History Surrounds Us With Stuart S. Laing

It is always a pleasure to have Author and history enthusiast Stuart S. Laing visit Layered Pages. He talks with me about the images he captures of Edinburgh and gives us a glimpse of it’s fascinating history! 

Stuart, I have been enjoying the photos of Edinburgh you have been posting on social media. Even though I haven’t had the chance to visit the city, it is on my bucket list! When you find an image to photograph, what is going through your mind?

Stuart

Stuart S. Laing

Thank you, and I would love to give you a guided tour around town one day. As to taking photos I think it just comes down to being in the moment. I love the architecture of the Old Town, the history surrounding you, and the energy of the people both local and visitors from all corners of the world. Trying to capture just a hint of that is such fun. But I am strictly of the point and click school of photography.

The architecture is certainly breathtaking!  You really do have a great eye for imagery. Which I believe is part of your story telling in books. What do you characters have to say about that?

I think Robert Young would agree with you. He would point out that the more you can see, the more you can know. A shady character like Shug Nicholls would prefer people not go prying into what he and his old adversary, Sergeant MacIan of the Town Guard, get up too. What I try to achieve with words is to paint the reader into the scene so they can be there and feel the cobbled streets beneath their feet and catch a waft of the stink from open sewers or the sweet aroma of perfumed ladies as they pass by.

I notice you choose a black and white medium for your pictures. Is there a particular reason why?

I think the benefit of black and white is it brings an element of doubt into a picture, was it taken yesterday or 50 years ago? It’s my attempt to try to capture the timelessness of a city which seems to never change on the surface but in reality has been in constant motion as old buildings crumble and new ones rise. The thing which saves Edinburgh from the anonymity which besets so many city centres is the fact that in large the centre of town has managed to escape the concrete and glass monstrosities of so many other old cities.

Edinburgh 6What do you love most about Edinburgh?

The simple answer is everything. As I mentioned earlier it’s the history, the buildings, the noise and the hustle and bustle. I know that many locals decry events which fill the centre of town such as the

Festival Fringe which draws tens of thousands daily throughout August but I actually love the crowds. I think that many forget that until the development of the New Town from the 1760s onwards, Edinburgh was largely shoehorned into a space smaller than many modern city parks. It was this which led to Edinburgh Old Town being home to the first skyscrapers as builders went up rather than out. So, for me, seeing those crowds is simply an echo of the past when the Royal Mile was home to shops, coffeehouse, stalls, animals, horses and carts all competing for space. These days there is little risk of having a cow squash your foot under its hoof so people probably should count their blessings

Edinburgh IIHow often do you get a chance to visit the city?

I try to get across as often as possible, and normally at least several times a year. Having a membership of Historic Scotland allows me unlimited entry to Edinburgh Castle which provides another excuse to pop over.

 

 

 

Edinburgh 7

Cowgate before the ‘improvements’ of the 1860s

What have you discovered on your adventures to be the most surprising?

Probably that despite all the changes Edinburgh has faced, urban planners, great fires, which destroyed a large area of the Royal Mile meaning that parts of the New Town are actually older than parts of the Old Town, is the fact that you can take the map of town drawn in the 1740s and use it to guide you through the streets, closes and wynds (alleyways) today. Even when regeneration meant the slum dwellings of the Cowgate were obliterated in the name of progress in the 1860s, the new homes and shops were all built on the footprint of what they replaced. It is still remarkably easy to walk from the Royal Mile to the south side of town following the exact same route you would have taken in the 15th, 16th, 17th or 18th century. That is what constantly inspires me to keep going back.

Edinburgh 4Describe Edinburgh to me from your mind.

Edinburgh, to me, is a strange combination of what you see and what you feel. When I stand on the cobbles by St Giles Cathedral in the very heart of town I don’t only see the beauty of the church before me but, in my mind, I also see the tall, grim walls of the old Tolbooth which once stood here, its location marked by brass markers set in the cobbles. It was here that William Burke, one half of the murderous duo with William Hare, met his end in 1829 on gallows built where the Tolbooth had once stood. It was from the Tolbooth that Captain Porteous of the Town Guard was seized by a mob who would lynch him in the Grassmarket. However it was also here where stalls once stood ran by women selling their wares such as home weaving and hand knitted clothes, fresh wild flowers and vegetables to the people of town. Nearby the famous poet Allan Ramsay operated the first circulating library which opened in 1725. That is what fascinates me about Edinburgh, the constant mixture between beauty and darkness. It was the city of Enlightenment when Scotland led the world in the advancement of science while at the same time huge crowds would gather in good humoured revelry to watch the public hangings in the street. The city itself presents visitors with its split personality. On one hand you have the cramped, towering tenements with the warren of narrow alleys running under and between them where every Close tells its own story and where you can get a taste of how the city once looked and felt, and occasionally smelled as you venture down them. Meanwhile only a short walk away you discover the elegance, charm and open, broad streets of the Georgian New Town where upmarket retailers and fashionistas can be found sipping artisan coffees in the streets where Robert Louis Stevenson grew up. That is what keeps drawing me back again and again. The dual nature of a city where everything changes and nothing does. If that doesn’t make sense you need to visit and spend a day just walking the streets and let some of fair Edina’s spirit work its way into your heart.

Stuart, thank you!

And thank you for allowing me to share my love of Auld Reekie with you. And remember that invite for a guided tour is always open.

Thank you, everyone for visiting Layered Pages today. Stay tuned for our follow up post about History Surrounds Us coming soon here at Layered Pages! -Stephanie

More About Stuart: 

Born and raised on the east coast of Scotland in the ancient Pictish Kingdom of Fife Stuart grew up looking across the Firth of Forth towards the spires and turrets of the city of Edinburgh and its castle atop its volcanic eyrie.

He has always been fascinated by the history of Auld Reekie and has spend most of his life studying Scottish history in all its aspects whenever he finds the time between family, work and the thousand and one other things that seek to distract him.
Despite the vast panorama of Scotland’s history he always find himself being drawn back to the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Those streets have provided the inspiration for his stories and characters.

He would urge all visitors to Scotland’s ancient capital to (briefly) venture into one of the narrow closes running down from the Royal Mile to get a flavour of how alive with mischief, mayhem, love and laughter these streets once were.

Stuart’s Facebook Pages where you can find more images from him and information about his stories HERE.

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(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 Hopkins)

 

 

 

Jewelry In The Making With Sarah

SarahToday my friend Sarah Volkert is a guest on Layered Pages to share her creative journey with us. When I met Sarah a few months ago at a Posh n Sip and I was thrilled to discover her creative side and it is always exciting to discover fellow artists. Let’s get our art on! 

Sarah, it is a pleasure to be featuring your jewelry line on Layered Pages today! When I first met you and discovered that you have a creative side to you, I was overjoyed! Tell me how you got into jewelry making?

Thank you so much for featuring me on your page, Stephanie! I got into jewelry making about 5 years ago, but it was not my first crafting love. I cross-stitch, crochet, and knit as well. So, I was at a craft store one day and noticed a beading magazine that featured bead stitching (I didn’t know that was a “thing”) and it looked interesting, so I bought the magazine and supplies to make a bracelet. I picked it up very quickly, and I spent about 3 years learning and practicing before I started selling my items.

Is there a specific style you stick with or do you mix it up?

I think I mix it up a little too much, to be honest! I personally have an eclectic style, and there is just so much that I think is beautiful and interests me that it’s hard to pick one. If I had to narrow it down, I’d say my style is modern and/or boho.

What are the platforms you sell on?

I have a shop on Etsy and I sell on Poshmark. About 90% of the jewelry items I have for sale on Poshmark are made by me.

What are some ways you upcycle pieces you might use to make your creations?

I save beer bottle caps and pop tops to make jewelry with, although I have yet to list any pieces. I’m hoping to get to that within the next couple of months. I’ve also had jewelry I’ve bought break and I will save the beads and chain from those and make a new piece out of them.

Sarah 4

How much time a week do you spend on your jewelry making?

I’m lucky if I get a few hours!

I’m a stay-at-home mom and my kids are young (5 and 2), but I try to squeeze in an hour here and there when I can. There are also the other aspects of running a business that need my attention and take time away from creating. Christmas is always crazy, but after everything settles down my goal is to spend at least 8 hours a week on creating.

What advice would you give someone who wants to get into making jewelry?

There are so many possibilities with what you can do, it’s pretty overwhelming. I would tell someone to pick one technique or stitch they would like to learn to do, but don’t invest a lot of money into it until you’re sure it’s something you’re going to enjoy. Also, I think it’s pretty easy to get discouraged, especially when you’re starting out, so if something isn’t working or you’re getting confused or frustrated, just take a break from it for an hour or a day and come back. I still have to do that from time to time!

Q&A With Plexus Ambassador Haley Morrison

This year on Layered Pages I decide to expand on the mediums I discuss and feature. Health and fitness are a big part of my life and I am thrilled to be talking with Haley Morrison about her health journey as an Ambassador for Plexus.

Hi, Haley! Thank you for visiting Layered Pages today. Please tell me a little about yourself and how you heard about Plexus.

Haley MorrisonHi Stephanie! Thank you so much for your time and interest in finding out more about my story! First off, my name is Haley Morrison and I live in Dallas Georgia. I’m 33 years old, married to my best friend and high school sweetheart, and we have four beautiful children! I heard about Plexus from my cousin Allison, who is an Ambassador with Plexus. She had been taking the products for 3 years and I silently watched her journey on social media. I finally decided to give the products a shot for myself a year and a half ago.

Using Plexus how did it change your health?

Before Plexus, I suffered from debilitating headaches 3-4 times a week which kept me in the bed or on the couch for hours. I also suffered with sleep issues, fatigue, mood swings, high blood pressure, and much more. After a week taking the products, I noticed that I hadn’t had one headache and I was sleeping like a baby each night! In the year and a half that I have been on the products I have noticed more natural energy, all the baby weight is gone, sleep issues are completely gone, headaches are gone, monthly cramping is nonexistent, my skin and hair is healthier, my digestive system is very regular, I have come off my blood pressure medications, I have no more brain fog, and I’m just a happier mama and wife!

When did you decide to become an Ambassador for Plexus and how has your journey been so far?

I became an Ambassador in June of 2017 after watching my cousin for a year. I was very skeptical for that year but after seeing her results and studying the ingredients and company history, I was convinced that Plexus was legit. My only regret was not joining sooner! My journey so far has been absolutely incredible. Outside of my health results, I have gained so many genuine friends who support and build me up. My confidence and self-esteem have risen from the ashes (they were pretty nonexistent due to a previous marriage). I also feel like I have a purpose now. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a stay at mom and wife. My family is my life! I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was meant for more! Helping others feel and look healthy again has definitely become a passion and I wake up every morning looking forward to this little side gig of mine! I have high goals set and I have no doubt in my mind that I will reach them!

How does Plexus stand apart from other health products?

I get asked this question a lot and I LOVE answering it! I 100% believe that there is no comparable company out there. Plexus products stand apart because of quality. The integrity of the ingredients is never compromised to suit the company’s financial agenda. Our mission is to support true health from the inside out with products that are always high quality, safe, and effective. The business opportunity is also like no other! Network marketing companies have gotten a bad rap over the years but I fully believe Plexus can change everyone’s minds! They pour into us so much and their love for their Ambassadors is such a blessing! When you choose to start sharing, you choose your own pace. There are no requirements, no inventory to keep, to parties to host, no obligation at all! It truly is YOUR business. YOUR way.

What is your favorite Plexus Product and what does it do?

Haley Morrison IIOh goodness that is a hard question! I love each and every product for different reasons! If I had to choose, though, I would have to say Slim- our infamous “Pink Drink”! It was originally created for diabetics and is known for its amazing ability to help keep blood sugar, cholesterol, and lipids at healthy levels. Balancing blood sugar helps heart health, helps balance hormones, improves sleep, restores energy levels, reduces inflammation, and reduces sugar cravings! Slim is NOT a diet. Its NOT a meal replacement. It’s NOT a fad. It’s NOT an energy drink. It’s simply a tool to help balance your body in a natural way.

Will you please share a testimony from one of your clients and how the Plexus Products changed their life?

I absolutely love sharing testimonies! Here is one from Lesa MacGregor:

“It started with my seeing posts about the “Pink Drink”. Like most, I was skeptical about a supplement that got the kind of rave reviews from so many. I figured I would research Plexus just to see what the craze was all about. The testimonies blew me away. Fast forward almost 2 years. My cousin kept saying,” If you’ve tried everything else and it’s not working, why not try Plexus? And besides, there is a 60-day money back guarantee. OK. I admit that definitely got my attention. I have suffered with GERD most of my adult life. In 1996 I was diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus. I’ve had an endoscopy every 2 years since, to monitor the condition. So, I made the decision to try the supplements. At first the detox symptoms made me give up much too soon. You see I was one of those people who wanted instant results. I believe we have become accustomed to that these days. However, my cousin was very concerned about my condition and encouraged me to continue with the products. Is been 2 years that I have been in them and I kick myself for the 2 years I wasted contemplating. As of my most recent upper endoscopy, no Barrett’s Esophagus is present. I also suffered from migraines at least 4 to 5 times a month that would zap me for days. Not another since Plexus. My husband saw how well they worked for me and started taking them as well. His blood-work had never looked so good and his BP improved so much that he is off one of his meds. I am positive he will eventually be off both. The weight loss we both encountered was just a bonus. As grandparents we were ecstatic with the incredible increase in our energy levels. I’ve learned that gut health and most importantly the right supplements make all the difference in your health. We are Plexus people for the duration.”

What is the different products Plexus Sells?

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Plexus has a product line that has something to fit everyone’s health needs. For weight loss we offer: Slim, Hunger Control Slim, Chocolate and Vanilla Whey Replacement called Lean, Mocha Vegetarian Meal Replacement Lean, MetaBurn, Block, Accelerator, and Boost. For Nutrition: BioCleanse, ProBio5 Probiotics, Vitalbiome Probiotics, XFactor Plus multivitamin, XFactor Kids Multi’Probiotic in 1, MegaX Plant based Omegas, Ease capsules, Nerve, and Edge. For personal/skin care: Joyome Day and Overnight Serum, Body Cream, Ease Cream, and the Breast Chek Kit.

How can potential customers learn more about Plexus?

I would be more than happy to arrange a call or message via social media to answer any questions that anyone may have! To view the products and what they have to offer, you can visit my site HERE

I can also be found on Facebook

I can also be found on Instagram at @mamasharkof4

Email: haleymorrison.plexus@gmail.com

 

Author Interview with Janet Stafford -The Great Central Fair

I’d like to welcome back Janet Stafford to Layered Pages today! Janet has several books published including the historical fiction novels, “Saint Maggie Series”.  Hi, Janet! Please tell everyone a little about your Saint Maggie Series as a whole.

Hi, Stephanie! Thank you for talking the time to talk with me about my novels.

The Saint Maggie series is about love, hope, forgiveness, strength, and faith during difficult times. It is set in Civil War America and focuses on Maggie Blaine Smith and her unconventional family. Maggie learns the value of compassion and love after she is disowned by her family for marrying the son of a rival businessman. Fortunately, she and her husband are taken in by her husband’s Aunt Letty. After her husband and young son die, Maggie is encouraged by Aunt Letty to start a boarding house to make ends meet. Maggie does this and takes in people who need help, who need love, and who cannot pay her very much in the way of rent.

That’s her situation at the beginning of the first novel, Saint Maggie. The story is set in a fictional town called Blaineton in Warren County, New Jersey. Maggie has two teenage daughters (Lydia and Frances) and runs a rooming house with struggling boarders. She is best friends with her cook Emily Johnson and Emily’s husband Nate. The town’s folks look askance at Maggie and Emily’s friendship, since Maggie is white, and Emily is black. Eli Smith, owner and editor of the Gazette, a penny weekly newspaper, is sweet on Maggie. And Nate, Emily, Maggie, and Eli are station masters on an Underground Railroad stop, something the town may suspect, but cannot prove.

Maggie and her family of “blood relatives” and fictive kin take on the issues, dangers, and heartbreak of the American Civil War. They do it earnestly, compassionately and passionately, but also with humor. The series gives me an opportunity to look at the issues of their time through their eyes. Over the course of four full-length novels, I have been able to dig into the how the exposure to battle changed soldiers and civilians; slavery, race relations, and the work of the Underground Railroad; women’s rights; the treatment of mental illness; medicine’s first notice of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; the first hints of the Gilded Age that will come. The fifth book, which is my current work-in-progress, deals with segregation in education, as well as the power of the press and attempts to suppress the it. Lest you think my stories are all issue-oriented, I assure you that my characters also fall in love, have children, try to understand each other, and have moments of silliness and fun.

Please tell me about your latest book in the series, “The Great Central Fair.”

The Great Central Fair

The Great Central Fair is a novella. It had its roots in A Time to Heal: Saint Maggie Series 3 but I removed it because I realized that I had enough side plots going. I tried inserting it into my current work-in-progress, but again it just got in the way. Finally, I said, “Enough! Why don’t I make it a short story or a novella?”

The story is a solidly a romance, and I got to leave most of the social and political issues of the time behind. The Great Central Fair is about being young and in love during a time of war (1864). One of the relationships is well-established and looking toward the future. The other relationship is new and evolving. The city of Philadelphia serves as the catalyst for some of the changes that occur for the couples and the interaction among the characters in the story.

I love the title and how it stands out to grab the reader’s attention. Will you please tell your audience about the Fair and an example how it ties into your story?

I’d love to do that! When I realized I was bringing my characters to Philadelphia, I did a little research about what was going on in the city at that time. I thought it would be fun if they could engage in something that also was rooted in history. Well, I ran across a comment about the city hosting a “sanitary fair” and that stopped me dead in my tracks. What on earth was a “sanitary fair?” A showcase of bathtubs? An exhibition of the latest in sanitized drinking water? A display of modern sewage systems?

The answer both surprised me and made me slap my head and shout, “Duh!” A “sanitary fair” was a fair held to raise money for the Sanitary Commission, a civilian-run organization approved by the U.S. government. The Commission provided medical help and sanitary assistance (regarding food and general health issues) to soldiers and, sometimes, civilians. It also sent nurses and cooks to regiments and helped set up field hospitals.

The Commission was a huge effort initiated by the people to make life bearable for their soldiers. To support the Commission’s work, Sanitary Fairs were held throughout the Union and raised, by the time of the Philadelphia Sanitary Fair, over two million dollars. All the donations seemed to come from the Union’s citizens. The Philadelphia Sanitary Fair also was known as “The Great Central Fair” because it reached beyond its city and state to include people living in New Jersey and Delaware.

The connection of the fair comes into the story after the two young couples ask Chester Carson to be their chaperone on a three-day, two-night trip to Philadelphia before their young men report for duty at Mower General U.S. Hospital. It is Carson who mentions the fair a place to visit during the trip. The fair then provides a new experience for the couples, as well as (I hope) for readers. It is an 1864 exhibit of past and present during wartime that contains the hope that the Union will win the conflict and become whole once again at some future date. Within that environment, the characters all look toward their own futures.

Who are the characters in your story?

The novella revolves around Maggie’s daughters, Lydia and Frankie. By 1864, they are young women aged 22 and 18 respectively. That they are leaving the childhood behind is not lost on Maggie, who is feeling the tug of “empty nest syndrome,” especially when Frankie’s beau, Patrick, arrives at the household for a week’s leave from the army before he reports for duty as a steward at Mower General Hospital. She sees their relationship and knows it will lead to marriage. Maggie’s husband Eli also finds his stepdaughters’ maturing to be difficult. As Frankie’s in loco father, he goes a wee bit overboard to guard her purity. In Eli’s eyes Lydia is older, a widow, and the sensible sister. So, he figures he does not have to worry about her. We find out whether that is true.

Lydia’s friend, Philip, an army doctor who had been serving at Harwood General Hospital in Washington D. C., has also been ordered to report to Mower. He, too, arrives at in Blaineton to spend a week’s leave with his friend and her family.

The story follows the young couples as they become reacquainted. For Frankie and Patrick, that means making plans. For Lydia and Philip, it means a shift in their relationship from friends to something more. Both couples decide to have a holiday in Philadelphia before the men must report and, since it is 1864, they choose Chester Carson, Eli’s senior editor and one of the boarding house family, to accompany them.

For the readers who are not familiar with Eli Smith, can you talk a little about him?

Eli Smith – dark hair and eyes, short, portly, rumpled, and bespectacled. An incident in the first novel has left him with an unsteady left leg and his needs to use a cane to help him get around.

By 1864, Eli has been married to Maggie for nearly four years. He and Maggie are the parents of Bob, whom they adopted, and infant Faith, who was a surprise.

When we first meet Eli in Saint Maggie, he is a newspaperman who owns and prints the Gazette. He was raised as a Quaker but abandoned his faith and has become a free-thinker. I wanted him to be a free-thinker because Maggie’s strong Methodism needed some balance on her mate’s side. However, throughout the series, God clearly is not interested in abandoning Eli, and the newspaperman experiences the occasional bewildering supernatural intrusion. Eli also retains some of his early training as a Friend: he is anti-violence, anti-war, and a strong abolitionist. He’s an intriguing mix of a free-thinking agnostic, a man being shaped by his wife, and a man being chased by Something Else.

If Maggie is, as one of my beta readers puts it, someone who experiences ten different emotions at once, Eli generally tends to have one at a time and they’re usually strong: angry, remorseful, sorrowful, tender, thoughtful, questioning, and… funny. He’s good comic relief.

Over the course of the Saint Maggie series, Eli loses his precious Gazette weekly newspaper to an arson fire. He tries to continue to make a go as a war correspondent for the New York Times but loses the job when he writes something other than what the editors demanded. The experience demoralizes him and feels like a failure, professionally and personally. Fortunately, Tryphena Moore (Blaineton’s richest and most intimidating citizen) decides to start a paper of her own called The Blaineton Register. She invites Eli to be her editor-in-chief because she hopes he will create “controversy of the best kind.” So, in The Great Central Fair, Eli now oversees a growing newspaper and is living his dream. He may be in a smallish western New Jersey town but now he is a miniature version of his hero Horace Greeley.

I use Eli in the first chapter to introduce the characters and the setting in The Great Central Fair.

Were there any particular scenes you found challenging to write?

Good question! The chapter at the fair was quite challenging for me. Research-wise, I was lucky to find copies of the fair’s visitor guide online and in paperback form. I also found a great many black and white photos of the Philadelphia fair at the Library of Congress. But when I tried to bring the fair to life, that was rather tough. Sometimes it was difficult to imagine the black and white photos in color and teeming with the people. Also, the way people in the 1800s mounted exhibits is quite different than way we do today. From what I could observe, fair’s displays simply were hung on walls and set up on tables. I saw none of the installation methodologies we are familiar with today. My head kept thinking, “wow, all this stuff was just sitting around and hanging on walls. Boring!” And I had to remind myself that this was all new for my characters and therefore exciting. I think the easiest thing to imagine was the Floral Department because the guide book was bubbling over with nineteenth-century enthusiasm about all the flowers and displays.

Imagining the physical scope of the building was tough, too. It took up all of Logan Square! Trying to get the feeling of the walking in the space was next to impossible, but I gave it my best shot. Again, the pictures with some of the descriptions from the guide books helped.

What is some of the research that goes into writing an historical fiction novel?

I generally start with secondary sources – people who are writing about an era, its events, and people from a distance. That gives me context and a general understanding. But I love to get hold of primary sources – things written at the time the event or person lived. Frankly, I would love to be able to go and hang out in an archival library for a week, but I have another form of employment other than writing, so taking the time off to do that is not possible. That means I need to rely on books and the articles on the internet. However, I am fortunate to have a solid background in the 19th century, thanks to a Ph.D. in North American Religion and Culture from Drew University. So, that background plus the research starts me on my way. And yet research also occurs while I’m writing. I can’t tell you how many times I have stopped to look something up because I’m not sure what I’m doing is true to the era. That goes for everything from language to laundry to the type of press Eli’s newspapers have and what they look like.

Some friends have been encouraging me to write a YA (Young Adult) fantasy and I tried to put them off by saying that means I’d have to create a coherent world of my own. They immediately responded by saying that wasn’t a problem, it was a benefit. All I had to do would be make stuff up and make sure it makes sense. I wouldn’t have to research every little thing. Really? I don’t know about that. One of the authors I know has written a fantasy series and it looks like hard work to imagine a coherent, detailed world. I’ll probably take a stab at writing a book like that but I believe it will be every bit as difficult as historical fiction.

Reading your novels, it is apparent how much the 19th Century interest you. What are some of the misconceptions people might have about the time period?

We’ve talked about this on the phone, Stephanie, so you know what I’m going to say! The big misconception about the time period is that we see it as so much simpler than it was. An extreme example of this is the Civil War: North=good, South=bad. Wrong! The politics before, during, and after the war were complex, the emotions were complex, the beliefs were complex, the situations were complex. People did not march in lock-step physically, nor did they march in lock-step emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually.

A good example of this is my home state of New Jersey. It was part of the Union during the Civil War, but it was not overwhelmingly pro-war or anti-slavery. In fact, my state was the last to outlaw slavery in the Union and even then, we did it gradually. We also had many “Copperheads,” people who were anti-war and anti-Lincoln. In my series, I try to point out the conflicts that are peculiar to New Jersey.

We also like to think that 19th century Americans were basically the same in their ethnicity and religious beliefs. But even in the 1860s United States was a varied place. Living in the nation were Native peoples, people enslaved and free whose background was African, people from Ireland, England, France, Germany, and other European nations. Religions were diverse, too: Judaism, Islam (10-15% of African slaves were Muslim when they arrived & struggled to practice their faith in secret), native religions from Africa, Native American religions, Christianity (in all its diverse forms), and Mormonism. And I’m sure I missed more examples.

I firmly believe that the roots of who we are today and the issues with which we struggle today have their roots in the 19th century. Why? Simply because we haven’t dealt with them.

Will you continue to write more books in this series?

I’m thinking of ending the series in 1865, shortly after the war. However, Maggie and Eli may let me know that their story goes on beyond that. So, all I can say is that my plan is to end it in 1865, but I may get out-voted by my characters.

In the meantime, I am “spinning off” a series for Frankie and probably one for Lydia. The Great Central Fair and The Enlistment are my first attempts at focusing more closely on Maggie’s daughters.

Where can readers buy your book?

Once it is published, you may buy The Great Central Fair (or any of the other books or short stories related to the Saint Maggie series) at the following places:

Squeaking Pips Press, Inc. This is my micro publishing house. The website is Squeaking Pips  and I have a convenient Store page on it. I sell only the paperbacks there.

Amazon carries the books in paperback and on Kindle. You’ll also find the books at Barnes & Noble, and other online distributors.

You might find them in a bookstore or a library. If you don’t see them, please request them!

The one store that I know you can find two of the series in is the Lahaska Bookshop, Peddler’s Village Store, 162 Carousel Ln & Rte 263 A, Lahaska, PA 18931. Dolyestown & Lahaska Book Shop

Thank you for the interview, Stephanie. I really enjoyed the questions!

About Janet Stafford:

Janet R Stafford

Janet Stafford is a Jersey girl, book lover and lifelong scribbler. She readily confesses to being overly-educated, having received a B.A. in Asian Studies from Seton Hall University, as well as a Master of Divinity degree and a Ph.D. in North American Religion and Culture from Drew University. Having answered a call to vocational, but non-ordained ministry, Janet has served six United Methodist Churches, working in spiritual formation, communications, and ministries with children, youth, and families. She also was an adjunct professor for six years, teaching college classes in interdisciplinary studies and world history.
Writing, history, and religion came together for Janet when she authored Saint Maggie, an historical novel set in 1860-61 and based on a research paper written during her Ph.D. studies. She thought the book would be a single novel, but kept hearing readers ask, “What happens next?” In response, Janet created a series that follows the unconventional family from the first book through three other novels and three short stories, all set in the traumatic years of the American Civil War. Janet also ventured into the contemporary romance genre, going closer to home (the church) for her source material. Heart Soul & Rock ’n’ Roll tells the story of 40-year-old Lindsay Mitchell, who led a rock band in college but for the past fifteen years has worked as an assistant minister. Besieged by mid-life crisis, Lins wonders if perhaps she isn’t called to something new. But could that “something new” be a relationship with Neil, a man with a messy life and a bar band called the Grim Reapers?

Links:

Website

Amazon

Twitter: @JanetRStafford

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Q&A with Melika Dannese Lux

I’d like to welcome Melika Dannese Lux, the author of Deadmarsh Few, to Layered Pages today!  Melika, thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to talk with me today about our upcoming book release, Deadmarsh Fey. Please tell me about your story and the period the story is set in.

fey_promo

The story takes place in England at the tail end of the 19th century. I should explain that Deadmarsh is not only the name of a family, but also the manor on the English moors which they call home. The main protagonist of this novel is Roger Knightley, a ten year old boy, who is the cousin of Havelock (Lockie) Deadmarsh, the heir. For nearly every summer of his young life, Roger has gone to Deadmarsh to while away the days with Lockie. He doesn’t expect anything to be different this year, but as soon as he crosses the threshold, he realizes that everyone has changed, especially Kip, the family cat, who has inexplicably grown and altered in other alarming ways. After several terrifying encounters with creatures from a death-haunted world called Everl’aria, Roger begins to understand that something evil has been awakened within the halls of Deadmarsh, something that is not only after Lockie and his older sister, Travers, but Roger, as well. A tapestry of secrets and lies has woven itself around the Deadmarshes, and Roger now finds himself in the position of having to unravel the mystery of why a being called the Dark Wreaker has bedeviled his family for 700 years, just what exactly the Deadmarsh connection to Everl’aria really is…and how his ancestress with the unpronounceable name, whom Roger has always called Bloody Granny B, fits into the grand scheme of things. All this, he must unravel before Lockie’s 11th birthday, two days hence. If he doesn’t, blood will drown the earth. And that’s not an understatement.

Your book cover is amazing! Who is your cover designer and age group this story geared to?

Thank you so much, Stephanie! The designer is Ravven (ravven.com), and she is brilliant! I had a very specific vision for the cover, and she was able to bring every single element of it to life in ways that still astound me.

Even though the main protagonist is a young boy, Deadmarsh Fey is not a children’s book. It is geared to anyone who enjoys an intense and detailed genre-bending story with a supernatural twist—a tale that entwines elements of dark fantasy, mystery, horror, and the inexplicable. As for an age group, I think those 14 and older would be able to appreciate and enjoy this story the most.

What is the research that went into for the setting and period of your story?

My last two novels were also set in the late 19th century, so I was already very familiar with the mores, history, vernacular, etc., of this era. For Deadmarsh Fey, my main research centered on folklore, specifically that of Wales and Norway, which are the two branches of myth that flavor the events of this and the subsequent books in my Dwellers of Darkness, Children of Light series. I love exploring mythology, then coming up with my own legends and histories for my characters. Names and their meanings have also always played a huge role in my novels, but never more so than in Deadmarsh Fey.    Returning to myths…the backstories of Everl’aria and the beings who populate it, especially the Guardians, were my favorite parts of the novel to write.

Please tell me a little about the Deadmarsh name and how you came up with it. 

About 16 years ago, I was watching a sporting event on TV, only half paying attention to what was going on, when I heard the announcer call out the name Deadmarsh. My first thought was, “Wow! What a fantastically creepy and portentous name that is!” And so it stuck in my head all those years until I finally found a story to build around the family which bore that name.

Will you tell me about the Jagged Ones?

Yes, of course! Their identity is rather sensitive, but I can tell you that Carver, the blue menace on the book’s cover, is their leader. There are many reasons why they are called Jagged Ones, and the main one is not revealed till a few chapters from the end of the novel. Basically, these creatures are the servants of the Dark Wreaker, and use their power and mesmeric qualities to trick their victims into doing their bidding, which opens the door for these creatures to have a rather horrifying rite of access to said victims. I really can’t say more without revealing the entire rationale behind the Jagged Ones’ existence!

How did you get into writing Dark Fantasy?

I’ve always been fascinated by writing fantasy. It was my original love, actually, since my first (as yet uncompleted) novel, which I began writing at 14, was a fantasy novel with a decidedly dystopian flair. You won’t be surprised to hear that sharks played a large role in this book. I revisited the novel in 2012, and wrote a prologue and three chapters before realizing it still wasn’t the right time to be working on this project.

About a year later, I began work on what would be the fourth novel in Dwellers of Darkness, Children of Light. At the time, I thought it would be the first. I’m glad I wrote that novel, though, because the myths that were explored in it helped me tremendously when writing Deadmarsh Fey, which I quickly realized had to be the inaugural book in the series. So, in 2014, I began working on it in earnest. Deadmarsh has actually been with me for a very long while, albeit unknowingly. It turned out to be the prequel to a fantasy trilogy I started writing in 2003, in which Roger was a grandfather! Life and other projects intervened, and I put that story on hold, but the idea of exploring why Roger’s life had turned out the way it had done became too insistent to ignore, and I decided to go back and create an entire foundation for why the events in that trilogy even happened. Needless to say, it’s been a tremendous amount of work, but great fun, as well, because there were story arcs and strands of legend that I’d only scratched the surface of that I got to reveal in Deadmarsh Fey in all their (sometimes hellish) glory.

And that’s where the dark part of dark fantasy came in. The seeds for writing horror were sown in my last novel, Corcitura, which is dark Gothic horror, along classical lines. Think Dracula instead of Twilight. I’m not a person who enjoys writing “sweetness and light” books, although there are always elements of comedy and sarcasm in my novels. Authorial confession: I can’t separate that from my own personality, so it finds its way into my characters! I have to be engaged when writing, and how this happens for me, I’ve noticed, is placing characters into situations, often dire ones, in which life and death are at stake, then having them battle their way out by using their wits, engaging the help of allies, and sometimes, through a confluence of events that saves them from imminent destruction through no doing of their own. They also don’t always find happy ways out of these situations, just to be clear. It depends on where the story tells me to go.

Who is your antagonist and what is a redeeming quality he or she has?

I have several antagonists in the book, but there are five main ones who wreak the most havoc on Roger and his allies. Two I can mention by name, because the identities of the others are revealed gradually. The first is Trahaearn Coffyn, who we meet in the opening chapter. His redeeming quality, though twisted, is his intense loyalty to the evil powers he serves, specifically to a woman he’s been faithful to for, well…for a good long while.

The other is Carver, the blue fiend on the cover. As I mentioned before, he is the leader of the Jagged Ones, and not someone you’d want to run across in real life. And yet, although I despise him…I also like him quite a lot! I think it’s because he’s so comfortable in his own evilness that he oftentimes came out with lines that cracked me up, even though he was being his despicable self! For quite a while, I was mystified by my being able to laugh at them, until I understood that the reason I could was because Carver knew he was irredeemable, and had no qualms about being so. And, yes, you’ve probably noticed that I’m talking about him as if he is a flesh and blood entity. Well, that’s how he, and all the characters in this book, feel to me. I was just the facilitator who was writing down what they wanted me to say. It sounds crazy, I know, but that’s how it was throughout this entire novel!

On a personal level, how does this story resonate with you?

Writing Deadmarsh Fey was a very intense experience for me. Corcitura was an incredibly complex novel, yet I think that because Deadmarsh Fey is not only its own complete story, but also lays the groundwork for the other novels in the series—it required me to plumb depths I never had before as a writer. I also became very attached to these characters, even growing fond of the villains in some strange way, which surprised me!

But the main thing for me when writing this novel was the gamut of emotions I experienced, especially in regards to Roger. The entire book is told from his perspective (third person), and because of that, I felt like I became Roger in this story. I discovered things as he did, saw things through his eyes, which meant that everything he endured, everything he felt—pain, fear, excitement, terror, disappointment, panic, elation—I felt  intensely, too. It was exhausting and rewarding at the same time. And made it very hard to put him through the ordeals I had him undergo. Very hard, but not impossible, and I did feel terrible afterward, but what the story called for, the story got.

Story wise, the events in Deadmarsh Fey resonated with me because they are about fighting for the ones you love. That is the main impetus that propels Roger’s actions, and the actions of his allies. It’s not just about survival, or stopping the evil of the Dark Wreaker and his servants from  being unleashed upon this earth, but about saving the very souls of those who are most important to you, those you’d give your life for. And that is something that has always appealed to me, not only in storyweaving, but in reality.

Please share with me your writing process and your favorite spot to write in your home.

After writing Deadmarsh Fey in chronological order from beginning to end without deviating, I have become addicted to this process, so that is how I now work. I cannot see myself going back to writing novels piecemeal after this experience.

I’m a rover when it comes to my favorite spot to write in at home. I do have a designated office/study/library, with a lovely writing desk, but I don’t like to stay in one place for too long. I feel like I become stagnant if I don’t have a change of writing scene every now and then. So, since I work on a laptop, I take it all over the house, and settle where I’m most comfortable.

Where can readers buy your book?

The Kindle edition of Deadmarsh Fey is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com  (HERE). The paperback edition will also be available for purchase (through Amazon) on May 2nd, the book’s official release date.

About the Author:

Melika

I have been an author since the age of fourteen and write novels that incorporate a variety of different genres, including historical fiction, suspense, thrillers with a supernatural twist, and dark fantasy. I am also a classically trained soprano/violinist/pianist and have been performing since the age of three. Additionally, I hold a BA in Management and an MBA in Marketing.

If I had not decided to become a writer, I would have become a marine biologist, but after countless years spent watching Shark Week, I realized I am very attached to my arms and legs and would rather write sharks into my stories than get up close and personal with those toothy wonders.

Website: Books In My Belfry

Twitter  @BooksInMyBelfry

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Interview with Mike Torreano

I’d like to welcome Mike Torreano to Layered Pages to talk about is upcoming book, The Renewal, a story that takes place in western America. 

Hello, Mike! Thank you for chatting with me and congrats on your latest book, The Renewal. Please tell me a little about your story.

The Renewal By Mike Torreano

The Renewal is the sequel to The Reckoning, and is set in South Park, Colorado, in 1872.

Ike McAlister has finally put the ghosts of his past to rest. He’s found new joy with a spirited wife, a young daughter, and a mountain valley ranch where a man can make something of himself. But a coming railroad through the South Park valley threatens to take his land and tear his hard-won peace apart.

Describe the setting for your story.

South Park is a high mountain basin with rolling grasslands and flowing rivers, and is surrounded by 14,000-foot snowcapped peaks. Wide-open spaces perfect for cattle ranching. There’s a little town of Cottonwood near Ike and Lorraine’s ranch and a railroad is planned to come from Denver through the Park soon.

What are Ike’s strengths?

Ike’s character has been shaped by a hard life. He’s seen plenty of sorrow but hasn’t let it get in the way of what he wants-a wife and children, and enough land for a working cattle ranch. He’s a bit stoic, but very loyal. Sometimes his temper gets in the way of his better judgment, but that’s usually when Lorraine, his wife, sets him straight again. He’s the guy you’d want your daughter to marry. Solid, stable.

What is your personal opinion of him?

I like Ike, he knows what he wants and just goes about his business. He keeps his focus and pushes through whatever obstacles with no complaint. He’s an embodiment of The Code Of The West. Would that there were more Ikes, men and women, in our country today.

Did he ever do anything that surprises you?

Ike can be a blustery sort, but I was surprised when he backed off at a critical point in The Renewal and relied on friendship instead of being a bull in a china shop to convince a friend he needed to stay behind. Apparently, he’s not always full speed ahead.

What was your writing process for this story?

I’m a pantser but this is a sequel so I had some idea of where it might be going before I started. I’m also an undisciplined pantser, though, so I usually spend time percolating in between scenes and in between writing. I have a daughter who does research for me so she saves me a lot of time that I’d otherwise spend looking things up.

Tell me about how you started writing Westerners and what you think the importance of writing in this genre is?

I was originally inspired by Zane Grey’s works way back in the fifth grade and that simmered over time. When I retired from business, I took the opportunity to see if I could write a novel, and westerns were where I wanted to start. It also seems like westerns are making a comeback lately.

As for the importance, I’d point out The Code Of The West, which embodies timeless values that our country would do well to re-embrace. All westerns reflect The Code Of The West in some form or fashion and that’s why they’ll never die.

Is there a message in your story you want your readers to grasp?

A message? It would be that there are timeless values embodied by the Old West that still ring true in our ever-shifting culture today. The Old West was a no whining zone where you played the hand you were dealt and made the best of things as they were.

What is up next for you?

Next? I’m working on a new western set on a cattle drive going north out of New Mexico. My hero is being chased by bad guys but doesn’t even know it. There’s a backstory that draws the story forward into surprising twists and turns.

Where can readers purchase your book?

The Renewal is available, along with the first book, The Reckoning, on Amazon and other e-outlets, in print, Kindle and will be available in audio soon. Readers can also visit The Wild Rose Press website. And come visit me on miketorreano.com.

About the Author:

Mike T

Mike Torreano has a military background and is a student of history and the American West.

His western mystery, The Reckoning, was released September 2016 by The Wild Rose Press and the sequel, The Renewal, is due to be released soon. He’s working on the next western now and he also has a coming-of-age Civil War novel looking for a publisher.

Mike’s written for magazines and newspapers. An experienced editor, he’s taught University English and Journalism. He’s a member of the Historical Novel Society, Pikes Peak Writers, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Western Writers of America and several other western writing groups. He brings his readers back in time with him as he recreates life in 19th century America.

Author Website

The Renewal is available on Amazon for Pre-Order.

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