Interview with Award Winning Author Liv Hadden

liv-hadden-bragI’d like to welcome Award Winning Author and Debut novelist Liv Hadden to Layered Pages today. Liv has been writing ever since she was a little girl. But, it wasn’t until 5th grade when her teacher said she’d one day write a book that she started taking it seriously. Her Shamed series began in college, when Hadden employed her writing as an outlet for her feelings during a serious bout of depression. After a brief, yet impactful first night of writing, she dreamt of a shadowy figure, tormented and demonized by their own mind and realized this was the shadow of pain that hurting people everywhere felt. She woke from her dream feeling more energized that she had in months, picked up her computer and began to write. “I felt if ever there was a story inside me and a character worth taking the leap, it was Shame and this story,” says Hadden. “This one in particular is personal in nature, and perhaps the very reason it’s so close to my heart.” Hadden has her roots in Burlington, Vermont and has lived in upstate New York and Oklahoma, where she went to college at the University of Oklahoma, and earned her degree in Environmental Sustainability Planning & Management. She now resides in Austin, TX with her husband and two dogs, Madison and Samuel and is an active member of the Writer’s League of Texas. Incredibly inspired by artistic expression, Hadden immerses herself in creative endeavors on a daily basis. She finds great joy in getting lost in writing and seeing others fully express themselves through their greatest artistic passions, like music, body art, dance and photography. “I get chills when I have the great privilege of seeing someone express their authentic selves,” says Hadden. “I believe it gives us a true glimpse into the souls of others.

Thank you for chatting with me today, Liv. Please tell me how you discovered indieBRAG?

I was doing some reading online about reputable awards for indie novels and indieBRAG was listed in several places. When I visited the site and saw the medallion books, I knew I wanted my novel to show up there!

Tell me a little about In he Mind of Revenge and your inspiration for it.

In the Mind of Revenge is an intimate look into how monsters are born. The narrative follows an assault victim’s destructive journey to revenge, and how thin the line is between retribution and wrongdoing. I got the inspiration while I was dealing with depression in college. I had written a page about how I was feeling right before bed, which turned into a dream about the embodiment of my shame. The main character is named Shame because of that dream.

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What is an example of Shame’s vulnerability?

Shame has a big weak spot for their childhood love, Cassie. Shame’s relentless pursuit of Cassie causes Shame to get into trouble and hurt other people they come to care about along the way.

How are your monsters influenced by their setting?

Shame’s transformation into a monster is a direct result of the bullying they experienced and societal norms that didn’t allow for Shame to be as Shame was. Once Shame is in Baltimore, they’re at the mercy of a city and people they don’t know, which is basically how Shame meets some good friends and enemies.

How would your characters describe you?

I think Shame would find my eternal optimism annoying, but I might get away without too much incident because of my wit; I am always happy to participate in banter. Juice Box would probably say I’m boring since I stay inside all the time and my adventures are very organized, but he would like that I laugh at all his jokes and idiosyncrasies. Anna would consider me a civilian and wouldn’t give me a second glance. Of everyone, I think Emma would like me most. I think she’d say I’m caring, funny, and ambitious.

Who are your influences?

Every story I consume, no matter the medium, influences me. Even just my friends who are great at sharing a story inspire me or get me thinking. If I’m forced to name a few recognizable characters, I’d say Stieg Larson influenced the darkness in this novel; James Patterson influences my work ethic and sense of drama; Maya Angelou keeps me motivated and authentic; J.K. Rowling keeps me dreaming and influences the way I shape my secondary characters.

What is your writing process and how much time during the day do you write?

Well, my process is in the middle of an evolution as I grow as an author. I used to just write as it came, but now I am finding adding a bit more discipline to my process will create stronger plots and more intriguing characters. That is especially true when writing a sequel since I’ve set up all these rules for myself—I need to make sure I follow them for continuity and to maintain the integrity of the story. Basically, I’m creating flexible outlines and getting a feel for the end goal instead of just discovery writing. I have my own web design business, so I don’t write every day. I’d say I write fiction at least 5-8 hours a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less depending on my schedule. But, I create and write content every day for work; even if it’s not a novel, all writing makes you better!

Who designed your book cover?

The designer at Ebook Launch did, and I love it. Would definitely recommend them to other indie authors.

What are you currently working on?

I’m putting the finishing touches on a sci-fi manuscript called CROSSFADE. Then I’ll be building a detailed outline for the second installment in The Shamed series, which I am getting really excited about!

Where can readers buy your books?

Amazon, Kindle, B&N, Indie Bound, and I am excited to say Audible!

Liv Hadden’s Website

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A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Liv Hadden who is the author of, IN THE MIND OF RENVEGE, 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, IN THE MIND OF REVENGE, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

indiebrag-team-member

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Praise for In the Mind of Revenge

 

“If a cat has nine lives, Shame has 29. Liv Hadden leaves us in the dark as to whether this

character is a girl or a boy. As Shame often muses, why is gender that important? It’s

reflecting on issues like gender that makes In the Mind of Revenge more than just a rather

exciting read.” – Reader’s Favorite

“A somber revenge tale, but fronted by a protagonist both absorbing and sublimely

complicated.” – Kirkus Reviews

“In the Mind of Revenge tackles hot-button social issues in a way that forces the reader to rethink the

importance of what society deems as normal.” – Self-Publishing Review

“An absorbing crime story…” – Blue Ink Reviews

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Full Book Description:

Mine is a tale of pain, hate, lies, murder, injustice, vengeance, and love unreturned.

It began much like yours; a hopeful innocent born to a world of endless possibilities. But my journey has rarely been paved with opportunities of light. Confronted by those who sought to eclipse what light I had found, the darkness came for me. Wrapped in its intoxicating embrace, I have risen from the dead to reclaim my dignity and the life that was taken from me. I have begun my journey into the mind of revenge. Revenge for me. Revenge for those like me. Those who are shamed.

This is a story for the shamed, by the shamed. The question is, are you ready for it?

In the Mind of Revenge, book one of The Shamed Series, takes a deep look at how monsters are born.

Set in a society that glorifies “normal” and demonizes different, this dark tale takes its readers on an emotionally wild ride of vengeance, murder, pain and desperation. Though the reader is warned by its main character, Shame, not to develop an attachment, the first person narrative combined with Shame’s uninhibited vulnerability makes it nearly impossible not to do so. Raw, vivid, honest, fast-paced and beautifully vulgar, In the Mind of Revenge is sure to have you emotionally twisted from beginning to end.

Book Highlight: Past Encounters by Davina Blake

past-encounters-bragPast Encounters by Davina Blake –B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

Synopsis

From the moment Rhoda Middleton opens one of her husband’s letters and finds it is from another woman, she is convinced he is having an affair. But when Rhoda tracks her down, she discovers the mysterious woman is not his lover after all, but the wife of his best friend, Archie Foster.

There is only one problem – Rhoda has never even heard of Archie Foster.

Devastated by this betrayal of trust, Rhoda tries to find out how and why her husband, Peter, has kept this friendship hidden for so long. Her search leads her back to 1945, but as she gradually uncovers Peter’s wartime secrets she must wrestle with painful memories of her own. For if they are ever to understand each other, Rhoda too must escape the ghosts of the past.

Taking us on a journey from the atmospheric filming of Brief Encounter, to the extraordinary Great March of prisoners of war through snow-bound Germany, this is a novel of friendship, hope, and how in the end, it is the small things that enable love to survive.

Includes discussion points for reading groups

davina-blake

Davina Blake lives in the North of England on the edge of the Lake District, an area made famous by the Romantic Poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge. In the past she used to work as a set and costume designer for theater and TV, so she enjoys researching, and loves this aspect of creating historical fiction. Under the pen name Deborah Swift she is the author of three historical novels for adults – The Lady’s Slipper, The Gilded Lily and A Divided Inheritance, and also The Highway Trilogy for young adults. Her first novel was shortlisted for the Impress Prize in the UK and for the Salt Lake City Readers Award in the US.

How to Use a Free Short Story to Entice New Readers

Author Website

Twitter @swiftstory

#indieBRAG invites self-publishing authors to nominate their book(s) for consideration of the B.R.A.G. Medallion! #awardwinningindie #awardwinningbooks
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Disclaimer: All book reviews, interviews, guest posts and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie. M. Hopkins/Owner of Layered Pages

Interview with Award Winning Author Lisa Brunette

me-iiI’d like to welcome back two time B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Lisa Brunette today to talk about her award winning book, Framed and Burning. Lisa was born in Santa Rosa, California, but that was only home for a year. A so-called “military brat,” she lived in nine different houses and attended nine different schools by the time she was 14. Through all of the moves, her one constant was books. She read everything, from the entire Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mystery series to her mother’s books by Daphne du Maurier and Taylor Caldwell. 

A widely published author, game writer, and journalist, Lisa has interviewed homeless women, the designer of the Batmobile, and a sex expert, to name just a few colorful characters. This experience, not to mention her own large, quirky family, led her to create some truly memorable characters in her Dreamslippers Series and other works, whether books or games.

Always a vivid dreamer, not to mention a wannabe psychic, Lisa feels perfectly at home slipping into suspects’ dreams, at least in her imagination. Her husband isn’t so sure she can’t pick up his dreams in real life, though.

With a hefty list of awards and publications to her name, Lisa now lives in a small town in Washington State, but who knows how long that will last…

Hi, Lisa! Thank you for chatting with me today. First, I HAVE to ask you how you came up with the name “Dreamslippers” for your series.

lisa-brunette-ii-bragThat’s a great question. Before I published the first book in the series, Cat in the Flock, I’d been mulling over what to call the psychic dreaming gift that my characters possess. I had used the phrase “slip into your dreams,” and one of my BETA readers, Chrysanne Westin, suggested I call it “dreamslipping.” When I released the first book with the old cover (which my husband and I designed) in July of 2014, it ran under the series title “McCormick Files,” after protagonist Cat’s last name. But when I updated with a professional cover, I decided at that point to call it the Dreamslippers Series. It’s perfect for a family of sleuths with the unique but limited ability to slip into other people’s dreams.

Tell me about Framed and Burning. By the way, I love the title.

Thank you. I agonized over the title for quite some time, testing a few with BETA readers. I settled on Framed and Burning because, like the title for book one, it contains a double entendre. Someone gets framed in the book, and there’s a lot of different kinds of burning in the book, that of the fire in the first scene but also burning ambition, passion, truth… The story opens with a fire in Mick’s studio, killing his assistant, Donnie Hines. The evidence shows its arson, and the police suspect Mick. His sister and grand-niece are PIs, and they work to clear his name.

By the way, it used to be part of my job description to name mystery games at Big Fish; I’ve named hundreds of games. It’s never easy, but it can be fun!

Will you give me a little background on Mick Travers?

Sure! He’s often the only dude in the room, since my series is very female-centric. Mick is a fellow dreamslipper, but he uses the images he picks up from other people’s dreams as inspiration for his art. His older sister, Amazing Grace, and his grand-niece, Cat McCormick, use it to solve crimes.

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

Mick is very jaded after living most of his life in Miami, which can be a plastic-y, materialistic place. Grace is a dyed-in-the-wool Seattleite: politically liberal, spiritually open, self-directed, and very DIY. Cat is like a lot of people from the Midwest: practical, skeptical, grounded. But she’s also adventurous and curious, which draws her to the other two locations.

What are the habits of your protagonist?

Grace’s habits form the basis for much of Cat’s apprenticeship. Grace is a lifelong yoga devotee, a practitioner of several different spiritual paths, including Buddhism and New Thought, and she regularly meditates. In book three, she takes up a holistic, barefoot dance practice called Nia. And she does all of this in her 70s! You can tell I have a lot of fun with her. Cat is a Millennial who’s tied to her tech, never without her cell phone and adept at online research. But she allows her grandmother to take her under her wing, learning the value of yogic breathing, for example, and using it.

How long did it take to write your story, and what was your process? Did your process for this book change from Cat and the Flock?

Framed and Burning came out in a rush over two months. But that was just the first draft. I spent another six months polishing it. My process for Cat in the Flock was much different, as I took two years to craft the story, but I was working 50-70-hour weeks at my day job during that time and couldn’t concentrate on it as much as I did with Framed and Burning.

Tell me a little about the quirky Miami art world in your story. What does art mean to you, personally?

I didn’t grow up around art or museums, but as soon as I left home and was free to explore on my own, I made art discovery a priority, visiting museums in every city I went to and covering my walls with inexpensive art poster prints. In college, I made it part of my curriculum in American Studies, and I worked for a time at the St. Louis Art Museum (selling memberships), where I spent hours staring at paintings, especially in the modern and contemporary galleries, coming to think of them as my friends. My first husband was an artist who worked out of our home, so I was surrounded by paint and canvases for eleven years, with artists of all types traipsing in and out, and I acquired numerous pieces of my own through that experience.

That doesn’t really answer your question, though, does it? I guess you could say I fell in love with art on my own first—and then I fell for an artist. Even though the ex and I have been apart now for seven years, the art is very much still with me.

Who designed your book cover?

I work with Monika Younger, a super pro with more than a decade of experience designing covers for Harlequin (both their romance and mystery lines). I highly recommend her.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just launched the third book in the series, Bound to the Truth. It’s about the murder of a brilliant Seattle architect. Her widow hires Cat and Grace to investigate a man she suspects as the killer, a well-known conservative radio talk show host.

Thank you, Lisa! It was a pleasure chatting with you!

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A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Lisa Brunette who is the author of, Framed and Burning, 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, Framed and Burning, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 indiebrag-team-member

indieBRAG Halloween Event!

win-a-indiebrag-gitf-card

indieBRAG is holding a month long Halloween Event featuring some of our award winning authors who write great stories that are perfect for October reads or for anytime. Be sure to check out their fun Halloween post, sales, giveaways and enter your chance to win a $20.00 Amazon Gift Card from indieBRAG here

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Are you, or is someone you know, a self-published Author?

If you or someone you know is a self-published author and would like to be considered for a B.R.A.G. Medallion, we encourage you to submit your book! Submitting your book for consideration is easy—simply provide the required information about your book and yourself as an author, submit payment information (consideration is a nominal fee of $50.00), and we’ll take care of the rest!

Submit your book here

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.

 

 

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.

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