant the foot soldiers were marching backwards. The attacks on the rearguard were so heavy that the Hospitaller knights broke from the formation to counterattack. Richard ordered most of his knights to join in the assault and after brutal fighting, they took the day, leaving an estimated 7,000 Saracens and 700 of their own dead. More crusaders would have died if not for Richard’s leadership.

The call to Crusade brought former enemies together in shaky alliances. Can you talk a bit about the politics of the time and how you used it in your story?

Pope Gregory VIII’s call led Christian rulers to put aside their territorial wars to join forces to free Jerusalem. The largest contingents were those serving the kings of France and England. Long before their forces arrive in the Holy Land, the two rulers were at odds. My main character, Henry de Grey, has a very black and white view of the world when the novel opens. He is confused and appalled when the king of France’s refuses to help King Richard’s troops against attacks in Sicily (long before they get to the Holy Land). The capture of Messina is Henry’s first taste of battle, and it is against ‘allies.’ He had taken the Cross to fight Saladin’s troops.

Richard comes to an agreement with the Sicilian king, Tancred, which inflames Henvy VI’s dislike of Richard. Henry, who becomes Holy Roman Emperor in 1191, is married to Constance. She is the legitimate heir to the Sicilian throne. Henry is also a strong supporter of Leopold, Duke of Austria, Richard’s bitter enemy after the fall of Acre. Leopold and his troops leave the Crusade after Richard insults him by having his banner stripped from the city walls. It gets messier… There were also rivals claiming the throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The French supported Conrad de Montferrat (who happened to be Duke Leopold’s cousin); Richard supported Guy de Lusignan, who was king because of his marriage to the queen of Jerusalem. De Montferrat was assassinated and Richard was accused of being involved. Meanwhile, on the march from Acre towards Jerusalem, Richard must contend with the contrary French who report to the Duke of Burgundy. King Philip has abandoned the mission and returned to France where he begins plotting with Richard’s brother John.

Duke Leopold comes back to haunt Richard. He didn’t forget the insult: Richard is captured by Leopold’s soldiers. In Bavaria and on his way home, Richard’s daring attempt to evade capture with the help of Henry de Grey and his companions is a highlight of the final chapters of Men of the Cross. Why had Richard chosen the overland route? Genoese and Pisan ships had been hired to intercept him; Toulouse, a former enemy, had allied with Aragon and Catalonia closing off ports from Provence to northern Spain.

Arrested in the outskirts of Vienna a few days before Christmas 1192, Richard is first held by Leopold, and then turned over to Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor. Richard’s brother John and King Philip plot to usurp Richard’s throne. They’d offered Henry VI silver to keep Richard imprisoned. And Philip helps finance an attempted invasion of England, which is where Men of the Cross ends.

One last note: Richard also jilted Alys, King Philip’s sister, to marry Berengaria of Navarre in 1191 while he was on the way to the Holy Land. Though he’d been betrothed to Alys since 1169, he chose Berengaria in a move that helped safeguard the southern borders of his kingdom on the continent.

Is Henry de Grey a fictional or real person?

Henry is a fictional character from fictional town of Greyton in Lincolnshire. Twenty years old, he is naive about war and politics, strong in his faith, and passionate about the call to free Jerusalem from Saladin’s forces. He had been knighted shortly after Richard’s coronation in September 1189, and had argued with his father about his decision to take the Cross. He leaves behind fouteen-year-old Alys, his betrothed.

What can readers expect in the romance parts of your story?

Take one experienced ‘man of the world’ who has fallen in and out of sexual liaisons since he was a teenager and insists that men like himself cannot fall in love. Add to that a young, God-fearing man raised to believe in the sanctity of marriage and the teachings of the Church on sin who begins to question those beliefs. Stir in the Church’s stance on same-sex relationships in the Middle Ages. The result is tension and conflict. Forbidden love. Yes, Men of the Cross deals with a deep, abiding friendship that eventually leads to love between two men. There are a few sex scenes that aren’t overly graphic – this is not erotica – the scenes range from tender to playful, maybe a bit steamy, and passionate and emotional. The story is about the relationship, not the sex.

This is life. It’s part of the human condition. Then, as now, you might expect that in an army of 15,000-20,000, there would be men who preferred male sexual companionship and that some men did love each other, despite the Church’s zero tolerance and the possibility of eternal damnation. I have a post on medieval man, sex and mortal sin on my blog for anyone interested in looking at some of my research on canon and secular law:

Your research relied on a lot of biographies of King Richard, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Richard’s brother John. Could you share some of those titles with us?

The translated primary sources I mentioned earlier (and others listed on my Reference list,, provided the skeleton for Men of the Cross. Biographies by Gillingam (Richard the Lionheart), Weir (Eleanor of Aquitaine: a life), and Appleby (John, King of England) provided more insights into the historical figures. I also found David Miller’s Richard the Lionheart: the mighty crusader filled with excellent logistical information about Richard’s army. The contemporary chronicles told me what Richard did, but the biographies and other works provide a deeper and broader historical background.

You mentioned to me that in your book blurb you note that the novel includes the seeds of a new Robin Hood origins story and that you are only one of dozens of authors who have placed Robin as a contemporary of Richard and John. In the book, Allan and Little John are young teens, camp-followers-turned servants-turned-squires as the story progresses. I’m curious, readers have read so many interpretations of Robin Hood and his origins. How does this play an important role in your story?

In my original short story I had a Robin Hood-type character, a knight who was known for his skills with bow.* My writers group encouraged me to make him the man who would become Robin Hood. Initially, Robin was merely a bridge between King Richard and the two main characters (MCs), Henry and Stephan. Robin was part of the king’s inner circle, which gave me opportunities to have the MCs not only observe, but also interact with Richard, and become trusted knights, which plays heavily into the novel’s climax. I only planned to hint that Robin would be the man of legend by tying him to a girl named Marian back in England. Quite by accident, two young thieves appeared on the scene. Their appearance was intended as a one shot, but when I read the scene to my writers group, all three said “I hope we see more of them.” By that time, I was certain I had a series in the works. The teenagers suddenly had names – Allan and Little John – and both would be intricately tied to the knights in Men of the Cross. They serve them, provide comic relief, and they are wise beyond their years. Their observations of the events and the people, both actual historical figures and my fictional characters, and their actions, provide hints about the men they will become, these ‘Merry Men’ a.k.a. Robin Hood’s gang. This is my vision of the origins of these characters, and I’ll be developing their back stories and their story arcs significantly in Book II of Battle Scars.

(*Yes, I know English knights do not shoot bow in a cavalry charge, but this is (or will be) Robin Hood, and it’s fiction. He shoots once, maybe twice, and then draws sword or lance.)

Why historical fiction?

For me, the joy of writing historical fiction is taking an existing world of real people, places, events, and things and seeing that world through the eyes of a fictional character. Because Henry de Grey didn’t actually exist, I am free to imagine what he does as the events of the Third Crusade unfold.

How long did it take for you to write this story and what was your process?

As I mentioned, Men of the Cross began as a short story, which I penned in 2009. I was busy with other projects and didn’t start work on the novel until 2012. It took me close to two years to complete, during which time I was doing final edits on my first novel and working full time.

I structured the novel in 3 parts: the journey to the Holy Land (March 1190-June 1191), the time in the Holy Land (June 1191-October 1192), the journey back to England and subsequent events (Oct 1192-March 1193). Using the Itinerarium, I identified the significant events my fictional knights would be involved with, determined what plot points I needed to include to drive the knights’ story forward and build tension, and then wove their history into the ‘real’ history. I started with a bare-bones outline, i.e., a list of key scenes that included a few bullet points, and added to it as I wrote. I keep a spreadsheet that includes dates/events (both real and fictional ones), and also maintain character templates. My writers group provided feedback on every chapter along the way. Based on their critiques and two rounds of editing, I sent the manuscript to two beta readers. With their comments, I did a third round of edits, and then handed that version to my writers group for additional editorial review. Their last comments came to me in Jan./Feb. 2014, and I published Men of the Cross at the end of April.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

I belong to a Facebook group called “English Historical Fiction Authors.” One of the regular contributors to the group announced she’d won a B.R.A.G. Medallion. I checked out the indieBRAG website. Impressed by their selection criteria, I submitted Men of the Cross. Thank you to the indieBRAG reviewers who made me a B.R.A.G. honoree. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Where can readers buy your book?

Men of the Cross is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon; for Nook; Smashwords

my website

I can also be found on Facebook TwitterGoodreads

Thank you, Charlene! It was a pleasure chatting with you! Please visit with me again soon.

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Charlene Newcomb, who is the author of, Men of the Cross, 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, Men of the Cross, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.