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 david@david-penny.com 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.


Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Elaine Russell


I’d like to welcome, B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Elaine Russell to talk with me today about her book, Secret of the Ruby Elephant.

Hello, Elaine! Thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for your book, Martin McMillan and the Secret of the Ruby Elephant. First, tell me how you discovered indieBRAG and how has your self-publishing experience been thus far?

It was a lovely surprise when an email arrived from InideBRAG announcing that Martin McMillan and the Secret of the Ruby Elephant had received a B.R.A.G. Medallion. I had not heard of the program previously, but I believe the book was selected due to the four 2013 awards it received: Winner Indie Reader Discovery Award, Silver Independent Publishers Book Awards, Finalist National Indie Excellence Awards, and Finalist Foreword Review Book of the Year Awards.

I have self-published four books to date: two books in the Martin McMillan series (the first was previously published by a small press), a young adult novel Montana in A Minor, finalist in two 2015 awards, and one adult novel Across the Mekong River, winner of four 2013 awards. I am very happy with my decision to self-publish despite the many challenges of marketing the books. My adult novel, Across the Mekong River, has fared the best in terms of exposure and ebook sales. It is more difficult to sell children’s books as sales are mostly through book stores, which are reluctant to carry self-published, print-on-demand books, and the Scholastic school sales program.

Please tell me a little about your book.

Kirkus Reviews said of Martin McMillan and the Secret of the Ruby Elephant, “A middle-grade adventure story with plenty of action and an engaging plot, which may appeal to fans of the Indiana Jones movies.” The novel is the second installment in a middle-grade (ages 8-13) mystery series (the first is Martin McMillan and the Lost Inca City). Thirteen-year-old Martin and his friend Isabel skate their way through this fast-paced adventure, traveling from Chicago to Thailand to solve the theft of the Ruby Elephant. The 15th century Thai statue is part of a mysterious legend that holds the secret to a hidden treasure. The friends must decipher a complicated puzzle of clues found in Buddhist symbols and ancient ruins, as they track down the thieves and try to stay out of harm’s way.

Tell me a little about Martin and Isabel. What is a challenge or adventure they face together?

Martin, thirteen, has spent his life growing up in different locations around the world as his parents worked at different archeological excavations. In the first book he met Isabel at an Incan dig in Peru where her mother worked as well. An avid skateboarder, Martin is focused on the next great place to skate and landing new tricks. He is bit oblivious at times and not the bravest person, but when circumstances require he rises to the occasion.

Isabel, also thirteen, has a Spanish mother and American father who are divorced. She splits her time between the two countries. Smart and inquisitive, she often initiates the pair’s escapades, prodding a somewhat hapless Martin to follow her lead. When things get difficult, she turns to Martin to get them out of trouble.

In this second book of the series, Martin and Isabel team up with their new Thai friend Junya to find the thieves of the Ruby Elephant. They defy the orders of Martin’s parents and Junya’s grandfather to stay out of the investigation, spying on the suspects and gathering clues for solving an ancient puzzle that leads to a hidden treasure. It takes daring and cunning to decipher the clues with the thieves hot on their trail.

How did you come to set the story in Chicago then Thailand for your story?

I chose Chicago for the McMillan family’s home base as it has the wonderful Field Museum of Natural History and major universities where Martin’s archeologist parents could be employed. I was a history major as an undergraduate and love traveling to other countries to learn about the history and people. Thailand appealed to me for its rich background and intriguing culture. On several trips to Thailand I visited the locations in the book and gathered bits information and fun events to use in the story.

What is the history Ruby Elephant?

The Ruby Elephant in the story is based on a gold elephant adorned with multiple gems that is found in the National Museum of Bangkok. While the legend of the Ruby Elephant is fictional, parts of the story are based on real events in the 15th century wars between Ayutthaya (Siam) and Burma. The thieves steal the Ruby Elephant as it holds the answer to a missing treasure.

What would you hope for middle-grade readers to come away with from your story?

I hope middle-grade readers will find the story fun and exciting and capture their interest in Thailand. In this digital age, children’s lives have become very insular. They need to be introduced to the big, interesting world out there.

What was the inspiration for your story?

I wrote the first Martin McMillan book when my son was ten year old. He was a good student, but it was hard to find books that held his attention and inspired him to read more. I wanted to write a book that would be fast paced and fun for reluctant readers. Like Martin, my son and his friends were avid skateboarders, and provided lots of fodder for my story. I planned on writing a series, although it took me more time than expected to get to the second book. The Ruby Elephant continues Martin and Isabel’s adventures, but is a stand-alone story.

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

I worked on the second Martin McMillan book for about two years on and off. I had helpful critiques from agents and editors through SCBWI conferences and from other writers who reviewed early drafts. I write at home in my office or anywhere I can find a quiet spot. I am very lucky to spend a fair amount of time on the island of Kauai where I get a majority of my writing done.

Who designed your book cover?

I am very lucky to have a friend, Jackie Pope, who is a wonderful artist. She painted the cover art for me of the Ruby Elephant on display in the Field Museum exhibit. CreateSpace completed the cover design with my and Jackie’s input.

Where can readers buy your book?

Martin McMillan and the Secret of the Ruby Elephant is available by order from local bookstores and on all major online outlets: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo etc.

What is up next for you?

I recently completed a third book in the series, Martin McMillan and the Sacred Stones, which is set in Scotland. It involves a mystery surrounding the Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis and the discovery of Druid artifacts. I hope to have it published this coming fall. I also have started work on a new adult novel set in Denver in 1901.

About Author:

Elaine Russell BRAG

After graduating with a BA in History from the University of California, Davis, and an MA in Economics from California State University Sacramento, I worked as a resource economist and environmental consultant for over twenty years. In 1993, I also began writing fiction for adults and children. My early publications included a number of short stories in small literary magazines and a story sold to Highlights for Children magazine. The first book in my middle-grade adventure series, Martin McMillan and the Lost Inca City, was published in 2004. It is now in a second edition since 2012.

I became interested in the large Hmong immigrant community in Sacramento after meeting children in my son’s school and reading Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. This led to the short story “Sky King,” about a Hmong-American family, which was published in the literary magazines Red Wheelbarrow (Summer 2004) and The Armchair Aesthete (Fall 2004). It also won First Place for a Short Story in the WIN-WIN Conference 2003 Persie Writing Contest. I began writing my adult book, Across the Mekong River, shortly after this. Before publication, the novel was a finalist in the Carolina Wren Press 2010 Doris Bakwin Award for adult novels, the Maui Writer’s Conference 2003 Rupert Hughes Prose Writing Competition, and the Focus on Writers 2001 Friends of the Sacramento Library Awards. The novel also won four 2013 independent publisher awards after publication in 2012.

I published the second middle-grade book Martin McMillan and the Secret of the Ruby Elephant in 2012. It won four 2013 independent publisher awards as well. My most recent publication is the young adult romance novel, Montana in A Minor, released in 2014. It won an award from the Friends of the Sacramento Library Awards in 2010. Since publication it has been selected as a finalist for the Readers’ Favorites 2014 awards.

I am married with three grown children and two grandchildren. I currently live with my husband in Sacramento, CA, and part time on the island of Kauai.

Here are links for Martin McMillan and the Secret of the Ruby Elephant:


Barnes & Noble



A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Elaine Russell who is the author of, Secret of the Ruby Elephant 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, Secret of the Ruby Elephant, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.



The Importance of Beta Readers with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Marisha Pink

Marisha Pink - Headshot

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree  Marisha Pink to chat with me today about Beta Readers. She is a rat race escapee turned author and entrepreneur. Born and raised in London, from a young age she had an unhealthy obsession with books. She always dreamed of one day writing stories with the power to take readers on a journey, but somehow she wound up studying Chemistry and working in marketing instead.

In September 2012, after five years of climbing the corporate ladder, she decided that it was finally time to take the leap. Backpack in hand, she left everything behind to travel Southeast Asia and complete her debut novel, Finding Arun. She’s been on a mission not to live life by the book ever since.

Eventually returning to London in February 2013, Marisha raised the finance to publish the book through crowdfunding, and joined the self-publishing revolution. Released globally in September 2013, Finding Arun has earned a 5* Readers’ Favorite review, a B.R.A.G. Medallion, and a shortlisting for the inaugural Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction.

Marisha has been featured on BBC London 94.9FM, The Literary Platform, and across several popular blogs and podcasts. Her second novel, Last Piece of Me, the prequel to Finding Arun, was published on 5th March 2015 and is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook.

Marisha, do you use beta readers?

Absolutely! I wouldn’t dare skip this phase of the process now that I know how valuable it is.

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

For my first book I just had three beta readers, and for my second there were eight. In the past I have used them after the professional copy-edit, but before the proofread. I like to receive their general comments, but I find that it is a good way to assess whether or not I have adequately addressed the concerns raised by my copy editor, before proceeding to the proofreading stage. I had some really interesting feedback with my last book, however, so I am considering having two beta reader groups in the future – one before the professional copy edit, and one after. This would allow me the flexibility to make bigger changes earlier on because by the time the WIP has reached beta readers in the past, those things have usually been pretty set and it is difficult to make such large scale changes right before publication. In terms of numbers, it is more difficult to manage eight sets of opinions, but I think it gives you greater confidence in the responses if more people are saying similar things.

Finding-Arun-3D-book Marisha Pink BRAG

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

Complete honesty and punctuality! It really does the book (and me!) no good if people hold back on the things that they think and skirt around issues just to be polite. I would much rather have brutal honesty (however soul-crushing it might be!) in the form of constructive criticism, so that I understand exactly what the issue is and have an idea what it would take to improve the manuscript. Getting comments back on time is also really important and I know that my books are not everyone else’s priority, but beta reading is a commitment. It is much more difficult to assimilate the feedback and look for commonalities if you receive the feedback in dribs and drabs, and it can delay the overall publishing timeline if you find out you need to make huge changes late on. Beyond that, I like having a mix of people, not just my target readership. I think this can help you spot things that you might not otherwise see, because your work is being viewed by different eyes with very different reading habits, and it is also a good indicator of whether your work is capable of “transcending boundaries”. Overall, beta readers are central to the writing and publishing process because they are often the first non-professional observers of your work.

How do you choose your beta readers?

I will usually send out a request to my mailing list and also post on my social media accounts. This means that beta readers are already familiar with my work, so they know roughly what to expect. I’m not usually inundated with offers, because I am quite clear about the timelines and expectations, which not everyone is able to meet, so it’s often a case of first come, first served. I think the optimum number of beta readers is probably between six and eight, but you don’t always receive responses from everyone, so I err on the side of caution and pick ten, with the expectation that I will receive feedback from only a percentage.

Marisha Pink Second book cover

What has been your experience with them?

I love my beta readers! I find that they are so enthusiastic and excited by the opportunity to get involved with shaping something before it’s published, that we often enter into long debates about characters and plots etc. once they have finished reading. My beta readers have really helped me to improve my storytelling and my books are undoubtedly a better reading experience because of their involvement. For me, it’s also great to finally be able to talk to people about the things that I have been working on and to have the support and reassurance that I have produced something worthy of people’s time.

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

If I see several beta readers making similar comments then I will usually take their advice. If there is a standalone comment then it is more of a judgement call, but I do consider all the comments I receive. The impact on my writing has been huge, particularly with my last book. Taking on board advice from beta readers can really lift your work up to that next level, because you have an opportunity to get rid of all the little niggly things that, on their own, aren’t much, but collectively can lower the standard of your work. With my last book, one of my beta readers was another writer and his observations were incredibly insightful, but, moreover, he gave me great suggestions on how to improve the things that he called me out on, which was a great help when I began to edit again.

Do you use them for every book you write?

I do and I will continue to do so. For me, it is a no-brainer!

Example post

Author Links:

Twitter: @marishapink

Author Website

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree SM Spencer

SM Spencer

SM Spencer

I’d like to welcome SM Spencer to chat with me today about her B.R.A.G. Medallion book, Destiny. Sm was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As a young teenager her mother introduced her to the world of romantic suspense by encouraging her to read the works of authors such as Daphne du Maurier and Mary Stewart. These books stirred a passion in her that would last a lifetime—to become a writer.

Feeling the need to experience life before embarking on a writing career, MS Spencer completed a business degree. Her career eventually landed her in Melbourne, Australia, where she has lived ever since. Yet her true passion to be a writer never abated.

SM Spencer now writes from her home in the outskirts of Melbourne, where she lives with her husband, horses, cats and dogs.

Hello, Sandy! Thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for your story, Destiny – Absent Shadows Trilogy Book One. I noticed in your bio that you are a fan of du Maurier and how it inspired you to become a writer. That is wonderful! Which book did you read first of du Maurier? I read, ‘Rebecca’ first and several times again after that. I have a couple of others from her on my shelf. Her stories are so atmospheric.

Hi Stephanie! Thank you for this opportunity. It really is lovely to speak with you today.

Now, as for du Maurier’s books, I can’t recall which one I read first, but I know which one had the biggest impact on me; Frenchman’s Creek. I so wanted to rewrite the ending of that book! And I wanted to find Frenchman’s Creek. Years later, while travelling in Cornwall, I think I may have found it, or a similar creek. And the memories of that book came back as if I’d only just read it.

How much time a week do you devote yourself to the craft of writing and where in your home do you like to write?

I tend to write in spurts. Sometimes weeks will go by, when other parts of life get busy. But then I’ll write every day for a time. Perhaps I’m what you’d call a “binge writer”.

Please tell me about your story, Destiny.

Destiny is the first book in the Absent Shadows trilogy, which is the story of a young woman who wants to make a difference with her life, but isn’t sure how to go about it. When she takes a trip to Australia for her summer vacation, she discovers a supernatural world that she’d never imagined existed. Her belief systems and courage are tested, but in the end it is her love and devotion that get her through.

The book is set in and around some of the oldest parts of Melbourne, being the Flagstaff Gardens and Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market. Most of what is now the carpark for the market was originally the site of the Old Melbourne Cemetery. The cemetery was relocated when the market expanded; however most of the bodies (some say as many as 9,000) were not exhumed, and remain there today.

The story brings together my love of the paranormal, my desire to remain open-minded to explanations of how the world we live in really works, and my deep belief in the good that resides in most people (even though we all know there are some vampires who, quite simply, cannot be trusted!)

Destiny by SM Spencer

Tell me a little about nineteen year-old Lili McIntyre. What are her strengths and weaknesses?

Lili is a bit shy, and still rather naïve when it comes to the ways of the world, but she has a burning desire to achieve something good with her life. She is most definitely not a ‘super human’ or a ‘larger than life’ character. She is just your average girl, who finds herself caught up in a world that is anything BUT average.

Will you share a conflict she faces?

The first, and probably the biggest of Lili’s conflicts, is leaving the security of her family in California to head to a foreign country.

What is a cultural change that she has to make from her life in California to Australia? How does she deal with it?

In many ways, life in Melbourne is very much like life in California—but cars are driven on the opposite side of the road, people use different words to describe things, and her aunt is the only person she knows when she first arrives. Building a new network of friends takes time, and it is her budding friendship with Claire that helps Lili acclimatize as quickly as she does.

Please tell me a little about Lili’s friend, Claire.

Claire is perfection on the outside, and a little bit of a daredevil on the inside. She is the high school cheerleader, the prom queen and the girl that always had a boyfriend while the rest of us watched in envy. But she likes Lili right from the start, and takes her under her wing.

What is the Queen Victoria Market and the Flagstaff Gardens? How does that play a part in your story?

The Queen Victoria market is largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere. At this market you can find every type of food: fresh produce, deli foods, fast food, meat, fish and the list goes on. You can also find anything you’d typically find at a “flea market” or other outdoor market, including both new and old items.

The Flagstaff Gardens is the oldest, and one of the most used, parks in the city. It is 18 acres of beautiful meandering paths through elms, figs and eucalypts. But it is also the site of the first burials of the new colony, back in 1835, which is why it was called “Burial Hill”.

Being such an old area, and one that is the subject of many ghost stories and sightings, it seemed the perfect location for a story about supernatural characters. And the markets themselves were the perfect spot for two of the key characters to work. Sam and Tom work in one of the fresh produce stalls at the market, and this is where Lili first sees Sam.

What inspired you to write this paranormal love story?

I was working around the corner from the Queen Victoria Markets, up near the Flagstaff Gardens. Walking around at lunchtime, I started sensing that this was the perfect setting for ghosts and vampires—and the story just developed from there. Of course, the late night ghost tours I’d done in the area, where I’d learned the history of the cemetery under the market’s carpark and about ghost sightings all throughout the area, really helped. And like many, I was caught up in the resurgence in popularity of vampires.

Could you please share an excerpt?

Sometimes, when something bad happens, time seems to slow to a crawl.

Like that time I was running to visit my friend who lived down the street. I was only about ten at the time, but it seemed like it was yesterday. I remember exactly how it felt as I ran down that street toward her house. And how, when I was only part way there, I stepped on an acorn and my foot rolled out from under me. As I fell, the pavement got closer and closer to my face—in horrible slow-motion. I hit the ground with my hands stretched out in front of me, scraping the skin off both palms. They barely bled but man they hurt like crazy.

Yes, I could replay that memory like a slow-motion movie in my head even now—years later.

But this … well, this wasn’t like that.

What happened next was like a series of still photos. Tom flew out of the bedroom in a blur, but stopped just long enough for the image of his face to be burnt into my mind. His eyes were no longer soft brown, but were instead a glowing red, and his normally tanned complexion was now pallid grey. But what really stood out was the blood that ran down from the corner of his mouth.

Then I heard Sam’s voice—loud and harsh. ‘Go!’

Tom was gone and I heard the door slam.

I closed my eyes for no more than a long blink—it couldn’t have been more than a second—but when I opened them, Sam was in the bedroom, bending over Claire. Was he doing something to her neck? She was so still.

I ran to the doorway but stopped short of going in. I couldn’t draw a breath to scream or talk. I just stood there, frozen.

Who designed your book cover?


When you are not writing, do you have any hobbies you spend time on?

I have three horses, and they take up a bit of time! We live on a small acreage property, and there are gardens all around the house, so that takes up quite a bit of time as well. I also do volunteer work, and play bridge in my spare time.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on a rural romance, and while it’s nearly complete in my head I’m only about half way through getting it down on paper.

How did you discover indieBRAG?


Where can readers buy your book?

Only on Amazon at this stage.

But they can find and follow me on Facebook

Author Facebook Page

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview SM Spencer who is the author of, Destiny, one of 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, Desstiny, 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 Prue Batten to talk with me today about her experiences in Self-Publishing. Prue, when did you decide you were going to self-publish?

In 2008. Originally it was POD publication with a UK company funded by the UK Arts Council.

What has your experience been like along the way?

Truly excellent. The POD titles were professionally printed through Lightning Source and marketed via social media. Two years later I decided to take the books I had written at that time to e-book and signed with another independent agency. This agency marketed the books right across the globe. Within a year, however, I decided to take full control of my published works. My husband established an imprint called Darlington Press and my full list is published under that brand.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

The first challenge is coming to terms with the market and market demands. It’s an energetic, ever-changing place and one relies heavily on commentators like ALLi (specifically Jim Giammatteo), Dave Gaughran, Joanna Penn, Anne R Allen and The Passive Guy to keep one up to the news and developments. The next biggest challenge is the need to put oneself into the public domain and engage on a wide screen with surround sound but at the same time to do it subtly. It’s not at all easy and the ground one must cover to keep one’s titles fresh in the public’s mind is enormous. But one of the chiefest lessons I learned was that there were many people (readers and writers) who were prepared to help.


What have you learned in this industry?

That the independent writer’s world is organic, ever-expanding/changing and essentially filled with people who are interested and interesting. They are all at the cutting edge of the book world and have knowledge that they pool for the greater good. It’s a force majeur and one must listen and be open-minded all the time.

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

  • Edit, edit and edit again. With a professional editor.
  • Have beta-readers who are unafraid to tell you the truth in black and white. If one writes historical fiction, it would be exceptionally helpful to have a beta reader with knowledge of your timeframe and who is prepared to correct any false fact.
  • Use a graphic designer for cover design. One who understands the novel first and foremost, the brand, the different size and quality requirements and what fonts work best in a given size.
  • Use a professional formatter for digital output and for print preparation.

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

  • Firstly join ALLi, the international organization for all things ‘independent’. The organization can provide competent and concise information and advice to new and indeed established authors. Read and learn.
  • But understand that before you even THINK to go down the indie publishing road, if you are not prepared to have novels edited professionally in the first instance, then I would say don’t become an indie.
  • If you have an editor and want to move to the next step, find your cover designer and your objective beta-readers.
  • Then your formatters. Then look for review sites and have the books reviewed pre-release.
  • Be prepared to have an active, polite and engaging online presence. The big sellers like Hugh Howey and SJA Turney (to name just two excellent writers) are marvelous communicators and have a following because of that. You should be prepared to engage daily (it need not take hours).
  • You need a website (use a competent web-designer and builder). KEEP IT SIMPLE so that it is clean and easy to navigate.
  • I would also say blog if you can. I opted to have a blog but also opted to make it a ‘writer’s lifestyle’ blog. I occasionally write a hist.fict or writing post, but I live in an exceptional part of the world and like to share that with readers and writers globally. I write as much as I can as a fiction writer and it’s wonderful not to blog about what I do but about something else entirely. Refreshing.

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

I barely ever promote my books officially. Instead, I talk about what I am working on, I place ‘last words of the day’ on Facebook. I pin relevant images to my Pinterest board. On release, I share the first reviews and will ask if anyone is interested in hosting me for their blog. To be truthful however, I much prefer to just ‘talk’ online as if I’m having coffee or a wine with friends. I have been very lucky – readers have promoted me and word of mouth has been most rewarding. In any one day, I would spend perhaps 30-45 minutes online across the social media spectrum.

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

All the e-book sites although that changes periodically if I wish to promote more heavily on Amazon and I am in that process now with my e-books. My novels are all to be re-issued this year as well and my agent/business manager is just deciding whether to continue directly with Ingram Spark, as we have done in the past, or to publish entirely through Amazon Createspace.

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

It is a seriously volatile industry and I would imagine it will change and move forward rapidly. Amazon is the lead player and a major game changer, but Apple is closing the distance. The great thing about being indie is that one is always right on the edge of the breaking wave and so I can only imagine that audio-books will become even more popular and that digital will refine even more and the percentage usage will climb higher. Over half the book sales in the UK in 2014 were e-book sales according to Nielsen data. I view all these developments with excitement.

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

My independent writing life is exceptional. I have met astonishing and interesting people and made friends for a lifetime. I never thought I’d sell more than one book a month and yet I have been and remain an unbroken Amazon UK Top 100 Ranker, so to be truthful I can’t imagine what could be improved upon but am open to change for the good on any level.

How long have you been an indie author?

For seven years and it has been more than rewarding.

Author Bio:


A former journalist from Australia who graduated with majors in history and politics, I’m now a cross genre writer who is also a farmer, dog owner, gardener and embroiderer. I didn’t plan to be a writer in those early days, I was far more a reader. But like most writers, I’ve always written – seeing the world through the medium of the word. It was inevitable that I become an independent writer simply because I love being at the cutting edge of something and together with many other ‘indies’, being at the forefront of the New Age of Writing and Publishing is like being a sea captain in the Age of Exploration. And I’ve been fortunate – winning silver medals and honourable mentions for my work and to have them ranking unbroken in the UK for the last year.

I try to make time for other things in life. I love wine, chocolate and cooking delectable cakes and biscuits. I mess about in my gardens, dirt under the fingernails and a plant catalogue alongside a cup of tea. I stitch (I love needle and silks) – to wind down. I walk (a lot) with the Jack Russells, but more than anything I like being on beaches, boats or the water – being by the sea is implicit for my writing to sing.




Twitter @pruebatten