Self-Publishing: An Author’s Experiences

Janet Stafford BRAGI’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, Janet R. Stafford today to talk with me about her experiences in Self-publishing and what she has learned in her endeavor thus far. Janet was born in Albany, NY, but spent most of her childhood and all of her teen years in Parsippany, NJ – so she thinks of herself as a Jersey Girl. She went to Seton Hall University (South Orange, NJ) where she received a B.A. degree in Asian Studies. She also has a Master of Divinity degree and a Ph.D. in North American Religion and Culture, both from Drew University (Madison, NJ). She worked for eight years as an adjunct professor teaching classes in interdisciplinary studies and history. But Janet’s primary call has been serving six United Methodist churches over the past 24 years, where she has worked in the area of spiritual formation and ministries with children and youth. Her current passion is multi-generational worship and learning.

The publication of Janet’s first novel, Saint Maggie, led to the creation of a series by the same name. She followed up with Walk by Faith in 2013 and After the Storm in 2014. Heart Soul & Rock ‘N’ Roll, a contemporary romance, was published at the end of April 2015.

Janet, when did you decide you were going to self-publish?’

I had tried attracting a publisher and/or agent years ago, to no avail. At that point I gave up trying to publish and focused on creating dramatic materials for the churches in which I worked. I realized that self-publishing was a possibility when a friend of mine, Rich Melheim of Faith Inkubators, announced that he was publishing a book through Lulu. I thought, “Well, if Rich can do it, so can I!” So I polished SAINT MAGGIE and began my self-publishing adventure.

What has your experience been like along the way?

My experience has been a major learning curve! I’ve learned so much about publishing in general – everything from formatting and editing to cover design, to distribution and eBooks, to marketing and publicity. Self-publishing is not about writing one’s book. It’s about writing the book and everything else that goes into putting the book into the public’s hands. However, I’ve got to say that I am enjoying the experience. I’ve made some interesting goofs along the way, but every time I mess up, I learn something and am more empowered.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

The big challenges have been marketing and publicity, and I freely admit that I still am not very good at either of them. I’m just not good at tooting my own horn. It’s hard for me to say “This is the most moving book you’ve ever read” or “This book will sweep you into the conflict and pain of the Civil War.” The Saint Maggie series is an inspiring story about a family, but it’s not going to change anyone’s life. My upcoming romance, HEART SOUL & ROCK ‘N’ ROLL, is fun and engaging, but it’s not going to bring about world peace. Advertising and marketing is all about exaggeration in order to get people’s attention, something I find disturbing and difficult to do. Also, marketing on social media, while free, takes a significant amount of time – time that I would rather spend writing. So the marketing and publicity aspects are quite challenging for me.

Saint Maggie Book with BRAG Medallion

What have you learned in this industry?

I have learned to do what’s best for me and my books. I started out with Lulu then tried a few other publishing/printing platforms, only to come back to Lulu. My reasons are simple: even though the books cost more to print through Lulu, I find that they give better, more personal service and I have easy access to my files. I even run copies for beta readers by uploading drafts to Lulu and printing them while keeping the material private. The process also helps me work on the cover. When the book is complete, I change the setting so that it will be available to the public, add my ISBN, and it’s ready.

I have also learned the value of old-fashioned public relations. One of my favorite things is to give talks and make public appearances. This past February I spoke to one group that was excited to have an author in their midst. Let’s be honest, most indie authors are unknowns, but if you offer to speak to a group for no charge, as long as you can bring your books to sell and sign, many book clubs, discussion groups, and community groups will be happy to have you. People want to pick authors’ minds, discover why we write, how we write, how we come up with characters, and so on. Best-selling authors don’t or can’t do this for local groups. But relatively unknown authors can. Groups and clubs appreciate it if you take the time to converse with them and sign books. It’s a slow-track in the world of publicity and marketing, but for me it’s the more rewarding track.

What are the do’s and don’ts of self-publishing?

1) DO find someone to help you with editing, story continuity, etc. If you can’t afford to purchase someone’s services, then find friends who are avid readers, or school teachers or college professors. Also find people who will be honest with you. You cannot do editing all on your own. I use volunteer beta readers at present.

2) DON’T believe deals that look too good to be true. A simple adage: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. There are countless people and agencies out there looking to separate you from your money. They will tell you that you’ll get x-number of readers or x-amount of publicity if you use their services for x-amount of money. But experience has taught me that there is no magic bullet. I have been taken a few times and I’d like spare you. Be judicious with your money.

3) DO celebrate with the few indie writers who have become well-known and/or wealthy; but DON’T allow their success to make you doubt your own value as an author. Remember, people who write best-sellers are a minority who probably had some phenomenal good luck and/or good friends in the right places. What about talent? They have it – but many little known or unknown authors have talent, too. Don’t forget that.

4) DO work on becoming a better writer. Read work by other authors, be critical when reviewing your drafts, and ask for helpful criticism from others.

What advice would you give to a writer who is considering the self-publishing route?

Know why you’re writing. If it is to get rich and famous, forget about it. You’ll quickly get discouraged when it doesn’t happen. However, if you’re writing because you need to and because you have a story or stories to tell, then go for it – but be prepared to do the hard work and don’t expect to be thrust into the wonderful world of a best-selling book. Instead, look for your rewards in the “small” things. At a recent book club, one reader gave me some helpful criticism of my second book, and then finished up by saying that she could see my growth as a writer throughout the three books. I loved that. Another reader told me on Facebook that I was her favorite author. Are you kidding, with all the other authors out there? That is some kind of compliment! Rewards should not be confined solely to income, book sales, popularity, or number of reviews. Find your joy in the process of writing and publishing, and in your readership.

What are the promotional techniques you use via social media and how much time a week do you spend promoting your work? What are the different sites you use to promote your book?

I use Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, and have a website for my micro-publishing company (I will be publishing work from another author soon) and one for me as an author. I’m also on Goodreads, but I’m inactive and really should drop it. I found it was just one site too many for me to handle.

Since I also work 25-30 hours a week as an assistant minister at a United Methodist church, ideally I want to devote 15 hours a week to research, writing, and publication. I’ve never really tracked how much time I spend on social media. I suppose now that I’ve got four books under my belt, I should log my time to see. My sense is that social media and website work can suck up a fair amount of time.

As for promotional techniques, I do a few things. For instance, I enjoy putting up impromptu games and offering a book as a prize to the first one to give the correct answer. I did that recently on Facebook with HEART SOUL & ROCK ‘N’ ROLL. On occasion, I run special deals on my author page. I will drop the price or ship for free. However, I don’t care to do deals on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, because it is klutzy to change pricing. Also, I don’t go in for things like KDP Select or Matchbook on Kindle – which probably explains why I don’t get much traction on Kindle or Amazon! But I do not like having to make my eBook “exclusive” to Kindle. For WALK BY FAITH and A TIME TO HEAL, I used a crowdfunding platform called Publish to get the word out and raise money for publishing expenses. Crowdfunding also raised awareness about the books. Occasionally, I have used advertising on the web through Yahoo or Google. The ads did get my work exposed to a wider audience, but I learned that you must watch the daily expenses, as they can pile up quickly.

Finally, I have done giveaways on Goodreads. These were comprised of an offer to give away ten books to ten people who enter the giveaway. I got tons of interest and gave away the ten books, but the follow-through from other potential readers was negligible. I am wary of doing too many giveaways – first of all because they cost money, and at present my company is always short of that! The second reason comes from seeing what has happened to music. Easy access to free music has led many people to expect that all music should be free, forgetting that someone had to create that song. The music did not spring forth from the ether. Of course, the work of musicians, authors, and other artists should not be priced out of the average person’s reach, but neither should a person’s creative work be taken for granted and expected to be free on a regular basis.

Where do you see this industry in five to ten years?

I don’t think of self-publishing as an “industry.” It seems to me that we are so many little ants out there creating books and trying to get readers’ attention. So perhaps self-publishing will become an industry as more small publishing companies and/or authors’ support groups come to the fore. At the present, self-publishing reminds me of the frontier – anything goes until the sheriff, pastor, librarian, and schoolmarm come to town.

If something can be improved upon in this industry, what do you think it should be?

Perhaps we need to have author support groups. Oh, I know writing groups are out there – but my “day job” (or more correctly, my “other vocation”) is demanding. I often work Saturdays, am always busy on Sundays, often at the office on weekday mornings and sometimes doing things on weekday evenings. So hooking up with a face-to-face group doesn’t work for me. But it would be helpful to have online groups where people could exchange experiences, give and get advice, and so on. Hey, maybe I should start one of those! Anyway, the emergence of more organization might make self-publishing an industry.

How long have you been an indie author?

I published SAINT MAGGIE in 2011, so I have been an indie author for four years. I’m a baby in the field! That said, I have published two more books in the Saint Maggie series, and have just launched my first romance. Whether or not I become a “best-seller,” I’m in this for the long run!

Author Link:



Twitter @JanetRStafford

Squeaking Pips (my publishing company)



Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Carrie Beckfort

Carrie Beckfort

Carrie Beckfort

I would like to welcome, Carrie Beckort to Layered Pages to talk with me about her B.R.A.G. Medallion book, Kingston’s Project. Carrie has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University and a MBA from Ball State University. She spent seventeen years in the corporate industry before writing her first novel. She lives in Indiana with her husband and daughter.

Carrie, thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for your book, Kingston’s Project. How did you discover indieBRAG?

Thanks for having me, Stephanie! I’m so excited that Kingston’s Project earned a B.R.A.G. Medallion. Since I never expected to write a novel in the first place, the B.R.A.G. Medallion helps to ease a few of my anxieties in this new phase of my life. I first learned of indieBRAG from a fellow author, who I met through a mutual friend. She is also a new self-published author, and we try to help each other by sharing information.

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

Publishing a novel is so completely different than anything I’ve ever done in my professional career, yet at the same time I can pull from much of my previous experience to navigate through the process. After I finished the first draft of Kingston’s Project, I started researching what it takes to publish a novel. I knew immediately that self-publishing was the right path for me at this stage of my writing career. I enjoy the control I have over the entire process. Personally, I’d say that the self-publishing process is more intimidating than it is difficult. Certainly there are parts that are difficult, such as trying to find and connect with readers, but I enjoy the challenge.

Another challenge I had was simply the fact that I had no previous writing experience. It’s hard to get people to believe in your work when you have nothing to ‘justify’ that you know what you’re doing. This is one area where indieBRAG has been a huge help. Having earned a B.R.A.G. Medallion has provided me with some credibility as an author that I didn’t have coming into the process.

Kingston's Project

When did you know you wanted to write a novel?

I have always loved reading, and more specifically I’ve always loved stories. Sometimes I worried that I spent too much time in my daydreams than in reality. However, I never considered writing a novel. I had chosen the technical path in college and eventually migrated to marketing and sales, and I connected more with data analysis and process improvement than creative writing.

Back in 2012 I told my book club gals that I was considering taking a personal leave from work to focus on my family and my health. They were supportive, but they also brought me down to reality. They knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied with staying home and having nothing to do while my daughter was in school. They started tossing around ideas for what I could do, and one of those was that I could write a book. I actually dismissed the idea pretty quickly. My thought was, “I read books. I don’t write them.”

However, about three weeks later I woke up and remembered part of a dream. I thought, “I wonder why that would happen.” My next thought was, “Oh crap, I’m writing a book.” It really was that clear for me. There was no ‘can I do this’ or ‘should I do this’—I started writing Kingston’s Project that very day.

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

I did end up taking a leave from my company when I was about halfway through the manuscript for Kingston’s Project. It wasn’t for the purpose of writing, but I certainly use the time off to my writing advantage. Because of this, most of my writing time comes while my daughter is in school. This means I don’t get much writing done during the summer, spring, and fall breaks (or on snow days), but that’s OK because spending time with my daughter is my priority. I try to stick to a schedule whenever possible—get the family out the door in the morning, go to the gym, get through emails and other admin type work, then write until the bus brings my daughter back home.

When I first started writing Kingston’s Project, I didn’t tell anyone for about four months. I was convinced that everyone, including my husband, would laugh if they knew (when I did finally tell my husband, he did laugh but only a little). Because I kept it secret, I would mostly write sitting on the couch at night after my daughter went to bed. Now, I write in our dedicated home office.

My actual writing process varies with each novel. For Kingston’s Project, I didn’t even create a timeline until I was about halfway through—and that was only because I was afraid I’d mess up my timing of events. I just started writing at the first word, and continued to the last. For my third novel, Shattered Angel, I had to start with an outline for each chapter before I could start writing. It’s a fixed chapter concept, and I needed to know ahead of time what each would be about and make sure they all fit together.

Please tell me about Kingston’s Project.

Kingston’s Project is told from the point of view of Sarah Mitchell. The novel starts two years after Sarah had suffered a significant loss. She’s struggling to move on, only really able to get through the mechanics of each day. Deep down she does want to live her life again, but she’s so far into the darkness that she doesn’t know how to find her way out. Sarah works for a company that does contract project management work for other companies. One of her firm’s largest clients—Elijah Kingston—requests to interview Sarah to lead a confidential assignment. At the encouragement of her boss and best friend, she accepts the interview and flies out to Colorado (from her home in Indiana).

She is reluctant to agree to do the project, primarily because she is not a fan of Elijah Kingston. What she learns about his project shocks her to her core. It’s enough to make her want to refuse the project and return back home. However, Elijah is able to convince her to stay with the promise to help her heal in the process. The story follows the friendship that forms between Sarah and Elijah, and how they navigate the difficult circumstances that life has thrown their way. Kingston’s Project brings each of their journeys to life—Sarah’s healing and Elijah’s strength and courage.

Tell me a little about Sarah Mitchell.

Sarah is a strong woman who doesn’t know how strong she really is. She’s confident in her professional career, but in her personal life she allows herself to become dependent on those she loves in a way that dims her own strength. She doesn’t know how to pick up the pieces of her broken life without the one person who always did it for her.

Sarah is caring and respectful of those around her. She’s able to accept people for who they are, without passing judgment their way. It doesn’t stop her from speaking her mind, but she tries to do it while respecting the viewpoint of the other person.

Sarah is very organized, which servers her well in her career. She prefers to remain professional at all times, and often finds it difficult to relax. Oh, and she loves coffee and fuzzy socks!

What is a challenge Sarah encounters dealing with her loss?

After her loss, she basically isolates herself from just about everyone. It’s hard for her to overcome something so devastating when she feels so alone. She loses herself in destructive behaviors, which include a lack of eating combined with excessive running. Elijah recognizes this and forces her to acknowledge the extent to which she has allowed her grief to impact her life and health.

What are Elijah Kingston’s strengths and weaknesses?

Oh, Elijah. I really enjoyed watching his character come to life. He’s the kind of person who has a permanent gray line between his strengths and weaknesses. What he may perceive as strength, someone else will certainly see as a weakness! He is confident, arrogant, demanding, and proud. He gets results, and it’s usually the results that he wants.

Yet, he’s a very caring person. All of his actions come from a place of good intentions. He’s capable of recognizing when he’s wrong, he’s just too stubborn to let go of his original decision. We see this in his relationship with his children. They don’t get along, and he refuses to make a change despite Sarah’s encouragement for him to close the gap. Once his course is set, he doesn’t look back. Most of the people in his life view this as a weakness; however, it’s the primary thing that helps him through his situation. So in his journey, it’s his most powerful strength.

What was your inspiration for this story?

It all started with a dream. I woke up, remembered part of something I had dreamt, and immediately went to the computer to do some research. I can’t tell you the exact dream, because it would give away key aspects of the novel. I will tell you that it was more about the relationship between Sarah and Elijah rather than their individual situations. I started with that connection, asking why it existed. Elijah’s story developed naturally from there. For Sarah, I knew she was struggling with something significant, so I decided to give her the one thing I fear most in this world. In addition, my family had recently suffered from a significant loss right before I started writing Kingston’s Project. I think I needed to write through my own grief as a form of healing.

Is there a message in your story you would like readers to grasp?

Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan. There may be loss, illness, injury, broken relationships—the list is long. However, it doesn’t mean we can’t still live and enjoy the path we’ve been given. Sarah’s unexpected path was loss. Grief is a powerful deterrent to life, but it can be overcome. Sometimes we need to reach out to others for help. And sometimes that help comes from someone we would least expect. We just have to be willing to accept and embrace it when it comes our way.

Were there any challenges in writing this story?

Since I wrote Kingston’s Project without the initial intent to publish, I didn’t struggle with too many writing challenges. I just wrote without worry. The challenge came when I finished the manuscript and decided to publish it. One of my biggest challenges was that my manuscript was entirely too long! I ended up cutting over 40% of what I had written. I actually don’t mind that I cut that much—I look at it as I was getting better the more I wrote, so it wasn’t wasted time. But it was difficult to determine what to cut. It’s such a heavy book at times, and I needed to balance that. While a certain scene may have seemed insignificant to the overall plot, if it was one of the lighter moments I had to take caution before cutting it or reducing it.

My other primary challenge after I decided to publish was making sure the information in the novel was accurate. I needed to ensure that the key aspects of Elijah’s struggle were well represented. In my research, I had come across a foundation that supports people in Elijah’s situation. I sent a request, asking if someone would be willing to read the manuscript and offer comments. I was really blessed that they agreed. It was so important for me to get the information right, and I’m so grateful for the input I received.

Where can readers buy your book?

Kingston’s Project is available in paperback and ebook through most of the online retail stores—links are provided below.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | BAM | Indie Bound

For other locations, please visit my website

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Carrie Beckfort who is the author of, Kingston’s Project, 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, Kingston’s Project, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Billy Garrett

Garreett Rice-BRAG

I’d like to introduce B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Billy Garrett to Layered Pages. Billy is a retired general contractor living half the year in Bend, Oregon and the other half in Palm Desert, California.  He loves fishing off the coast of Oregon, hanging out with his five grandchildren, writing and playing the guitar.  “The Secret Life of Tumkit,” is his second book.  His first book is a memoir called, “Behind Sight,” which is a best seller on Amazon and was just recommended by Kindle as a must read.

Hello Billy! Thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for your book, ‘The Secret Life of Tumkit.’

First, I’d like to say, “Thank you Stephanie for all that you do for Indie Authors. You and Indie BRAG are a real beacon of light for all independent authors who are trying to navigate through the complex world of book promoting.”

Thank you, Billy. Please tell me how you discovered indieBRAG and what has your experience been like with self-publishing so far?

I discovered Indie BRAG through Goodreads. For me, now that my children’s books is finished and published, I felt it important to get as many good reviews as possible, especially from notable and respected book reviewers.

In my search for professional reviewers I quickly learned that most of these reviews cost a lot of money. I certainly have no problem with folks making a profit, but how would I know if my children’s book was really worth reading if I was paying them to give it rave reviews? So I decided to research a trusted friend, Goodreads, for a top notch honest reviewer and that’s how I found the amazing folks at B.R.A.G. Medallion. They’re clearly not in it for the money. They’re mission is to discover and recommend only the best of the best indie books to their loyal followers.

My experience in the self-publishing world has been a little bit of a roller coaster ride. So much to learn and no prior knowledge of this confusing world caused me to follow many a dead end path. I, like many other indie authors, sent out my polished query letters to agents only to discover there were no return emails offering six figure signing bonuses and movie rights. I did receive one offer from one of the big shot publishers, but when I read their contract stating their share of my book sales would be 90 percent I was stunned. They wanted me to travel to book signings, do interviews and solely promote my book at my own expense, while only paying me 10 percent. So I shut that door and with all my might pushed open the giant 8-foot high solid oak door that leads into the never-ending maze of the self-publishing industry.

I’m so thrilled I made that decision. What a fantastic and exciting adventure it’s been! Now that I’ve received a huge pat on the back from Indie BRAG I now have the confidence to keep writing.

The Secret Life of Tumkit

Am I correct to say that your inspiration for writing this book was for your grandchildren?

Yes, I did get the inspiration for writing this story from my grandchildren but not in totality. I also wanted to see if I could remember how to use that wonderful gift of imagination that I once had as a child. Somehow that instinctively playful side had become lost or forgotten and had been replaced with the responsibilities of adult life. I was offered this challenge of remembering when my nine-year-old grandson, who was sitting next to me on my back porch, spotted a baby rabbit resting in the middle of the backyard. The rabbit seemed peaceful and unafraid of our presence and curiously it had lost part of its ear. “Grandpa, what happened to his ear, where’s his mom, and why is he not running away?” Great questions, I mumbled in my thoughts. That night I laid in bed thinking of answers to his unanswerable questions and that’s how this story was born.

How long have you been writing?

Not long, my first book, a memoir titled “Behind Sight,” was self-published a few years ago. I must confess it was a heart-wrenching struggle completing that book and I swore I’d never write another. I’d been a contractor most of my life and my descriptive vocabulary was severely limited to simple words such as “Who’s got my hammer? or “Has anyone seen my tape measure?”

Please tell me about your story of Tumkit?

“The Secret Life of Tumkit” is a story about a baby rabbit that was destined to die of starvation until a shrewd and fearless mockingbird, named Vella, discovered Tumkit and brought him a magic berry. The berry came from a solitary bush that grows in a cave near the top of Laurel Mountain. Vella warns Tumkit the bush is struggling to survive and unless they act quickly the supernatural powers of its berries will be lost forever. Tumkit, Vella and Sully, a one year old buck and loyal friend to Vella, travel up the steep mountain in a desperate attempt to save the bush. Their quest takes a dangerous turn when they encounter Borwong, an angry and heartless grizzly, who refuses to allow anyone on his mountain.

Could you give me an example of one of the major conflicts in your story?

The biggest conflict in the book happens towards the end of the story when the animals try to remove the grizzly from Laurel Mountain and save the magic berry bush that was dying because it desperately needed water.

Chapter Twenty:

Up the mountain they went to where the dam was diverting the stream. Sully lowered his wide antlers beneath the dam and with his strong legs pushed the branches aside. He kicked the rocks down the hill and the spring water began flowing toward the magic berry bush. In their excitement, they paid no attention to the noise the rocks were making as they tumbled down the mountain.

A loud angry roar bellowed above them. It was Borwong. The grizzly was standing on his hind legs forty feet away shaking his head back and forth. He must have been eight feel tall! He roared again exposing his three-inch fangs. He lowered his body and began walking toward them slapping the ground with his front paws, his fat belly jiggling with each step.

Borwong was so mad all the brown hairs on his back stood straight up. Vella flew to the top of a nearby tree and screeched as loud as she could, “Run, run get out of there,” she hollered to Sully and Tumkit.

Sully scraped the dirt with his front hoof. He reared up, lowered his sharp massive antlers and charged Borwong.

“Stop, Sully, he’ll kill you!” Tumkit shouted. Borwong stood back on his hind legs and with one swat slapped Sully to the ground. Tumkit watched helpless as Borwong circled Sully’s limp body. Blood was dripping from the bottom of his antler.

Borwong roared up the tree where Vella was and then turned his eyes on Tumkit. With a deep growly voice he said, “This is my mountain. How dare you come here.”

Shaking from head to toe, Tumkit timidly said, “We just want the bush to live, that’s all.”

“You didn’t hear me. The mountain and everything on it is mine, including that bush,” Borwong roared again and walked towards Tumkit, stopping four feet in front of him.

“Please Borwong, let the bush have the spring water. You have no need for that bush, you can’t even fit into the cave to get the berries,” Tumkit begged.

What are Tumkits strengths?

Tumkit is an amazing little rabbit. He’s smart, brave, kind and most of all a very forgiving and gentle soul.

How would you describe the dense forest where the story takes place?

That’s a great question Stephanie. In the books Prologue I open up the story with this first paragraph. “There exists a never-ending forest on the other side of an old wooden fence. The fence was built many years ago to keep out any unwanted visitors who might stray from the woods and into the back yard of the little green house on Willow Lane.”

When I think of a dense forest many images come to mind. Tranquil, beautiful, quiet, mysterious and possibly dangerous are just a few of the many wonderful things I find adventuresome about a forest.   This story takes place deep within the forest where no humans live.

What age group dose this book fall under?

“The Secret Life of Tumkit,” is perfect for ages 6-11.

Who designed your book cover?

Thanks for asking. Pattie Brooks Anderson is an amazing artist who designed the front cover and most of the interior illustrations. She is a retired high school art teacher and has worked as a commercial artist most of her life. Within the book there are two other illustrations that are special to Pattie and I. A very talented 10-year-old artist named Nicole drew those illustrations.

What is up next for you?

I am currently working on a sequel to “The Secret Life of Tumkit.”

Where can readers buy your book?

The print book and eBook can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most other outlets.

Author Website

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Billy Garrett who is the author of, The Secret Life of Tumkit, 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 Secret Life of Tumkit merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.




Sunday Book Highlight


B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

An awkward and lonely young man with special reason to hate the Huctans, Timothy is trapped in a cycle of purposelessness and drudgery. But when the Huctans conscript him into a secret army—and when a girl with a strange set of skills sets him free—Timothy gets a chance to fight back.

Throwing himself into the rebel cause and training as an elite young Thane, Timothy ignites years of pent-up frustration into an obsessive drive to become the best. For months he practices combat and espionage, finding friendship with an equally fanatical young rebel and losing himself in the exhaustion of training and the danger of missions. Loving every minute of his new life, he wraps his new identity completely in service to the rebel Band.

The rebel Band which, unbeknownst to him, was created to be betrayed.

Book Excerpt

Verinald had no sword, no knife, no poison, and no noose. He was chained to tent pegs by wrists and ankles, which ruled out breaking his own neck. He had a bowl of soup—tin, not glass—and he had a spoon.

The spoon was his best chance.

But before he could work up the nerve to use it, the tent flap rustled. Verinald relaxed his grip and focused on his soup. He was calm. He was rational. There was no reason to take the spoon from him.

Then a voice spoke. “Let him sit up,” it said.

Verinald was not an easily flustered man. He had trained to maintain his composure since he was old enough to talk. He had kept a straight face while in fear for his own life, while lying to generals and kings, and while watching men die. But as he heard that voice—as two Huctan soldiers loosened and extended the chains on his wrists and raised him to a kneeling position—he trembled with a mixture of grief and rage that was beyond his control.

“It’s good to see you alive, old friend,” the voice said.

Verinald forced himself to raise his gaze, to meet the eyes that belonged to the voice. The trembling would not stop.

“Ricera,” he said.

“I know you want to condemn me for my betrayal,” Ricera said. “I know you’re itching to rail against me, to try to make me grieve for what is lost. Believe me, I grieve already. But I have made my choice, and your judgment is the least of my concerns. So let’s skip the shouting and weeping and get on to the reason you’re still alive.”

Verinald knew the reason he was still alive. His only consolation was that they could torture him until their knives grew dull, and he would not tell them anything. Not because he was strong, but because there was nothing to tell. Everyone else was already dead.

“Certainly,” Verinald found himself saying, with a voice that was saner than he felt. “Don’t let me inconvenience you. I know how busy you are with treachery and faithlessness.”

Ricera sighed. “Or you could replace the shouting and weeping with sarcastic jibes,” he said. Then, to the Huctan soldiers, “Leave us, please.”

The two soldiers obeyed, and Ricera squatted on his hams so that his eyes were level with Verinald’s. He was close, well within reach, and Verinald still had his spoon. This, more than anything, was a measure of Ricera’s contempt for him. Verinald might be Ricera’s peer in subterfuge and espionage, but in combat he was no better than a common soldier. Even if the spoon in Verinald’s hand had been a sword, he would have been no threat to Ricera.

“Stop measuring us against one another,” Ricera said. “You have done nothing else your entire life. Focus, just for this moment, on the task at hand.”

Verinald’s hand shook on the spoon, and he could not stop it.

“I have your son,” Ricera said.

Just like that. Ricera’s abruptness should have shocked Verinald into showing some emotion, into betraying something, but this deception was so practiced—so ingrained—that Verinald actually managed to raise his eyebrows in confusion.

“My son?” he said. “I have no son.”

“You have a son, and you know of him,” Ricera said. “Your face has suddenly gone smooth. How many times did we learn that lack of emotion can be just as telling as emotion itself? How old were we when they taught us that? Ten?”

“Who’s measuring us against one another now?” said Verinald.

“You’re right,” said Ricera. “The task at hand. Your task, if you care for your son.”

“I have no son,” Verinald said.

“You have a son,” Ricera repeated. “I sent for him as soon as Eoriden fell. His Huctan mother gave him up without a fight, when she learned that you were dead.”

Verinald’s spoon began trembling again.

Ricera smiled. “And you criticize my faithlessness.”

“The faithlessness of loving a Huctan woman is not the faithlessness of handing your nation over to the Huctan army.”

“The task at hand,” Ricera said. “The point of this meeting is that you, too, will hand people over to the Huctan army.”

“I will not.”

“Tomorrow,” Ricera continued, “I will set you free. I will have my soldiers wound you, if you wish, so that you can invent a story as to how you escaped capture. You will join your friends, if you still have them, and you will gather the remnants of the Duest to yourself.”

“I will not.”

“You will. I have found many of them, but there are many that I have not found. They have gone deep into hiding. But you were always a leader of men, Verinald. I have confidence in you. Over the years, you will gather them to yourself. You will organize them. You will form a resistance. Just think: for a time, you can be the leader of the Duest. I know it is a position you have long coveted.”

“You are mad.”

“You will gather them, lead them, even recruit others who wish to rebel. You will make a safe haven for them, a base of operations, a gathering place. The hill country between Suiton and Shadil will do, I think. I even give you permission, as you see fit, to inflict damage on the Huctans. My only condition is that the damage you inflict does not lead to your discovery. You will maintain secrecy and safety at all costs.”

“You don’t have my son,” Verinald said. “You may have known of him, but you don’t have him. This is a bluff.”

“Secrecy and safety,” Ricera said, “but watchfulness. Because when I call for you, you will respond. You will deliver the remnants of Botan into my hand. You will betray those you have gathered, and in so doing you will earn the life of your son.”

“My son is dead,” Verinald said.

“Your son is alive,” Ricera said. “He is beginning to speak. He is very intelligent; you can see it in his eyes. In that, he is like his father.”

Verinald could not stop himself. He was too tired, too full of despair and hate and self-loathing. He dropped his head, dropped his spoon, and began to weep.

“Take comfort,” Ricera said. “I may fail. All my plans may crumble around me, and I may never send for you. You may never have to betray those who trust you, as I have. You may even succeed in starting a real resistance. The Huctans may govern poorly. Perhaps, in time, you will throw their shackles off and win independence and freedom for Botan. Maybe your son will hear of your name and come to your throne with open arms.”

Ricera’s hand touched Verinald’s shoulder, and Verinald jerked as if burned. He looked up to find a mirthless smile on Ricera’s face.

“But don’t count on it,” Ricera said. “Don’t count on it.”

Travis Daniel Bow

Travis Daniel Bow

Travis Daniel Bow is the author of Thane and its sequel, King’s Table. He grew up in Reno, NV (where he raised pigs for FFA), earned degrees from Oklahoma Christian University (where he broke his collarbone in a misguided Parkour attempt) and Stanford (where he and his bike were hit by a car), and now does research and development work for Nikon. He has eight published short stories, four pending patent applications, one wonderful son, one beautiful wife, and one loving God.


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My Confession as a Book Reviewer

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I am sitting here at my desk contemplating my review for, To Catch a Falling Star by Anna Belfrage. This book is the eighth and final book in the unforgettable series about the Grahams. Alas, they are a fictional family but they will become just as real as your own. I must admit my book reviews in the series has been a disappointment to me. Why would I say that? Let me explain. Sometimes when I read books that touch me so much, I’m at loss at where to begin or how to express my feelings of the story. After all, how does one do that when the writer has so brilliantly portrayed the realities of the human conditions in just about any situation you can think of? Belfrage explores all avenues of life. At least it seems to me. Not only that, she gets right down to the core of the harshness and evil of humanity. She does not shy away from it. I marvel at how she goes to those depths unscathed.

Now, it’s not all about those sad and unfortunate realities…there is love, joy, goodness, faith of God, forgiveness, starting over, birth, the bonds of family, justice or redemption-if you will- and human kindness. You get both sides.

When reading the Graham Saga, you will cry, feel angry, sadness, your heart will race and your chest will tighten. You will smile, feel joy, laugh, feel happiness and will feel the love of family and the love of a mother’s heart.

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Yes, Anna will truly evoke all these emotions in you and much more. Quite possibly you will be forced to confront emotions you did not know you had or have had to deal with. You will question yourself throughout this series. If I was in that situation, would I do that? How would I have treated that person or handled that situation if that happen to me? Could I go to that extent? Now getting back to writing that review!

My review for, To Catch a Falling Star by Anna Belfrage will be posted on May 6th as part of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. I would also, like to add that Belfrage is a multi B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and she will be a returning guest at Layered Pages in the near future. For those of you who don’t know, is owned and operated by indieBRAG, LLC, a privately held organization that has brought together a large group of readers, both individuals and members of book clubs, located throughout the United States and in ten other countries around the globe. The word “indie” refers to self or independently published books, while B.R.A.G. is an acronym for Book Readers Appreciation Group. It is their mission is to discover new and talented self-published authors and help them give their work the attention and recognition it deserves.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Layered Pages

To catch a falling star

Some gifts are double-edged swords…

For Matthew Graham, being given the gift of his former Scottish manor is a dream come true. For his wife, Alex, this gift will force her to undertake a perilous sea journey, leaving most of their extensive family in the Colony of Maryland. Alex is torn apart by this, but staying behind while her husband travels to Scotland is no option. Scotland in 1688 is a divided country, torn between the papist Stuart king and the foreign but Protestant William of Orange. In the Lowlands, popular opinion is with Dutch William, and Matthew’s reluctance to openly support him does not endear him to his former friends and neighbours. While Matthew struggles to come to terms with the fact that Scotland of 1688 bears little resemblance to his lovingly conserved memories, Alex is forced to confront unresolved issues from her past, including her overly curious brother-in-law, Luke Graham. And then there’s the further complication of the dashing, flamboyant Viscount Dundee, a man who knocks Alex completely off her feet. All the turmoil that accompanies their return to Scotland pales into insignificance when a letter arrives, detailing the calamities threatening their youngest daughter in Maryland – at the hand of that most obnoxious minister, Richard Campbell. Matthew and Alex have no choice but to hasten back, no matter the heartache this causes. Will they make it back in time? And what will Richard Campbell do?

Mysteries with a Touch of the Mystical with B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree Virginia King

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I’ve teamed up with two other BRAG Medallion mystery writers – Amber Foxx and Marion Eaton – for a Mystical Mystery Book Bundle. (Read about our discounts and our raffle to win free books below.) We each weave a touch of the mystical into our mysteries, but in very different ways.

I’ve always enjoyed a good traditional mystery, especially if the secrets have a psychological basis. Fantasy and paranormal genres have never attracted me because I like my fiction to be grounded in the real. But when I discovered The Girl in a Swing by Richard Adams (of Watership Down fame) I found that the mystical and the real could be woven into something very powerful – that the unseen can bring profound insights to the seen. In this incredible mystery, the clues to a dark secret creep up on the main character through a series of psychic happenings. The book hooked me and I’ve read it ten times trying to figure out how he created such a chilling puzzle.

I dared to bring a touch of the mystical to my debut novel, The First Lie. It required courage to explore the layers beyond the real, because the mystical tends to drop into the manuscript when you least expect it and behave like a poltergeist until you figure out what it means. I love this kind of writing because the writer can never lose the capacity to be surprised – an important quality if the mystery is to rise above the predictable.

When I won a BRAG Medallion, I discovered Amber Foxx and Marion Eaton. They also weave mystical elements into realistic stories – both in very original ways.

In The Calling Amber Foxx uses a woman’s unexplored psychic gift to examine the issues of identity and integrity – with very original mystical experiences spinning a mystery underneath. The location and characters in rural America brings an intensive edge that’s always real.

In When the Clocks Stopped, Marion Eaton has taken two women’s stories centuries apart and woven a connection between them. This time-slip relationship uncovers a modern mystery that parallels dark events from the past, while the small English village buzzes with quirky characters that keep the story grounded.

In my psychological mystery, The First Lie, a woman on the run from a destructive relationship in Sydney lands in the middle of a mythological nightmare, when she arrives all alone in Hawaii. The mythical events are so bizarre they force her delve into the past and face the shocking truth about herself.

All three books are the first in compelling mystical mystery series.

If you’d like to discover any or all of these three mystical mystery series, take advantage of the specials on offer – a chance to win all three paperbacks or to buy the ebooks at US $1.99.

Win a Paperback of Each Book

Enter the drawing below to win a paperback copy of the first book in each author’s series here

Enter drawing now to win all three books.

The First Lie – Virginia King

The First Lie

 Selkie Moon Mystery Series, Book One

Selkie Moon is a woman on the run. In a mad dash for freedom she’s escaped her life in Sydney to start over again in Hawaii. But her refuge begins to unravel and she’s running from something else entirely. A voice in a dream says that someone is trying to kill her. Not that she’s psychic, no way. But the messages and threats escalate until she’s locked in a game of cat and mouse with a mysterious stalker. Entangled in Celtic and Hawaiian mythologies, the events become so bizarre and terrifying that her instinct is to keep running. But is she running from her past? Or her future?


Buy the ebook for $1.99:


The Calling – Amber Foxx

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The first Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Obeying her mother’s warning, Mae Martin-Ridley has spent years hiding her gift of “the sight.” When concern for a missing hunter compels her to use it again, her peaceful life in a small Southern town begins to fall apart. New friends push her to explore her unusual talents, but as she does, she discovers the shadow side of her visions – access to secrets she could regret uncovering.

Gift or curse? When an extraordinary ability intrudes on an ordinary life, nothing can be the same again.

The Mae Martin Series

No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.

Website & buy the ebook for US $1.99 here

When the Clocks Stopped – Marion Eaton

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The Mysterious Marsh Series, Book One

When lawyer Hazel Dawkins decides to write some wills while she waits for the birth of her first child, she unwittingly triggers dramatic consequences. Mysteriously, she encounters Annie, a woman whose tempestuous life took place more than two centuries earlier when Romney Marsh was a violent place, dominated by smugglers.  Soon that past collides with the present, and Hazel finds herself pitted against an evil that has stalked the marsh for centuries.  As her destiny intertwines with Annie’s in the shifting time-scape, Hazel confronts a terrifying challenge that parallels history – and could even change it. If she survives.


All three books will be on sale for US $1.99 from April 21 to 30 (adjusted for other currencies).

About Authors:

Virginia King Author Portrait

Virginia King has lived most of her life in Sydney, Australia, but has travelled to many places. She’s been a teacher, an unemployed ex-teacher, a producer of audio-books, a writer of over 50 children’s books, a writing workshop presenter and an award-winning publisher. The First Lie is her debut novel for adults, the first mystery in the Selkie Moon series. These days Virginia lives with her husband in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney overlooking a valley full of birds. Most mornings she does some yoga, watches the French news (even understands some of it), then sits down and writes till late in the afternoon. Bliss.

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Amber Foxx is the author of the Mae Martin psychic mystery series, and an avid reader of mysteries, thrillers, nonfiction, literary fiction, and paranormal fiction that doesn’t have vampires in it. She has worked professionally in theater and dance, fitness, and academia. Amber’s training and academic studies in various fields of complementary and alternative medicine, as well as her personal experience and travels, bring authenticity to her work. In her free time she enjoys music, dancing, art, running and yoga. She divides her time between the Southeast and the Southwest, living in Truth or Consequences during her New Mexico months.

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Retired from legal practice, Marion Eaton lives near the sea in the beautiful Sussex countryside with a long-suffering husband, a lazy Saluki, a wild garden and an urge to write into the small hours –all of which she attempts to keep in some sort of order.




Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree George Steger


A native of Louisiana, George Steger followed a long Deep South tradition by seeking to improve his prospects in the military. His service in the Army included battalion command in Vietnam and four European tours as an intelligence officer and Russian foreign area specialist, working on both sides of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Colonel Steger traded sword for academia and is now Professor Emeritus of history and international affairs at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas. His novel, Sebastian’s Way, is a tale of adventure, duty, honor, and love in the eighth century during the time of Charlemagne. The novel came from his experiences in both war and peace–from fourteen years in Germany and Eastern Europe, and from his love of teaching medieval and other European history courses. Steger is an avid hiker and trail biker. Much of the story of Sebastian was envisioned during time spent in the woods and fields of eastern Kansas. In memory of his Mary Jo, his wife of many years, he spent a recent summer trekking across Spain on The Camino de Santiago, one of Europe’s oldest pilgrimage trails. He lives and writes in rural Kansas.

Hello, George! Thank you for chatting with me today about your book, Sebastian’s Way and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion. Please tell me a little about your book.

Sebastian’s Way, first of all, is a moral tale—of character, of faith and courage, and, not least, of love. Though replete with action and adventure, it strives to concoct a colorful medieval stew, full of the authentic stock of the times: savage warriors, courageous, ground-breaking clergy, salty peasants, and plenty of memorable maidens for those who like a good romance.

The pitch of the book is to send the message that one of the most difficult things in the world is to be different from those around us. Yet no bad circumstance will change unless someone dares to be different. Being different, however, is dangerous, especially if those in authority are wrong and one seeks to change the way things are. Being different needs courage and a very good reason, and one needs to be prepared to pay the price. This idea drives the story of two men: one is Charlemagne—“the Thunderer,” the most powerful man in the western world, who fights and rules like the pagan enemies he seeks to conquer—and Sebastian, the novel’s hero, a young warrior in the king’s heavy cavalry, who strives to know more and be more than he is and to persuade the king to forge a different path to peace.

In your bio, you state that you were in the military and did four tours in Europe. Did this in anyway impact your decision to become a writer?

Yes and no. My first career was in the Army. I was a Russian foreign area specialist, fairly fluent in Russian and German. We were deep in the Cold War, and they kept sending me back to Europe, though I did get one tour in Vietnam as a battalion commander. I spent four other tours working as an intelligence officer on both sides of the Iron Curtain. On one tour, I had a pass in my pocket that said I worked for the Commander of Soviet Forces in East Germany. That just meant that I was a liaison officer to the Russian Army. I had to study a lot to do what I did, and it was easy to become absorbed in the culture and history of the people of Central and East Europe.

When I retired I took the time to earn a Ph.D. in History and found a job at the University of Saint Mary teaching Russian and European history. Medieval history was one of my favorite courses.

The book emerged from both experiences. But I probably never would have started a novel except for one of those tragic events that turn your life around. I guess everybody experiences them. Out of the blue, Mary Jo, my wife of many years, was diagnosed with Stage Four breast cancer. I retired from the university to be with her, but it was a lingering illness that went on for five years. During that time I needed something to keep my spirits up and occupy my mind, so I just began to write Sebastian’s Way. Happily, Mary Jo collaborated with me for a while. When she passed on, I took part of a summer and went to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago, the famous medieval pilgrimage trail. It was there that I put the rest of the novel together in my mind, and when I got home I finished the book. It was really kind of an accident.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

I never intended to write novels. But I found that writing Sebastian’s Way was great fun and totally absorbing and fulfilling. So why not be a writer? Right now, I’m half way through a sequel to Sebastian’s Way, and the plan is to make it a series with a third book and a prequel. Beyond that, who knows?

What is an example of the research you conducted on eighth century during the time of Charlemagne? What appeals to you most about the people’s living condition during that time?

I sometimes envy the fantasy writers, like George R. R. Martin or Stephen King, who can just create stuff out of their heads, without a great deal of attention to reality. But the writer of historical fiction had better have his/her ducks together about the facts, or one will quickly be called to account. I found it was necessary to dig into history at almost every step. If you used a boat in the narrative, for example, you had to know what it was used for in those times and how it worked. If you wrote about what they ate, you had to know what crops they raised and by what means. You had to know how people worked and fought and dressed themselves. And, if possible, you had to get inside their heads to understand a little of the medieval mind—how their faith, superstitions, and culture impacted on who they were. And the further back one goes in history, the more difficult it becomes because the sources are often so sketchy and scarce. This was very true for eighth-century Europe, which many people think of as “The Dark Ages.” There are few primary sources and those that exist are woefully incomplete. Still you can’t reinvent the history; you have to use what there is—as far as it goes. For example, The Carolingian Chronicles comprise the official account of Charlemagne’s long reign. Anonymous monks or priests scrawled out a primitive history of that reign year-by-year, but they describe each year of that momentous reign in just a few ponderous paragraphs.

What compelled you to write the background of the 30-year war the Christian Franks fought against the pagan Saxons in your story?

The background for the novel was the 30-year war Charlemagne fought with the Saxons. It was an apocalyptic conflict between Christian Franks and pagan Saxons. Charlemagne took his role as Defender of the Faith very seriously and he fought relentlessly to spread Christianity across the width and breadth of Europe, either through missionaries or at the point of a sword. The war with the Saxons was Charlemagne’s toughest fight. If the Saxons had won, who knows what might have happened to the history of Europe and Christianity itself?

What can you tell about the eight century that people might not know?

One historian put it this way, bluntly: “ugly, brutal and short.” Three hundred years after the fall of the Roman Empire, most of Europe still wallowed in poverty and barbarism. In the west, trade outside of a few Italian towns and ports had dried up and life centered on subsistence agriculture. So much depended on the harvest. If it was bad or the weather intervened, there might be widespread starvation. Most of life revolved around providing food and shelter. If a family had to move, it faced all the dangers of the road: robbers, wild beasts, exposure. Children under ten rarely survived such circumstances. War was endemic and the peasants were often engulfed by it or forced to give up their precious stores of food to marauding troops. Outside of the clergy, few people could read. Even in the best of circumstances, few ordinary folk ever ventured more than twenty miles from where they were born.

In spite of all the bad news, the people of the 8th century were extraordinarily inventive. Since slavery was increasingly frowned upon by the Church and the soil of northern Europe was inordinately heavy, early medieval farmers resorted to creating labor-saving devices, like the deep plow, the double yoke for oxen, the horse collar, the crank, the wheelbarrow, and many more. These things were not invented overnight, but eventually they began to produce surplus. The consequence of surplus was that gradually life began to change for the better. This change is also part of the background story of the novel.

Tell me about Sebastian. What are his strengths and weaknesses?

I set out to make Sebastian a different kind of man. That’s a central theme of the novel. “The hardest thing in the world to do is be different from those around you,” says Father Pippin in the book (page 312). “But nothing changes unless one chooses a different path.” One of the things I wanted to emphasize is the huge difference that education/learning makes on the way people think. Sebastian is different because of the way he was guided and taught by the people who were closest to him. He was raised in a relatively insulated environment, on the wild and isolated frontier, and his teachers were people who felt very strongly about what he should become. Foremost was his mother, a very devout and intelligent woman who chafed at her own inability to find the means to learn. She insisted that Sebastian should learn everything he could, while at the same time genuinely understanding his faith. Attalus, Sebastian’s real father, was another demanding teacher, determined to protect his son by making him an unbeatable warrior but one who was also compelled, like Attalus, by his honor to be fair and just. Then there are the two countercultural priests, Father Louis and Father Pippin, both of whom, compared to most of the ordinary clergy of the time, were genuinely inspired and enlightened by their faith. Finally, there’s Heimdal, the blind forest hermit and philosopher, who from his handicap has learned to scoff at the superstitions and narrow-mindedness of his age. These were the people who broadened Sebastian’s view of the world and made him see and think “outside the box” of his time. In addition to those “family” figures, there is Simon, who is an education in himself; he’s been everywhere and seen things way out of the orbit of the chilly forests of the Saxon March. Sebastian thirsts to know what Simon knows, and in the second book this extraordinary Jewish merchant/adventurer will be his ticket to a much larger world.

As for Sebastian’s weaknesses, one might say his soul was too gentle for that brutish time. His efforts to persuade the king and others to curb the violence and forge a different path to peace were rigidly resisted and fraught with costly consequences. The fierceness with which he loved made him haplessly vulnerable. The passion with which he pursued his convictions and sense of justice kept him constantly on the razor’s edge of danger.

Could you please share an excerpt from your story?

Sebastian's Way BRAG

From Book I: (The Pathfinder)


Sebastian wiped the rain out of his eyes as he stood before the king, helmet in hand. He had ridden all through the dark day in a downpour and was wet to the bone. Charlemagne had not asked him to sit, nor had he looked at him since he had been admitted to the royal chambers. The king stood at a window, watching the heavy thunderbolts crashing down just beyond the palace grounds. His mood reflected the storm. Finally, he turned and fixed Sebastian with an angry glare.

“Who has told you that you may refuse to fight for your king? How dare you send me such a message? I am your king. You have a command in my heavy cavalry. If I say you will fight, you will fight.”

“My king . . .” Sebastian began.

“Do you realize every officer in my army would have you executed immediately for this? Refusing to fight when you are called is high treason! How long do you think you would last if I told them about your message? Should I, your king, make excuses for you? Well? Give me a reason to keep you alive.”

Sebastian dropped his eyes. For a few charged moments, he said nothing. Then, drawing a deep breath, he began again. “My liege, I have always loved you—ever since I was a small boy. I would give you the last drop of my blood. But . . . I do not refuse to fight for you . . . I refuse to murder.”

I hear so many different thoughts about Charlemagne. Would you please tell me a little about your opinion of him and his accomplishments?

You wanted to know what I think of Karl der Grosse, otherwise known as Charlemagne. He is called ‘Great’ because he strove mightily to change the woeful circumstances of those relatively dark times. Over his long reign he managed to lift the standards of the people and provide a light for the growth of learning and culture. He was a builder, an educator and a unifier. Even though, it took another two hundred years or so for Europe to emerge as the dynamic center of the world it became, it was Charlemagne who began that growth. Even today the European Union annually gives “The Charlemagne Prize” to the person or group who contributed the most toward the goal of European unity and prosperity.

Please tell me about the Historical significance of your story?

As I have alluded to above, the novel emphasizes the sea changes that were slowly occurring in Europe in the 8th century: the Agricultural Revolution, the transformation of tribes into primitive states, the growth of literacy and learning, and, not least, the Christianization of all Europe—much of this accomplished or at least begun during the long reign of Charlemagne.

How much fiction have you blended into your story?

All of the characters are fictional except Charlemagne and his enemy Widukind, the Saxon prince. Many of the characters, however, are based on real models: the heroic missionaries to the pagans, for example, some of the king’s royal vassals, and the Jewish trader Simon. In all of it, though, I took special pains to create every character as a representative type of the medieval world of that time.

Who designed your book cover?

Jennifer Quinlan, my matchless final-copy editor, also designed the cover. I had some pretty rigid biases about what the cover should look like. We argued about it through five or six drafts. Finally, Jenny Q’s ideas proved much better than mine. I loved the final product: the kneeling knight with the classic picture of the great king brooding in the background. It said everything about the theme of the book, the conflict between the all-powerful king and the unassuming young warrior who dared to challenge him.

How much time did you spend writing your story?

I took about five years to write Sebastian’s Way. That was because I was just fooling around at the beginning, writing whenever I felt like it or had nothing else to do. It was purely a hobby. As the story grew, though, it took hold of me, and I began to be passionate about finishing it. When I decided to publish it, I sought a really good editor and found Jenny Quinlan. Her website reflects great praise from those who had use her talents. I have to say she took me to task. She wouldn’t let me get away with anything. The story had to flow, every word had to be clear and appropriate. And she kicked my derriere about the ending I had written, saying “You can’t do that to your readers; you have to provide better closure.” Well, I went back to the drawing board and worked another two weeks on a new ending. It turned out to be a hundred times better and really sold the book. Now I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Now I’m in the middle of the sequel, Sebastian’s Way: The Paladin. I have a deadline, and I find myself having to push like I never did before. It’s a different life. Now I have to have a regular time and place to write and I have to produce something every day. Sometimes I feel like a prisoner in my own house. But it’s still great fun to create such a world as Sebastian. And I wouldn’t trade my life for anything else right now.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

My editor, Jennifer Quinlan, put me onto IndieBRAG. I didn’t know about it until she urged me to submit the novel. I was very glad indeed to be selected for the medallion on the first try.

Where can readers buy your book?

Anybody can go to and type in my name or the name of the book, Sebastian’s Way: the Pathfinder. Choices will pop for hardback, soft cover and e-book. Or one can find the book at Best Buy or order it from Barnes and Noble.

Contact Information:




A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview George Steger, who is the author of, Sebastian’s Way: the Pathfinder, 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, Sebastian’s Way: the Pathfinder, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.



Self-Publishing: An Author’s Experiences

Diane Greenlay BRAG

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

I’d like to welcome Dianne Greenlay to Layered Pages today to talk about Self-publishing and her experiences with this industry thus far. Born and raised on the Canadian prairies, Dianne has won multiple awards for her historical action novels, “Quintspinner – A Pirate’s Quest” and “Deadly Misfortune”.

She is also a playwright and Creative Director of the long-running (25 years) theater group, Darkhorse Theatre. Drawing from this background, Greenlay has strayed into the genre of humor and comedy, also penning “The Camping Guy”, which won “Best Play 2014” at Theatrefest and is available as both a one act comedy (live theater script) and a short story.

“Quintspinner” and “Deadly Misfortune” are set in the 1700’s, in the pirate-infested waters of the West Indies for which Greenlay did an enormous amount of research – she hauled sail on a tall ship, snorkeled Caribbean shipwrecks, survived a near fatal swamping of a dinghy by a spouting Orca, got dumped off a surfboard and caught in an ocean riptide – well you get the picture – and she lived to write about it.

Greenlay began writing her first novel to fulfill one of the items on her bucket list. It was either that, or learn to play the bagpipes. Her husband is grateful for her choice.

She is fluent in at least her mother tongue and she thanks her fierce English teachers for that.

More of her thoughts on life can be found at her website

Dianne, when did you decide you were going to self-publish?

In 2009, I was finishing up my first novel, and after receiving a few rejections, I began to read about and research how to improve my query. I began to see articles about successful authors who were self-publishing, and being an impatient personality, the timeline for an author to get his/her book to market that way really appealed to me. I self-published my first novel in 2010.

Quintspinner BRAG cover

What has your experience been like along the way?

I was a techno troglodyte. I had had all of my teenagers’ do all of my computer work for me and when the last of my teenagers graduated and moved away from home, I couldn’t even cut and paste! To say the learning curve to self-publishing was steep is putting it mildly! Thankfully there were people out there with the skills that I lacked and plenty of sharing of information among self-published authors who helped me to reach my goals. Now I know enough to be able to pay it forward to other upcoming authors looking to self-publish. The atmosphere and attitude among self-publishers is amazing – rather than being competitive they are there to bolster each other up, to share ideas, tips, ideas, and to generally be encouraging to one other.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

By far, the biggest challenge that I have encountered has been, and continues to be, doing effective marketing for my books. Self-publishing has exploded in the past couple of years to the point that competition for readers’ eyes and money is huge. There are millions of books out there, and it’s quite a chore to come up with an effective promotional plan that will lift one’s book(s) up above the crowd, to get it noticed.

What have you learned in this industry?

Writing may be a hobby for some, but publishing is a business, and as such, one has to be willing to continually learn. Also, because it is a business, financial know-how is important, and it is crucial to have plans – publishing plans (covers, blurbs, editing, etc.), marketing plans (which platforms to publish on, pricing, release dates, advertising options, etc.) and finally, it is absolutely crucial to have a thick skin. That first one star review can pierce you like an arrow.

What are the do’s and don’ts of self-publishing?

The do’s:

  • get a professional edit and cover design,
  • write a kick-@#$ blurb for your book,
  • enter some award contests – they are helpful in gaining recognition, and
  • have a plan in plan in place to obtain early reviews.

Without these things, your marketing/publicity attempts will fail.

The don’ts:

  • neglect grammar and typos,
  • argue with that reviewer who left a low or negative review (hold your head up and walk away! In silence.),
  • skimp on your cover (it’s your precious book’s introduction to the world, after all!)

What are the promotional techniques you use via social media and how much time a week do you spend promoting your work?

I use Twitter personally, and belong to an author’s group who are my “street team” and who also use Twitter, Facebook Author pages, and their blogs, to assist me in any announcements, interviews, etc. that I may be doing. It takes about ½ hour each day to get all of the social media things done.

What are the different sites you use to promote your book?

I have a very long list that I have compiled over the past five years of sites that I promote on, and before I promote my next book, I will revamp it as some sites were more effective than others. Among the most effective are BookBub, Ereader News Today, Kindle Nation Daily, and The Choosy Bookworm.

Where do you see this industry in five to ten years?

The book publishing industry is changing so fast, I think it’s anyone’s guess as to where it will be 5 years from now. However, I think the buying public’s perception of the self-published book is improving all of the time, and I don’t think that being an indie author with a self-published book will be an issue at all by that time.

If something can be improved upon in this industry, what do you think it should be?

Improvements? I think we are presently going through a general social media glut and burn-out. There are so many sites offering services, promotion, book news, and publishing skills, that it’s hard to keep up. It’s every writer’s responsibility to investigate what they are comfortable with, what works for them, and narrow it down. Technology is always changing – just as we think we have it down, it changes and the “next best thing” arrives. There is no catching up, really. And the new sites and information will hopefully continue to be an improvement and more user friendly over previous ones.

How long have you been an indie author?

I self-published my first novel in 2010, so I am in my sixth year of being an Indie author, and lovin’ it!




Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree David Penny

David Penny

David Penny

Today I have Author David Penny to talk with me about his B.R.A.G. Medallion book, The Red Hill. He is the author of 4 Science Fiction novels and several short stories published during the 1970’s. Near-starvation led him down the slippery slope of work, which distracted him from his true calling. He has now returned to writing and The Red Hill, a Moorish mystery thriller, was published in June 2014. He is currently working on two new books: the follow up to The Red Hill, and a thriller set in the world of industrial espionage.

Hello David! Thank you for chatting with me today about your book, The Red Hill! First, tell me how you discovered indieBRAG.

Hi Stephanie, and thanks for asking me. I’m honored. I’m a committed networker, both online and in person, and love nothing more than talking to readers and other writers. I couldn’t say exactly when I first heard about IndieBRAG because it’s been in my awareness ever since I came back to writing and decided to go Indie. I suppose what triggered me to investigate further was the presence of the IndieBRAG Medallion on a lot of the books I was reading.

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

Pretty good! I used to be traditionally published many years ago with four novels in print in the 1970’s, but somehow I drifted away from writing for too many years. When I returned I had to decide whether to try to pick up my lapsed career or take matters into my own hands. I think what it came down to was two things. I’m too impatient to wait the 18 months between finishing a book and seeing it in print. I’ve also become too much of a control-freak, and I love the ability to take command of my own destiny, from covers to formatting to content.

Please tell me about your story?

The Red Hill is set in the last years of the Moorish Caliphate in southern Spain, and takes place in 1482. It features Thomas Berrington who left England at the age of 13 with his father to fight in the final battle of the 100 years war. When his father was killed Thomas found himself abandoned and alone in a foreign land. Eventually he found himself in Andalusia in Spain where he trained to become a surgeon.

The book centers around the Sultan’s request to track down a killer who is stalking the Alhambra palace in Granada. He enlists the help of his friend, the eunuch Jorge.

The Red Hill is a story of murder, mystery and betrayal set in a culture that has little written about it.

The Red Hill

How did you come up with your title and who designed your book cover?

The title was the start of everything. Because the story is set in the Alhambra palace. The name comes from the Arabic al-Hamra, which translates as The Red Hill.

The cover was designed by Alisha of Damonza, and I’m incredibly pleased with what she did for me. The brief was a hooded figure, corridors, and Arabic script on ancient paper and she came up with something that met all those criteria.

As an avid reader of history and historical thrillers, I am thrilled with your premise and will be adding your book to my reading list for this year. Why did you chose last remnants of Moorish Spain as your setting for your story and what fascinates you about this period?

Great question, Stephanie, and I’m not sure I altogether know the answer to that. I think it chose me rather than the other way around. What I do recall is sitting at home one evening several years ago talking about nothing in particular with my wife and the kids when I suddenly sat up and said something like “Has anyone ever written a detective story set in Moorish Spain?”

And that was it!

Well—almost. Two more years of research followed while I searched for old source material, which was made more difficult because when Spain expelled the Moors they destroyed almost all of the original books in their libraries.

The more research I did the more I fell in love with the Moorish culture and this period in history. Between 790 and 1100 Spain was an Islamic nation, and regarded as the cultural beacon in a Europe rent by war, dissension and ignorance. The depth of knowledge developed over this period is remarkable, and they were acknowledged as the leading practitioners of medicine and surgery of the day. In fact many of the instruments and techniques they invented can be traced down to the present.

After 1100 their rule began to be eroded as Spain gathered its own forces, until eventually only a small enclave in the south of the country remained in Moorish hands. I set my book at that time because turbulent historical periods are always more fun to write about.

Please tell me a little about the political and religious history of this period your story is written in.

At the end of the 1400’s Andalusia was the last remaining foothold of the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula. Until then, barring the occasional skirmish, the Spanish and the Moors had reached some kind of accommodation. Only when Isabel and Fernando married and united the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon was a fresh onslaught made on Andalusia, fueled primarily by a religious conviction that the whole of Spain must be Christian. This led not only to the final expulsion but to persecution of the Jews who ran most of the civic administration, and the setting up of the Inquisition.

So, a pretty vibrant period to write about. Another fascinating aspect was to discover the links between Queen Isabel and the English monarchy. It is known by many that her daughter married two English Kings – including Henry VIII, but perhaps less well known that we was the great-great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt.

Please tell me about Thomas Berrington and the challenges he faces as a surgeon of his time and how he came to investigate a series of murders…

As I mentioned briefly before, Thomas came to be a surgeon almost by accident, but when he did embrace the profession be became highly skilled. This skill is what ultimately leads to his involvement in the murders. At the time the Moorish physicians were skilled surgeons performing many procedures that were unknown in the rest of Europe. One example is they had already been removing cataracts for hundreds of years in a procedure that remained unchanged until the introduction of laser surgery. Prior to the start of the book Thomas saved the life of the Sultan’s youngest son, Yusuf, which led to a position as physician to the palace and harem. When an earlier investigation of the murders in the palace came to a dead end the Sultan asked Thomas to help – a request he felt unable to refuse.

What do you like most about writing historical thrillers?

When I was previously published I wrote science-fiction, but over the years stopped reading it and turned to history and mysteries and thrillers. When I returned to writing I naturally wanted to write what interested me, but I do in fact find a great deal of similarity between science-fiction and historical fiction. Both deal in world building and the description of places and people that no longer (or do not yet) exist. It is this sense of vanished worlds that fascinates me and keeps me coming back.

Are there any challenges writing in this genre?

Oh yes! The biggest one is the research. You can guarantee that however much research you do, and however much you know about a period, there will always be someone who knows more and will take great pleasure in pointing out your mistakes.

The Moorish period, as I alluded to before, presented particular challenges because very little remains of the documents and books that existed at that time. Most of the materials I found always had to be read through the filter of the prejudice of the writers of that time, and I needed to pick out truth from falsehood and fiction.

Where can readers buy your book?

The Red Hill is available in both print and eBook format through Amazon.

The follow up novel Breaker of Bones was published April 13th 2015, and I have a further eight books planned for the series. I have already written the final scene of book 10!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview David Penny, who is the author of, The Red Hill, 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 Red Hill, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

You can find out more about David and his writing at his website. His email address and you can connect on twitter @davidpenny_



A Writer’s Life with Author Judith Arnopp

JA Picture

I would like to welcome back Juith Arnopp back to Layered Pages today to talk about her writing. She is from Wales in the UK, is the author of seven historical fiction novels. Her early novels, Peaceweaver, The Forest Dwellers and The Song of Heledd, are set in the Anglo-Saxon/Medieval period but her later work, The Winchester Goose, The Kiss of the Concubine, Intractable Heart and A Song of Sixpence, concentrate on the Tudor period. She is currently researching for her eighth novel about Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII. Judith is also a regular blogger and author of historical articles.

Judith, why do you write?

That isn’t as simple a question as it sounds. I have always written, since I was very little anyway and I really wouldn’t know how not to. It is such a huge part of my life, everything I do is structured around research, writing time, promotion – and that is before the business side of things begins. The biggest thrill for me is the creative process; the time I spend at my pc letting the ideas flow and the characters develop. I come away from the desk at the end of the day absolutely buzzing with creative joy.

How has writing impacted your life?

Becoming a professional author has allowed me to do the thing I love to do and get paid for it. It isn’t a chore. I used to feel a bit guilty when I wasn’t making money at it, I sometimes felt I should put my pen away and get a ‘proper’ job but now I don’t have to. Mind you, I never really stop working – even holidays and days out turn into research trips. Since readers began to notice me and my sales have risen life has become both harder and easier; there is more pressure now to keep the books coming but it has enabled my husband to take life easier. I am glad for that and very grateful. Also, probably the most surprising thing, is how many wonderful people I have met through writing. Most of these relationships are ‘virtual’ ones but I have found really good friends, strong supporters and fabulous readers. I spend the first half hour of every day reading emails and messages from readers, or bloggers inviting me to appear on their blogs. For someone who lives so rurally to have so much support from all over the world is an amazing thing!

A Ssong of Sixspence By JA

What advice would you give to beginner writers?

I am often asked this and I think the best advice I could offer is ‘Only attempt to write professionally if it is a compulsion.’ I wouldn’t be able to keep it up if it were a chore. I think writing suffers if you’ve laboured too hard and long over it and the actual act of writing is the easy bit.

Often people have an image of writers enjoying a leisured lifestyle, peppered with literary lunches and book launches, but the reality is very different. Most days my lunch is snatched at the desk, there are crumbs on the keyboard and coffee stains on my paperwork. It is hard, totally absorbing work and, once the book is launched, the literary world can be cruel. Sometimes I think all writers must be crazy but, for me, the pleasure of crafting a new story outweighs the negatives.

Self-publishing is even harder. Many new writers make the mistake of thinking it is the easy option, which may be why there are so many sub-standard books out there. There are also some brilliant ones but those are the ones that have been a labour of love. It is not about just publishing the first draft, there are many, many stages to go through: rewriting, editing and honing it to perfection before you can even think of sending it to print. When you launch a writing career you are embarking on a small business. You will need a team of assistants, beta readers, editors, cover designers. I am not intending to put people off but they should be aware that writing for pleasure is easy, writing for profit is not.

When do your best ideas come to you for a story?

It varies enormously but inspiration usually strikes when I am nowhere near a notebook and pen! Sometimes an idea comes out of the blue, or is inspired by a visit to a historical site. Most often an idea for the next novel is born out something I am currently writing. For instance, when I was writing Peaceweaver I was struck by how hard it must have been for the Saxons to be so overwhelmed by Norman rule. Everything was suddenly different, the ruling class was foreign, the language was different, the laws were different; everything Saxon, all that they were accustomed to was suddenly altered. History, as we know, is written by the winners, that is why I wrote The Forest Dwellers from the point of view of the conquered.

My research often makes me aware of a fresh perspective of a historical figure. I have most recently published A Song of Sixpence, the story of Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck and during the process of writing it the characters became very human to me. I am now researching the life of Elizabeth’s mother in law, Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII. I was aware of the events in her life but hadn’t previously considered how they might have affected her. I am having a great time finding out.

The Kiss of a Concubine

How do you respond to positive and negative reviews?

Positive reviews make me happy, of course, negative ones, not so much. I don’t read my reviews but my husband does and sometimes he passes them on to me. I think he gets more upset by a negative response than I do. I read them and consider what they’ve said. If it is a silly, badly spelled one liner, ‘nah, this is rubish, give it a miss,’ type of thing, then I ignore it. A review like that, won’t be taken seriously by prospective readers and there is nothing I can learn from it. If it is a well-written, deeply considered, informed review then I take on board the criticism and act on it if I see fit.

It isn’t possible to write a book that will please everyone. The reading public is diverse and, particularly when it comes to history, have strongly held beliefs. I often wish readers could remember that historical authors are writing ‘fiction’ and in no way suggesting that their version of the story is ‘fact.’ I do try to stick to recorded fact where I can but when I wrote A Song of Sixpence I had to go along with the idea that Perkin Warbeck was in fact, one of the Princes of the Tower. That is not to say I believe that to be so, it is simply the perspective I chose to take to make the fiction work.

Thank you, Judith!


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