I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Valerie Biel today to talk with me about her book, Circle of Ninie-Beltany. Valerie’s love for travel inspires her novels for teens and adults. When she’s not writing or traveling, she’s wrangling her overgrown garden, doing publicity work for the local community theatre, and reading everything she can get her hands on. She lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and three children and dreams regularly of a beautiful cottage on the Irish coast where she can write and write and write.
Her debut novel Circle of Nine – Beltany has been honored as a 2015 Kindle Book Award Finalist, a finalist in the Gotham Writers’ YA Novel Discovery Contest and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Contest as well as being a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree.
How did you discover indieBRAG?
I learned about indieBRAG from a fellow author at a Book Festival.
Please tell me about your book, Circle of Nine-Beltany.
The story follows the path of fifteen-year-old Brigit Quinn as she learns she’s descended from a legendary Celtic tribe that serves as guardian of the ancient stone circles of Ireland.
This book is so many things . . . It’s a contemporary coming-of-age novel mixed with historical chapters. It’s a story of magic steeped in the mysticism surrounding the ancient stones. And it combines that all together with a dose of pagan ritual and Celtic myth.
Here’s my back cover blurb:
“Since I was a little girl I’ve been labeled a freak in my small town. There’s no blending in when your mom practices an ancient pagan religion and everyone believes she’s a witch. On my 15th birthday, my secret wish is the same as always—to just be normal. But that’s not what I get. Not even close.” – Brigit Quinn
Instead, Brigit is shocked to learn she’s descended from a legendary Celtic tribe – powerful people who serve as guardians of the stone circles of Ireland. A spellbound book of family history reveals the magical powers of her ancestors. Powers that could be hers – if only she wanted them.
And when someone sinister and evil returns to steal her family’s strength, Brigit has to make a decision. Fight to keep her unique heritage or reject it for the normal life she’s always wanted.
Additionally, I should note for your readers that the subtitle of the novel – Beltany – is the name of an actual standing stone circle near Raphoe in County Donegal, Ireland.
Your historical chapters set in Ireland vary in centuries and I am interested in the setting of 1324. Could you please tell me a little about that?
Picking a year like that seems rather random, but I can assure you it was not. I had been researching when witch trials occurred in Ireland and that year was the earliest recorded date of a witch trial – anywhere. You can read more about that here
It was important to me that the plot line I was thinking up in my head would mesh with the historical reality of the time.
Do you have a picture you can share with us of the Stone Circle Beltany?
The best picture of Beltany comes from the Irish Megalith website. I love this one.
And here’s an aerial view to see the size of the circle.
What intrigues you most about the Neolithic circles?
There’s something eerie and beautiful about the Irish stone circles, which rise up out of the greenest grass you’ve ever seen. They were built as early as 3700 BC – so thousands of years ago. I think it is fascinating that for the most part how they were built (with no modern equipment to hoist rocks weighing many tons) and exactly what they were built for remains shrouded in mystery. There are plenty of theories, but no one can know for sure. This mystery gives any storyteller a wonderful setting for a great tale.
Please tell me a little about your main character’s interest in history.
Brigit Quinn, the contemporary main character, knows nothing of her family’s true history until her fifteenth birthday. She’s spent her life unnerved by her mother’s pagan practices and has only wanted a normal life. When she learns of her heritage as a descendent of the Tuatha de Danann (one of the four mythological founding tribes of Ireland), she is initially unimpressed. As the book continues, she is drawn further and further into her family history as she reads a thick book about her female ancestors, starting in 1324. I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t read the book, but Brigit is at least intrigued enough about these women to keep reading.
What is one of the special talents Brigit’s ancestors had and does she portray any of them?
Oooh, now we are entering SPOILER ALERT territory. Hmmmm . . . what can I say here without giving too much away? Brigit may or may not have a special talent that she may or may not learn is shared by at least one ancestor. How’s that for a cryptic answer.
Could you please share an excerpt? (This excerpt is from the first chapter.)
“Happy Birthday, Brigit Blaise Quinn. It’s getting late, but I’m glad you’re still awake. I have a present I want to give you.”
“What? Now?” My birthday was only a minute old.
Mom carried a wooden box into my room. Her cheeks were pink and her eyes sparkled with excitement. “I’ve waited years to give this to you. My mother gave it to me on my fifteenth birthday, and now it’s my turn to pass it on to you.” She sat on the edge of my bed, and I maneuvered out of my comforter to perch next to her.
“Obviously, you know we follow a different path than most people,” Mom continued.
I nearly snorted at her understatement that the Pagan religion she followed (and I tolerated) was a simple life-style choice.
She paused and seemed to search for the right words. “You remember the story I told you about the Tuatha de Danann, the ancient Irish tribe?”
“Sure, I like that story.” The magical tales about the mythological founding tribes of Ireland who built all the stone circles were my favorites.
“Right, but the thing is – the Tuatha aren’t a myth. They really existed.”
“It’s not just a legend?”
“No, it’s not. They ruled Ireland four thousand years ago, until they were defeated and banished to the mountains.”
“Okay.” I shrugged my shoulders, confused why this was important.
“There are some people who can still trace their lineage back to the Tuatha and that includes us. We’re their descendants.”
I didn’t understand why she was making a big deal about this. “Everyone’s descended from someone, right?” And then I had a neat thought. “Wait! Does this make me royalty? Are you going to tell me I’m a princess?” Now that would be a really great birthday present.
She smiled at my suggestion. “No, this doesn’t make you a princess, but being a descendant of the Tuatha is exciting in a different way.”
She shifted the box onto my lap and said, “We can learn a lot from our ancestors.”
Curious, I ran my hand over the intricate carvings on the lid and grasped the heavy metal clasp. It was obviously very old. When I flipped it open, the hinges actually creaked. Inside was a thick book with a sturdy brown leather cover, worn around the edges. I took it out, but, before I could open it to see what was inside, Mom covered my hands with hers and said, “You’re old enough to know. This is your history, where you are from, and who you could be if you choose it.”
Puzzled by her strange message and sudden seriousness, I waited for her to pull her hands away, and when she did, I turned to the first page. Although the script was hard to read, I made out the name Onora Quinn and the date September 19, 1324.
“Someone really wrote in this book nearly 700 years ago? There’s no way it could have lasted this long.” I squinted hard at the old page.
“It has survived against all odds, so treat it gently. Onora was your twenty-fifth great-grandmother and the first of the Tuatha to record her story in written form. This book has been passed down to each generation, and now it’s yours.” She looked a little sad for a moment and then warned. ”Don’t stay up too late reading.”
But, of course, I did.
Who designed your book cover?
A local artist, Kelsey Curkeet, did an amazing job with the cover. She read my book twice before creating the lovely digital image for Circle of Nine. She is in the middle of creating my novella cover and then the one for the sequel.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Circle of Nine references the women in my book who form a group of nine in each generation to continue the traditions of the Tuatha de Danann, a legendary founding tribe of Ireland. Beltany is the name of the stone circle in County Donegal that plays a big part in the Circle of Nine rituals.
When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?
I will often make a note in the text that says something like FIX THIS SCENE or NEEDS WORK and then move on if I know what the next scene is going to be. If it is the end of my writing day, I will just come back to it with fresh eyes the next morning. This almost always works!
What are you working on next?
I just released on Samhain (Halloween) the first of three Circle of Nine novellas (Dervla’s Destiny), which explore the lives of historical characters from Circle of Nine – Beltany. (The other two will be released before the end of 2015 and a combined set with be available in early 2016.) I am also working on an April 2016 release for the sequel, Circle of Nine – Sacred Treasures.
Do you stick with just genre?
I have only published in the YA genre, but I have also written middle grade novels that I have out on submission with agents and editors. I would love to write some adult romance novels, too.
Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?
I move from place to place with my laptop . . . I have a desk but often sit in the kitchen at the breakfast bar or in the dining room. Much of Circle of Nine was also written at the local library between pick up and drop offs for my kids’ sports practices.
I write best in the earlier part of the day! I try to get right at it in the morning with my cup of coffee nearby. I’ll take a bit of a break for lunch and then if things are going well, I will continue until about 3 pm, which gives me enough time do things that need to be done before the end of the business day . . . book promotions, bill paying, errands. I mostly write complete crap if I attempt to write in the evening—so if I am motivated to do writerly things then, I will only make editing notations that I (carefully) review in the morning.
Is there a favorite food or drink you like to enjoy while writing?
Coffee – Coffee – Coffee and it has to be in my special mug that helps me write better. J
Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?
I love to travel – but when that’s not possible, I read a lot and volunteer with the local community theater and historical society where I handle publicity projects.
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Valerie Biel who is the author of, Circle of Nine-Beltany, 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, Circle of Nine-Beltany, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.