Welcome Donna Russo Morin to Layered Pages! 

Thank you so very much for hosting me today. It’s always a pleasure to have a chance to chat with bloggers and their readers.

PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY: Da Vinci’s Disciples has its historical basis rooted firmly in truth…one of the greatest conspiracies of the 15th century, a conspiracy that reached all the way to the Vatican. An assassination plot history now calls the Pazzi Conspiracy. With such a firm historical foundation, it allowed me to immerse myself fully in the city of Florence, as it was in 1478. And thanks to the many resources, both paper and virtual, the details of the setting found their way onto my page. It even allowed me to create a map, something I’ve always wanted to do.

Renaissance Florence map

Today, I’d like to share some of those remarkable architectural delights with you.

We must start where the story starts, where the assassination takes place: in Brunelleschi’s Duomo. In truth the Gothic style basilica, part of the complex of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers Cathedral), was originally designed by Arnolfo di Cambio. Built on the ruins of the 7th century Santa Raparata Church, construction on the new structure began in 1296; it wasn’t complete, as it stands today—as it was in 1478—until 1436.


Duomo collage

The exterior façade is a checkerboard of marble using three different colors and strains of the opulent stone. Only in comparison, can the inside be called rather plain. By far one of its most enchanting features is the mosaic pavements that cover the floor.

But it is the dome itself that has always made the Duomo not only one of the greatest tourist attractions in the world, but one of its most innovative. Using buttresses was forbidden in Florence, for it was a favored technique of their enemies to the north. Creating an unsupported dome had never been done before. Only a Renaissance genius such as Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) would dare attempt it. For decades, Florentines feared it would fall upon their heads, especially during times of unrest, when they believed the wrath of God would strike the dome, burying any beneath in a fatal rubble. Today, the golden-bricked dome is one of Florence’s most recognized monuments and dominates the skyline.
Palazzo della Signoria collage

Giuliano de’ Medici is murdered. His brother, the powerful Lorenzo de’ Medici survives. But he would never be the same again. He sets out on a rampage of vengeance that would eventually find close to one hundred executed. Lorenzo’s preferred method of eliminating his enemies…throwing them out a window of the Palazzo della Signoria (now known as the Palazzo Vecchio), a rope wrapped around their throats.

The government palace is made of solid rusticated stonework and is enhanced with two rows of Gothic windows. It is from these windows that the Otto, the eight that ruled the police forces of Florence, flung the Medici enemies.

Built in 1299 by the citizens of the original Florence commune, it has been enlarged and enriched by decorative details in the many years since. It is at one of the main entrances to the palace that Michelangelo’s David originally stood. This most famous sculpture has since been replaced with a copy when the original was damaged in one of Florence’s many military challenges.
Santo Spirito collage

The secret society of women artists that inhabit Portrait of a Conspiracy are a product of my imagination only. Santo Spirito, the church in whose sacristy the woman have their ‘secret studio’ is very real.

The Basilica of the Holy Spirit (simply known as Santo Spirito) is located in the Oltrarno quarter of the city, in 15th century Florence, one of the wealthiest sections of the city.  The original structure was also built in the 13th century. The existing structure was also designed by Brunelleschi after it suffered both physical and spiritual ruin during a period of the city’s civil unrest. The first cornerstones of the building, the pillars, were delivered ten days before Brunelleschi’s death. His followers Antonio Manetti, Giovanni da Gaiole, and Salvi d’Andrea completed the work begun by the master.

Santo Spirito will play a major role in all volumes of the Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy. It is not only the home of this secret art society, it is the location of some of their most decisive challenges.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Florence. You’ll find more, including the actual names of the streets as they existed in the 15th century, within the pages of my books.

Book Blurb:


One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici’s Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place. Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci’s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant.

“A riveting page-turner unlike any historical novel you’ve read, weaving passion, adventure, artistic rebirth, and consequences of ambition into the first of a trilogy by a masterful writer at the peak of her craft.” -C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici and The Vatican Princess

 Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

 About the Author

03_Donna Russo Morin (2)

Donna Russo Morin is the award winning of author of historical fiction. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, she lives near the shore with her two sons, Devon and Dylan, her greatest works in progress.

Donna enjoys meeting with book groups in person and via Skype chat. Visit her website at www.donnarussomorin.com; friend her on Facebook and follow her on


 Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, May 10
Review at Unshelfish
Review at The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, May 11
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Thursday, May 12
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Friday, May 13
Review at Let Them Read Books
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book

Monday, May 16
Review at Just One More Chapter
Interview at A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, May 17
Review at Seize the Words

Wednesday, May 18
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Thursday, May 19
Review at Worth Getting in Bed For
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Friday, May 20
Guest Post at Layered Pages
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Monday, May 23
Review at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, May 24
Review at #redhead.with.book
Interview at Reading the Past

Wednesday, May 25
Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Thursday, May 26
Review at Puddletown Reviews

Friday, May 27
Review at The True Book Addict

Monday, May 30
Review at A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, May 31
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, June 1
Review at The Book Connection

Thursday, June 2
Review at Book Nerd
Review at Bookramblings

Friday, June 3
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog


To enter to win an eBook of PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY by Donne Russo Morin please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below. FIVE copies are up for grabs!


– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on June 3rd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
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Characters in Motion with Hunter S. Jones

Deb Hunter


What are the common movements your characters make?

For PHOENIX RISING, I wanted to write a something different about the Anne Boleyn story. As an American, I knew there was no way I could compete with UK historians or fiction authors, so I looked for a way to take a very English story and giving it an American slant.

PHOENIX RISING is the story of the last hour of Anne Boleyn’s life, as told by an astrology chart. The chart is explained by the contemporary American descendant of King Henry VIII’s physician, Lady Bliant, who drew the chart for the king in order to calculate the best time for the queen’s demise. The chart is broken down into the movement of various characters at court, based on the interpretation of the chart and the planetary aspects at that moment in time, 19 May 1536.

What are the habits of your protagonist?

Queen Anne Boleyn is going through various stages of shock, disbelief and hope. As we can all understand, looking back from this point in time. Unfortunately, little remains of her last weeks because Henry VIII had almost every vestige of her existence removed. I had to go on what was reported by Kingston from the Tower of London, and what was written by Chapyus to the Spanish King. I did find a few obscure folkloric references which stated that if someone could get an herb concoction placed in the wine of those awaiting beheading, it would act as a tranquilizer, and calm the victim. To me, that explained Queen Anne’s behavior in the Tower. History reports she would go from being completely manic, as we call it now, to surprisingly calm and even accepting of her fate.

It doesn’t seem to far fetched really. Everyone knows that if someone could place gunpowder into a pocket of a burning victim, it would kill them before they were actually burned at the stake. Those were harsh, brutal times.

Anyway, I digress. Anne went from being queen to being a prisoner in the Tower of London in a matter of hours. Within weeks she was tried and executed. Reports state that until the end of her life she comported herself as bravely as possible. She chose her clothes with precise and immaculate detail, as she always had. She meets death very much a Queen of England.

Who are your five top antagonist? Talk about each one and what motivates them.


PHOENIX RISING has the following antagonists. All are historical, although I have used a great deal of creative license in the story simply because we just don’t know, do we?

King Henry VIII, is shown in a surprisingly different manner than the usual mode.

Sir Francis Bryan is presented as wanting Queen Anne removed because he believes she has risen above her ranking, no longer serves the King’s wishes, but serves her own selfish needs and that Jane Seymour will give the king the male heir the king desires. I have him as Jane’s godfather in PHOENIX RISING, and feel this is true, based on the fact that she referred to him as her uncle. This remains a term of endearment in some English/British households for one’s godparent.

Lady Jane Seymour is portrayed as ambitious and jealous of Queen Anne Boleyn. She feels she is the only person in England worthy to be Henry’s queen and give him a male heir. She was being fitted for her wedding dress at the time of Anne’s execution. This is historically accurate and I just don’t believe it reflects as a ‘nice’ person, now or five hundred years ago, do you?

Chapuys is portrayed as a gossip more than a royal ambassador.

The Court in general is an antagonist. We have to remember, they had no television or mode of entertainment therefore life was their spectacle. Generally, Anne was disliked–a great deal of the court favored the Princess Mary, and the court really didn’t know what to think about the king’s infatuation with Jane Seymour. I wanted the uncertainty, the unease of the court to be captured.

What is the mood or tone your characters portray and how does this affect the story?

Each character is captured in the last hour of Queen Anne Boleyn’s life. Some are happy, others aren’t.

How is your character(s) influenced by their setting?

At this moment in history, there was so much weighing in the balance, wasn’t there? A Queen of England had never been executed. It gave me an ideal setting for an ensemble cast in a fictional story.

Often times the best inspiration comes within us. How do you flesh out your characters to drive the plot?

There is so much we don’t know about that last hour. That is why I found it to be an ideal spot for fiction. I could allow my imagination to play with the characters and the setting.

What are the emotional triggers of your characters and how do they act on them?

We can only imagine what happened in that last hour of Anne Boleyn’s life. There were plots, intrigues and conspiracies underway that played themselves out in that hour, week, month and even years later. Her execution left an impact on the English monarchy. I wanted to place the reader where a few of the key players, and a few fictional characters, might have been.

Self-image is important in your characters, how is this important to your characters?

It isn’t a stretch to say that Tudor England is a gold mine when it comes to grandiose individuals. Theatrics played a major part in the reign of the Tudors, and the members of the court. How they were seen and the legacy they left to the world may be a major reason why they remain so fascinating to us today.

How do you/Or talk about how you flesh out the moment of greatest sorrow in your characters?

PHOENIX RISING involves the readers; they get a glimpse into each character’s thoughts and motives. It’s based on a form of storytelling which makes the ‘audience’ part of the story and shows how everyone plays a part during their lifetime. From there, the narrator allows each character to give their story from their POV.

A few characters are ready for the end of Queen Anne Boleyn, but I attempted to look into the emotional motives of all concerned.

Talk about the courage and strength of your character. -and possibly the isolation your character may feel with these attributes.

Phoenix Rising is brief. Think about an hour when your life changed and how quickly the time passed. I had to capture that in each individual. Each one had their own agenda at that moment which changed the course of England, and history, forever.

There are as many answers to this question as there are characters in the story. In other words, this is a fantastic question.  Thank you for featuring me on your blog today. As always, you are an absolute delight to work with.

About Author:

Deb Hunter writes fiction as Hunter S. Jones, publishing as an indie author, as well as through MadeGlobal Publishing. She is a member of the prestigious Society of Authors founded by Lord Tennyson, Historical Writers’ Association, Historical Novel Society, English Historical Fiction Authors, Atlanta Writers Club, Atlanta Writers Conference, Romance Writers of America (PAN member), and Rivendell Writers Colony which is associated with The University of the South. Originally from a Chattanooga, Tennessee, she graduated from a private university in Nashville and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her Scottish born husband.

Follow her on social media at these sites:









Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Carol Edgerly

Carol Edgerly BRAGI’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Carol Edgerly today to talk with me about her book, Claire. Carol Born in Calcutta, she spent most of her early childhood in France and then Jersey in the Channel Islands.  Educated first at a French Convent, she attended Jersey College for Girls and later went to Heathfield, a girls’ boarding school in Ascot.

Throughout her life (and three marriages) Carol has travelled extensively, visiting the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, living several years in France, India and HongKong.

A qualified teacher, she ran a successful Tutorial in Hongkong for many years, teaching children French and English towards eventual O-Level examinations. She is delighted to still keep in touch with a number of ex-pupils.

Upon retirement to France, Carol was able to carry out a burning desire to write the story of her French great-grandmother’s astonishing life, told to her by a great-aunt when she was twelve years of age. In the delightful surroundings of her home in the Dordogne at that time, she wrote the story of MARGUERITE in long hand, initially for the benefit of her three children.

Years went by, and sweating blood and tears Carol battled the mysteries of a computer, MacWord and email…finally Facebook and Twitter. Encouraged by friends and her three children, she re-invented herself as a writer and typed out the manuscript of MARGUERITE on her new Mac computer, editing furiously as she went. The exercise, however, took decidedly longer than she had imagined!

Unwilling to pursue a (generally) disappointing path to literary agents and publishers, being dismally aware her work might end up unread, and thrown on a “slush pile” Carol ventured into the world of independent-publishing. It was one of her life’s greatest emotional moments to hold a print copy of MARGUERITE in her hands for the first time!

Delighted by readers’ response to the book, Carol went on to write CLAIRE, the story of Marguerite’s wilful elder daughter, who led an amazing if somewhat tragic life. Now there is “SUSANNA…the Early Years” Volume 1, soon to be on Amazon, this being the story of one of Claire’s granddaughters. This particular book shines a light on bullying in its worst form, an unpleasantness that unfortunately persists to this day.

“SUSANNA…a Tale of Passion and Betrayal” Volume 2, will follow in due course.

Carol still lives in France, now in a comfortable old farmhouse set in the centre of its own twenty-eight acres of pastureland in the Vendée. Sitting at her desk in the veranda, she is invariably surrounded by six much-loved adopted dogs of all shapes and sizes.

Her two well-travelled horses now gone to heaven, she keeps five gorgeous, Baudet de Poitou donkeys. Adding to the animal family, there are two small bunnies living in their “château” and very large cage, a sweet barn cat, and an elderly cockatiel that swears colourfully when in the mood!  

During summer months, Carol receives visitors at her B&B, helping to finance her large animal family and maintain her home.   

How did you discover indieBRAG?

I noticed an indieBRAG book award on Facebook and wondered if MARGUERITE, my first book, might be eligible?  It was!  Thrilled to have MARGUERITE awarded a Medallion, I submitted CLAIRE, a second book in the saga that was also fortunate enough to win a Medallion.

Claire image two BRAG

Tell me about your book, Claire

Claire was the eldest daughter of Marguerite de Merencourt and her husband Patrick, a surgeon in the Indian Cavalry based at Lucknow in northern India.  Subsequent to her husband’s brutal assassination, Marguerite left her five children with nuns in Simla and undertook a full nurse’s training in Scotland, specialising in midwifery.  Upon her return, she retrieved her children and moved to Calcutta where she set up her own nursing home for expectant mothers.

Discovering her mother’s French aristocratic family, Claire bitterly resented her mother’s occupation as midwife, acutely aware that society in Calcutta would classify it as “trade” and members of her family were therefore unacceptable. Unable to come to terms with that, in addition to a bitter resentment of her mother’s preferential treatment of a younger sibling, Claire agreed to Marguerite’s proposal that she marry Jack MacLeod, a well-to-do businessman in Calcutta. It was not a love match: Jack required a competent wife to complement his burgeoning career, and Claire saw it as an escape from her mother’s suffocating domination.

On her wedding night, seventeen-year-old Claire made the traumatic discovery that her new husband happened to be in love with another man’s wife.  In an attempt to overcome her shock and make the best of her situation, she determined to impress her husband by an undoubted efficiency in organizing the entertainment of visiting politicians and business acquaintances. It did not take long for the young woman to become a much-sought after hostess in Calcutta’s society. Although pleased by his wife’s success, Jack remained impervious to Claire’s considerable charm.  Deeply unhappy, she sought advice from various quarters, even to having a baby to please her husband.

The book continues to follow Claire’s journey through life – her joys, sorrows, disappointments and successes. In her desperation to be loved for herself, she would make life-changing mistakes.  Claire thought to have finally found happiness with a young bohemian artist she met whilst on holiday in the south of France…

Please tell me a little about the historical aspects to your story.

The story takes place during the British Raj in India, post the uprising of Indian sepoy troops that resulted in a massacre of many British families. During that period, etiquette was all-important in society, hence the relegation of Claire’s family to its very fringes. Those fortunate enough to be “accepted” lived a luxurious and exciting existence.

What are the habits of your protagonist?

 From the time she was a young girl, Claire always had an eye for the latest fashion. Whilst still at her family home, she would secretly “adjust” what she considered to be the overly demure neckline of her dresses, frequently causing outrage to her mother.  As time went by, Claire showed herself to possess immaculate taste in clothes and furnishing, an enjoyment of lavish entertaining, her vivacity attractive to businessmen, diplomats and Indian princes alike.

How is your character(s) influenced by their setting?

Throughout her life, Claire was desperate to lose what she perceived as the “stain” of her mother’s occupation, viewing it as unnecessary and undignified in light of Marguerite’s aristocratic background.

 What is one of the life-changing mistakes Claire makes?

 Driven into a corner at an overemotional point in her life, by her husband’s refusal to educate the little boy she had adopted a few years earlier, Claire impulsively returned the child to the orphanage.  Brutally abandoned by the woman he had come to regard as his mother, the little boy’s anguished screams would haunt Claire for the remainder of her life.

She never forgave herself.

What was the inspiration for your story?

Initially I was inspired to write the amazing story of my great-grandmother, Marguerite, for my three children as a sort of family “testimonial.” In turn, they encouraged me to write for a wider readership, certain others would find her story as riveting as I had myself.  Delighted over how well the book was received, I went on to write about her rebellious eldest daughter, Claire.  The life of Susanna, one of Claire’s granddaughters follows on…

Were there any challenges you faced while writing this story?

 Being extremely fond of Claire myself, it was far from easy to write about her “warts and all.” Tempting through it was to draw a rosy-hued veil over Claire most glaring mistakes, I managed to resist and tell her story as it was.

Where can readers buy your book?

Both the printed version and e-book for MARGUERITE and CLAIRE can be obtained on Amazon sites.

Author Website

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Carol Edgerley who is the author of, Claire, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, 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, Claire, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money

Stephanie M. Hopkins -indieBRAG Interview Team Leader 

indiebrag team member


Book Addiction-A Problem Never Solved…

and a problem I don’t mind having…

By Stephanie M. Hopkins

A few weeks ago I was headed out to a Sunday School Social with my mother. I decided to tag along because I know the women in her class. Nice ladies. We had a great time! Anyhow, we had some time to spare beforehand and we decided to go to Costco. For book lovers, you know what that means! Great deals on books! As we walked in the store-with a gleam in my eye-I headed straight to the books. I know. I have it bad. Really bad. Books are a major part of my life. I am always on the hunt for the next read and while my shelves are over flowing, I never stop hunting. All those words waiting to be read. All those characters waiting to be heard. All the life experiences and places ready to be explored. To live thousands of lives through the character’s eyes. The best way to escape reality is through a book.

Look at me. Getting caught up in why I read. Let’s get back to what I was saying about heading straight to the books. I made a bee line to the books, I could feel the excitement in the air. Or was that just me? It was like a gravitating pull. As I approached the tables. The books were piled high. I browsed through the books and came across these beauties and of course I had to have them. And at a great price too! Enjoy! 

Stars over sunset BLVD

Los Angeles, Present Day. When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take her on a journey more enchanting than any classic movie…

Los Angeles, 1938.  Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Hollywood after her dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, and lands a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide.  What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future.

300 days of sun

Combining the atmosphere of Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins with the intriguing historical backstory of Christina Baker Kline’s The Orphan Train, Deborah Lawrenson’s mesmerizing novel transports readers to a sunny Portuguese town with a shadowy past—where two women, decades apart, are drawn into a dark game of truth and lies that still haunts the shifting sea marshes.

Traveling to Faro, Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career. Faro is an enchanting town, and the seaside views are enhanced by the company of Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man. But behind the crumbling facades of Moorish buildings, Joanna soon realizes, Faro has a seedy underbelly, its economy compromised by corruption and wartime spoils. And Nathan has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.

Joanna’s subsequent search leads her to Ian Rylands, an English expat who cryptically insists she will find answers in The Alliance, a novel written by American Esta Hartford. The book recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II, and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. Only Rylands insists the book isn’t fiction, and as Joanna reads deeper into The Alliance, she begins to suspect that Esta Hartford’s story and Nathan Emberlin’s may indeed converge in Faro—where the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.

City of Women

It is 1943—the height of the Second World War. With the men away at the front, Berlin has become a city of women.

On the surface, Sigrid Schröder is the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime.

But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman of passion who dreams of her former Jewish lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets—she soon finds herself caught between what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two…

The Sound of glass

It has been two years since the death of Merritt Heyward’s husband, Cal, when she receives unexpected news—Cal’s family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, bequeathed by Cal’s reclusive grandmother, now belongs to Merritt.

Charting the course of an uncertain life—and feeling guilt from her husband’s tragic death—Merritt travels from her home in Maine to Beaufort, where the secrets of Cal’s unspoken-of past reside among the pluff mud and jasmine of the ancestral Heyward home on the Bluff. This unknown legacy, now Merritt’s, will change and define her as she navigates her new life—a new life complicated by the arrival of her too young stepmother and ten-year-old half-brother.

Soon, in this house of strangers, Merritt is forced into unraveling the Heyward family past as she faces her own fears and finds the healing she needs in the salt air of the Low Country.

Major Pettigrews last stand

“In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countrside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, the Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: hnor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But, then his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But, village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and regarding her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?”

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Eva Flynn

03_Eva FlynnI’d like to welcome back to Layered Pages, B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Eva Flynn. She worked as an editor and non-fiction writer for twenty years before turning to fiction. When Eva Flynn discovered the incredible true story of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President, the first female stockbroker, the first woman to testify in front of Congress, and the first American to publish the Communist Manifesto, she knew her mission was to give Victoria a voice that history had denied her. While Eva did not know the research would take her to the very beginning of the American struggle for equality, she did know that she had stumbled upon one of history’s greatest unsung heroines. Winner of the 2016 IPPY Gold Medal, The Renegade Queen has been called “energetic…a page turner” by the Historical Novel Society and the U.S. Review of Books has written that the novel is “fascinating from beginning to end.”

Eva enjoys hearing from readers, and you may reach her at eva@rebellioustimes.com.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

Thanks for having me Stephanie. It’s great to be here. Actually, I discovered indieBRAG on your blog. You were kind enough to do a spotlight on The Renegade Queen when it first came out and I saw the picture of the BRAG medallion on your page and looked into it, and now we’ve come full circle!

Please tell you audience about your book, The Renegade Queen.

The Renegade Queen follows the extraordinary life of Victoria Woodhull from her childhood in the 1840s to when she was forced to live abroad in the late 1870s. Although she grew up in a poor and dysfunctional household and was even sold into marriage, she managed to influence the course of social and political events. She was the first female stockbroker, the first woman to testify in front of Congress, one of the first women to run a newspaper, and the first woman to run for President. She ran for President in 1872, approximately fifty years before women could even vote. Victoria had powerful friends and enemies. For example, her “frenemy” was Susan B. Anthony and they were close before they had a powerful rivalry. She was friends with robber baron Commodore Vanderbilt and U.S. Representative Benjamin Butler. And she made enemies of Henry Ward Beecher and Anthony Comstock, who are akin to the religious right of our age. Her best friend was her sister Tennessee who in later years’ eclipses Victoria as a woman’s activist. Her second husband, James Blood, was very supportive of her efforts. The book is meticulously researched and all the events are true. One reviewer said that the story is “implausible” and I would agree except that it is all true.

One of the themes in your story deals with abuse in several forms. What are the emotions you experienced while writing about them?

Thank you for asking that question. It was difficult to portray those situations, but I felt that I needed to be honest about Victoria and her life. She talked publicly about how her father “made her a woman before her time” and she talked publicly about her first husband’s treatment of her. Life was so difficult for women during this time period, and I do not think any of us who have comfortable lives, in part due to their sacrifices, can truly appreciate how little respect women were treated with in society. For example, in researching the amount of rape and incest in this country at that time, the numbers were sickening. During the 1870s and 1880s, two-thirds of the rape cases had victims between 11 and 18.  There were more than 500 published reports of incest in New York between 1817 and 1899. And it is still a widespread problem with The Atlantic recently reporting that one in four girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused, and most of those cases are by family members.  I remember writing those scenes with tears streaming down my face, but I knew that I must include them not only to be honest but to show that Victoria’s journey is all the more remarkable due to her being a survivor.

Rengade Queen BRAG

What is the mood or tone your characters portray and how does this affect the story?

Most of my characters are intense for it is a stressful time to be an American, and I think many of us can relate to some of those feelings today. The U.S. Civil War which claimed 600,000 men is over but the South is in tatters.  No one knows how to handle the political rights of the newly freed slaves, the immigrants, or the women and all of these groups are becoming political and asking for their rights. The economy is a mess with a few wealthy men owning the majority of the assets and money while the majority are struggling; this is when Karl Marx and communism first comes on the scene in America. Victoria Woodhull has a little bit of ADHD in that she wants to right every wrong, and combat all these problems at once and feels that she was chosen by God to do so. Susan B. Anthony is more pragmatic and want to accomplish reform by moving slowly. And then other characters, such as Tennessee, see the problems but are just trying to enjoy the moment and have a bit happier outlook on life.

Tell me a little about, Tennessee and how the situations in her life have molded her into the person she becomes.

Tennessee is Victoria’s younger sister and she was named after the state Tennessee because her father mistakenly believed James K. Polk, the President from Tennessee, was a relation. Victoria and Tennessee’s father, Reuben “Buck” Clafin was a con artist in addition to being abusive. He was a postal carrier and he stole people’s mail and kept any money, items sent through the post. He operated Homer’s only grist mill which the town needed to make bread, and he burned it down to try to collect on the insurance money. When he discovered the “Fox Sisters”, young girls who were spiritual mediums were making a fortune by communicating to the dead, he refashioned his family into healers and mediums. Not only did he sexually abuse his daughters, but he also forced them into a state of “delirium” by forcing them to drink alcohol and opium. He thought they could better communicate with the dead that way. Victoria was the medium, communicating with the dead and Tennessee was a healer. They went from town to town selling their services and they made quite a bit of money as young girls, but their father kept the money. Then after Victoria was sold into marriage, Buck opened a center that claimed to cure cancer. Some of the patients died or became disfigured, and Buck blamed Tennessee and she was charged with manslaughter and then went on the run. Tennessee was also married briefly at this time, but her husband left her when he surmised she was being paid for sex. Tennessee did say in a court case that James and Victoria “saved her from a wretched life” and she also often spoke out in defense of prostitution. So Tennessee was abused by her father on a number of levels, and she spent her life trying to find love and she was sexually promiscuous as a result. I found several sources, not only newspapers, but also testimonies from court cases that reference her promiscuity. She wanted to marry super wealthy Commodore Vanderbilt who was more than forty years her senior, but that plan did not work out. After she broke up with Vanderbilt, she maintained her carefree attitude towards sex. In her later life, she found love with a wealthy English businessman which I will cover in my sequel. And it was at this time that Tennessee matured in terms of her political ideology and eclipsed her sister as an activist. She wrote books, gave speeches, and often travelled to America to demand the right for women to vote.

Is James Blood a fictional character?

Colonel James Blood is real and was a Civil War hero. When Victoria meets him, she pulls out an article about the Battle of Vicksburg and his bravery from The Harper’s Weekly and it is right next to an article about Lyman Beecher. That newspaper exists and you can read it here. When I found this paper I was astonished because none of the biographies I had read of Victoria mentioned the details of Colonel Blood’s bravery or this article. Everything in the novel about James Blood is true except for the conversations they had, no one can know their precise conversations I’m afraid. He remained in politics after he and Victoria divorced, and then he went to Africa to find gold.

Who is Susan B. Anthony?

Susan B. Anthony is what I would call one of our “founding mothers.” She was a reformer that fought on many platforms for women. It was Anthony who in 1848 first publicly raised the issue of equal pay for equal work. She was a school teacher at the time and one of her male colleagues disclosed that he was being paid three times what she was. She addressed the school board and there was an hour long debate before people could even agree that women had the right to talk. While she was working on behalf of women, the Civil War broke out and she became a great abolitionist and was instrumental in not only abolition but also in the Underground Railroad. Then at the end of the Civil War, she alienated African American leaders when she argued that women should have the right to vote before African Americans and she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton both made what we would now see as racist remarks. This event caused a schism in the woman’s movement with Anthony and Stanton on one side, demanding women have the vote and Henry Ward Beecher and his supporters on the other side, saying that the African Americans should get it first and that women should not “dirty” themselves with politics. Anthony then travelled from state to state to campaign for women to get the right to vote, finding success in Wyoming and Utah, but defeat elsewhere such as in Kansas. With the backing of rich entrepreneur George Francis Train, she started the newspaper The Revolution which was the first American newspaper run by a woman and the first to focus on women’s issues. She and Victoria Woodhull became allies and then had several disagreements over the course of the movement which caused another schism in the woman’s movement. In 1872, when Victoria Woodhull was running for President, Anthony broke the law to vote against her and vote for incumbent Ulysses. S. Grant. Anthony was released from jail, against her wishes as she wanted to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, but was fined. She refused to pay the fine. She spent the rest of her years working tirelessly for women. The Anthony Amendment, which was the original name of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote, was introduced by an Anthony supporter and debated annually in Congress for forty years before it passed. By the time it passed, Anthony was dead, so she never was able to witness the fruits of her labor.

How do you flesh out your characters to drive the plot?

All of the characters in The Renegade Queen are real and most of them had published volumes of information in terms of speeches, memoirs, letters, and political arguments. For example, Benjamin Butler not only wrote a 1200-page memoir, but we also have several volumes of his correspondence readily available. This information along with the newspaper articles made him fairly easy to flesh out. James Blood gave interviews and was politically active so I had his words as well as impressions about him published in old newspapers to access. I even read several accounts of minor characters such as William Howe, Victoria’s attorney, to ensure all the details were correct. I was fortunate to have such an abundance of historic primary resources to help me with the characters. My only struggle was with Susan B. Anthony as I am personally more sympathetic to Anthony than Victoria Woodhull was, but the story was from Victoria’s viewpoint as it is first person so I had to take on her attitudes towards the characters.

What do you like most about writing stories that take place in the past?

As you can probably tell from my answers, I find great inspiration in the sacrifices our ancestors made on behalf of women and all Americans. It makes one wonder how many people today would go to jail, spend all their money, and face ridicule to launch a fight that would not be over during their lifetime? Susan B. Anthony, for example, risked everything not only for women but also risked her safety for slaves when she supported abolition. I am humbled by the battles they fought daily so that we could have a better life. And while many historians call this period of American Reconstruction a failure as reforms were not fully realized until after the death of the reformers, I find something beautiful in the grand failures. Sometimes change is a relay race and you have to carry the baton as far as you can and hand it off to the next generation, and that perseverance throughout the generations is astonishing.

Describe the social revolution in your eyes.

The period after the Civil War in this country was chaos. The country was still divided, many families were grieving the dead, the President was assassinated, and immigrants and African Americans are flooding the large cities in the north. Women who have had to “keep the home fires burning” are realizing that they are capable in surviving without men and they want their rights. The women do not understand how they can give body and soul in support of their men during War and then still be denied their rights when the War is over. The social revolution was all of these groups demanding their rights and asking for a new world order to be established, overturning the age of American patriarchy. While it was not a quick process, and we still have battles, this was the beginning of American minorities finding their voice, being vocal through newspapers and protests, and organizing into groups to put pressure on the majority.

Who design your book cover?

I’m so glad you asked this. Alan Clements designed my cover. I’ve known Alan for about eighteen years now, and he is a super talented graphic artist. He just started his own freelance business, Spin Cycle Creative and would love new clients. His email

Where can reader buy your book?

It should be anywhere books are sold for I have an e-book version and a paperback version.

Thank you for chatting with me today, Eva! It was a pleasure.

Thank you!


Twitter: @evaflyn



A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Eva Flynn who is the author of, The Renegade Queen, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, 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 Renegade Queen, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money

Stephanie M. Hopkins -indieBRAG Interview Team Leader 

indiebrag team member

The Dark Lady’s Mask by Mary Sharratt

02_The Dark Lady's MaskThe Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse
by Mary Sharratt

Publication Date: April 19, 2016
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover, eBook, Audio Book; 416 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction


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Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare.

London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.

Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.

The Dark Lady’s Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.

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Advance Praise

“An exquisite portrait of a Renaissance woman pursuing her artistic destiny in England and Italy, who may — or may not — be Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.”
— MARGARET GEORGE, internationally bestselling author of Elizabeth I

“Perfectly chosen details and masterful characterization bring to life this swiftly moving, elegant story. As atmospheric and compelling as it is wise, The Dark Lady’s Mask is a gem not to be missed.”
— LYNN CULLEN, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe and Twain’s End

“Mary Sharratt’s enchanting new novel, The Dark Lady’s Mask, is a richly imagined, intensely romantic and meticulously researched homage to lauded poet, Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, an accomplished woman of letters who many believe to be Shakespeare’s Eternal Muse. Sharratt unfolds a captivating tale, a compelling ‘what if ’ scenario, of a secret union that fed the creative fires of England’s greatest poet and playwright.”
— KATHLEEN KENT, bestselling author of The Heretic’s Daughter

“Mary Sharratt is a magician. This novel transports the reader to Elizabethan England with a tale of the bard and his love that is nothing short of amazing. Absorbing, emotional, historically fascinating. A work of marvelous ingenuity!”
— M.J. ROSE, New York Times bestselling author of The Witch of Painted Sorrows

“I enjoyed this exciting fantasy of Shakespeare’s ‘dark lady.’ There was adventure, betrayal, resilience, and above all, the fun notion that Shakespeare might have had far more than a muse to help him create his wonderful plays.”
—KARLEEN KOEN, bestselling author of Dark Angels and Before Versailles

“Through the story of Aemilia Bassano, a talented musician and poet, Mary Sharratt deftly tackles issues of religious and gender inequality in a time of brutal conformity. The Dark Lady’s Mask beautifully depicts the exhilaration and pitfalls of subterfuge, a gifted woman’s precarious reliance on the desires of powerful men, and the toll paid by unrecognized artistic collaborators. Resonant and moving.”
—MITCHELL JAMES KAPLAN, author of By Fire, By Water

“In The Dark Lady’s Mask, Mary Sharratt seduces us with a most tantalizing scenario —that the bold, cross-dressing poet and feminist writer Aemilia Bassano is Shakespeare’s mysterious muse, the Dark Lady. Romantic, heart-breaking, and rich in vivid historical detail and teeming Elizabethan life, the novel forms an elegant tapestry of the complexities, joys, and sorrows of being both a female and an artist.”
—KAREN ESSEX, author of Leonardo’s Swans and Dracula in Love

“Mary Sharratt has created an enchanting Elizabethan heroine, a musician, the orphaned daughter of a Jewish Italian refugee who must hide her heritage for her safety. Taken up by powerful men for her beauty, Amelia has wit and daring and poetry inside her that will make her a match for young Will Shakespeare himself and yet she must hide behind many masks to survive in a world where women have as much talent as men but little power.”
— STEPHANIE COWELL, author of Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

“Prepare to be swept away by Mary Sharratt’s latest foray into historical fiction. Inspired by the true story of poet, Aemilia Bassano, THE DARK LADY’S MASK explores her relationship with William Shakespeare. Richly detailed and well researched, this lush tale brings Aemilia out of the shadows of history and let’s her emerge as one of the founding mothers of literature. Drama, intrigue, and romance will have readers racing through this brilliant celebration of the muse.”
PAMELA KLINGER-HORN, Sales & Outreach Coordinator, Excelsior Bay Books

About the Author03_Mary Sharratt

MARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, April 19
Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Wednesday, April 20
Review at A Bookish Affair
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
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Thursday, April 21
Review at A Book Drunkard
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair
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Friday, April 22
Review & Giveaway at History Undressed

Monday, April 25
Review at Seize the Words: Books in Review

Tuesday, April 26
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, April 27
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Thursday, April 28
Review at Just One More Chapter

Friday, April 29
Review at A Chick Who Reads

Saturday, April 30
Review at Queen of All She Reads

Monday, May 2
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review at Cynthia Robertson, writer

Tuesday, May 3
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, May 4
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time

Thursday, May 5
Excerpt & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Friday, May 6
Review at Book Nerd

Monday, May 9
Review at A Dream within a Dream

Tuesday, May 10
Character Interview at Boom Baby Reviews

Wednesday, May 11
Review at Puddletown Reviews

Thursday, May 12
Review & Giveaway at View from the Birdhouse

Friday, May 13
Review at First Impressions Reviews
Excerpt at Layered Pages

Monday, May 16
Review at A Book Geek

Tuesday, May 17
Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, May 18
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Thursday, May 19
Review & Giveaway at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf

Friday, May 20
Review at Broken Teepee

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Characters in Motion with Alan Bray

“How is your character influenced by their setting?”

by Alan Bray

The Hour of Parade

When I wrote The Hour of Parade, I wanted a story with interesting characters who were also living two hundred years ago—an historical setting. I had to decide whether these characters were or were not different from people alive now, and if they were different, in what way, and how much of it should be shown.

Since I’m not a historian and have no time machine—except arguably by flying across time zones—I had to rely on historical records and fiction from the time for answers. There are many wonderful memoirs from the period, in English and translated, and a huge amount of fiction. I read things slightly before the time, like Julie, and I also read books written several decades later, on the theory that fiction writers tend to write about things several decades in the past and not the present. It’s hard to see the absolute present clearly.

And memoir. Of course, you have to figure that people writing about their lives tend to show things in a good light.

I decided that people are largely the same creatures, but there were particular things that were different and should influence my characters.

In early nineteenth century Europe and America, people were presented with ideas that came to be called Romanticism, ideas that were expressed in literature, music, theater, and politics, and that seemed exciting and new. They emphasized individual experience and valued emotion over eighteenth century rationalism and materialism. Impulsive, heart-felt action was admired. So were intense walks in nature, storms and encounters with ghosts.

Napoleon was an archetype of Romanticism, a hero who seized control of his own destiny by defying conventions about class. He was an inspiration to many who hoped to escape the rigid class boundaries of the eighteenth century. The writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had died by 1800, remained wildly popular, especially the novel Julie that is at the heart of Hour. Julie idealizes passion, love, and friendship.

So, in writing Hour, I wanted to have the characters and story express Romanticism against the background of the Enlightenment.

Like I said, it’s hard to see clearly the ideas that influence our time. Maybe one is that technology can solve any problem. Maybe we tend to value rationality over emotional expression. If you had a character in a story set in 1800 who thought emotion was bad and that technology could solve any problems—a sort of very chill Mr. Spock—it wouldn’t be wrong, just unusual, and that unusual quality would have to be accounted for somehow, I think.

In Hour, I tried to show the characters expressing Romantic ideas—more or less. Marianne, for example, is very practical. I don’t see her valuing emotion and love much at all. But she’s not expressing Enlightenment ideas either, she’s just pre-occupied with survival. Valsin, with his internal wrestling over love vs. career, is very Romantically self-focused, as he is in his valuing friendship with Alexi.

Anne-Marie is also a practical person because she has to be, but she expresses Romantic ideas about the importance of passion and emotion in making decisions. Instead of accepting what fate brings her, she seizes control of her destiny—not always, of course, with the best of results.

Alexi is meant to be Mr. Romantic. He defies convention and his father to focus on himself. Another way to say it is that he’s a character who came out of the Enlightenment and embraced Romanticism with both hands. He’s ready to change his career, the military, because it no longer allows him the room to express who he is. (that’s a pretty modern idea). He likes to go for long walks that allow plenty of time to brood. He values his thoughts and feelings, and he values love and passion. He blurs boundaries in several ways because emotion is more important, that is, he befriends Valsin, his enemy, and he loves Marianne and Anne-Marie, who are both from different classes and countries.

Of course, there were other more concrete differences between now and then. A less developed technology meant that, with poor lighting and a lack of media, there wasn’t much to do. Many men and women at that time worked like dogs and collapsed at night from exhaustion, but the characters in The Hour of Parade were more privileged and didn’t have a lot to do moment to moment. Alexi can’t stay in his rooms all day—although he expects his mistress to—he has to get out and walk. After the event of military parade, Valsin and the other soldiers are free to do whatever they can afford. The significance of the title—The Hour of Parade—is that important things occurred during this time when others were occupied. Boredom and how it’s handled is always a significant issue for humans.


I was born in 1954 in Detroit, Michigan, the only child of a sales representative for a railroad and a schoolteacher. I grew up reading books, which at that time, meant adult books, as the availability of children’s books was limited. I read a lot of things I didn’t understand, but it helped me to grow and gave me a love for literature, for the power of imaginary worlds so much like real life but with something extra.

I didn’t start writing fiction till I was in my forties. I had just moved to rural New Hampshire, my father had recently died; in short, I was ready for something new. I’m fortunate to be able to devote a lot of time to writing and to reading which I think is equally important.

I like to write about people going through a transition because of something that happens to them, something that resonates with memory and their past.

I’ve worked as a professional musician, record store clerk, psychotherapist and factory worker. I have a son and a daughter, and a wonderful wife.

To me, writing is a positive and intense pre-occupation.


B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree