Interview with Award Winning Author Justine Avery

justine-avery-bragI’d like to welcome award winning- B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Justine Avery to Layered Pages today.  Professionally, Justine Avery first traversed the murky corporate world of writing and designing technical documents to navigate through writing countless travel stories, reviews, personal essays, and articles. She is now the multi-award-winning author of numerous short stories and novelette-length works.

Personally, she has been writing since first falling in love with reading and words themselves, always viewing everything happening around her—and in her imagination—in the form of images translated into poignant phrases and intriguing sentences. She has written under many different names in many different genres, and is finally coming “home” to write, as herself, the stories that transcend genre.

Avery has lived countless stories, takes note of the infinitely more all around, and loves and appreciates every kind. As an avid reader of all genres, both fiction and non, she knows we, as readers, may have preferences, but we’re all—just as naturally—fans of every genre… when we find the stories with real intrigue that have no bounds, that have universal appeal. Those are the stories she prefers to find… and write.

“Story’s in everything we say and do. Story’s what drives us, scares us, changes us. We live stories, imagine them, fear some of them. They’re who we are. I’m a story reader, writer, and seer. I find everything about life and in this big, wide world (and beyond) utterly fascinating. Stories should be the same. I hope you enjoy the hell out of mine.”

Thank you for chatting with me today, Justine! How did you discover indieBRAG?

Thank you for the invitation!  I discovered indieBRAG by relying on a Google search to lead me to award programs or other recognition offered for independently published books and authors—if there were any at all.   I was so glad to find there are organizations, readers, reviewers, etc. devoted to discovering, critiquing, honoring, and publicizing indie books.  And indieBRAG is and does all of these!

the-end-bragPlease tell me about your story, The End.

The End is a novelette-length psychological suspense story with a bit of mystery, drama, and adventure tied in with a techno-thriller element.  It comes to life around a particularly eerie “what if” question: What if you find you’ve actually filmed the scene of your own death—actually caught it on camera?

How is Trevor influenced by his setting?

Trevor’s a “weekend warrior.”  His choice extreme sport is freeride mountain biking.  He spots a line, makes his own path, cuts across the canyonlands of southern Utah.  It’s his much-needed escape from the monotony of corporate life.  In the great outdoors—risking his life, using his learned skills and his own fitness—he temporarily frees himself from the suffocating chokehold of an unfulfilling life.

What are some emotional triggers for Trevor and how does he act on them?

Trevor’s biggest emotional trigger is feeling stifled, caged in, as situations and events in his life are not what he really wants them to be: his job, his marriage, his first child on the way, being confronted with his own mortality in the midst of it all.  He’s constantly striving to juggle his personal needs with his commitments.  And, being a naturally caring individual—often thinking of others before himself—his quest is all the more challenging.

What was your inspiration for this story?

I love a great “what if” question, and many, if not all, of my stories have begun just that simply.  The question popped into mind one day: “what if someone’s death was actually caught on camera—if they had the opportunity to witness their own death?”  A “what if” instantly leads to more questions, the answers being the story: how would the character feel, what would they think, could it actually happen and what would cause it, would they think it was then guaranteed to happen or would they try to fight it, to change fate?  The characters, their own stories and motivations, the mysterious circumstances, all unfold from there.

Will you share an imagery of what Trevor captures on video?

To not spoil the read, I’ll set the scene a bit.  Trevor always wears a helmet-mounted GoPro video camera when he goes for a ride.  He captures every jump, slide, and swerve, all from his point of view.  As The End begins, Trevor sets out on just another Saturday ride as the sun comes up over the canyon.  The reader rides along with him, through every thrill and a spectacular jump.  Only later, does Trevor take a moment to casually play back the footage, relive every exciting moment amid the beautiful setting, and find the video ends in a completely different way than he remembers.

What are the challenges of writing a thriller?

There are many!  A thriller is intensely fun to write as it’s just as thrilling for the writer, in the moment, as it is to read.  But that’s also part of the challenge: to get the pace right, to build up the tension, to make the moments that are most intense, frightening, and urgent for the character to feel the same for the reader—and to try not to give away the ending!  And hopefully, none of the little realizations along the way.

How long did it take you to write this story and what was your process?

Great question.  I keep a record of my daily writing—what I’m working on, how many words written—just to find how my writing habit evolves, and it’s great to recognize when I reach some achievement, such as the most words written in a single month.  There’s also a nice little phone app, Wordly, for keeping track of writing time, goals, rate, etc. for different projects.  So, apparently, The End was written over 13 days, in about 22 hours, but there were many gaps between writing sessions.  I really struggled with the beginning, with creating a character whose hobby was not one of my own.  There were many additional hours spent researching mountain biking itself: the gear, the lingo, the specially designed bike, the entire experience of it.  Luckily, the setting of southern Utah was one I’ve visited and explored myself!

Where can readers buy your book?

The End is available at all Amazon sites, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, iBooks, Smashwords, etc.  My personal site links directly to the book at all retailers: http://justineavery.com/books/the-end.

What are you currently working on?

Another great question!  …because I’m personally so excited about the answer.  I’m currently writing my first novel-length work, a huge idea in the speculative fiction genre.  I’m fighting to finish the first draft by the holidays.  Currently, the novel is over 110,000 words, which will be edited down in revisions—guaranteed.

Please share what you love most about telling a story.

The best question of all!  Hands down, I love the discovery most of all.  Sure, the “magic” of storytelling—how a simple notion, single character, or very tiny idea turns into an entire tale—is terribly fun and a thing to behold; but I love going on an adventure myself, as author.  I love laying down one sentence that leads to another, then another, the whole story unfolding as I type, discovered in the moment by me, and hopefully, just as exciting for the reader-to-be.  What we can’t or wouldn’t or just won’t get around to experiencing in “real life,” we get to experience, learn, and discover as writers.  It’s a never-ending adventure.

Be sure to check out The Life—and Art—of Writing: Justine Avery Interviews Film Director Devon Avery, here!

Justine Avery loves to connect with fellow readers and writers, explorers and imaginers. You can find her at JustineAvery.com, on Twitter.com @Justine_Avery… and between the lines of that new book you’ve been reading.

Justine’s website

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Justine Avery who is the author of, The End, 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 End, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

 

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Cover Crush: The Invitation by Lucy Foley

 

Cover Crush banner

the-invitationAn evocative love story set along the Italian Riviera about a group of charismatic stars who all have secrets and pasts they try desperately–and dangerously–to hide.

Rome, 1953: Hal, an itinerant journalist flailing in the post-war darkness, has come to the Eternal City to lose himself and to seek absolution for the thing that haunts him. One evening he finds himself on the steps of a palazzo, walking into a world of privilege and light. Here, on a rooftop above the city, he meets the mysterious Stella. Hal and Stella are from different worlds, but their connection is magnetic. Together, they escape the crowded party and imagine a different life, even if it’s just for a night. Yet Stella vanishes all too quickly, and Hal is certain their paths won’t cross again.

But a year later they are unexpectedly thrown together, after Hal receives an invitation he cannot resist. An Italian Contessa asks him to assist on a trip of a lifetime–acting as a reporter on a tremendous yacht, skimming its way along the Italian coast toward Cannes film festival, the most famous artists and movie stars of the day gathered to promote a new film.

Of all the luminaries aboard–an Italian ingenue, an American star, a reclusive director–only one holds Hal in thrall: Stella. And while each has a past that belies the gilded surface, Stella has the most to hide. As Hal’s obsession with Stella grows, he becomes determined to bring back the girl she once was, the girl who’s been confined to history.

An irresistibly entertaining and atmospheric novel set in some of the world’s most glamorous locales, THE INVITATION is a sultry love story about the ways in which the secrets of the past stay with us–no matter how much we try to escape them.

My thoughts about the cover:

I’ve said this before and I will say it again. I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of books and gladly admit I judge a book by its cover.

This cover is stunning! It fits the era the story is written in and gives it an atmospheric feel to it. I love the colors and design.  Though I am not a big fan of romance I am really looking forward to reading this book.

Key elements I am interested in about with this story:

  1. Setting and period.
  2. Culture
  3. History
  4. Secrets
  5. A relationship of two people from different worlds.
  6. Conflicts

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary.

Other great book bloggers who cover crush

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court-Coming soon

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede 

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation -Coming soon

More cover crushes over at indieBRAG!

 

Wish-List 5: A Bookish Halloween

I am mixing up things a bit this month with my wish-list: 5. I thought it would be cool to share what I want to read for the month of October in-line with Halloween coming up. One most get in the spirit of things… Plus, share with you my wish-list I hope to get to this fall. I am completely obsessed with reading, talking about books, sharing titles and fall time is a splendid time for thrillers and ghost stories. Don’t you think?

What is on your wish-list for fall time?

October Reads

the-dead-will-tell-by-linda-castilloThe Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo

Everyone in Painters Mill knows the abandoned Hochstetler farm is haunted. But only a handful of the residents remember the terrible secrets lost in the muted/hushed whispers of time―and now death is stalking them, seemingly from the grave.
On a late-night shift, Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is called to the scene of an apparent suicide―an old man found hanging from the rafters in his dilapidated barn. But evidence quickly points to murder and Kate finds herself chasing a singularly difficult and elusive trail of evidence that somehow points back to the tragedy of that long ago incident. Meanwhile, Kate has moved in with state agent John Tomasetti and for the first time in so long, they’re both happy; a bliss quickly shattered when one of the men responsible for the murders of Tomasetti’s family four years ago is found not guilty, and walks away a free man. Will Tomasetti be pulled back to his own haunted past?
When a second man is found dead―also seemingly by his own hand―Kate discovers a link in the case that sends the investigation in a direction no one could imagine and revealing the horrifying truth of what really happened that terrible night thirty-five years ago, when an Amish father and his four children perished―and his young wife disappeared without a trace.

And, as Kate knows―the past never truly dies . . . in The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo

the-constables-taleThe Constable’s Tale: A Novel of Colonial America by Donald Smith

Set in a tumultuous period that helped to forge a nation, a riveting mystery that takes a volunteer constable through the wilds of colonial North Carolina to track down a shadowy killer

When a traveling peddler discovers the murder of a farm family in colonial North Carolina whose bodies have been left in bizarre positions, circumstances point to an Indian attack. But Harry Woodyard, a young planter who is the volunteer constable of Craven County during a period in America’s past when there was no professional police force, finds clues that seem to indicate otherwise. The county establishment wants to blame the crime on a former inhabitant, an elderly Indian who has suddenly reappeared in the vicinity like an old ghost. But he is a person to whom Harry owes much.

Defying the authorities, Harry goes off on his own to find the real killer. His investigation takes him up the Atlantic seacoast and turns into a perilous hunt for even bigger quarry that could affect the future of Britain in the American continent.

theses-shallow-gravesThese Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

From the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of A Northern Light and Revolution, comes a thrilling mystery that’s perfect for fans of The Cellar and Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls. This is a story of dark secrets, dirty truths, and the lengths to which people will go for love and revenge.

Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. The story is that Charles Montfort shot himself while cleaning his revolver, but the more Jo hears about her father’s death, the more something feels wrong. And then she meets Eddie—a young, smart, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. But now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and this time the truth is the dirtiest part of all.

an-english-ghost-storyAn English Ghost story by Kim Newman

The Naremores, a dysfunctional British nuclear family, seek to solve their problems and start a new life away from the city in the sleepy Somerset countryside. At first their perfect new home seems to embrace them, its endless charms creating a rare peace and harmony within the family. But as they grow closer, the house begins to turn on them, and seems to know just how to hurt them the most – threatening to destroy them from the inside out.

 

 

the-ghosts-of-idlewood-by-m-l-bullockThe Ghosts of Idlewood by M.L. Bullock

When a team of historians takes on the task of restoring the Idlewood plantation to its former glory, they discover there’s more to the moldering old home than meets the eye. The long-dead Ferguson children don’t seem to know they’re dead. A mysterious clock, a devilish fog and the Shadow Man add to the supernatural tension that begins to build in the house. Lead historian Carrie Jo Stuart and her assistant, Rachel K must use their special abilities to get to the bottom of the many mysteries that the households.
Detra Anne and Henri get a reality check, of the supernatural kind and Deidre Jardine finally comes face to face with the past.

***********

Wish-List 5 -Fall Reads

blood-harvest-by-s-j-boltonBlood Harvest by S.J. Bolton

The Fletchers’ beautiful new house is everything they dreamed it would be. Built between two churches in Heptonclough, a small village on the moors that time forgot, it ought to be paradise for this young family of five, but they barely have a chance to settle in before they find that they’re anything but welcome. Someone seems to be trying to drive them away–at first with silly pranks but then with threats that become increasingly dangerous, especially to the oldest child, ten-year-old Tom Fletcher, who begins to believe that someone is always watching him.

The adults in Tom’s life are trying to help, including his parents; the vicar next door, younger and more dashing than you’d expect a vicar to be; and a therapist, Evi Oliver, who believes him more than she wants to.  But there are other clues that something isn’t quite right in Heptonclough, including the mysterious accidental deaths of three toddlers over the last ten years.  It is not until Tom’s siblings, two-year-old Milly and five-year-old Joe Fletcher, go missing in turn that the little village’s evil secret turns the Fletchers’ dreams into a nightmare.

With Sacrifice, Awakening, and now Blood Harvest, S. J. Bolton displays time and time again her remarkable talent as a beguiling storyteller, a master of thrills, and the mistress of her own brand of modern Gothic tale.

the-harvesting-by-melanie-karsakThe Harvesting by Melanie Karsak –Award winning book/B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

“The world, it seemed, had gone silent. It was something we knew but did not talk about. We were alone.”

While Layla Petrovich returns home to rural Hamletville after a desperate call from her psychic grandmother, she never could have anticipated the horror of what Grandma Petrovich has foreseen. The residents of Hamletville will need Layla’s cool head, fast blade and itchy trigger finger to survive the undead apocalypse that’s upon them. But even that may not be enough. With mankind silenced, it soon becomes apparent that we were never alone. As the beings living on the fringe seek power, Layla must find a way to protect the ones she loves or all humanity may be lost.

This exciting new dark fantasy/horror hybrid blends the best of the zombie genre with all the elements a fantasy reader loves!

It’s all fun and games until someone ends up undead!

the-last-queen-of-englandThe Last Queen of England (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery) by Steve Robinson

While on a visit to London, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte’s old friend and colleague dies in his arms. Before long, Tayte and a truth-seeking historian, Professor Jean Summer, find themselves following a corpse-ridden trail that takes them to the Royal Society of London, circa 1708.

What to make of the story of five men of science, colleagues of Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren, who were mysteriously hanged for high treason?

As they edge closer to the truth, Tayte and the professor find that death is once again in season. A new killer, bent on restoring what he sees as the true, royal bloodline, is on the loose…as is a Machiavellian heir-hunter who senses that the latest round of murder, kidnapping, and scandal represents an unmissable business opportunity.

The Last Queen of England is a racing thriller with a heart-stopping conclusion. It follows on from In the Blood and To the Grave but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

the-winter-peopleThe Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.

Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

the-girl-on-the-train-by-s-j-boltonThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

EVERY DAY THE SAME

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Here are some of the wish lists from a few of my friends this month:

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired-Coming Soon

Erin @ Flashlight Commentary

 

 

Interview with Award Winning Author Michael Jay

michael-jay-bragI’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Michael Jay today to talk with me about his book, DOG WATER FREE. Michael grew up in Detroit, where he raised himself from the age of 15. A graduate of Harvard College, he earned his MBA at Northeastern University in 1983. His coming-of-age memoir, DOG WATER FREE, is dedicated to his college roommate, Tom Wales, who plays a pivotal role in his story, and who many believe to be the only Federal Prosecutor in U.S. history to have been killed in the line of duty. Michael lives in Idaho.

Hi, Michael! Thank you for chatting with me today about your book, DOG WATER FREE.

First, tell me how you discovered indieBRAG?

Hi Stephanie. I am happy to join you.

Thanks so much for this opportunity. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve added a few youtube hyperlinks to provide some multi-media context (Music ft. Bob Dylan) to this interview, since music is integral to my story. I hope that’s okay? (Ft. Artists are in parentheses behind each hyperlink so anyone can pick and choose, by the way).

Absolutely. No worries, Michael. Bring it on…great!

Thank you for that, Stephanie.

I was encouraged to submit my memoir to IndieBRAG by an internationally renowned pediatric ophthalmologist (Dr. Ed O’Malley – whose friendship has changed my life more than once).

Ed had learned about IndieBRAG from a friend in Chicago.  A few months later, IndieBrag CEO Geraldine Clousten kindly let me know that my story (Music ft. Moby) had been awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion, which has significantly raised exposure for my years of work.

For that, I am incredibly grateful and proud.

How has your story been received and how goes the battle for exposure, Michael?

Of course, exposure is one of the reasons I am with you today. It’s great of you to ask, Stephanie. By the way, any readers of your post are welcome to message me at MichaelJay@DogWaterFree.com . . . Just an FYI..if you would like to schedule a Skype with me and your book group or classroom, just so you know.

Now. Back to the basics of exposure. I credit my success to date to exquisite eBook formatting by BookBaby for Kindle and iTunes and Kobo.

I also credit a seasoned professional line editor in Los Angeles, Kathleen Marusak, who gave me the confidence to self-publish my memoir, (Music ft. #1 Hamilton) in order to share some truths about an adolescent’s star-crossed journey to make sense of a confounding series of unfortunate events.

And if that sounds like a real life Lemony Snicket saga…you are spot on…because it is!

Anyway, since it was published, DOG WATER FREE has enjoyed “Top Rated Best 100” status in the category of “Family Relationships & Motherhood” on Amazon for more than 75 weeks.

I’m sure my fellow authors will attest that all news is good news when it comes to gaining exposure after years of hard work writing – especially when it’s a personal magnum opus.

Equally gratifying, a past President of the Women’s National Book Association (Lynn Henriksen, San Francisco Chapter) calls DOG WATER FREE, “A mother-son coming of age memoir of lasting consequence.

That makes me very proud, as does this blurb from Amazon, which I share to orient your readers:

“A family saga at its core, DOG WATER FREE is an uplifting story of discovery that will appeal to fans of The Glass Castle and Angela’s Ashes as it pulls back the curtain on adolescent bewilderment while celebrating a remarkable hero in the person of an ordinary mom who is thrust into an extraordinary situation, the likes of which few could imagine.”

DOG WATER FREE  (Music ft. Gil Scott Heron) also made the 2015 Top Ten Book Club Recommendation List at the Canton, Michigan Public Library along with Laura Hillenbrand’s UNBROKEN; Robin Sloan’s MR. PENUMBRA’S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE; Petra Durst-Benning’s THE GLASSBLOWER; and Ken Follett’s FALL OF GIANTS and WINTER OF THE WORLD.  Being included on that top ten list was an incredible honor.

Exposure & validation like that is so critically important – as I know you know, Stephanie.

So, needless to say, the opportunity to do this interview with you today makes me very proud as well, as I seek to gain traction with high school teachers and administrators who create reading lists, as well as with college instructors who may choose to recommend my story (Music ft. Sam Roberts) to undergrads, since it explores subjects like adolescent bewilderment, (Music ft. #2 Hamilton),  spiritual befuddlement, and an elusive emotional truth called Closure while fostering spirited discussion.

dog-water-free-bragTell me about the premise of your story, Michael.

The premise, Stephanie, can be explained with two questions:

How does a widow who has a year to live – and who is blessed with a spiritual passion for life, the arts, and culture – prepare her young son for life on his own without her?

And how does her dumbstruck soon-to-be orphan middle-son, (ft. Damien Rice) Mikee, respond to her timely wisdom and insights, knowing all the while that each next morning might be her last?

Most engaging, readers have kindly told me, is the pace with which events unfold.

I’m also so honored that so many of my reviewers have read DOG WATER FREE more than once – and that they let me know they did! I dare say that is one of the best compliments an author can receive.

What is the setting?

The story is set in Detroit (Music ft. God Choir with Eminem) and subsequently Boston and on the Island of Nantucket, where readers are rewarded with a most satisfying dénouement that ties it all together, a few years after Mikee finished his high school academic and athletic (music ft. Shakira) career playing hockey, baseball and running track & cross country back in his hometown.

Who is your primary audience, Michael and what is the premise?

My primary audiences are moms (of all ages) who know what it means to parent. I am also reaching out to mature adolescents/young adults (Music ft. Jill Scott) who understand all too well what it means to be bewildered.

I think I may have cornered the market on that front.

Thematically, the mosaic of my story’s puzzle includes issues of Fate; Life & Death; Happiness & Sadness; Hopes & Dreams; Shame & Despair; and finally, Survival & Redemption.

As I say this, it sounds way too serious…mine is really a happy, uplifting story, believe it or not, evidenced by the fact that I’ve gotten feedback that some readers could not stop laughing through their tears, which makes me know that we have a connection.

Regarding my premise, the very beginning of DOG WATER FREE is the foundation that allows me to offer an homage (Music ft. She & Him) to my mom, Marge. The first sentence consists of six words:

“Legends are born to every generation.”

The story builds from there as readers eventually come to know, through Mikee’s first-hand experiences, a host of powerful & famous icons of culture who have shaped the mindsets of nations, which is just how Marge would have wanted.

Set the stage for us. How does it all begin for Mikee?

Mikee (Music ft. Robben Ford) is eleven when his world turns upside down.

His mom is sharing news with Mikee from her doctor.

She has a year to prepare her family for her death.

Her passing will leave the man she loves and the four children she cherishes alone to fend for themselves.

“At least you’ll always have your dad,” she comforts them.

Still on her mission fifteen months later, her focus heightens when her husband drops dead.

With that, Mikee’s improbable coming-of-age journey (Music ft. #Hamilton) begins.

DOG WATER FREE puts the reader in the room when Mikee learns of his mom’s terminal illness; learns of his dad’s sudden death; and subsequently learns about his mom’s hopes and dreams for him as she shares her wisdom (Music ft. Faith Hill) and insights, knowing that each next morning might be her last.

In Forrest Gump fashion, Mikee would come to land front and center before England’s Queen, Elizabeth II; (Music ft. #3 Hamilton/King George) America’s Maestro, Westside Story composer Leonard Bernstein (Music ft. the Maestro); the first non-Italian Pontiff in more than 400 years, Pope John Paul II (Photo); and a young college coed who would become the first woman in history to be elected to lead an Islamic nation, Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (Photo). In the moment, all of it seemed so natural and not so much a big deal. Looking back, it’s funny how that works in real life, Stephanie.

Oh yea, readers are treated to front row seats for each and every encounter, by the way.

What a powerful story. When did you decide your story needed to be told and what were your experiences writing this story?

Each night at bed time at our home near Lake Tahoe, my two beautiful daughters would ask me to tell them a true story from my childhood, (Music ft. The National) which helped keep my memories alive.

My girls, Claire and Rachel, are now both UC Berkeley Grads with graduate degree honors from Columbia and UCLA. I am so proud of them both.

I also was the beneficiary of a lifelong friendship with Assistant US Attorney Thomas C. Wales, who was one of my roommates in college https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMGh3Ts5-WQ (Music ft. Damien Rice) and to whom my book is dedicated. Over the years, he became close with my girls, as well.

Relentless, Tom knew my history and he kept encouraging me to publish my stories, God love him.

For that I am eternally grateful.

“Just keep me posted and be sure to let me know when you publish your memoir,” my friend Tommy kept telling me.

A proponent of trigger-locks on handguns in order to protect at-risk families all over America, Tom Wales is believed to be the only Federal Prosecutor in US history to have been killed in the line of duty. He was murdered by an assassin with a handgun.

A $1 million reward from the Office of the Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice has gone unclaimed since his assassination in Seattle, thirty days after 9-11.

James Fallows, former Chief White House Speechwriter and National Correspondent for The Atlantic, remembers Tom Wales with a kind mention of DOG WATER FREE in The Atlantic (Article).

The morning of September 11, 2001 was the last day we spoke, my friend Tommy and me.

What was the hardest part of this book to write?

The hardest part of writing my story was overcoming the urge to editorialize, Stephanie. Ultimately, that’s why I chose to write in first-person/present tense. Even with that, I had to remind myself every day that I needed to trust my readers and simply stay true to each moment. I’m so glad I approached it that way.

By my reckoning, when a story is worthy, events speak for themselves – so there is no need to spell things out by editorializing.

The bottom line is that readers are smart – and they like putting pieces of a puzzle together.

So if I were asked about lessons learned from the experience, I would have to say, “Trust your readers. (Ft. Nina Simone & some Cool Cats”)

Tell us about Mikee.

Here’s a story that sums up young Mikee in a nutshell, Stephanie.

As a boy, Mikee learned to compartmentalize his feelings. Some would call that a defense mechanism.

At the age of ten, he became angry after asking his dad if his family could “pretty please get a puppy.”

His dad all but said beat it. “What do ya think, Dogs come cheap, Mikee? Don’t you know that nothing in life is free? Anyway, I’m allergic to dogs. End of story.” He lied.

It broke Mikee’s heart to hear his dad say that.

All the while, his mom took care to comfort her children in the wake of her terminal diagnosis.

“At least you will always have your dad, long after I’m gone.” She promised.

Obsessing, Mikee couldn’t help but wonder.

What good is it to have a dad if he won’t even let you have a dog?

Then it hit him.

Maybe God would make his dad change his mind, now that his mom was dying?

Maybe that’s God’s plan. He believed.

“His will be done.” Mikee prayed.

Despite his dad’s stubborn indifference to Mikee’s request that their family get a dog, Mikee dropped to his knees every night to try to strike a solemn bargain, praying harder than he had ever prayed in his life.

Night in and night out, he told God that he would endure anything – if only he could have a dog.  Amen. Woof-woof. Bow-wow.

Meanwhile, his mom stayed true.

Knowing each morning could be her last, she took one day at a time to prepare them all for life on their own without her.

Months later, still battling her illness, her focus heightened when Mikee’s dad dropped dead.

And the following Christmas brought another surprise. (Music ft. The National)

Marge could not contain her excitement.

“Look, you guys.  Look what Santa brought us!”

At long last, Mikee had his puppy!

Uh-oh.  Dear Lord in Heaven. Were those my prayers God answered?

Mikee shivers as if some lame little imp is dancing a jig atop a grave that is somewhere in his own future.

What in the world have I done?

On that miraculous Christmas morning, it made him ache to wonder.

Intellectually curious, God loving and Devil fearing, young Mikee (Music ft. Robben Ford) is growing up on a street called Faust (Music by Bruce Springsteen ft. Jennifer Nettles and Ben Harper) in the heart of Detroit’s Westside, where he discovered that the name of his street referred to a mysterious German legend, none of which he was quite old enough to fathom nor quite young enough to ignore.

According to a centuries-old fable, the story of Faust had something to do with a scholar who makes a deal with the Devil to exchange his soul for limitless knowledge and pleasure. As a cradle Catholic who fancies himself as somewhat of a scholar, it is one more bit of evidence for Mikee that the Devil is real and that actions can have irreversible consequences, which is a dominant theme of the story.

Never let the Devil (Music ft. REM) in the door. At least that much young Mikee knows first-hand.

Just prior to the death of his dad, Mikee is appointed to be President of a contingent of Altar Boys in his neighborhood parish as a tribute from the elementary school nuns to his dying mom.

With that, he continues to serve daily mass.

He schedules himself to serve weddings on Saturdays in order to earn a couple of bucks.

He also arranges to serve as many funerals as possible for the chance to miss a few hours of school while traveling to far away cemeteries in cushy Cadillac’s with the Monsignor, while enjoying fine second-hand cigar smoke.

Through it all, he dutifully recites the Liturgy in Latin – phonetically – from rote memorization. Such was the custom for most Altar Boys during the era of MadMen.

It’s not long before Mikee begins to suspect that he might be suffering from something called impostor syndrome for having spent way too much time in church without actually praying, since he has no clue as to the meaning of his perfect Latin utterances.

Please tell me a little about his mom.

Mikee’s mom is Margaret Mary, (Music ft. Kim Carnes) aka Marge, who is a graduate of Detroit Cooley High. She is a statuesque auburn-haired beauty who hails from the tribe of actress Maureen O’Hara, with whom she bears a striking resemblance.

An unflappable muse, motherhood becomes her. She tackles matters mundane with the passion of a virtuoso (Music ft. Bonnie Raitt & Norah Jones) preparing for Carnegie Hall.

She loves her neighborhood and she loves her budding brood (Music ft. The National) of four, three sons (Nino, Mikee, Patrick) and her first-born daughter (Kathleen).

But for the size of her heart, the Irish (Music ft. The Gloaming) in her bones, and the grace of God, she might never have evolved with such consummate charm.

It complements her all too disconcerting intuition, which allows her to know exactly what Mikee is about to do before he can even think it.

She is the daughter of Robert Denny, an Orangeman (strict Protestant) whose family hails from Belfast. Her mother Claire is from County Cork.

Marge (Music ft. Mose Allison) would marry an alcoholic, and become an alcoholic herself until the day she joined AA, on the occasion of the birth of her baby Patrick.

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

Mikee’s dad Tony is a high-school drop-out who becomes the chef for the executive dining room of a silk stockings ad agency in downtown Detroit. With a client list that includes Heinz 57, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, and Chevrolet, business is booming.

Work hours are over by 3pm. In the late afternoons he bowls in winter; he plays golf in spring and summer in Northern Michigan at an executive retreat where he cooks for the Ad Executives and their clients. He also moonlights as a bookie, (Music ft. Pomplamosse) in a town with no patience for slackers slow to play – or for bookies slow to collect. As Tony later tells his sidekick (young Patrick), he works on the side “for an influential family business.”

Who designed your book cover?

I love my book cover, Stephanie. Thanks for asking. The cover is by Tovey Call, a design professional in Eagle, Idaho. Tovey is a fabulous collaborator.

Where can readers buy your book?

DOG WATER FREE is available at AmazonUSApple iTunesKobo, AmazonUK and LoveReadingUK

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a children’s book  (Music by Nena) at the moment, Stephanie…and as I do, I am always available to skype with book clubs or classrooms for discussion, by the way.

What are the challenges of writing non-fiction, especially memoir?

Great question. I subscribe to the adage “show, don’t tell, and be truthful, always”.

Also, writing memoir should never involve settling scores or grudges with mere mortals. Settling one’s differences with the Almighty, however, is noble and fair and worthy of effort, in my humble opinion.

What are your personal motivations in story-telling?

Given the circumstances of the journey I’ve been on, I seek to earn my reader’s trust by sharing relatable, true stories that provide insights for young adults who know all too well what it means to feel bewildered. I am also seeking to reach moms and dads who know what it means to parent.

What do you find most rewarding about writing?

Most rewarding is when my writing spawns conversations between friends; between kids and their parents; between students and teachers. That’s when you know your writing has struck a chord. And feedback via reviews is the absolute best = especially when reviewers share that they have read your story more than once!

I am so proud of that, too.

I hoped to touch one life with my true story and based on reviews so far I have been blessed to have touched many.

What would/could a reader or reviewer say about this book that shows they “get” you as an author?

Great question, Stephanie. Without giving away any spoilers, ‘getting me’ as an author would involve simple acknowledgment that my story touched their heart – and that coming to terms with an issue like closure can be an emotional truth unto itself.

As one publishing industry pro recently put it in a private note to me:

“Bravo, Michael Jay. Your readers may not remember your precise turns of phrase or exact words, but if they are anything like me, they will never forget how your story made them feel.”

Responses like that make me forever grateful that I stuck with it.

Thank you, Michael! It was a pleasure chatting with you and thank you for sharing such a wonderful story with our readers.

Author website 

 A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Michael Jay who is the author of, DOG WATER FREE, 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, DOG WATER FREE, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 indiebrag-team-member

Cover Crush: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Cover Crush banner

stalking-jack-the-ripperHe’s the infamous killer no man has ever been able to find.

Now it’s a girl’s turn.

Groomed to be the perfect highborn Victorian young lady, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has a decidedly different plan for herself. After the loss of her beloved mother, she is determined to understand the nature of death and its workings. Trading in her embroidery needle for an autopsy scalpel, Audrey secretly apprentices in forensics. She soon gets drawn into the investigation of serial killer Jack the Ripper, but to her horror, the search for clues brings her far closer to her sheltered world than she ever thought possible.

My thoughts about the cover:

I’ve said this before and I will say it again. I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of books and gladly admit I judge a book by its cover. Right away the cover AND title jumped right out at me!

First off, I love reading stories that are set during the Victoria era. Then you add all the elements of mystery, intrigue, murder, forensics, dark London streets, Jack the Ripper and I am sold on the story! Not that I am a morbid person. I am just really fascinated with the human mind and like the book blurb says, “To understand the nature of death and its workings.” Honest.

I love the colors and design of the layout. The font for the title is perfect as well. This cover definitely sets the stage for a really atmospheric story. I really hope the story doesn’t disappoint! I will be reading it very soon!

Stephanie M. Hopkins.

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary.

Other great book bloggers who cover crush

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court-Coming soon

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede 

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation -Coming soon

More cover crushes over at indieBRAG!

 

Book Spotlight: Sanyare: The Heir Apparent (The Sanyare Chronicles Book 2) by Megan Haskell

sanyare-the-heir-apparent-cover-book-2

Limited Time Launch Week Price Just $0.99 on Amazon!

Her secret is unraveling. One dangerous quest could end it all…



Rie thought she was an ordinary human. After she’s named heir to Sanyaro, the truthseeker and mediator of the nine faerie realms, life becomes a lot more complicated. As she struggles to control her magics, Rie nearly falls prey to a brutal assassination attempt during a public ceremony.

Blamed for the chaos, Rie’s escort, Prince Daenor, is taken prisoner. While Sanyaro tempers the political flames, Rie must once again chase after the truth. As if the threat of another great war and the impending death of her lover weren’t enough, Rie uncovers a dark secret that threatens to crack the very foundations of the faerie realms. When allies fall, can Rie overcome the odds… and the opposition?

Sanyare: The Heir Apparent is a captivating dark fantasy adventure novel. If you enjoy thrilling adventures across nine unique realms filled with wise-cracking carnivorous pixies, then you’ll love the second installment of The Sanyare Chronicles from Megan Haskell.

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About Author:

Legend has it, I was born with a book in my hands. When I was a kid, my mom was forced to ground me from reading or I wouldn’t do my chores. To this day, I can readily ignore the real world in favor of the imaginary one lurking between the pages of my current addiction. My dad — also an avid reader — introduced me to Tolkien in my late elementary years, and I never looked back. I love escaping to worlds where magic and monsters are real, especially stories with kick-butt heroines and dangerously attractive heroes.

Despite my voracious book appetite, I didn’t start creative writing until I was working as a number cruncher in a big accounting firm. With an hour plus commute by train every day, and a demanding left-brain occupation, I needed a mobile creative outlet. A pen and paper are about as mobile as it gets! As the pages began to fill, I quickly moved onto a tiny laptop, and a writer was born. Now I get to create my own fantasies!

I currently live in Southern California with my wonderfully supportive husband, two daughters, and a ridiculously energetic dog.

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

Author Website

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree J.M. Aucoin

jmaucoin-author-photo-1-bragI’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree J.M. Aucoin to Layered Pages today to talk with me about his book, Honor Among Thieves. J.M. Aucoin is the product of when a five-year-old boy who fell in love with reruns of Guy William’s ‘Zorro’ grows into a mostly functional adult. He now spends his time writing swashbucklers and historical adventure stories, and has an (un)healthy obsession with ‘The Three Musketeers.’

When not writing, J.M. Aucoin practices historical fencing and covers the Boston Bruins for the award-winning blog, Days of Y’Orr. He lives in Heraldwolf’s Stone with his fiancee Kate and their dire-beagle, Rex.

Hi, Justin! Thank you for chatting with me today and congrats o the B.R.A.G. Medallion! What is the premise of your story?

Thanks, Stephanie!

Honor Among Thieves is a historical adventure novel set in the early 1600s, during the Henri IV’s reign in France. We follow Darion Delerue, a former soldier turned highwayman, who has only two things of value in life—the hope in his heart and the steel at his side. After a heist on a royal ambassador goes wrong, he’s is thrown into a political plot to undermine the crown, pitting his old life as an honorable soldier against his new life as a thief and bandit. His actions could send France back into civil war.

There’s plenty of swordplay for folks who love a little action and adventure, but wrapped in real historical events for those who want to learn some history in the process.

honore-among-thieves-bragWhy Historical Fiction and how did you chose you setting and period?

I’ve been a fan of swashbucklers since I was a little kid. Every week I’d watch reruns of Guy William’s Zorro on Disney. I also fell in love with Disney’s The Three Musketeers as a child. Both stories captivated me. The idea that you could right wrongs and fight injustice with little more than a sharp blade and your wits was a powerful message that resonated with me as a kid – and has followed me into my adulthood.

I chose the early 17th Century France as an homage to Alexander Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. But since he took a sizable portion of France’s 17th Century historical events, I decided to turn back the clock to a time before the Mousquetaires du Roi were formed. By 1609, the French Wars of Religion had come to a close and France was on the rebound. It was a transitional time, free of war but with the threat of it around every corner. It seemed like an untouched setting and era, and a fun playground to work in.

Tell me a little about Darion Delerue strengths and weaknesses?

Sure. Darion is a complicated fellow – like most of us, I’d imagine. He’s an exceptional swordsman. Prudent and courageous, and with a relatively strong moral compass despite his life as a highwayman.

But he’s also stubborn and proud, and a bit raw around the edges when it comes to more diplomatic measures. He’s lived a rough life and it shows in his demeanor, but deep down he wants to evolve into something greater than he is – he’s just not sure if he’s capable of it.

What is an example of political intrigue in your story?

In 1609, Spain was struggling with its war with the United Providences, and France was working hard on an alliance with Dutch against Spain. In a desperate effort to keep the alliance from happening, they sent an ambassador to France to secure a double marriage between the two countries. Of course, Henri IV’s goal in life was to humble the Spanish Hapsburgs, so you can imagine how well that went.

So readers will get to see the interactions between Henri IV and Don Pedro de Toledo. But next to that is a fictional plot line that twists and wraps itself around some of these historical events. And not to give too much away, but an old enemy of Henry IV rears its head because of it all.

How much research went in to writing your story?

A decent amount, but finding good resources was actually difficult. I was surprised to find so little information at my local library (*shakes fist at Boston Public Library*), so I had to get creative. I found some nice (albeit older) research books online via Google Books that were free to download.

I must’ve spent a year and a half or so just researching to give myself a base level of knowledge of the times. I still research while I write, mostly detail stuff to give the story that authentic feel, but I feel pretty comfortable to power ahead as need be.

Who designed your book cover?

A good friend of mine – Graham Sternberg. We know each other via our love for practicing historical swordsmanship. Just so happens that he’s a professional artist. So I tapped him to be the artist for the Hope & Steel series. It was a lot of fun to work with him on the cover – collaborating ideas and seeing it come to life. The book cover creation process is one of my favorite parts of self-publishing.

Where can readers buy your book?

Like 99.9% of self-publishers, you can find Honor Among Thieves on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback. For people who hate to give their cash to Amazon, they can buy an autograph copy via my Facebook store for the same price.

What are you working on next?

I’m about half way through the sequel to Honor Among Thieves (currently untitled). I’m also plotting some short fantasy adventures, too. Always seems to be more ideas than there is time to work on. Can I buy a few extra hours in the day? I’d really love to write all the things.

Thank you, Justin!

Thank you!

Justin’s social media links

Website

Facebook

Twitter

instagram

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview J.M. Aucoin who is the author of, Honore Among Thieves, 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, Honor Among Thieves, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

indiebrag-team-member