Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree James Stevenson

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree James Stevenson to talk with me today about his book, Dartmouth Conspiracy. James was born in England four years and nine months before Britain declared war on Germany. His father, a newspaper proprietor and former cadet at Dartmouth during WW1, left the Royal Navy in 1929 nd recalled at the outbreak of WW2 for trans-Atlantic convoy escort duties. He developed a stomach ulcer and became a training officer at the Royal Naval College; his family of five followed him to Dartmouth in 1942.

On 18 September 1942 James, aged eight, heard mighty explosions and saw a German aircraft at chimney-height being pursued by two RAF Spitfires: “I could see his face, Mother, I could see his face!” This event left a lasting impression on the young boy and implanted his life-long interest in aviation.

In 1952, aged 18, James began his compulsory stint of National Service at a time when World War Three with the USSR threatened the Western world. James joined the RAF, was sent to Canada for training, enjoyed a memorable two weeks’ leave in USA, flew jets and gained his “Wings”.

On leaving the Air Force, James studied agriculture, married and moved to Portugal (at that time ruled by a Fascist dictator). He managed a large farming and animal feeds operation near Lisbon, became fluent in Portuguese and developed an interest in amateur dramatics making several appearances on the stage of the Lisbon Players. In 1968 James had to answer questions about a talk he gave to Lisbon’s British Institute entitled World Population and Agriculture because the Portuguese secret police wanted to make sure he wasn’t developing an unhealthy interest in politics. James’s friend Alain Oulman was arrested and jailed for left-wing activities and later deported to France. In 1973 James formed his own full-time import/export company based in Portugal. By now the father of two boys and two girls, he witnessed Portuguese troops advancing on Lisbon in April 1974; during an almost bloodless coup Portuguese soldiers expelled their Fascist rulers, opened the jails, took over the government and made history. Youtube

Two years later James returned to England and set up a business with his brother importing decorative ceramics from Portugal, setting up house with his four children after divorcing his wife. In 1989 James remarried and in 1999 self-published his first novel Dartmouth Conspiracy followed by Fly The Storm in 2010. Both novels have been taken up by Large Print and Audio publishers and both are Indie Brag Honorees. His latest work, Stalin’s Had It Now! was published in 2014; the Large Print edition and Audio version (read by the author) came out in October 2015.

 Now living in Devon, James likes to visit the road where he lived as a boy, and likes to stand on the exact spot where, long ago, he looked up and saw the face of a German pilot.

Please tell me a little about your book, Dartmouth Conspiracy.

Dartmouth Conspiracy is a story of severely traumatized men and women, swept into battle against each other during World War Two. How do they handle their conflicting instincts of revenge and reconciliation when the war is over? None of my characters relish the task of warfare; all of them seek peace, but all are traumatised by their experiences.

Dartmouth Conspriacy BRAG

One can live a whole lifetime and not know all there is about World War II. Why many of us are avid readers about this powerful and tragic event. My Grandfather was a World War II Vet and died with many secrets about the war, I’m sure. He rarely talked about it. When he did mention small details I would see the far-away look in his eyes; his voice would even change. Can you tell me something that sets your book apart from the others in this genre? And has writing this story impacted you in any way?

War continues to fascinate readers of both fiction and history perhaps because they wonder how they would I have reacted to war, how would they have behaved, would they have risen to the challenge of facing the enemy in combat? War veterans have witnessed events that they can hardly bring themselves to think about, let alone describe to others. The veterans have to live with deeply imprinted horror scenes that will never escape their brains and it is impossible for those who were not involved in such horrors to imagine what it was like. Those of us who seek the truth want to read about it, live the drama, the sweat and the tears and, yes, the comradeship and the good humour as well. War changes the course of every individual involved. In order to do their duty and protect their homeland some must kill, others must deceive, drop by parachute behind enemy lines, break seemingly unbreakable codes, work long hours in munitions factories, bring up children under the threat of aerial bombardment and keep them fed in spite of food rationing. Behind enemy lines, patriots lead secret but dangerous lives as they work towards freedom. Some veterans have been forced to betray their closest friends, driven insane by private demons and seen their comrades physically torn apart.

World War Two was a close-run thing. By 1940 most of Europe had been overrun and Britain stood alone, supported by supplies from the US and inspired by Winston Churchill: “We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall never surrender.” As a boy I clearly remember the thrill of hearing our leader’s inspiring speeches, but I know that my mother was deeply worried.

Unlike some other novels in the genre, Dartmouth Conspiracy tries to be even-handed, aiming to share with its readers the conflict of heroes and heroines from both sides of the war.

Writing this novel has been a revealing journey for me. From the outset I was determined to hallmark the story with accurate research. As I delved the archives, unbelievable but true stories unfolded. My own father often spoke about his old naval days in China during the 1920s, but could never be drawn on the subject of WW2. At the time I couldn’t understand why this should be, but now, after researching Dartmouth Conspiracy, I think I know.

Please tell me a little about Andrew and Karl. What were their strengths?

Ever since he was a small child Andrew has been mad about ships. He wants to become an officer in the Royal Navy and desperately hopes to become a cadet at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth when he reaches the age of thirteen – but will he pass the stringent eyesight test? When Karl saves his life during a swimming expedition during a holiday in Devon, Andrew, his brother Ian and German cousin Karl solemnly swear a pact of friendship knowing that very soon their two countries will be at war.

Karl is a fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe who longs for the day when he can resume his pre-war life as a school teacher. His aunt married an Englishman; she invited Karl to spend many pre-war boyhood holidays in England with Andrew and Ian her two sons. When war comes Karl is deeply disturbed by feelings of conflicting loyalty. He must lead a staffel of six aircraft to attack the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth but is almost certain that Andrew will be inside the building. By nature Karl is blessed with dogged persistence and is loyal to family, friends and comrades but, in order to save Andrew, should he somehow forewarn the British of the attack? If he does so he will be putting the lives of his fellow pilots in danger.

Czechairmen dog overs

Would you please share an excerpt?

A difficult choice: should I use a scene of fire and death like Helga’s ordeal in Hamburg during the Allied bombing, or would a more pastoral and peaceful scene show readers that this story is not all about blood and thunder? In the end we go with Anna as she revisits a French farm where, long ago, German soldiers surrounded the house and trapped her in the attic.

The man took a step forward. ‘What can I do for you? What is it you want?’

She said quietly, ‘Monsieur Dessoude was standing at the top of those stairs. He fired two shots. I heard bodies falling down the stairs. Men were shouting, I can hear them now, and rifle fire, slivers of wood splintered off that door – look, you can see where it’s been repaired. Dessoude fell backwards into the room, I tried to help him. Words bubbled in his throat before he died.’

The man’s face was frozen in surprise. ‘Martin Dessoude was my uncle. I knew he was murdered by the Nazis but nobody ever told me how.’

Anna took a deep breath but stayed exactly where she was, under the roof-beam. The years of shunning that day of horror from her mind were over now. Telling about Dessoude’s death was soothing the pain, leaking it away from the unhealed wound inside in her heart. ‘Your uncle fired both barrels. He killed two Germans soldiers but had no time to reload. What chance did he have against the rest of them – one pigeon-gun against four Nazis armed with MP-28 submachine guns?’ Anna watched his face as she continued. ‘You say this man was your uncle but have you ever wondered what happened to your aunt and your two small cousins who were also in this house that day?’

He looked away. ‘Sometimes I wonder. What do you know about it?’

‘They were taken with me to Amiens prison where we were put in separate cells. I never saw them again. That’s enough. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.’ She turned away to the window with the voice of Philippa shouting inside her brain. You have gone too far. The pain will return. You must be alone now. Retrieve your property and get on with the task.

She faced him again. ‘I have come to fetch something that I left here.’

His eyebrows lifted. ‘You left something – here?

She pointed. ‘On top of that beam. If it’s still there I’d like to claim it.’

The farmer walked across and reached up. ‘This beam, this one under the joist?’

She nodded.

He was a short man but the beam was low and his hand disturbed a shower of dust that fell shimmering across a shaft of sunlight from the window. ‘There is something here.’ He took it down and blew off the dust. ‘My God, a thirty-eight calibre Smith and Wesson Model 36.’ He balanced the revolver in his right hand. ‘I killed a man with one of these when I was in the Resistance. I should have been at school but killing the Boche to support Allied landings in Normandy was more exciting for a fifteen-year old.’ He swung out the cylinder with a practised thumb and light from the window caught a glint of brass. He paused for a moment. Looking up accusingly he said, ‘Did you know how to use this weapon?’

‘Of course I did, and I still do.’

‘These are live rounds, all six of them intact. If this revolver was yours and you knew how to use it, why is it still loaded? If my uncle was trying to defend himself with a shot gun he must have been protecting you too. What were you doing, standing in this room with a loaded pistol and then hiding it on top of that beam while Martin Dessoude was being shot to death?’

Anna heard herself translating an English quotation. ‘He who fights and runs away may live to fight another day, but he who is in battle slain can never rise and fight again.’

The farmer shrugged. ‘The war has been over for six years, the fighting has finished.’

Anna held out her hand to take the gun. ‘Has it?’

What did you learn while writing this book?

It’s extraordinary how one line of research leads to another. While assembling ideas for this book I visited the Public Records Office in London and discovered that the Spitfires I had seen with my own eyes during the German attack on Dartmouth in 1942 were flown by pilots of the RAF’s 310 (Czech) Squadron. These pilots had escaped from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and had travelled overland to Britain, the only unconquered country from which they could fight the enemy. While searching a library for a British test-pilot’s technical report on a captured Focke-Wulf 190 aircraft, I came across a fascinating autobiography: “Challenge In The Air” written by M.A. Liskutin a Czech fighter-pilot. Imagine my surprise when I learnt how these brave men, who had made the dangerous journey to England in order to fight for the freedom of Czechoslovakia, were considered as “Westernised Collaborators” when they returned to their war-torn homeland. Why? Because our former ally, Communist Russia, had imposed a suffocating regime of terror on their country. While still feeling angry from the injustice of this, I saw a film entitled “Dark Blue World”, which shows in graphic detail the horrors that awaited these loyal Czechs when they returned to their homeland.

After Dartmouth Conspiracy was first published in 1999 I began to receive letters from readers, some of them with first-hand experience of the main event. One of these letters came from a Czech fighter pilot now living in England who kindly sent me photographs of two of his compatriots who helped to repulse the raid on Dartmouth. Perhaps Squadron Leader Dolezal and Flight lieutenant Kimlicka were flying the two Spitfires that chased away that German aircraft, the one I saw flying at chimney-height on 18 September 1942.

For those who don’t know, what is Operation Jericho? What impact did it have?

The tide of World War Two took a dramatic turn when the USA joined the conflict in December 1941 an, even as a seven year-old, I can remember the uplifting flood of hope and optimism. By June 1944 the Allies were ready for the long-awaited invasion of northern France, which led to the liberation of Paris, the advance on Berlin and the death of Hitler. Sometimes, however, we forget the undercover resistance workers in Europe who risked torture and death in their quest for information valuable to the Allies.

A lot of controversy and some embellishment surround the dramatic story of Operation Jericho – but this is the supposed reason for it: when two Allied intelligence officers with knowledge of the D-Day invasion plans were captured and sent to Amiens prison, a low-level bombing attack to release all the inmates was urgently planned. Also inside the prison were members of the French Resistance who had been supplying the Allies with other vital information. Breach the walls of the prison and release the occupants before they could be forced to give-away their secrets – it was one of the most difficult tasks of the war. The facts are these: on 18 February 1944 eighteen RAF Mosquito aircraft took off from England in appalling weather; they flew down the main road to Amiens at a height of 50 feet, bombed the outer and inner walls of the prison and released over 200 prisoners who were seen making their escape across snow-covered fields. While returning to base the leader of the raid and his co-pilot were killed when their aircraft was shot down.

Where in your home do you like to write?

 I like to write at a desk I inherited from my father, given to him as a wedding present on 1 June 1929.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

IndieBRAG came at me out of the blue when they approached me unexpectedly after reading my second novel Fly The Storm.

Who designed your book cover?

Both my book covers were designed by David Sque, an artist with particular interest in the military, aircraft and ships.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

I like short titles that are unique; I search the Amazon catalogue to make sure of this. I think a title suggesting a hint of mystery is good.

I became seriously stuck with Dartmouth Conspiracy when I decided to change the original idea from a short magazine story of reconciliation into a full-length novel. Why would a German pilot want or need to return to the place he targeted during the war? The answer came to me while I was laid up in bed suffering from a bout of flu. EUREKA – the man’s English cousin was probably killed during the raid!

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a short autobiography about my time (one year) spent on a large farming estate in the Scottish Highlands. I am also assembling material for a novel based on the Portuguese Revolution of 1974.

Do you stick with just one genre?

My genres will always be “historical” but within my own lifetime (1930s onwards). I have so far written one autobiography (see above).

What do you enjoying doing when you are not writing?

My hobby revolves around my 45 year-old Triumph Stag sports car.   As a cancer sufferer I raised money for Cancer Research UK last year by driving it the entire length of Britain (from Land’s End to John O’Groats and back) with my son Henry a co-driver – some 2400 miles, taking a leisurely ten days to do so. Facebook

Author Link:

King & Queen visit Dartmouth Video

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A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview James Stevenson who is the author of, Dartmouth Conspiracy, 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, Dartmouth Conspiracy, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Maggie Pill

Peg Herring BRAG

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Maggie Pill to talk with me about her book, The Sleuth Sisters. Maggie writes mysteries, loves fine chocolate, and has a very old cat who is allowed to do pretty much anything she wants to. Maggie and her husband love to travel and might be found hiking interesting landscapes, but they seldom prepare properly for it. It’s more of a “Let’s see what’s over that hill!” type of lifestyle.

Maggie, how did you discover indieBRAG?

I’m not sure where I first saw information about indieBRAG, but it sounded like a great help for authors like me who do their best to put out a quality product: Saying, “My mom read it and she says it’s perfect!” isn’t enough for me. I’m traditionally published (as Peg Herring), so I know the process, and I want Maggie’s books to be just as well-edited and produced as Peg’s.

Please tell me about your book, The Sleuth Sisters.

Sisters Barb and Faye decide to start a detective agency. Retirement from her law practice isn’t what Barb imagined, and Faye needs to work to provide for herself and her disabled husband. They agree that baby sister Retta will NOT be part of the business, because she’s bossy and manipulative.

Once they’ve done what’s required to open the Smart Detective Agency, the sisters find that small-town northern Michigan isn’t quite ready for middle-aged, female private detectives. Faye suggests they might take advantage of Retta’s contacts and scintillating personality, since as the widow of a state police officer killed in the line of duty, she knows everyone from the governor to the local county clerk.

Barb insists it’s a bad idea.

Eventually the sisters get a real case: a man accused of murdering his wife has been on the run for years, and his sister wants them to find him and prove his innocence. Faye and Barb agree to try to locate Neil Brown, though they doubt they can save him from being charged with murder. As she watches from the sidelines, Retta becomes certain she can help. She has definite ideas on how a detective agency should be run. She hates the name Barb came up with. And she’s convinced her sisters are clueless as to how a real woman gets what she wants out of life.

The sisters are close, but often their outlook on life is quite different. Barb, who likes order and correct answers, goes out nights to secretly correct grammatical errors on billboards around town. Faye, for whom family is most important, consults with Retta behind Barb’s back, feeling guilty but sensing they need Retta’s bull-dozer sweetness in order to be successful. And Retta, whose world revolves around fashion and social success, can’t decide if she’s fascinated by the whole detective thing or amused by it. Things get really tense when they meet the new police chief, Rory Neuencamp. Both Barb and Retta are impressed by the most interesting man to arrive in Allport in years. Barb is shy about letting Rory know she’s interested, but when has Retta not been able to get any man she wants?

Why did you choose Northern Lower Michigan, as the setting of your story?

I live in Northern Lower Michigan, so that makes the setting part easy for me. I grew up on a farm much like the one in the third book of the series, MURDER IN THE BOONIES, which is the sisters’ childhood home. I love the change of seasons in Michigan and the combination of long-established families and newly-arrived transplants, along with tourists and summer people who are only around for a few days, weeks, or months. In addition to all the area’s natural beauty, there are endless possibilities for plot-lines and sub-plots.

The Sleuth Sisters BRAG

Did you face any challenges writing this story?

A challenge I didn’t expect was keeping up with who knows what. Each sister tells part of the story. First you hear from Barb, then Faye narrates a chapter, then Retta, and so on. (My audio book producer chose three actresses to read the books, so listeners hear the different voices, which is very cool.)

With multiple points of view, I have to make sure that what each sister learns is transmitted to the other sisters. For example, Retta might tell the reader that she phoned the FBI and talked to the agent who handled the original case. I must then remember to have her tell Faye what she did, and then Barb has to find out somehow as well. It gets a little tricky sometimes to keep three protagonists involved and informed.

As sisters, what is Barb and Faye’s relationship like?

Barb and Faye are the type of sisters who finish each other’s sentences and know without being told what the other is thinking. However, they’ve had vastly different life experiences, so they often don’t look at things in the same way. Barb moved to the West Coast and served as a lawyer for several decades before retiring to her home town. Faye married young, raised three boys on a shoestring budget, and has always lived within the tiny circle of Allport. Her life has made her empathetic; Barb’s experiences have made her cynical, but they each recognize the other’s strengths and use them in their business. Because she’s less sure of herself, Faye takes a secondary role, acting as bookkeeper and secretary for the agency. Barb tries to encourage Faye to think of herself as a true partner, but Barb herself is naturally inclined to take the initiative and be the leader.

Please tell me a little about Retta.

Retta is the baby of the family. Pretty, feminine, and very, very social, she might be considered a flibbertigibbet (my grandmother’s word). At first she wants to be part of the agency simply because she isn’t. It irritates her that her sisters left her out of things, just the way they used to when they were kids. What she finds, however, is that investigating comes naturally to her. She knows a lot of people, she’s good at extracting information by asking seemingly innocent questions, and she can wrap most men around her finger. The detective agency is a game for Retta until her sisters face real danger. Then she shows determination and courage that might be unexpected but should never be underestimated.

Who designed your book cover?

Clarissa Yeo, at Yeocla Designs. She’s fantastic!

How did you come up with the title for your book?

It was pretty obvious to me: Sleuths who are sisters=The Sleuth Sisters. Another author used that title about the same time I did, but that’s the way it goes in the pub biz. Titles can’t be copyrighted, so readers have to make sure to look for my name: Maggie Pill.

When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?

That’s an easy one: I get moving. Driving long distances is great for plotting, and walking works well for me to resolve plot-knots and get a rein on characters who won’t do as they’re supposed to.

What are you working on next?

The 4th Sleuth Sisters is circling in my head. No title yet, just a main plot with a few funny subplots as the sisters try to work together and get along. Barb and Retta are going to disagree on the Oxford comma, and Faye will be required to referee.

Do you stick with just 1 genre?

My first book was a romance, because “they” said it was easier to get published in that genre. Macbeth’s Niece was published by Five Star Publishing in 2008 (using my real name, Peg Herring). It did pretty well, but I prefer mystery because I like creating puzzles for my readers to solve. Of course, a hint of romance doesn’t hurt, even in a mystery.

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

I mostly work in my office on my PC, but I have a “stand-up station” in one corner to ease my aching back. I prefer to compose in the morning, and I write in layers: first a general plot, then additional material to reveal character, describe settings, offer clues, and inject humor. Later in the day I often edit as I watch baseball (now moving to football) on TV.

Is there a favorite food or drink you like to enjoy while writing?

Water, lots of water, and my home-made trail mix: pecans, walnuts, almonds, dried pineapple, dried cherries, and a few M&Ms for color.

Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?

I love flowers, so my yard takes up a lot of my time in the growing season. I love reading, of course, and I’m a fiend for the crossword puzzles in the Sunday paper.

Contact Maggie at

Facebook

Website

Find THE SLEUTH SISTERS at

Amazon Kindle

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Audible

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Maggie Pill who is the author of, The Sleuth Sisters, 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, The Sleuth Sisters, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Gloria Zachgo

Gloria Zachgo BRAG

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Gloria Zachgo to chat with me today about her book, Never Waste Tears. It’s a natural for Gloria to write stories with Kansas settings. She grew up on a farm in Lincoln County, Kansas, where she attended one of the last one-room schoolhouses in the country. After graduating from Brown Mackie Business School she married her high school sweetheart.

Living out of state for several years, Gloria and her husband moved back to their Kansas roots. While their children were young, she ran a small business out of their home. When her children left the nest, she pursued a lifelong dream and took various art lessons.

Always wanting to learn new things she joined a creative writing group in 2006. She soon found she had a passion for writing fictional short stories. One particular short story was written from the prompts of a gingerbread man and a small toy horse. It led to her first novel, The Rocking Horse.

“I knew there was more to the story. I kept seeing the image of a young woman, all alone, with a quirky little toy trying to give her a message.”

After her debut novel won honorable mention in the 20th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, she started working on another book.

“I love writing about ordinary, everyday people and their struggles with what life deals them.”

Gloria certainly did write about the struggles of ordinary people in her second novel, Never Waste Tears. She lets five individuals each tell their own story of what Kansas looked like in the 1860s, when the land was free, but the true price was often high.

Her second novel, Never Waste Tears, was awarded an indieB.R.A.G. Medallion.

To learn more about Gloria feel free to visit her website 

How did you discover indieBRAG?

My husband discovered it while searching for new ways to help promote my books. He’s my biggest supporter.

Please tell me a little about your story, Never Waste Tears.

Never Waste Tears is about love, family, heartache, perseverance, and courage. Each of the five characters: Rebecca, Nathan, Hannah, Carl, and Sarah, tell their own story —each in their own voice.

Rebecca Martin and Nathan Carter are young when the Civil War begins, but it has a lasting effect on their lives. When they marry, Nathan’s estrangement from his father deepens and he dreams of more independence. With little experience at farming, he and Rebecca head West in his quest for free land.

On their journey, Rebecca and Nathan meet Carl and Hannah Taylor on a wagon train. The couples develop a close friendship. Carl and Hannah are traveling to Kansas because of their own war memories.

When Nathan and Carl file homestead claims adjoining each other’s land, their friendship deepens. But friends and love are not enough for Rebecca. She records her feelings of loneliness and hardships in her diary. It is the only thing left that reveals the way she felt about the prairie.

Nathan vows to never leave the homestead where his young wife lies in a solitary grave. It is not until Hannah’s twin sister comes to live with Hannah and Carl that he once again starts to dream of his future.

What was your inspiration for this story and why this period in American History?

Years ago I was traveling on a lone country road in Kansas and came upon an isolated graveyard surrounded by pastureland. Dates on the headstones testified to long forgotten generations, yet someone had cared enough to tend the final resting place of those who were buried there. It made me curious as to what their individual stories were.

Never Waste Tears BRAG

Did Nathan fight in the war?

No. Nathan turned thirteen years old on the day the Civil War broke out. When his older brothers and his father went away to do their part in the war, he was told to stay home and be the man of the house. His family owned a general store and he took on many of the responsibilities of running it with his mother.

What is one of the hardships of the Kansas prairies?

It’s hard to pick just one, because there were so many. I think loneliness was probably the hardest for the women.

Please tell me a little about, Sarah.

Sarah joined her twin sister, Hannah, on the prairie after the death of her parents. She was hard working, independent, God fearing, and although she had a quick temper she could never stay angry for long. Like her sister, she loved the land but was terrified of snakes – and there were a few snakes on the prairie – including rattlesnakes.

You mentioned to me that Lincoln’s death is part of the story? Would you mind sharing a little of your personal thoughts about him?

I have a great compassion for the man that had to make such difficult decisions in our country’s history. I tend to believe he was tormented with the division in our country and he did what he thought he had to do to reunite America.

What was some of the research involved in the making of your story?

Even though my story is entirely fiction, I wanted to make it believable. I was able to research quite a bit on the internet, including some history, modes of travel and travel time, and even how to dig a well by hand. I also read books and diaries about early pioneers, and gleaned much information from visiting local museums. I tried to correlate the Indian raids to the correct time and area. Although I purposely didn’t put in an exact location of the homesteads, I myself, at one time, lived on the land I describe in the story. Like the house Carl wants to someday build for Hannah, I’ve been told my grandparent’s limestone house was built from the limestone that was quarried out of the hills on their own land.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

The twin sisters, Hannah and Sarah, had a mother who told them to never waste their tears, but to save them to wash away grief.

Who designed your book cover?

I painted the scene after visiting several rural cemeteries. My husband put the book cover together.

What are you working on next?

I’m not quite sure. I’ve started a novel dealing with the emotions of a woman who was abused as a child. Occasionally I get the urge to go back to the Kansas prairie, but so far I’ve only made notes for future reference.

Do you stick with just one genre?

No. My first book, The Rocking Horse, was a mystery. My writing is mostly character driven. Several people wanted me to write a sequel to The Rocking Horse, but that’s not what was in my heart at the time. My husband jokes about my imaginary friends talking to me, but I must admit I let them guide me when writing a story.

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

I prefer writing in my home office on my computer. I’m also in a local writing group that meets once a week, and I belong to a novelist group that meets once a month for critiquing and inspiration.

When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?

I’ve found what works best for me is to let it rest for a while. It’s frustrating when I want to finish a scene or chapter. Like Mother Nature, sometimes the ideas flood and I can’t type them fast enough. But when the well goes dry, I have to wait patiently for the ideas to trickle in – often when I’m in the shower.

Favorite food or drink?

Water – I know, it sounds boring. Early morning I let myself have coffee, but too much coffee calls for too many interruptions.

Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?

I love to paint. However, I’m an eclectic artist. Like switching genres, I switch mediums. My favorites are whatever I’m using at the time.

Author Links:

Amazon

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

Map of Kansas Literature

Facebook

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A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Gloria Zachgo who is the author of, Never Waste Tear, 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, Never Waste Tears, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

Meet Author Clare Flynn

Clare Flynn
               

Author Clare Flynn kindly sent me a copy of her latest story, Letters From a Patchwork Quilt. What a wonderful cover and premise! I’m really looking forward to reading her story. I had the great pleasure of meeting Clare at the HNS Denver Conference this past summer. She is such a lovely lady and I do hope we met again in the near future. I would love to have a chat over tea about her wonderful stories. Clare is a former global marketing director, who has marketed global brands from diapers to chocolate biscuits and has lived and worked in Paris, Milan, Brussels and Sydney. After spending most of the last fifteen years running her own strategic management consultancy in London, now most of her time is dedicated to writing her novels. She has wanted to write since she was four years old.

Clare has won BRAG medallions for her first two novels, A Greater World, set in the Blue Mountains of Australia in the 1920s and Kurinji Flowers set in colonial India in the 1930s and 40s. Her latest novel Letters From a Patchwork Quilt was published in September. The book is set in the late nineteenth century and moves from industrial towns in England to New York City and St Louis.

A Greater World -BRAG Book

Clare loves to travel – usually with her watercolor paints. She even went to live on a tea plantation while finishing Kurinji Flowers, staying in a tea planter’s bungalow from the 1930s and blagging her way into the incredibly snooty High Range Club to research the Planters’ Club of the book. The original idea for the novel came to her during an earlier trip to Kerala, during a sleepless night in a hotel in Munnar, on which the fictional town of Mudoorayam is based.

Kurinji Flowers

The idea for Letters From a Patchwork Quilt came from Clare’s geneological research. She stole Jack’s jobs and the English towns he lived in from her own great grandfather. All she had were names and places so she changed the names, kept the places and made everything else up.

Clare is a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors and the Historical Novel Society and is on the organizing commit for HNS Oxford 2016.

Letters From a Patchwork Quilt Clare Flynn

Book Description: Letters From a Patchwork Quilt

In 1875 a young man, Jack Brennan, from a large and impoverished Catholic family, refuses to be pushed into the priesthood and runs away to become a teacher. Jack falls in love with Eliza Hewlett, but his dreams and plans are thwarted when his landlord’s daughter, Mary Ellen MacBride, falsely accuses him of fathering the child she is expecting. Rather than be forced to marry his accuser, Jack decides to run away to America with Eliza. Just as the ship is ready to sail Jack is arrested and dragged from the ship, leaving Eliza alone en route to New York with just a few shillings in her pocket. “A story of love, loss and tragedy; a heartbreaking and moving tale”. Readers’ Favorite.

Author Links:

Website

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Amazon Author Page

Goodreads

Pinterst

 

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Sean DeLauder

Sean Delauder BRAG

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Sean DeLauder today to talk with me about his book, The Least Envied. This author has held several positions in recent years, including Content Writer, Grant Writer, Obituary Clerk, and Staff Writer, and is under the false impression that these experiences have added to his character since they have not contributed much to his finances. He was awarded a BFA in Creative Writing and Journalism and a BA in Technical Communication by Bowling Green State University because they are giving and eager to make friends. He has a few scattered publications with The Circle magazine, Wild Violet, Toasted Cheese, and Lovable Losers Literary Revue, and resides in the drab, northeastern region of Ohio because it makes everything else seem fascinating, exotic, and beautiful.

Sean, how did you discover indieBRAG?

I’m not exactly sure. I don’t remember if I found it on my own as part of a search, if I saw another honoree somewhere, or if I read an article espousing the wonderful benefits of becoming a BRAG honoree.

Please tell me a little about your book, The Least Envied.

The Least Envied is, like its main character(s), more than what it seems. On the surface the story is a bildungsroman in which a boy aspires to be great and do great things worthy of praise. It’s also a treatise on the value of persistence and thinking things through rather than acting on impulse. It’s an examination of what a hero is, what good and evil are, and the counterintuitive evidence that the purported tools of evil, such as deception, can be used against it. It’s a look at not only what Good is, but what is Evil, and do we really understand what Evil is when we don’t know what motivates it?

In most cases, the story takes a typical trope and turns it on its ear to get a different look at it. I’d like people to, at the very least, feel a tweak in their perception. Even if they don’t realize it’s happened, I want people to have the ability to look at things from more than one perspective.

The Least Envied

What was the inspiration for your story?

Probably a need to express my personal philosophy, I suppose. In the end, Billy-Bob’s goal is to become a hero to save people, but in truth his purpose is to show people they can save themselves, that they accomplish nothing by hoping for someone to save them, and that hope can only take you so far—one needs to act to effect change.

Your characters sound really fascinating. Please tell me a little about Andrew.

The vast majority of the characters in The Least Envied undergo a transformation, from non-believer to believer in most cases, but Andrew, I think, undergoes the most significant change. There are several conspicuous heroes in this story, but Andrew is one as well in his own way. But like the others he has to endure his trial, first. At the outset Andrew is frustrated. That’s fairly evident right away. He’s forced to do something he doesn’t think has value, is potentially dangerous, and undercuts his own worth. He’s a bit spoiled, a bit arrogant, but with absolutely no justification for either. As a result, he’s not a very sympathetic character at the outset. And rightly so. He doesn’t deserve it, though he may say otherwise. Deep down, however, he knows he is flawed, unworthy, in fact, and this is manifest in his unrequited affections for a girl he had to leave behind when his task was given him.

Over the course of the story Andrew’s egocentric views on the world mature and he discovers he does have a role within it, and that role can be significant.

What is a challenge that Billy-Bob faces?

Ostensibly, Billy-Bob’s mission is to “go West, defeat Ultimate Evil, find Beta, and save the girl”. Whether or not these are genuine missions or made up is debatable, but the key to all of these is that he will “find victory on defeat in death”, which, as Billy-Bob points out, seem a contradiction. In addition to the contradiction, Billy-Bob’s biggest challenge is getting from Dirtburg to Beta, the last place in the known world where people resist the slow decline of humanity. The road there is peppered with several challenges, some of which his guide attempts to avoid, others he leads Billy-Bob directly into as a means of testing him. In the course of these encounters Billy-Bob is constantly confronted with the need to determine the appropriate course of action, what is “right”, and should he do what is right, even if it means putting himself in harm’s way. And, ultimately, what choice would a hero make in the same situation?

How did you come up with, “Wogs”?

The wogs are one of my favorite parts of the story, and they came about to fulfill a need for this story: I needed monsters. However, I didn’t want them to be normal, hulking monsters. I wanted them to be quirky and different, and sinister because one didn’t know what they were or their capabilities. At the same time I wanted them to be innocuous, so their sudden bursts of violence would be jarring.

The wogs were not always wogs, however, and they were briefly raccoons, or leaves, or other beasts. But I came back to the wogs because they added an essential component of quirk and surreality that I demand and, I think, suited the story. They also represent a technological aspect lost to the current age, a hint of the capacity of humanity before a long, slow spiral, and more significantly an overlap between humanity and technology, since wogs and humans seem to share many cognitive characteristics.

Wogs often struggle between duty and rationale, which I believe makes them very human. In many ways the wogs are nobler than most people, though they can also exhibit blind hostility toward those who impede their mission.

Any Historical facts or significance about your book?

No historical facts outside of my own history. I started writing this book in a study hall in high school because I was bored. I remember this vividly because as I began writing a classmate turned around and asked what I was doing. The conversation went like this:

      1. Kid: What are you doing?
      2. Me: Writing a story.
      3. Kid: Why?
      4. Me: Because I’m bored.
      5. Kid: You’re weird.

Da Vinci said “art is never finished, only abandoned”. Well this book proves two things about Da Vinci: 1) he’s wrong, and 2) he’s a quitter.

Who designed your book cover?

My friend, Ellie Kay Bockert-Augsburger, did the print cover (and ebook). I had a few ideas on how to put it together, then suggested something like a page out of a journal. She liked that idea and we went back and forth about features we could add that would make it seem like a work in progress—the notes taped to the cover; a piece of the cover missing to show a poorly drawn figure from the story (taken from the original scribbled notebook I proposed); the scribbled title (also my scribble… took me three tries to get it how I liked). A great deal of thought went into it and Ellie did a great job articulating what I wanted and adding a few tweaks of her own.

This is the second cover she’s done for me. The first was her first, and after getting her feet wet she decided to start doing more covers. She’s since started a very nice book design and editing service you can find at creativedigitalstudios.com. If you need a cover or editing work, be sure to visit her site!

How did you come up with the title for your book?

I don’t recall the moment I came up with the title, but I immediately saw it as both misleading and illuminating at the same time—just the sort of author trick I like to play on people. I wanted that meaning to change as readers moved through the story: perhaps it applies to the first character they meet; then perhaps another, more cynical character; or maybe the main character (whomever they decide that may be); penultimately the reader may come to feel everyone in this realm falls under the umbrella of the title; and, finally, I wanted to shrink it back down to a single character. It was not my plan to identify a title that did this, but it came unbidden, and I understood how well it suited the story. It’s a wriggly and mischievous thing, always trying to stay out of focus, like a blurry blob viewed through a telescope. You’ve got to keep twisting and tuning your adjustments until it relents and comes into satisfying clarity.

What are you working on next?

A murder mystery. I expect it to be hilariously depressing, as all amazing books are.

Do you stick with just genre?

Fantasy and science fiction are probably the two broad categories that I operate under most of the time, though I would call myself a satirist. I like to take normal tropes and turn them on their heads. That said, I’m currently working on a murder mystery, and have plans for historical and romance novels, but I wouldn’t approach them as though they’re manufactured by some publishing house crank. They’ll probably be unlike what you associate with the genres—which is what makes them interesting to me and fun to write.

When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?

Becoming “stuck” isn’t really an event that happens so much as being confronted with a decision about which avenue best suits the story. There may be something I want to include that doesn’t fit well, and I struggle to manipulate it until it works or I come to my senses and file it away for something else. Or I am overwhelmed with a variety of situations or resolutions for a single scenario. I tend to explore every possible permutation to see where it leads and which interests me the most, but because my brain is cluttered and crammed this can be time consuming, so I may give an outward appearance of stuckedness.

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

Wherever I am is where I write. Unless the battery is low on the laptop. Then it’s usually within 6 feet out an outlet. Anywhere in the world. If I’m using pen/pencil and paper/hand, then it’s anywhere in the world, independent of electrical outlets.

How I write, or develop a story, is not unlike how we think evolution works: there are long periods of slow development with occasional leaps. I tend to start by building one chapter, or one scene, featuring the main character. From there I let the story sit while I think about who they are, what their motivations are, their process, issues they might encounter, how they might resolve them, on and on. Granted, this process does not occur all at once while I sit in a catatonic state staring at scribbles on a napkin or my computer screen. It’s more like a background process in your PC that you don’t see, but is always running. Every once in a while you’ll see the screen flicker or the performance lag. Every once in a while I’ll scuttle off to find a piece of paper to write a note. After I feel comfortable with my character, after they feel familiar, as if I know how he/she will behave under certain circumstances, I’ll sit down and unload the miseries I’ve thought up for them to endure.

Is there a favorite food or drink you like to enjoy while writing?

When I’m writing the whole world goes away. All I do is write down what I see. It’s a lot like somniloquoy (sleep talking). I may have a conversation with you, but I won’t remember a word of it. So food or drink doesn’t register as a need or want. Of course, if you were to pass a cookie in front of my face you might lose a hand. I probably wouldn’t remember biting it off, though.

Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?

I have a really restless mind and body, so I play the guitar and write music; I build things out of wood (a 19-foot-long bookshelf is my next project); I have a weird fixation with lawn care and I’m becoming interested in developing our landscaping; I watch NOVA programs, I read, I fidget, I play with my boys, I erect camping tents indoors, and I eat far too many cookies.

Author Links:

Goodreads

Facebook

twitter: @SeanDeLauder

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Sean DeLauder who is the author of, The Least Envied, 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, The Least Envied, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

 

Upcoming Book Event: Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen

Twain's End By Lynn Cullen

Fox Tale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, Georgia is hosting Lynn Cullen, Author of Twain’s End this coming Saturday, October 24 at 5:00pm! For more information please visit Fox Tale’s website.

From the bestselling and highly acclaimed author of Mrs. Poe comes a fictionalized imagining of the personal life of America’s most iconic writer: Mark Twain. In March of 1909, Mark Twain cheerfully blessed the wedding of his private secretary, Isabel V. Lyon, and his business manager, Ralph Ashcroft. One month later, he fired both. He proceeded to write a ferocious 429-page rant about the pair, calling Isabel “a liar, a forger, a thief, a hypocrite, a drunkard, a sneak, a humbug, a traitor, a conspirator, a filthy-minded and salacious slut pining for seduction.” Twain and his daughter, Clara Clemens, then slandered Isabel in the newspapers, erasing her nearly seven years of devoted service to their family. How did Lyon go from being the beloved secretary who ran Twain’s life to a woman he was determined to destroy?

In Twain’s End, Lynn Cullen reimagines the tangled relationships between Twain, Lyon, and Ashcroft, as well as the little-known love triangle between Helen Keller, her teacher Anne Sullivan Macy, and Anne’s husband, John Macy, which comes to light during their visit to Twain’s Connecticut home in 1909. Add to the party a furious Clara Clemens, smarting from her own failed love affair, and carefully kept veneers shatter. Based on Isabel Lyon’s extant diary, Twain’s writings and letters, and events in Twain’s boyhood that may have altered his ability to love, Twain’s End explores this real-life tale of doomed love.

 

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Stacia Deutsch

Stacia Deutsch BRAG

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and #1 New York Times Best Selling Author, Stacia Deutsch to talk with me about her book, Lucky Phoo. Stacia has written more than eighty books. In addition to her award winning creative chapter book series entitled BLAST TO THE PAST, She has also ghost written for a popular girl’s mystery series, published non-fiction texts, and penned a young adult romantic comedy called IN THE STARS. She has also written junior movie tie in novels for summer blockbuster films, including BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT, and the New York Times Best Seller: CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS JR. MOVIE NOVEL, and THE SMURFS MOVIE NOVELS. Newest books include HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 and LEGO ELVES. Find her at her wesbite. @staciadeutsch and Facebook . Stacia lives in Irvine, California with her three children.

Stacia, how did you discover indieBRAG?

I am always looking for ways to reach new readers. Receiving this honor is an amazing way to introduce Phoo to the world!

Please tell me a little about your book, Lucky Phoo.

Lucky Phoo was based on an idea a friend pitched to us. I was so excited to think about what would happen if these three friends thought a stray dog was lucky. We started with much more magic, and toned it down…I wanted the readers to decide for themselves at the end if Phoo is really lucky or not.

What an interesting premise! How did the idea come to you?

When our friend mentioned the idea, I was on it immediately. Sometimes books have to cook for a long time in my head. I have ideas from years ago that I haven’t even started. This one was ready from the first moment! I literally sat down and started writing the characters as they revealed their story.

Sounds like these tween girls all have challenges in their life. What is an example of a challenge they face in their friendship to each other?  

When Caylie gets a job working for some girls the others believe are mean, it draws a wedge between them, even though they know Caylie desperately needs the money.

Will you describe Phoo?

He’s the cutest dog ever, obviously.

Why did you chose San Diego as the setting for your story?

I wanted a city setting where the weather was nice all the time. It had to be warm so that Sabrina could play sports year round. It’s a great city. I live close to San Diego and felt like it had everything these girls needed. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

Has writing this story impacted you personally in anyway?

These characters all have bits of me or my life in them. My daughter, like Sabrina is an athlete…with crazy athlete hours. I had breast cancer, so I drew from that to express how Lauren felt about her mom and Caylie, well, I am also divorced – I looked to my own kids to understand the challenges Caylie would feel. These are real problems that a lot of kids face now a days. It would be nice to have a magic dog to make them all disappear…wouldn’t it? Maybe?

How did you come up with the title for your book?

I’m really interested in other cultures. I don’t want to give it away, but when the girls find out what Phoo means is one of my favorite moments in the story.

Lucky Phoo BRAG

Who designed your book cover?

The great team at Imajin Books. They were fantastic to work with. Isn’t that dog so cute?

When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?

I take a shower. Seriously. Something about water is the greatest un-sticker. I tell the kids I meet at school representations to shower if they are stuck on homework or writing – it is amazing how well a little soap and water can clear a person’s brain.

Do you stick with just genre?

Kids. All kids. I believe that every story is at it’s core a mystery not matter the tale. We all want to know what happened, who did it, and what’s going to happen next. Unraveling those questions is what makes a story engaging. Sometimes I am asked to write YA, but I love writing for kids and want to stay with them.

What are you working on next?

I am always working on new books. This year alone, I have 6 projects to be released. I wrote two books for Scholastic for Lego Elves, Two Ever After High books, and a couple of Lego stories. Hotel Transylvania 2 the movie novel came out last week. I can’t decide what to do next: I have an idea for a boy spy, a superhero story, or just today I thought of one about a boy who can see the future. Pick one!

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

I have an office at home. My kids leave for school at 8 and I pretend I am going to a real job…for me it is real! I don’t take calls or do anything other than write until 2, when I have to drive carpool. Well, that’s not totally true, I do eat a lot and occasionally stretch my legs. But mostly, I write. Every day. This is how I have written 150 books in the last ten years.

Is there a favorite food or drink you like to enjoy while writing?

I like chocolate chips. I keep a little bowl of them by my desk. Then, I have to be careful not to get smudges on my keyboard!

Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?

This is my year to become a better cook. I’m not saying I enjoy it, not yet anyway, but I am tired of mac and cheese and quesadillas. It’s time to learn!

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Stacia Deutsch who is the author of, Lucky Phoo, 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, Lucky Phoo, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.