Sunday Book Highlight: The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy

The Serpent Sword Cover


Certain that his brother’s death is murder, young farmhand Beobrand embarks on a quest for revenge in war-torn Northumbria. When he witnesses barbaric acts at the hands of warriors he considers his friends, Beobrand questions his chosen path and vows to bring the men to justice.

Relentless in pursuit of his enemies, Beobrand faces challenges that change him irrevocably. Just as a great sword is forged by beating together rods of iron, so his adversities transform him from a farm boy to a man who stands strong in the clamour and gore of the shieldwall.

As he closes in on his kin’s slayer and the bodies begin to pile up, can Beobrand mete out the vengeance he craves without sacrificing his own honour…or even his soul?

The Serpent Sword is the first novel of the Bernicia Chronicles.

Book Excerpt:

THE MAN STOOD IN THE SHADOWS preparing for murder. He pulled his cloak about him, stretching muscles that had grown stiff from inactivity. It was cold and his breath steamed in the autumn night air. It was uncomfortable, but he would wait. His mind was made up. His suspicions had been aroused before, but now he knew the truth of it. He had followed them here, had seen them go inside together. Soft sounds of a woman’s laughter drifted from the stable. His jaw clenched. His hand gripped the antler hilt of his seax. Holding the knife reassured him. But he would not use it tonight. No. There would be no fight. No clash of metal. No battle glory.

No deeds for the scops to sing of.

Warriors’ acts were recounted by the bards in the flickering light of mead hall fires. There was no light here. It would be a secret death. In the darkness.

What he must do was clear. But none could ever know of what happened here tonight. His life would be forfeit should he be discovered.

Somewhere, off to the land-facing, westward side of the fortress, a dog barked, then all was still again. From the east, he could hear the distant rumble of waves hitting rocks far below.

On the palisade, some distance away, he could just make out the silhouette of a guard.

A cloud scudded in front of the moon. The all-seeing eye of Woden, father of the gods, was closed. On such a night the gods slept and a man’s actions could bend his wyrd to his own ends. A great man could seize what was rightfully his. His mother had once told him he would be a man to dethrone kings and topple kingdoms. Great men were not governed by common laws.

Clinging to that thought, he girded himself for what he was about to do.

He shivered and convinced himself it was because of the chill. He moved further into the shadows.

From the building came a new sound. The rhythmic gasps and cries of coupling. He recognised the sound of Elda in those guttural moans.

How could she be so fickle? He had offered her everything. By Woden, he would have made her his wife! To think she had spurned him and then opened her legs to that young upstart. The anger he felt at her rejection bubbled up inside him like bile.

And him! Octa. The man Elda was rutting with inside the stable. Octa had all a warrior could want. A ring-giving lord who looked upon him with favour. He had land and treasures. And of course, the sword. The sword that should never have been his. The blade was named Hrunting and had been a gift from their lord, King Edwin. He had bestowed it on the man he thought had saved his life in battle. But he had given it to the wrong man. The battle had been confused, the shieldwall had broken and the king had been surrounded by enemies. It appeared all was lost until one of the king’s warriors, one of his thegns, had rallied the men and turned the tide of the battle.

Afterwards, Edwin had given Hrunting to Octa. It was a sword fit for a king. The blade forged from twisted rods of iron. The metal shone with the pattern of rippling water, or the slick skin of a snake. The hilt was inlaid with fine bone and intricate carvings. All who had seen the weapon coveted it.

But the man who waited in the shadows knew it should have been his. It was he who had smitten the leader of their enemies. He who had led the men in the charge that brought victory.

He who was destined for greatness…


Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria’s Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD.

Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. He has co-authored seven published academic articles, ranging in topic from the ecological impact of mining to the construction of a marble pipe organ.

Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

When not writing, or spending time with his family, Matthew sings in a band called Rock Dog.

Author Links:






Self-Publishing: An Author’s Experiences

Joseph K BRAG

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Joseph G.  Krygier to talk with me today about his self-publishing experiences. Joseph is the Pastor of New Covenant Baptist Fellowship in Buffalo, New York. He has written about and been engaged in cross-cultural ministry for over thirty years. He has taught in Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Australia, Canada and the US. His current overseas ministry, since 2009, is TheosDoulos Church Planting Movement; training pastors, overseeing relief and education projects in the Philippines on the island of Mindanao.

Joseph has attended the Belfer Holocaust Educator’s Conferences in Washington D.C. the past two summers. He hopes to be a part of the International Conference for Ministers at Yad Vashem in April 2016. As a result of the book, he has been giving lectures on the Holocaust as well as the book and on Memorial Day 2014, was the guest speaker at the WWII Museum in Eldred, Pa. to celebrate the opening of their Holocaust Remembrance Room.

Before becoming ordained, eight years after his Christian conversion, he was an actor, dancer and lighting designer. He is currently writing a one-man play, Chagrined, based on this book. He plans to do author readings of the play while seeking theater companies that would be interested in producing it. He is glad to do these as fund-raisers for organizations. He is also in the process of laying out the book for an audio book production for the research libraries that have copies of the book, using a number of experienced and possibly some well-known actors. Joseph and classical guitarist, music copyist and composer Scott Ouellette are composing music for both the play and the audio book.

He has ideas for three other books at present and is helping a woman, through his company TOLIFE…Ink, to publish her memoirs.

He feels greatly blessed to be able to interact with so many different kinds of people in so many different situations.

He is married to Deborah, who works for the Buffalo Public Schools, is an accomplished Bible teacher and an actress and has recently been seen in plays in the Buffalo area. Their son, Aaron, is a technical writer for a web support company and is pursuing a career as a writer, director and an actor. An original play of his won a Best Drama Award at a theater festival in New York last spring. He is currently working on the first stages of a film project in Buffalo and has been seen on stage recently and will be again in the fall season.

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

That decision was made when I considered our subject matter and the time it might take for us to write Victor’s story. When we began meeting, first by phone in October of 2009, we were only discussing a play based on Victor’s life. After our first week together at his home in Florida in February of 2010, the decision to make it a book caused us to have a different strategy to get Victor’s story to an audience. He was 82 when we began.

As I began considering how long it might take us to write the book, and knowing from previous experience the difficulties of getting one published by traditional means, even when you have the head of a non-fiction department at a major publishing company pushing for your book to be published by the company … and it was not, after 9 months of holding the manuscript, I thought self-publishing would be the way to go.

A Rage to Live

What has your experience been like along the way?

It has been illuminating and beneficial. It was never frustrating but it was challenging.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

The first was to decide on which self-publishing company to use. I had decided from the beginning that we were going to do a print and an e-pub version. After that, there was the fact that we would be using numerous photographs in the book in a non-traditional way and that in the print copy we would have to go black and white but with the e-pub we could do it in color. That was all a budget consideration. The other initial decision was whether or not to form our own publishing company and purchase our own ISBN or let a self-publishing company provide one for us as part of a package.

What have you learned in this industry?

All self-publishing services are not the same. You must do you research and decide which one or combination of companies will best serve your ideas of how and where you want your book to find an audience. Since we began our project, I have seen major improvements in some of the more prominent companies.

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

Do the research as I mentioned. Have a plan as to what you want your book to look like, read like and feel like. You may not be able to do what I did and write it, edit it—with the help of my wife Deborah—design the overall layout internally, choose all the photos and design the cover. I had also discovered D.K. Lubarsky, a Holocaust sculptress, who wanted to help our project when I asked her if we could use photographs of them in our book and for the cover. David Lubarsky reworked all the original negatives to optimize them for both black and white and color. So, this was a team effort. If I had not hesitated about finalizing the book, about 7 months earlier than I did, I never would have discovered the sculptor and the layout of the book would have been very different. You may or may not have some folks who will read portions as you go along to see if the “voice” of the book is what you want it to be. For example: I did not tell anyone that I wanted our memoir to read like a novel, but I was told by many that that is exactly the experience they had. Decide what help you need from all the above. Can you get that help from friends or do you need to get some of it from one of the self-publishing services. I did use a service for some sample chapters to get a critique of formatting and use of punctuation at the very beginning. From then on we were on our own and followed the suggested patterns of the service we used.

The total cost of this and purchasing our own ISBN and using two separate services for each type of publication and setting up distribution and printing through both was $700.00. Do not spend thousands of dollars. Do the hard the hard work. Connect with great forums like Layered Pages. Read the stories of others who have self-published. Work with a small self-publishing company that for a lot less in fees will help to guide you through the process and point you to the various routes you can take. We started TOLIFE…Ink to do that and are in the process right now of helping a lady publish her memoirs. She has done all of the writing, editing and so on and now needs to make the final choices of how to get it into print and in the market place. We can save her a lot of time. She came to us for help after reading our book and seeing that it was not a traditional approach to a memoir.

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

Do not even consider publishing until you have a book that you are satisfied with. You do not need that pressure of pushing to that goal. We began Victor’s story as a project for just his family. Then it began to grow into something else. I had so much source material to choose from I knew we could publish something. Everyone does not have that advantage.

Do not be discouraged in the process. Take advantage of understanding all the mistakes that those of us who have gotten there have made along the way and run away from them. But, don’t be afraid to break some of the rules once you are clearly seeing the way you are going.

Our company philosophy can be summed up this way, “Write the book that you want to read.”

If writing is about hoping to make lots of money, reconsider. You might be the next Jonathan Livingston Seagull, or you may have a smaller audience but one that truly appreciates your hard work and the subject matter you have chosen.

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

I have done a giveaway on Goodreads; 411 people signed up for the 4 signed copies.

192 said they put it on their “to read” list. That has not translated into sales, but that is not all that important. It showed that the subject matter had an audience. We have a Facebook page and a good number of followers as well as a website. I have also done giveaways on Noise Trade Books. The topic of our book lends itself to reaching out to people for educational purposes and I do lectures about the Holocaust, not just the book, at various venues. I am currently in the process of contacting a number of privately owned bookstores within a 200-mile radius to see if they would be interested in scheduling a talk or lecture and a book signing. I would also suggest that you enter your book in a few book award contests that are not expensive. You may not win, but you may get a good critique/review like we did from the judge at Writer’s Digest Annual Book Writing Contest. And of course, there was the surprise of being selected by IndieBrag for an award and then the interview with Stephanie. I will also be doing an audio version of the book (I am in the process of a production schedule) and may be able to use some well-known Broadway and film actors to participate in the project. I also have the benefit of adapting the book into a one-man play. It is almost completed. That will give me the opportunity to do author readings of the play. I do have the experience as an actor.

I don’t spend a set amount of time on a weekly basis, but as I see opportunities, I pursue them with whatever time it takes.

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

I think it can only improve and if more really good authors and small businesses to help authors get involved in the process for the sake of helping writers, the opportunities will be endless. It would be interesting if the indie business so affected the traditional publishers that some of their unfriendly and only for profit ways could be changed.

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

Getting the word out that it exists, that it is cost effective and that it can produce a book as good as any traditional publishers can do and possibly even better. Sometimes breaking a few of the rules is just what a book needs.

How long have you been an indie author?

I started in 2009. I have the beginning outlines for a novel, a Holocaust history related book and I am revisiting the book that never got published that I mentioned earlier.

Author Links:



Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes & Noble

Self-Publishing: An Author’s Experiences

Carrie Beckort

Carrie Beckort

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Carrie Beckort today to talk with me about her self-publishing experiences. 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, when did you decide you were going to self-publish?

After I finished the manuscript for my first novel, Kingston’s Project, I started researching the publishing process. I didn’t know anything when I started since I had not planned on writing a novel, let alone publishing one. Early in my research, I went back and forth on what I felt would be the best path to take—traditional or self-publish. Ultimately, my decision to self-publish came down to two factors: (1) I’m too impatient for the average traditional publishing timeline, and (2) I’m too much of a control freak to hand over my work to someone else.

What has your experience been like along the way?

Self-publishing is the scariest thing I’ve ever done, including the times I’ve skydived! Each time I release a new book I go through a ‘What am I doing?’ phase. Despite those moments of panic, I know I’m doing what I was meant to do. While it’s the scariest, it’s also the most rewarding. I’ve learned so much and met so many wonderful people.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

I could talk about some of the common self-publishing challenges, such as finding and connecting with readers, but I wouldn’t add anything new to that discussion that hasn’t already been pointed out. Instead, I’ll focus on my challenge of accepting my identity as an author.

Many authors have expressed that they started writing about the time they could hold a pen. Some talk about the years they spent trying to get an agent. Then there’s me—I didn’t start writing until I typed the first word of Kingston’s Project in 2012. I know I’m not alone, but I do think I might be in the minority. I didn’t spend years dreaming of being an author. Really, it found me rather than me seeking it out. It’s taken me a long time to accept that I’m not only an author, but I’m a pretty good one. I’ve struggled with the ‘imposter’ syndrome more than any other challenge self-publishing has brought my way.

What have you learned in this industry?

I’ve learned that the best thing (for me) is to just follow my instinct and forget most of the rules. I was thinking about this the other day. It’s similar to the first time I ever played golf. I borrowed my roommate’s clubs and went out to play a round with a few of the other summer interns. It was the best game of golf I’ve ever played. I didn’t focus on the rules, because I didn’t know any of them! I didn’t stress myself out over how I was holding the club, or if I was using the right one. I just picked up a club, looked for the hole, and swung. Years later when I took lessons, I became weighed down by all the rules. It became frustrating, and I ultimately decided golf wasn’t the game for me.

It’s the same with my writing. When I didn’t know anything about writing a book, I just wrote from my heart. I used my instinct and the knowledge I held as a reader to guide my process. By the time I got to writing my third novel, I worried about certain things I’d read—such as word counts and level of descriptions for the characters/settings. I felt as if I were losing the connection with the story that I had with my first novel. I took a short break from writing to release my dependence on the rules, and my writing is so much better as a result.

Kingston's Project with Medallion

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

Figure out your budget and then allocate to the most important aspects (cover, proofing, editing, etc.) I think some authors get so caught up in the appeal of publishing a book for free that they don’t think about what that really means. I have enough experience in marketing and sales to know that if you’re not willing to put money into making your product the best it can possibly be, then it will be difficult to convince customers to spend their money to purchase it.

You should always network as much as possible. Reach out to other authors. Develop relationships with book reviewers and your readers. Attend conferences or writer’s groups. Visit your local book stores. Nothing operates in a vacuum. Contacts and connections are needed to not only grow your business, but to also grow you as a writer.

Always be professional. You may get a review you don’t like. You may deal with a rude blogger. You may not agree with the results of a contest. You may be frustrated with someone who isn’t responding to you in the timeframe you feel is appropriate. That’s all OK. What’s not OK is responding in a way that’s rude or disrespectful. If you remain professional and treat everyone with respect, then you will earn a positive reputation—and that’s something that will take you far (both in the literary world and in life).

You should never sign up to work with anyone without researching them first. There are so many people out there trying to take advantage of self-published authors, assuming they’re easy targets because they don’t know anything about the process. If you are contacted by someone (publishing company, graphic designer, web developer, etc.) who is promoting their services, always find out more about them before you agree to anything. If you can’t find any information on the Internet, ask around or post on author forums. It’s likely that someone will know something that will help you.

Never lose sight of why you became a writer in the first place. It will help you though the low moments of the process.

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

You have to be willing to put in the work. Self-publishing is not easy, especially if you’ve never managed any type of business. Because that’s what you’re doing when you self-publish—you’re managing a business. You are responsible for all aspects, from production to distribution and everything in between. It’s up to you to determine how much of it you do yourself and how much of it you will contract out to others, but you still own the entire process. If you want to be successful, you need to be willing to accept full ownership and accountability.

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 don’t track how much time I spend per week on promotion, but I probably should because it’s easy to spend too much time at either end of the spectrum: some days I spend too much time on it and other days I don’t spend enough. Rather than tracking time, I’m a fan of check-lists. I make a list of all the things I need to do and try to get a many of them done in the week as possible.

I have a dedicated website for my author business, as well as a Facebook page, a Goodreads author profile and a Twitter account. I am on Instagram and Pinterest, but I haven’t yet used them to promote my books. I’d say I spend the most time on Facebook, even though I know there are limits to who can see my posts. Right now it’s an easy way to share information, and that’s where most of my readers are. With my third novel I did pay for a Facebook ad the week it published. They jury is still out as to the success of the promotion. Beyond Facebook, I spend a lot of time on Goodreads. I host giveaways, post answers for their ‘ask the author’ questions, and interact in some of the reader groups. I’m least active on Twitter, mostly because I don’t really ‘get it’! I’m trying though, and have set goals to post more than just the automatic feeds from my Facebook page.

I also blog on three blogs: my author blog, my health and fitness blog, and on a blog with several other authors. Some authors don’t want to get involved in blogs for fear of it taking up too much of their writing time, but it’s been a great success for me. I’ve gained readers as well as strong connections with other writers.

Another way I try to promote is through book bloggers. I research and then reach out to those I think might like to read my book(s). This is a great way to not only reach readers, but to also gain an honest review of my work.

Finally, I occasionally have a sale on my ebooks. When I do this, I promote through some of the on-line services that are dedicated to spreading the word about discounted ebooks, such as Ereader News Today, Bargain Booksy, and Book Sends.

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

I think that we will only see more growth in the self-publishing industry. I envision there will be more tools and services to help self-published authors produce quality books, making it even more enticing than it is today. Yet, it’s hard to predict the exact direction this industry will go. It’s clear that Amazon wants to be the sole service provider for ebooks, which is where a lot of self-published authors focus their efforts. Personally, I think the landscape of the future is dependent on whether or not another company is willing to put in the effort to keep this from happening. If Amazon becomes the only ‘easy’ option, then the self-publishing industry will look very different than it would if we had several to choose from.

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

It seems to me that a wide gap still exists between the traditional publishing world and the self-publishing world. It’s as if it has to be one or the other, with only a few authors trying to function in both worlds. Unfortunately, there is a stigma that still exists implying that you have to be traditionally published to have any ‘credibility’ as an author. It may be better than it was before, but it’s still there. I’d like to see more traditionally published and self-published authors working together and helping each other succeed.

I agree with you completely, Carrie. There definitely too wide of a gap still…

How long have you been an indie author?

I published my first novel in February of 2014, so just over a year! It’s been an amazing journey so far, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

Author Links:

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

For other locations, please visit Carrie’s website



B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Interview with John Riha

John Riha

John Riha

I’d like to introduce John Riha to talk with me today about his B.R.A.G. Medallion Book. John was born and raised in the Midwest. He visited the West several times and finally resolved to stay there, with the big mountains and clear rivers. He is married to a beautiful, funny woman he doesn’t deserve, and he is father to two sons who certainly must have done something right to deserve such a generous, understanding, and doting father.

Hello, John! Welcome to Layered Pages and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for your book, Rookies in the Wild (Fear and Gloaming on the Pacific Crest Trail). That is praise indeed! Please tell me a little about your book.

It’s about backpacking with my son, Nick, on the Pacific Crest Trail in northern California. It’s much about the West, the scale and the majesty, and it’s filled with natural history anecdotes that underscore the raw beauty and mystique of America’s last remaining wild places.

As novices, we had a lot to learn, so a good portion of the book is devoted to preparation, getting geared up, and understanding the challenges we might face. That gave me plenty of time to develop a healthy paranoia, so Rookies in the Wild is also about facing fears: man-eating cougars, intestinal parasites, shoddy parenting, and mortality. But it’s also a story of grace: How nature forgives, forgets, replenishes, and enriches the spirit. And why the wilderness is so essential, and how it makes us better humans.

Do you have a picture you can share of your hiking experience?

Me on the Trinity Alps

Me on the Trinity Alps


Nick Riha on trail

Nick Riha on trail

What is one of the biggest challenges you faced while on the trail?

As backpacking newbies, everything seemed challenging. Did we have enough water? Did I hang the bear bags properly? Would a spark from our campfire set the woods ablaze? The Forest Service deliberately keeps signage to a minimum in order to enhance the true wilderness experience, so wondering if we were on the right trail or maybe had wandered onto a side trail leading to Saskatchewan was a constant nagging thought. Actually, vigilance and awareness of your surroundings are excellent characteristics to have as a backpacker. But the real challenge wasn’t dealing with potential danger, but dialing back any paranoia and simply enjoying the experience. Luckily, Nick was blissfully confident in our abilities and he kept everything in cool perspective.

What made you decide to write about your adventure?

The whole backpacking trip, from first thinking about it until the day is was all over, was so protracted and endlessly comic that I knew there was enough material to write a book about it. So even in the early outfitting stages I began to take notes. The nice thing about this type of book for the writer is that you don’t have to invent a plot; you just have to survive.

Also, I’d read enough true adventure literature that I was wondering, How do tales of extreme circumstances motivate ordinary folks to step outside their comfort zones, even a little bit? There’s so much written about heroic, death-defying cliff jumping and K2 climbing and sailing solo around the world, but how can people truly relate? Lots of people want to try something new and challenging and have a meaningful experience but they don’t necessarily want to walk a tightrope across the Grand Canyon. So this book is a soft-core adventure for those folks especially.

It’s also about being a father. Fathers are a bit underserved in today’s fiction and non-fiction, and for me the father-son bonding experience was every bit as fulfilling as I’d hoped. I’m not sure Nick absorbed it in the same way, but he loved backpacking and our time together. And after it was over and we were coming down out of the mountains we stopped at a little out-of-the-way cafe and had a terrific burger and that really put everything in the plus column for him.

Rookies in the wild BRAG

Why did you choose the Trinity Alps Wilderness of northern California as your destination? What are a few of the historical significance?

There’s no shortage of hiking ventures to consider, and I pored over so many guidebooks and Backpacker magazine articles that my head was swimming. Then I read a passage from the book, Hiking California’s Trinity Alps Wilderness, by Dennis Lewon, who eloquently praised a particular section of the Pacific Crest Trail for its unmatched beauty and relative obscurity. That section of trail became our grail.

The fact that we’d be backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the most-storied hiking venues in the world, added to the appeal and provided some interesting background for the book. The trail took more than 60 years to complete; the southernmost section is home to some 10 species of scorpions; the Douglas-fir was named after the early 1800s Scottish botanist, David Douglas. Don’t get me started.

Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?

I have a little cubby in one corner of our master bedroom with a narrow desk and an iMac. About 6:30 in the morning I take a cup of coffee and cram myself in there and do some serious thinking about how nice it would be if cool books just wrote themselves, and all I’d have to do is sit and watch as the ethers cranked out page after page, occasionally interrupting to point out a grammatical error or gummy phrasing. But that doesn’t happen, so I’ll check my email. Then any important sports scores. Then the unimportant scores. Then maybe just the headlines at and Salon. Then I think about breakfast because all this activity has tweaked my appetite. So we’ll have breakfast, either eggs or a smoothie. Then I’ll come back to the cubby and write my brains out until the garden calls to come get dirty.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

Someone Tweeted it to me, I think.

Who designed your book cover?

I did. I was seeing a lot of expressive covers being produced, very artistic, and I wanted to try something different that might stand apart. So I let the typography sort of take over, and the story line becomes little hints on the mostly black background. Whether it’s a winner or not, I don’t know. But I like fooling around with InDesign and Photoshop, so I had fun.

What are you working on next?

It’s a historical fiction set in southern Oregon in 1920. It’s based on a true story about the murder of the area’s first game warden, and how life unfolds for the family he leaves behind. I’m not going to get into too much detail—as you probably know writers can be unnecessarily superstitious when it comes to talking about their next projects. But I’d be glad to share more as it gets closer to publication.

Have you written historical fiction before and what do you like about it?

I like historical fiction a lot—I really enjoy research and getting the details right. I wrote a substantial book on Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal life but as I was finishing it two books on the same subject came out and took the wind out of my FLLW sails. I’m biding time for the right moment to re-energize all that work. I like non-fiction—witness Rookies in the Wild—and I have a tendency to self-deprecating humor. I have projects teed up on trout fishing and wildflowers. And I write home improvement articles and video scripts.



 A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview John Riha who is the author of, Rookies in the wild (Fear and Gloaming on the Pacific Crest Trail) our medallion honoree 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, Rookies in the Wild (Fear and Gloaming on the Pacific Crest Trail) , merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.



Self-Publishing: An Author’s Experiences


I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree N.D. (David) Richman today to talk with me about his self-publishing experiences thus far. David is the father of four teenage children – Christopher, Michael, Thomas and Katherine. He has been married to his high school friend, Tracy, for thirty years. David is a dedicated husband and father, and wrote his first book for his children, wanting to ensure they were interested in reading. When not writing David is a self-employed Automation Engineering Technologist. He loves the wilderness, in particular the Rocky Mountains to the west of his home in Calgary, Alberta. David is a graduate of an Outward Bounds wilderness survival program.

When did you decide you were going to self-publish?

I decided to self-publish after submitting my first book to agents over a one year period. The manuscript was getting rave reviews from those who read it and the agents were not able to tell me what was missing. I felt I’d learn more about my writing and the book if I presented it to the market.

What has your experience been like along the way?

The Indie experience has been excellent. I’ve received a great deal of support from other writers and some excellent feedback and suggestions for improvement. The positive response gave me the confidence to continue. I enacted some of the suggestions which improved the book and my writing. Self-publishing is much more rewarding than waiting for replies to query letters. And my book received two awards of recognition. It can’t get any better than that.

Brother, Bullies and Bad Guys Kindle AIA BRAGG

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

It would be really nice to sell a million copies. 😀

Outside of that challenge the biggest is getting written reviews. I won’t pay for reviews or trade reviews because I’m concerned about conflicts of interest. I did pay for a service that distributed the book to a number of volunteer reviewers, which worked extremely well, but there’s not been much review action since then.

What have you learned in this industry?

Dream big, expect little, be patient and have fun.

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


  • Understand this is a long term game.
  • Keep writing and publishing and grow your author brand through social media and book signings.
  • Hire a professional editor.
  • Be patient. There’s no quick solution.
  • Don’ts
  • Don’t blanket post advertisements for you book on your friends’ walls.
  • Don’t pay for five star reviews.
  • Don’t rush.

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


If this is your first book have it critiqued, a lot. And even if you disagree with the critique comments, act on them. Although critique comments and suggestions may not sit well with you, implementing them is great practice and usually kicks off other ideas that ultimately improve your writing. The biggest improvements to my writing came from the most vehement critiques. Consider that these people are taking an emotional risk for you. Respect their time and effort.

Once you’re sure the book is as perfect as it can be, have it professionally edited before publishing.

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


Time runs faster when on social media. I’d like to say an hour a day but it’s much closer to two. I love to connect online and I enjoy promoting other authors and artists. My technique is to find people with similar interests, become familiar with their work, and support them through shares and retweets.

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


I’m frequently in touch with the following sites:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tsu
  • Litpick
  • Our Parenting Spot
  • LinkedIn
  • WordPressI less frequently use these sites (Though I may one day):
  • Pinterest
  • Google+
  • Instagram
  • Tumblr
  • MarsocialGoodreads is a great website and a must for Indie Authors.

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

I expect Indie book publishing rates will grow. Sites like B.R.A.G. and Awesome Indies will grow in number and size, and readers will rely on these sites more in their search of high quality reads. I expect more best sellers will originate from Indies. There will always be a market for professionally published and Indie books but I hope to see more collaboration between these two delivery methods.

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

I think a mainstream retail outlet for high quality Indie books would improve the industry. I think combining Indie publications with the knowledge of traditional publishers would go a long way in accomplishing this. And if there’s money to be made there’s no reason traditional publishers shouldn’t jump on this opportunity.

How long have you been an indie author?

 I published my first book in 2013.

Author Website

A Song of Sixpence: The Story of Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck by Judith Arnopp

A Song of Sixpence

In the years after Bosworth, a small boy is ripped from his rightful place as future king of England. Years later when he reappears to take back his throne, his sister Elizabeth, now Queen to the invading King, Henry Tudor, is torn between family loyalty and duty. As the final struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster is played out, Elizabeth is torn by conflicting loyalty, terror and unexpected love. Will Elizabeth support the man claiming to be her brother, or will she choose the king? Set at the court of Henry VII A Song of Sixpence offers a new perspective on the early years of Tudor rule. Elizabeth of York, often viewed as a meek and uninspiring queen, emerges as a resilient woman whose strengths lay in endurance rather than resistance.

London – Autumn 1483

Ink black water slaps against the Tower wharf where deep impenetrable dark stinks of bleak, dank death. Strong arms constrict him and the rough blanket covering his head clings to his nose and mouth. The boy struggles, kicks, and wrenches his face free to suck in a lung full of life saving breath. The blanket smothers him again. He fights against it, twisting his head, jerking his arms, trying to kick but the hands that hold him, tighten. His head is clamped hard against his attacker’s body. He frees one hand, gropes with his fingers until he discovers chain mail, and an unshaven chin. Clenching his fingers into a fist, he lunges out with a wild inaccurate punch.

With a muffled curse the man throws back his head but, keeping hold of his prisoner, he hurries onward, down narrow, dark steps, turning one corner, then another, before halting abruptly. The boy hears his assailant’s breath coming short and sharp and knows he too is afraid.

The aroma of brackish water is stronger now. The boy strains to hear mumbled voices, low and rough over scuffling footsteps. The ground seems to dip and his stomach lurches as suddenly they are weightless, floating, and he senses they have boarded a river craft. The invisible world dips and sways sickeningly as they push out from the stability of the wharf for the dangers of the river.

The only sound is the gentle splash of oars as they glide across the water, far off the clang of a bell and the cry of a boatman. He squirms, opens his mouth to scream but the hand clamps down hard again. The men draw in their breath and freeze, waiting anxiously. A long moment, a motionless pause before the oars are taken up again and the small craft begins to move silently across the surface.

River mist billows around them; he can smell it, feels it seeping through his clothes. He shivers but more from fear than cold.

He knows when they draw close to the bridge. He can feel the tug of the river; hear the increasing rush of the current, the dangerous turbulence beneath. Surely they will not shoot the bridge, especially after dark. Only a fool would risk it.

The boy wriggles, shakes his head, and tries to work his mouth free of the smothering hand. He strains to see through the blinding darkness but all is inky black. The boat gathers pace and, as the noise of the surging river becomes deafening, the man increases his hold, a hurried prayer rumbling in his chest.

The whole world is consumed in chaos, rushing water, clamouring thunder, biting cold. In the fight for survival, the boy continues to battle fruitlessly for breath, struggle for his freedom. The body that holds him hostage tenses like a board and beneath the boy’s ear beats the dull thud of his assailant’s heart. The blanket is suffocating hot, his stomach turning as the boat is taken, surging forward, spinning upward before it is hurled down again, between the starlings, shooting uncontrollably beneath the bridge.

Then suddenly, the world is calmer. Somehow the boat remains upright on the water. It spins. He hears the men scrabble for the oars, regain control and his captor relaxes, breathes normally again. Exhausted and helpless, the boy slumps in the soldier’s arms, his fight defeated.

All is still now; all is quiet. The oars splash, the boat glides down river, and soon the aroma of the countryside replaces the stench of the city.

His clothes are soaked with river water; his stomach is empty, his body bruised and aching. Defeated and afraid, the man releases his hold and the boy lies still in the bottom of the boat.

He sleeps.

The world moves on.

Much later, waking with a start, the boy hears low, dark whisperings; a thick Portuguese accent is answered by another, lighter and less certain. This time when he blinks into the darkness, he notices a faint glimmer of light through the coarse weave of the blanket. He forces himself to lie still, knows his life could depend upon not moving but his limbs are so cramped he can resist no longer. He shifts, just a little, but it is too much. His kidnapper hauls him unceremoniously from the wet wooden planks.

The boy’s legs are like string. He stumbles as they snatch off his hood and daylight rushes in, blinding bright. He blinks, screwing up his face, blinking at the swimming features before him, fighting for focus. He sees dark hair; a heavy beard; the glint of a golden earring, and recognition and relief floods through him.

“Brampton!” he exclaims, his voice squeaking, his throat parched. “What the devil are you doing? Take me back at once.”

Brampton tugs at the boy’s tethered arms, drawing him more gently now to the bench beside him.

“I cannot. It is unsafe.”

“Why?” As his hands are untied the boy rubs at each wrist in turn, frowning at the red wheals his bonds have left behind. His Plantagenet-bright hair glints in the early morning sun, his chin juts forward in outrage. “If my father were here…”

“Well, he is not.”

Brampton’s words lack respect, but the boy knows him for a brusque, uncourtly man.

“But where are you taking me? What is happening?”

“To safety, England is no longer the place for you.”

The boy swallows, his shadowed eyes threatening tears. Switching his gaze from one man to the other, he moistens his lips, bites his tongue before trusting his breaking voice. “Where is my brother? Where is Edward?”

Brampton narrows his eyes and looks across the misty river. He runs a huge, rough hand across his beard, grimaces before he replies and his words, when they come, spell out the lost cause of York.

“Dead. As would you be had I left you there.”

JA Picture

Judith Arnopp 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.

Buy the book:

Amazon US

Amazon UK  

Author links:

Amazon Author Page

Author Website

Author Blog



B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Savanna’s Treasure by C. Behrens in Barnes & Noble Stores


Despite losing his family, his home, and his best friend, Shamba, an African field mouse, refuses to give up. His courage, determination, and wit help him forge an unlikely friendship with Kali, a baby elephant who also loses her family. Separately, they would surely die. But together, Shamba and Kali brave poachers, out-of-control fires, and savage dogs in one of the wildest places on earth: Africa’s Serengeti region. And just when their struggles appear to be over, they find themselves fighting pirates aboard a ship bound for America. Can they survive their toughest battle yet? Or will their incredible journey come to a heart-breaking end?

About Author:

C. Brehens

C. Behrens grew up in Pearl River, N.Y. and graduated from Dominican College (Blauvelt, NY) in 2010. In his last semester at D.C., Chris wrote his debut short story, The Paladin, in a creative writing class that was taught by Author Stephanie Stiles. While The Paladin didn’t earn any awards in the Lorian Hemingway Contest that same year, Lorian praised the story and said it was in her top 100. Chris followed that up with another top 100 story in 2011. Chris recently finished two more short stories: “Balls & Strikes-Learning to Hit” & “One More Day”. And he had a poem accepted to be published in “Sunflowers and Seashells”.In June 2010, Chris was a guest-blogger for Kathy Temean, the head of the NJSCBWI. Chris loves spending time with his daughters, who were the biggest inspiration for his children’s book. Chris continues to work for a small town government and coach H.S. basketball in his spare time.

Savannas treasure at B&N

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree – Savanna’s Treasure is in Barnes and Noble now! Be sure to grab this one for your children – our indieBRAG Kids loved it!!

Author Links:

Digital Journal



Midwest Book Review

B.R.A.G. Medallion

Interview with Stephanie Hopkins at Layered Pages

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Interview with T.J. Alexian

Ted Mitchell BRAG

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree T.J. Alexian to talk with me today about his book. T.J. lives in Attleboro, Massachusetts in a renovated green Victorian, along with seven ghosts and his long-time (and long-suffering) partner. He also has three kids and one spiritual kid, and their stories and their spirit form the heart and soul of his novel, Pictures of You. A profiled author in the Writer’s Digest book Writer with a Day Job and an award-winning communications specialist, Pictures of You is Alexian’s first novel, although he has two more being prepared for distribution: The Late Night Show and Confessions of a Diva Rotundo.

Hello, T.J.! Thank you for chatting with me today about your B.R.A.G. Medallion book, Pictures of you. Tell me how you discovered indieBRAG.

Thanks, Stephanie! It’s great chatting with you. I discovered indieBRAG while reading the manuscript of another BRAG-nominated author. It looked like a great program and I wanted to learn more…and, submit Pictures for consideration. I’m glad I did!

How long have you been a writer and what do you find most rewarding about the craft?

As with so many of us, I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. My dad used to tell me bedtime stories and I didn’t want them to end, so I started making up my own adventures. When I was a teen-ager, I was heavily into theater and started writing plays. Writing novels came after college, but I find it to be the most satisfying challenge of all. So much of writing is about re-writing, about trying to get what you’re trying to say perfectly right. When you do, and people respond, it’s magic.

Please tell me about your story, Pictures of You.

I like to call Pictures of You a social media ghost story.

What that means is that the story is about a self-professed video geek, Ashes16, whose real-world past begins to haunt her when a strange video pops up on her YouTube account one day. Others soon follow, bringing back vivid memories of her older brother’s grisly death and forcing her to relive over and over again a nightmare scene she witnessed first-hand. And worse yet, the videos seem to be coming from her dead brother, Daniel.

So, are they really messages from Daniel, asking her to uncover dark family secrets some people want to keep hidden? And what happens when Ashes finally starts to understand the meaning behind these messages? That’s the chilling secret behind Pictures of You.

Pictures of You BRAG Book

What a fascinating and haunting premise! What was your inspiration for it?

Inspiration’s a funny thing. One beautiful spring day a few years ago, I was giving my daughter her first driving lesson, and I thought it would be funny to record the experience and post the video to YouTube. That got me to thinking: what if one day you woke up one morning and found videos of your life posted on YouTube for everyone to see that you never wanted anyone to see? You know, things like break-up scenes with an old flame, or the day you went to school with your fly down. And then, what if the scenes became progressively worse, and couldn’t possibly have been taped, and you had no idea who was sending them or how they had gotten hold of them? How powerless and out of control—not to mention scared—would you feel?

That was it! I was off and running. I sat down and started scribbling.

Could you please share an excerpt?

Of course! (See bottom of this interview)

I love a good old-fashioned murder mystery. Was there any challenges you faced while writing it?

I’m a big fan, too. No huge challenges, although as a writer, I tend to be a bit free-form: I know the beginning and the ending, and then map out what’s in between three or four chapters at a time. That wasn’t the case for Pictures. I wanted to construct it in the manner of a Nancy Drew mystery story: 25 chapters exactly. That meant I had to have a roadmap for the entire book, especially since it’s a mystery, so you want to space out your clues in an orderly fashion. I think that discipline helped provide structure to the book. P.S.: I went over 25 chapters, but that was a deliberate decision.

Please tell me a little about Ashes and how did you come up with that name?

That’s another interesting problem I encountered as I was writing the book. I originally intended to write the story as a strict YA thriller, with your stereotypical girly girl young pretty teen-ager who all these awful things happen to, but who wins out in the end. But as I progressed with the story, the true Ashes increasingly started to assert herself. She wanted to be more than that. And one morning, I realized, “Oh, wait. This is a girl who really wants to be a boy. And not just any boy…she wants to be her dead brother.”

After that, to me, the book really came into focus. I’ve always viewed it as a ghost story, but in seeing who Ashes was, it became clear to me that the story was as much about being haunted by the memories of your past as it was about an actual haunting. When that fell into place, I realized the real point behind Pictures of You was about giving voice to those hiding in the shadows—and not just voices of the non-corporeal variety. It’s about those who are unable to talk, or too scared to speak their own personal truth—for even if Ashes is a self-described YouTube addict with a very public social face, she still wears a mask. She still feels different, every day of her life. She’s still hiding a past she desperately needs to come to terms with and a sadness she dares not reveal to anyone, especially herself.

How did I come up with the name? Her full name is Ashley, but in my head, I see her as looking like the character of Ash in Pokemon. Also, there is some symbolic significance to the name, as revealed in the story. I won’t reveal that!

Your story is set in a sleepy New England town called, Eldredge. Is that a fictional place? Could you please give a description of the town to set the tone a bit?

It’s not really a fictional place. I mean, the name is fictional, but Eldredge is very much based on the area of Massachusetts that I live in. There’s even an Eldredge Street, which is where the name came from.

Eldredge is a quiet, crumbling, slightly depressed part of Massachusetts, and the story takes place in the middle of the summer, during school break. New England winters can be cold and snowy, but the summers are hot and sweltering. Although New Englanders are reserved by nature, there’s a lot going on inside. There are secrets clamped down and repressed. All of this starts to boil over during one of the hottest weeks of the year.

Will you please share a little of what Ashes relationship is like with her mother?

They certainly don’t have the most functional relationship. Ashes’ mom has been married twice and is deeply mourning the loss of her son. As a result, she’s almost too absorbed in the past to pay much attention to her living daughter. In fact, since Daniel’s death, she’s shut almost everyone out of her life-including Ashes. This is an important storyline in the story, and one that can be common when you are dealing with the loss of a child. As a dad of three, it’s a heartbreaking situation I’m not sure I could ever recover from.

In my questionnaire to you I asked you if there was any Historical facts or significance about your book. You said there isn’t but you shared with me that this story is more than a ghost story. Could you please share a little about what that is?

I think this book is a bit different because it’s as much about being haunted by the memories of your past as it is about an actual haunting. The real point behind Pictures of You is about giving voice to those hiding in the shadows—and not just voices of the non-corporeal variety. It’s about those who are unable to talk, or too scared to speak their own personal truth—for even if Ashes is a self-described YouTube addict with a very public social face, she still wears a mask. She still feels different, every day of her life, because of the fact she looks different from other girls, dresses differently from other girls, resembles a boy more than a girl. But gender identification is only the tip of the iceberg. Ashes is hiding a past she desperately needs to come to terms with and a sadness she dares not reveal to anyone, especially herself.

Another central theme to the book involves the problems associated with autism, and how society tends to often treat these kids as invisible—again, giving voice to those hiding in the shadows.

Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?

That depends what part of the process I’m in. When I’m first putting a novel together, I have to write it all out by hand on a yellow legal pad, making lots of corrections and cross-outs. The messier, the better! That takes place in either my bed or on my favorite, most comfortable couch (in my den). When it comes time to typing everything up, that always takes place on the mainframe (never a laptop) in my study. After I’m done typing up a page from the legal pad, I immediately rip it off, crinkle it into a ball, and throw it across the room. What a satisfying feeling! Editing is much the same: print out the chapters, edit by hand in the bedroom, and type it up in the study. My process is one of ritual habituals.

Who designed your book cover?

The book cover was designer by a talented graphic designer named Rob Fabiano. I’ve known Rob for many years now and I was so pleased when he agreed to design the cover.

What are you working on next?

Right now I am working on editing a thriller called Late Night Show. This story involves webcams, and is an updated version of Rear Window with a disturbing twist: my main character witnesses an online murder one night. But did she really, and who can she report it to? And what happens when she gets drawn into the horrible webcam world she observed, and becomes the person on the inside, looking out?

Do you stick with just genre?

No, I tend to hop about. Pictures and Late Night Show are cut from a similar cloth, but the book after that, Confessions of the Diva Rotundo, is another matter entirely. It’s based on my experiences in theater. The main character is an over-the-top ego-obsessed ham actor who is called upon to solve a murder mystery, mainly because he’s the main suspect and no one would put it past him to commit murder for a lead role. He has until opening night to prove them wrong. It’s absurd and the lead character is insane, but I’m having a lot of fun writing it.


I sit at my computer and type in my YouTube username.


I scroll through my list of videos.


Still there. This memory I have no memory of. This memory, with that laugh at the end. This memory of him.

I scroll down farther. And stop, the cut on my knee completely forgotten. This isn’t possible.

All at once, it’s like I’m still running through the woods, as if I still hear that sound of footsteps moving softly behind me. A crackle of twigs. Once again I feel the whisper of someone’s presence in the air. I stare at the screen, in complete disbelief.


And also…


I can’t believe it’s there, but also, I can’t wait to see it. And so, I click on the video, to bring it to life.

There I am, sitting in front of my pink dressing table, the one that was in my bedroom at the old house, and is probably still there since we didn’t have room for it in the condo. I’m sitting with my back to the camera, brushing my long, straight hair.

I’m talking to myself, into the mirror on top of the dresser. I can’t hear a word of what she/I’m saying, so I turn up the volume.

“But of course, I can’t get my hair cut,” I’m saying, and I hate my voice even more, because I sound like such a little girl. “Mommy won’t let that happen. Your hair’s so beautiful, so straight and long…”

In the present day, I reach my hand up to touch the back of my head. So much shorter now, practically like a boy. No, no. Like a boy.

Back in the past, on the video, I keep brushing. “I’m so sick of straight and long! I’m sick of snarls in the morning. I’m—”

The person I was pauses, stops brushing. “I see you,” she says, but doesn’t turn around.

See? Oh, yes. In the mirror.

There’s a laugh, muffled and indistinct. His laugh, once again.

The person I was turns around, looks right into the camera. “Come on,” she says. “Why are you doing this?”

And I hear his voice again. The way I remember, kind of deep, but with that smile in it, that lightness. That teasing quality he always has. Had.

“To bug you,” he says.

I shake my head, and my bangs go in different directions. “You’re not, you know.” I sounded pouty, and I could almost hear him saying, at least in my head, that I always was a bad liar.

There’s movement, in the mirror that she/me is staring into. It happens in an instant, and then I see myself stand. “Daniel!”

Just like that, the video’s over.

That movement. It goes by so fast, but…

I use my mouse to move back in time, to the point where I turn around.

“You’re not, you know,” I say again, still sounding pouty.

The movement starts. Quickly, I hit pause.

Yes, right there.

He’s there. Daniel comes into view, a reflection in the mirror.

Daniel, with his skinny body and his pitch black hair, with bangs cut straight as mine are now. And his dark eyes, which always seemed to twinkle just a little when he was up to no good.

Daniel. I want to touch the screen. I push my fingers forward, and feel a bit of static from the monitor. But more than that, there’s a chill in the air, over my shoulder. I break from the video, turn around.

No one’s there…

Author Website


Barnes & Noble


A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview T.J. Alexian who is the author of, Pictures of You our medallion honoree 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, Pictures of You, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.




Book Review: Alaina Claiborne by MK McClintock

01_Alaina Claiborne

How far would you go to avenge your family and save the one you love?

In nineteenth-century England, Alaina Claiborne had a loving family, a cherished friend, and devoted servants. She spent her days riding across the grassy hills of the English countryside, joyful and at peace. Then tragedy strikes and her world is forever changed. Searching for those responsible is her only focus… until she meets Tristan. Tristan Sheffield, a man of many talents, searches out those who don’t want to be found. His past is filled with secrets and deeds he would rather leave deeply buried. However, when his life unexpectedly entwines with Alaina’s, he soon discovers they share more than a mutual desire to catch a murderer. On their hunt for a man driven by greed, Tristan and Alaina find that love is the greatest weapon against evil, and they’ll stop at nothing to survive.


I was really torn with writing this review because I normally don’t read in this genre and I do not consider this story historical fiction. More like a period romance and as a rule, I generally do not read/review romance for various reasons. However, when I read the premise and saw the layout of the book, my attention was captured.

When I began to read this story I was blown away by the beginning! A girl witnessing her parent’s murder. What a way to start a story. Powerful. I give the author a high five for that. A strong beginning are important to the story. Readers need to be grabbed from the beginning. The tricky part is to hold the reader’s attention throughout the story. Did the author do this for me? I would have to say yes but there were a few things that I felt could have be worked on a bit. The overall mystery fell a little flat for me. I felt that could have been stronger. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good mystery by any means….there was some things that just need to be worked out better. The setting and the period of the story wasn’t portrayed as convincible and true to the time in my opinion and I would have liked for it to be a bit more atmospheric. I will say there is a twist to the ‘who done it’ part I did not see coming….however I felt that character needed to be introduced much sooner in the plot. The character seemed to just appear out of nowhere but maybe that was the author’s intention? Not sure.

Despite some of the things I feel that need to be worked on I enjoyed this story and I’m looking forward to seeing more from this author. Fun read. Sweet romance. Lots of potential.

I’ve rated this book three stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Alaina Claborne Available At

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Nook | Kobo


British Agent Series Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 18 Review at Flashlight Commentary (Alaina Claiborne)

Tuesday, May 19 Spotlight at View From the Birdhouse

Wednesday, May 20 Review at Flashlight Commentary (Blackwood Crossing) Review at Book Nerd (Blackwood Crossing) Review at Dreams Come True Through Reading (Alaina Claiborne & Blackwood Crossing)

Thursday, May 21 Review at Layered Pages (Alaina Claiborne)

Friday, May 22 Review & Interview at Jorie Loves a Story (Alaina Claiborne)

Monday, May 25 Review at A Chick Who Reads (Alaina Claiborne & Blackwood Crossing) Excerpt at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

Tuesday, May 26 Review at Quirky Book Reviews (Alaina Claiborne & Blackwood Crossing)

Wednesday, May 27 Review at The Lit Bitch (Alaina Claiborne)

Thursday, May 28 Blog Tour Wrap-Up at Passages to the Past

British Agent Trilogy_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL


Self-Publishing: An Author’s Experiences

David Penny

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree David Penny to talk with me today about his self-publishing experience. David 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.

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

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

I think pretty much from the moment I returned to writing I knew I wanted to self-publish. I’d already had a traditional experience when I was in my 20’s and had four science-fiction novels published by Robert Hale in the UK, a short story in Galaxy magazine, an agent – in fact everything many authors still aspire to.

However, I recognized the world has changed since the 1970’s. I started writing again with no expectation of how my words might see the light of day – then I discovered there was this thing called Amazon, and you could just upload your book! And it was available the same day! It was a revelation.

What has your experience been like along the way?

The technical side of self-publishing came fairly easy, but then I have had 30 years working in IT. I think once I decided that self-publishing was my route to publication the process was pretty straightforward.

One of the major things I have experienced is the absolutely wonderful support and camaraderie that other Indie authors offer each other. Without it this would be a very lonely and hard road to follow.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

I started learning about self-publishing in 2011, even before I began to write my own books, by helping a friend who couldn’t cope with the technical side of things. Some of these challenges relate to her work, as things have changed enormously since then.

Early on formatting required a lot of dedication and could be considered a “black art”. I remember poring over the Smashwords Style Guide then trying and re-trying to upload a document that wouldn’t get rejected. Even these days I still come across threads on forums bemoaning the trials of trying to get a document that will be accepted.

Initially we tried creating out own covers, and failed dismally. Unless they are a genius most writers are not graphic designers, and we are guaranteed to make a bad job of cover design.

And of course, the biggest challenge of all, is how do you get readers to discover your books. You might be the best, most eloquent writer in the history of the world, but if you can’t get the book in front of people then they won’t buy it. So marketing is the biggest challenge I had, and still have. I’m not very good at it.

The Red Hill

What have you learned in this industry?

The biggest lesson is not to believe you can, or have to, or even should do everything yourself.

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

Don’t get hung up on checking your sales every day, let alone ten times a day!

Never respond to bad reviews, and accept that everyone is going to get them.

Make sure you understand the technology and, if you’re unsure, get help. There are a lot of good resources out there to help with formatting, layout and publishing.

At the risk of sparking controversy – forget about print. I meet a lot of writers who are still chasing the traditional dream of seeing their books in bookstores, but it’s a hard road to follow with little in return. There’s a saying in business I’ve borrowed and altered – Print is Vanity, ePub is Sanity. I still put my books in print, but have little expectation of sales from that channel. The print books are primarily a marketing exercise, and for handing out at meetings and for reviews.

Don’t expect your first book to set the world alight and becomes a best seller.

Don’t compare yourself to others.

That’s a lot of Don’ts, so here are some Dos:

Do read about the craft. There are many great books on writing, too many to start to list, but I believe all writers need to continually hone their craft, and reading out it is one way to do this.

Do make sure you get professional help with the elements that will make your book compete on a level playing field with the big 6 – these are: Editing, Proofing, Formatting and Cover Design.

Do make sure you check our any services you decide to use. There are a host of great resources out there (I would recommend David Gaughan’s website and books as essential to everyone starting out, and The Alliance of Independent Authors provides a huge amount of useful resources) but there are also many, many predators willing to charge you a fortune for bad advice and services.

Do keep writing and do keep bringing out books.

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

Write the book you want and embrace self-publishing as the new paradigm for the twenty-first century. I have read some great trad published books, but these days I have also read great self-published books as well which push the boundaries beyond where the traditional market is willing to embrace.

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

I don’t spend enough time on social media, but I don’t feel guilty about it — it’s a decision I made, and it suits me. I’m still struggling with ways to promote my books. Most of the writers I know follow a similar pattern which can lead to being very busy but communicating only with other writers. It’s a easy trap to fall into, because we all love talking about writing. But the people we need to communicate with are readers.

So I’m trying to work out a means of making that happen. I have a few ideas, but at the moment none in place. For example – my books are set in southern Spain in the 1480’s. When my wife and I were on the airplane going on a holiday research trip I was leafing through the EasyJet Inflight magazine and it occurred to me I could write an article on the hidden Spain that lies behind the beaches and hotels.

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

At the moment I don’t use any, and the reason for that is I plan to have at least three books in the series available before I start, so that when I do promote one book the reader will have something else to go on to if they like it. I don’t think promotion when there is only one book out is effective. There are, of course, outliers who dash this notion to pieces. Mr. Howey!

I did try BookBub once, but of course didn’t get accepted. Next year, when book 3 in the series comes out, I’ll try again, and other sites. But by next year the market will be completely different again!

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

Ooh, great, back to the science fiction!

I think we are just starting to see the major changes coming to the industry. Self-publishing is reaching a maturity it hasn’t had before, and the resources are now in place to offer support where needed.

So, in five years I see an acceleration of self-publishing with an emphasis on quality both of content and presentation. I also see continued resistance from the traditional market and a continued erosion of their power. I also think there will be less players in the eBook market, with Amazon and Apple being the main players, maybe with Apple overtaking Amazon as the main seller of eBooks. And of course, even before five years are here, there will be eReaders that provide the exact same reading experience as paper. The Kindle Voyage is already close to doing that, and in technology terms five years is a geological time period. One thing I don’t see happening – and which some have predicted – is the disappearance of reading in its current form. Multimedia is great in its place, but there is something special about curling up to read a book (on whatever media) that film or games or TV simple cannot replace. Only books can take you places in your head that nothing else can match.

In ten years time the battle will be continuing, but I think the pendulum will have swung over and it will be Indies who are the majority, and Indies will be considered as equals alongside traditional authors. By this I mean readers won’t care how you publish, only what you publish.

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

Alongside what I said above, a few things need to be in place. It is still too easy for rogues out there to ruin a writer’s career by lodging spurious copyright claims. I read a recent horror story of a writer’s book being taken down from Amazon because someone in Indie filed a claim that they wrote in – without any evidence at all.

The main players – Amazon, Apple, Kobo etc – must put their own houses in order to ensure that the scammers that currently abound cannot ruin the scene for the majority. At the moment self-publishing is like the Wild West – there are laws but not everyone adheres to them. This will come only with maturity and a willingness on all parties to make it work.

How long have you been an indie author?

Depends whether this relates to when did I have my first idea (6 years), start the research (5 years), start the book (2 years), or publish the first book (1 year).

Of course, the other answer is – I’ve always been an Indie author. I was just waiting for the right book to come along.