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Interview with Author Bill Harper

I would like to introduce Author Bill Harper, the winner of the B.R.A.G Medallion. If you have any enquiries about IndieBRAG and you are a self-publishing author please visit our website at

Bill please tell us about your book, Second Thoughts.

Thanks to you, STEPHANIE..and your IndiBrag website and to Geri Clouston of B.R.A.G. Medallion for giving me this opportunity to do just that.

The full title of the book – Second Thoughts: Presidential Regrets with their Supreme Court Nominations gives a pretty good idea of what’s between the covers. And, just like all the rest of us, Presidents of the United States do make mistakes and sometimes, just like all the rest of us, they too come to regret some of their actions.

The difference is, when you and I make a mistake, its effects are fairly marginal. But when the President makes a mistake, it can be monumental. For instance, what do you do when you’re Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the President of the United States, and you appoint and fight for and get a specific Supreme Court nomination? Then, you wake up a few months later to screaming newspaper headlines that your vaunted nominee – to the highest court in the land – has been discovered to be — a lifetime member of the Ku Klux Klan!

Or, suppose you’re Ulysses S. Grant – Civil War hero and two-term American President. One of your Supreme Court nominees has just committed one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in the history of jurisprudence. One of Grant’s nominees was sitting as judge in a New York State trial – which Supreme Court judges used to do back then when they had to “ride the circuit.”

After hearing all the evidence from the prosecution and an impassioned defense in Susan B. Anthony’s so-called “illegal voting” trial, your candidate dismisses the jury entirely, reaches into his robes, and pulls out a previously written of verdict of “Guilty!” Your man is Judge, Jury, and Executioner – in a highly publicized and volatile trial!

These are the kinds of stories we write about in Second Thoughts: Presidential Regrets with their Supreme Court Nominations. And they’re all true.
Were there any challenges you faced while writing/researching your story?

One of the challenges was that most of the people therein that I write about are long-gone. Tough to get interviews in that case. Another challenge is what I’ve been calling some of the “salty” language used by these distinguished jurists and by our American Presidents.

There are in Second Thoughts any number of stories with comments that don’t need to be sanitized. For instance, Teddy Roosevelt later said of one of his appointees to the Supreme Court – the famed Oliver Wendell Holmes – that he – Teddy – could “find a banana with more backbone” than that Justice.
Then, there are the mild epithets. President Eisenhower said of his appointment of Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that – it was “the biggest damned fool thing I ever did in my life.” But, when a Supreme Court Justice calls the President of the United States “a crippled son of a (female dog, or a word to that affect)” – how is one to use that language?

When President Nixon says every single member of the Supreme Court is the “child of (unmarried parents – or, again, a word to that affect),” how do you clean it up? Or, in this day and age, do you?

I chose not to clean it up – and let me tell you why….

In my book Eleven Days in Hell – about the taking of hostages in a Texas prison in Huntsville in 1974 – one of my interviewees was the Catholic priest, Father Joseph O’Brien, who was among the hostages taken. In one of his early sentences, he said something like, “So I asked the guy who the Hell he thought he was?”

To hear a priest talk like shocked me a bit so I said something like, “Whoa, Father O’Brien. Isn’t that unusual language for a member of the cloth?” His answer was like a searchlight. It was that strong. “When you want to communicate in a prison, Bill,” he told me straight out, “You have to speak the language of the prison!” And in the words of famed TV newscaster Walter Cronkite, I feel when writing history, you have to let the reader know, “…that’s the way it is.” I’ve tried to keep that in mind for all my writings ever since.

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

I don’t know about a message, Stephanie. But what I have found in writing Second Thoughts is that it contains a whole raft of intriguing stories that many of our most learned members of the legal profession had never heard before. I constantly hear reports from judges and lawyers saying things like, “Gee, they never taught me that in law school!”

A lawyer who tried the predecessor Roe v. Wade case wrote to me and said, “I must confess that some of this history is just about unknown and so new to me.”

So to again try to answer your question, Stephanie, the “message” of Second Thoughts is a history lesson – trying to teach why we have some of the laws – and the law-makers – we’ve had over the years.

How long did it take you to write, Second Thoughts?

That’s a good question, Steph. I don’t have any idea of how long it took because I have no idea where its genesis began. Unlike my award-winning Eleven Days in Hell book for which I know exactly how, when and where that book was born, the only clue I have for Second Thoughts is that which is shown on one of my computer’s listing October 2009 as the earliest date the master file was created – and the book was published almost exactly two years later.

What is your next book project?

There’s a 60-year-old unsolved murder mystery up in Illinois with more twists and turns than a bag full of pretzels. And it’s just begging to be written. There’s a most influential person in the history of Texas about whom I can find exactly only one biography that has been written.
There’s the story about the Windham School District – which sends its teachers and librarians into prison classrooms in an effort to keep inmates from coming back in after they get out. How many teachers do you know that had to step over a dead body to leave her classroom?

The 60th anniversary of the start of the Nation’s Interstate Highway System is looming and in which I have a local interest in down here at Texas A&M University. I teach Memoir Writing and there are simply dozens of stories there that need amplification.

My problem is not finding stories to write about. My problem is choosing which stories to write about.

Who or what inspired you to become an author?

Many long years ago, I started my full-time working career with the then third largest newspaper in the nation – the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’ve been writing in one form or another ever since.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

First and foremost – in this day of the emergence of self-publishing as the primary source for getting read – and because as an “aspiring” author – I’m guessing one wouldn’t have much of a platform, nor much of a following. That being the case, I’d say that aspiring author better learn more about marketing your work than you did in writing it!

What is your favourite quote?

There so many, Steph. One I truly like says a lot – about America’s conditions throughout its history. As another writer of some note put it – a penman named Mark Twain – “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

And one more, if I may, by a writer of lesser note – your humble scribe. There’s nothing significant about this one. It just comes from one of my books, We Three: Fred, the Ferry Boat, and Me. That’s the story of a 2,400-mile sailboat odyssey through the Great Lakes and in the Inland waterways when I “ran away from home” in Minnesota and ended up in Freeport, Texas. To get out of a horrific Lake Superior storm, I had to drive my 47-foot sailboat up what looked like little more than a stream. In the book, I called it: “A sliver of a river.” I like that!

Author Bio:

William T. (Bill) Harper completed a career as a newspaper and magazine reporter, writer, editor, and natural gas industry executive before “running away from home” on his sailboat. Second Thoughts is his fifth book, one of which is the award-winning Eleven Days in Hell: The 1974 Carrasco Prison Siege in Huntsville, Texas – honored by the Writers League of Texas as “the best in Texas non-fiction for 2005”.

He teaches Memoir Writing in College Station, Texas and was a Guest Lecturer at University of Houston and Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. Twice-elected President of the Brazos Writers group, he is also the creator, writer, and co-host of the PBS radio program, “The Classics and Their Times,” broadcast weekly on Texas A&M University’s KAMU-FM station. He lives in Bryan, Texas with his wife, Joyce (Juntune, PhD, professor at Texas A&M University).

Bill’s e-mail address is:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Bill Harper who is the author of Second Thoughts, one of our medallion honorees at To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, 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 Second Thoughts merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Thank you,

Layered Pages


Layered Pages Wednesday Reviews

Vivaldi’s Muse by Sarah Grace Kelly

Vivaldi’s Muse is an eloquently told story of a young woman named Annina Giro who lives in the early eighteenth century, and who has aspirations of becoming an opera singer. A wealthy count becomes her sponsor and she travels to Vienna to study music. She quickly falls in love with Antonio Vivaldi, a priest who is a composer for the opera, and soon she becomes his protegee. They are inseparable and form a special bond that is so rare in this world–you will be captivated.

I am impressed with what can only be described as impeccable detail in this story. Sarah takes you back to the Renaissance period and gives you an enchanting picture. Her portrayal of the characters was so masterfully done that I felt a strong emotional tie to each of them. I was quickly drawn in and immersed in the opera life of that time and the relationship between Annina and Antonio. I was disappointed when the story came to an end.

Sarah truly is a talented author and she writes with such grace and style. I will continue to follow her work and I look forward to finding out what her next book project is. I highly recommend this story to all of those who are avid readers of historical fiction. This novel will not let you down.

Layered Pages

Sons of the Wolf by Paula Lofting

Sons of the Wolf tells the story of Wulfhere, a Sussex thegn, living during the reign of Edward the Great, in the years leading up to the Norman conquest. A landholder whose land holdings come directly from the King, Wulfhere also owes service go Harold Godwinson, the powerful Earl of Wessex. Wulfhere is a fierce warrior who is also devoted to his growing family, and when the book opens we meet him returning home from battle with the Scots in the year 1054.
After surviving the horrible battle at Dunsinane Hill, Wulfhere only wants to settle at home, tend to his lands and enjoy his family. Of course fate has other plans. Wulfhere and his family’s lives soon get quite complicated and Wulfhere is put in the position of trying to keep his family safe while also not compromising his honor or loyalty to Earl Harold or the King.
The author based Wulfhere on real person, recorded in the Domsday Book, as she did with Helghi, Wulfhere’s neighbor and sworn enemy whose fate seems to be tied to Wulfhere’s. Unfortunately, only the sketchiest details were recorded about Wulfhere and Helghi, so Paula Lofting used her imagination and her knowledge of history to fill in the blanks – creating a vivid, detailed and realistic world full of complex and interesting characters. I liked her characters – both the fictional ones and the non-fictional. I really liked the more personal scope of the story and its focus on Wulfhere and his family and their struggles to love each other amidst conflict and misunderstandings. Wulfhere also participates in major historical events, owing fyrd service to the King, but overall the story doesn’t have the sweeping feel of many historical novels set in Anglo Saxon England. And I find that a welcome change. Paula’s characters feel like real people, with complex human emotions, motivations and, sometimes, failings.

The book itself is beautifully packaged, with rich and colorful cover art, and drawings at the beginning of each section. The author also includes pronunciation and place names guides, as well as a glossary of unfamiliar terms, all of which was very helpful. I would have liked a map to reference as well.

Sons of the Wolf is the first in a series of novels about the Norman conquest of England, and I am very excited to read more about Wulfhere and his family – and their place in history. I enjoyed this novel very much and found it a quick and easy read, one that I will undoubtedly want to read again.

(Four and one-half stars)

Sarah Giacalone

Amber Treasure by Richard Denning

Right off, I was impressed with the extensive research done in preparing for this writing in order to remain true to the time period. The story takes you on a journey of the tumultuous travels of a great sword. While this story does indeed feature several great swords, it is the story within, of a boy growing into a man, which grips your heart. The characters of the villa and their allies are well developed and endearing. Descriptions of the countryside, towns, people and battles are detailed enough to transport the reader into battle, and inspire sympathy for the boys, without being overly gruesome. While at times the storyline was slow, Denning succeeds in attaching the reader’s curiosity to the character’s quest and fates in order to carry you through these slow spots.

I would recommend this book to those interested in the dark ages, important battles in history, and war stories in general. The ending makes clear that this is not intended to be a stand-alone volume and as such those looking for a new series to read will be satisfied as well.

Brandy Strake

Once A Priest by Ed Griffin-Cover unavailable

This book is a biography of a man brought up in a Catholic household. He goes on to become a priest with the goal of helping people, but with time, gets disillusioned with the practices and rituals of the Catholic Church. How he deals with leaving the priesthood, and finds a worthier way to help people is the premise of this book.

The beginning is choppy as the author chooses to give small snippets of information from his background. Instead of flowing smoothly, the text jars on you for a couple of chapters, but it gets much smoother after that. This is basically an autobiography of one man which runs through different themes, but in the end showcases a life well lived. The narrative is catchy and retains interest in spite of the choppy beginning, and has enough twists and turns to retain the reader’s interest.

The author describes in personal detail how the rules of the Catholic Church affected him, effectively showing all the problems of the Church. What really struck me about this book is that there is neither any venom directed towards the church nor is the church absolved of its many crimes. It is a very balanced account of the struggle of one man to see the light.
Another aspect discussed is the kind of brainwashing that takes place in religious societies. One of the strongest points made by this book is that right or wrong is relative. Religions have black and white rules, but the author realized that nothing was so simple. This gave him strength to make the right decision for himself.

There were some really poignant moments described beautifully, and a detailed look is taken at the civil rights movement in USA from the eyes of one man. But the ending chapters get a little less focused with discussion of his youth and going back and forth in time, which starts grating a little.

Overall, a good book and I give 3 out of 5 stars for this. It is really readable, and an excellent and inspirational book.


The Bond by Karen Magill- Cover unavailable

The Bond by Karen Magill is a paranormal love story that is neat, compact, and condensed into 88 fast paced pages. The Bond follows the story of two characters, Laura Neill and Julian Rule, who are both almost simultaneously struck by cars while crossing the street. Being far away from each other when tragedy strikes thy both experience out of body experiences, connecting their souls together. But, when danger enter Laura’s life it will be up to Julian to try to save her, will he be able too?

I enjoyed the way that The Bond was written. Karen Magill’s writing style in this short story is condensed and fast paced. The chapters are short and the plot is moved along with no nonsense. However, I do wish Magill would have expanded the story more to include more description and detail. Magill introduces us to some interesting characters in this story and I found myself wanting to know more about the characters and their backgrounds. I wanted the story to evolve slower than it did but I found myself still turning pages wanting to know what would happen to Laura, Julian, and their families.

I would give The Bond by Karen Magill 3 stars

Rachel Massaro

Layered Pages Review Team:

If you are interested in Layered Pages to review your book, please email Stephanie at,

Interview with Author Tim Vicary

I would like to introduce Author Tim Vicary, the winner of the B.R.A.G Medallion. If you have any enquiries about IndieBRAG and you are a self-publishing author please visit our website at
Please tell us about your book, A Fatal Verdict.

A Fatal Verdict is the second in a series of three legal thrillers featuring a British barrister (trial lawyer) Sarah Newby. She’s a tough lady who left school when she became pregnant at fifteen and had a hard fight to get to where she is today. In all three of these books Sarah is confronted with trials in which she cannot be certain whether the clients she represents are guilty or innocent. The reader doesn’t know either, until the last minute. This means that although Sarah fights each case as hard as she can, there are difficult moral and emotional choices to be made, by her and the police and everyone else involved.

In the first book, A Game of Proof, Sarah’s own son, Simon, is accused of a series of dreadful rapes and murders. This is bad enough for any mother, but Sarah is not just Simon’s mother, she is also a lawyer, an officer of the court. So when she uncovers evidence which seems to prove her own son’s guilt, what should she do? Hide the evidence and risk her career, or tell the truth and betray her son? What would you do in that situation?

The same question comes back in A Fatal Verdict, in a different form. This time it is not Sarah who faces the difficult mother’s choice, but her client, Kathryn Walters. Kathryn’s daughter, Shelley, is murdered; a horrible experience for any parent. But what should a mother do, if the courts set her child’s killer free? How should the victim’s family – her mother, father, and sister – respond to that?

Should they accept the verdict, and try to forgive and forget? Or take the law into their own hands, and seek their own revenge? And if so, how – in practical terms – would they actually do it? Should they plan together or separately? And if one member of the family commits a crime, should the rest of the family lie to protect that person, or save themselves by telling the truth? This is why the book is called A Fatal Verdict; because the choices which confront the victim’s family are so terrible. So Sarah Newby finds herself defending a client for whom she feels great sympathy, but who seems, for reasons Sarah cannot understand, to actually want to be convicted of murder.

Were there any scenes which you found more challenging to write than others?

It wasn’t the scenes that I found difficult; it was the plot. All three of these books have quite complex plots; it’s part of the challenge of making a good thriller, I think. The reader should have enough information to guess where things are going, but be frequently surprised by what actually happens. Timing is important too; the events should seem to move swiftly, in the right order, so that the reader keeps turning the pages; whereas in a real legal case, things aren’t like that.

If a book’s easy to read, it was probably hard to write. And what really stumped me, halfway through this book, was a twist in the plot which I just couldn’t make work. I wrote scene after scene which were all fine in themselves, but which had to be discarded because they didn’t fit the plot. It was like doing a jigsaw where someone had deliberately substituted half-a-dozen wrong pieces. It was only when I worked out what was wrong, that I could carry on to the end and make it work.

The really dramatic scenes, though, are the ones I love doing. I get into the zone and they just flow.

How long did it take you to write A Fatal Verdict?

About a year, probably, with a longish break of several months in the middle, because of this plot business. I work at the university as well, so I don’t have that much time to write.

Is there a part of the day when you feel most inspired to write?

Mostly in the mornings, from about 9 to 12 if I’m free. I find if I haven’t got into it in the morning, it’s much harder to get started later.
But there’s another thing that’s more interesting than the time, perhaps. I think writing is a bit like exercise – running or swimming or whatever you do. I had a period when I trained to run marathons (very slowly, but still …) and when I was running regularly I felt the need to run every day; if I didn’t do it I felt bad. But when I gave up running for a month or two I found it very hard to get started again; there was too much TV to watch, too many books to read, anyway it was raining or too hot, and so on and so on. The excuses mounted up, time passed, and I lost all my fitness.
Writing is the same. When I’m doing it regularly, and have a plan for a book, then I feel a need to do it every day. But if I haven’t done it for a month or two, I find it impossible to start. I look out of the window, go for a walk, watch TV, whatever. And there’s another day gone.

What books have most influenced your life?

Heavens, that’s a hard question. I’ve read hundreds. Sometimes I think I’ve wasted my life reading instead of doing. But perhaps you could say that all those books have influenced my life, by showing me how to lose myself in an imaginary world, which is sometimes more satisfactory than the real world around us. I was the kid who read books when others wanted to play, quite often.

The novels I really enjoy are the ones you don’t want to end. Or when they end there’s another one in the same series. Books in which the same interesting characters have further adventures. For instance the sea stories of Patrick O’Brian – probably the best historical novelist ever. There are twenty-one of them, and I’ve read them all at least six times. Tolkien is similar. And recently my wife and I – and my mother – have immersed ourselves in Winston Graham’s Poldark series, which were once a great TV hit in the 1980s. There are ten or twelve of them, and they’re marvelous, especially if you’ve lived in Cornwall, as I have.

What do you think contributes to making a writer successful in self-publishing?

I wish I knew! I’m still trying to find out!

Apart from writing a series of good books (see below) I think many of the answers are the same as in traditional publishing: talent, hard work, determination, and luck. All three are equally important. The talent and determination go into writing the book in the first place. Then you need more hard work and determination for promotion and the marketing. This involves a steep learning curve, and hours and hours of time on the internet. (Time which could be used for other things, like writing)

Then at the end of it all you need luck. There are gazillions of other authors out there trying to do exactly the same thing, and we can’t all succeed. There are more books than there are readers.

Think of it this way. There is a type of birds in south-east Asia called bower birds. These birds are artists. Every mating season, the male bird spends all day collecting sticks and bright stones and feathers to make a bower to attract females. This bower is like your novel. The poor bird spends all his talent, hard work and determination making the most magnificent bower he can. Then he stands outside waiting. What happens?

Scientists tell us that the males who build the best bowers stand the best chance of getting a mate; that’s natural selection. (The girls choose the guys!) So the writer with the best novel and the best website and the most tweets ought to sell the most books, isn’t that right?

Well, maybe, but what if the fashion in bowers is changing? There are hundreds of birds in the forest who’ve made bowers like this, but a few have a different idea. Our bird’s neighbour is one of these. Instead of carefully woven grasses, bright feathers, and tastefully arranged pebbles, this bird has heaped together a lot of trash – crisp packets, Coke cans, sweet wrappers, broken bottles. Our bird is disgusted; he thinks it’s a tasteless shiny mess.

But guess what? The females love it. They think it’s cool and sexy. Why? Who knows? You have to be a female bower bird, I guess!

That’s luck. Luck plays a big role in natural selection, and in the success of books, too. That’s my theory, anyway. (It’s probably rubbish – but I’m off to find some Coke cans, right now!)

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

First, obviously, write a good book. Some bad books succeed, but I hope it’s true that the better a book is, the better chances it has. If there’s any justice in the world, that ought to help. (But – oh dear – see above!)

Second, write another one. If a reader likes your first book, what are they going to do? Look for the next one. If it’s not there, they’ll go somewhere else.

Third, make sure it’s perfectly edited and formatted with no typos or odd-looking paragraphs. When you think your manuscript’s perfect, read it again, line by line. You’ll find some more.

Fourth, get a good cover. Unless your own talents like that way, get someone professional to do it. I use Cathy Helms at Avalon Graphics. She’s great!

And finally, be prepared to spend all that time and effort promoting your book, and hope you have some luck as well!

What is your favorite quote?

Another hard question. How about this: ‘When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. Characters are caricatures.’ Ernest Hemingway. That’s fairly ambitious but I think he’s right. That’s what I try to do when I’m writing; I don’t know if I succeed.

It goes with another Hemingway quote: ‘All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they really happened, and after you have finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and belongs to you … if you can give that to people, then you are a writer.’

That’s a pretty high target, but it’s worth aiming for, I suppose.

Tim Vicary – short biography

Tim was born in London but spent much of his youth in Devon, in the south west of England. He studied History and English at Cambridge University, became a schoolteacher, a teacher of English as a foreign language, and a Teaching Fellow at the University of York. As well as the three legal thrillers in the ‘Trials of Sarah Newby’ series, he has published two children’s books, four historical novels, and about twenty graded readers for foreign learners of English, two of which recently won awards.

Tim lives with his wife in the English countryside near York. When he is not writing or playing with his grandchildren he still tries to keep fit by horse riding, cycling and jogging, though less than before. (The time for marathons is probably over)


Tim Vicary’s official website:
About the Sarah Newby books:
About historical thrillers:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Tim Vicary who is the author of A Fatal Verdict, one of our medallion honorees at To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, 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 A Fatal Verdict merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Thank you,

Layered Pages

The Covenant Within by R.A.R. Clouston

Interview with R.A.R. Clouston and a review by Stephanie coming August 27th!
Rated Four Stars by Layered Pages
“Most people dream, many experience déjà vu; some believe in reincarnation. But what if it really was possible to relive the lives of your ancestors?

American CEO, Jack Sinclair, is tormented by dreams of people he doesn’t know and places he’s never been, making him wonder if he is going insane. A phone call from a psychiatrist in Edinburgh wakes him out of another dream. She tells him that his estranged twin brother has committed suicide. Filled with mixed emotions, Sinclair travels to the Orkney Islands off northern Scotland to attend the funeral and soon discovers troubling circumstances surrounding his brother’s death. To uncover the truth, he journeys into the shadowy world locked behind the veil of consciousness via what the psychiatrist calls genetic memory. This vast ancestral inheritance is passed down through DNA and surfaces only in dreams, déjà vu, or visions of past lives. With the doctor’s help, Sinclair relives dramatic events from his distant past and discovers a dark secret about his family that traces back to the hill called Calvary. Throughout, he is pursued by unknown killers, and by another force of evil from which he cannot escape: the beast of his onrushing insanity.”

Interview with Author John Hickman

I would like to introduce John Hickman, the winner of the B.R.A.G Medallion

John, please tell us about your book, A Cold Snow in Castaway County.

A former police officer and investigator from the Boston PD, Dell Hinton leaves the city after a controversial shooting. He moves to a small community in Maine where an old school friend lives. After building his home along the shore of a lake, Dell is convinced to run for the job of Sheriff in Castaway County. After winning the election, he meets with the prior Sheriff and learns of a cold case that has been haunting that man for ten years. The story line then centers on how Dell must learn the new duties of being a Sheriff and work to solve the cold case.

Considering your experience in law enforcement, I’m sure it helped you a great deal in writing your story. Did you have to do any additional research for your book other than what you already know?

Well, I was able to incorporate some stories from my career, as well as some of my training throughout the years. But I did have to research some law enforcement procedures with officers in Maine. While many might not realize it, there are often many differences in how the law enforcement function is handled from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as well as from State to State. In Virginia, my county had a full- service Sheriff’s Office, while the next county East has a Sheriff’s Office and a County Police Department who split up the duties a full-service office performs. SO in just two, side by side counties, the duties are widely different. For that reason, I had to research some of the law enforcement techniques in Maine to make my fictitious Sheriff’s Office plausible.

Who or what inspired you to become an author?

One of the biggest challenges I faced was making a determination as to whether I could sustain a story line long enough to make it into a book. I was a little worried at first that I might only be able to write a book of short stories, but after the first few chapters I became more confident that I could sustain the story. The book is still a fairly short, easy read.

What is your greatest strength as a writer?

Since I am writing fiction, I think one of my best strengths is that I have always had a good imagination, even as a small child. As a kid I could make almost anything out of Scotch Tape and string and cardboard! Another strength for me is that I was gifted by my Mother with the ability to write and speak grammatically correct English and to express my thoughts fairly easily in writing. Thanks, Mom!

I have always found it easy to write. While I was employed at the Sheriff’s Office I wrote many articles for publications like the American Jail Magazine, and the National Sheriff’s Magazine. In addition, I wrote two training keys for the American Jail Association that were used by the National Correctional Training Center in Colorado for one of their jail administrator classes. When I retired from the Sheriff’s Office, I gravitated to the idea that I might try writing a book and using some of my experiences as story line incidents. That was pretty much it!

What is your next book project?

I am currently working on a second book in the Dell Hinton series. I have thus far completed the first two chapters and expect to get some serious work done on the project over the next month or two. I did take a bit of constructive criticism from one of the kind people who reviewed my first book and I will be writing the next one in the first person, from Dell’s perspective. I think it will enhance the character and make the book flow better. I’m quite excited about the project thus far!

Who is your favorite author and why?

I read a lot of westerns for relaxation. I love the old west, even though most of the books I read may romanticize somewhat actual daily life in a western town on the frontier. My two favorites for westerns are Louis L’Amour and William Johnstone. Since I have published, I have met various other writers through Twitter, etc. One author whom I met and have spent a lot of time talking to is Sinclair MacLeod, from Scotland. He has written a series of books, three I think thus far, with the primary character called the Reluctant Detective. I have read the first book and loved it, and have the next two on my Kindle to read over my vacation later this year in Maine.

What is your favorite quote?

One of my favorites, which has been used in a few western movies like Tombstone and Pale Rider, is from a Bible verse, Revelation 6:8. It reads in part, “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” I think the quote was used in the movies to illustrate justice; at least that is how I’ve always viewed the passage.

Another favorite quote is one that I penned and had printed upon the reverse of my Sheriff’s Office business cards. It reads, “ Any man who betrays his own word lacks integrity and is, therefore, of little value.” I always felt that summed up how I felt about truth, honesty and integrity as best I could!

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

If writing fiction, my advice would be to let your imagination soar and allow some of your personality to live within your characters. I think giving them some of you, allows the character to be more easily identified by your readers. And I think readers need to be able to identify with a character, even if only in a small way, to find the character realistic. If writing non-fiction,
my best advice would be to research, research and do more research. Readers want and expect the truth, the facts and the story in non-fiction books. And they deserve to get it. And trust me, if there is one false fact, someone will find it and report it back to you. Best of luck in your writing!

Thanks Steph, for asking great questions and allowing me the privilege to have this interview.

John J

Author Bio

John Hickman was born and raised in a small farming community in Pennsylvania. Following high school, he worked as a cadet at the Washington County Sheriff’s Department in Hagerstown, Maryland while completing his Associates degree in Law Enforcement. After serving for a year as a Deputy Sheriff in Hagerstown, he moved to Northern Virginia and took a job at the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. He served Loudoun for 25 years, in various positions, including ten years on the Sheriff’s senior staff, as an Assistant Division Commander.

During his tenure, John penned various articles for the American Jails Magazine and the National Sheriff’s Magazine. He also penned several training keys for the American Jail Association that were used in a Jail Manager Training program conducted by the National Institute of Corrections in Boulder, Colorado. John has always enjoyed writing, and has written lyrics for various songs as well.

Following retirement, John decided to attempt to write a book. He wanted to create a main character who displayed the values of honesty and integrity, while solving crimes using common sense thinking. He decided to place the setting for the book in Maine, where he has vacationed since the age of five. His first book was honored by Indie BRAG with a 2012 BRAG Medallion. Since the publishing of his first book, A Cold Snow in Castaway County, he has already begun a second book to carry on the series.

John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife Jennifer. His son, Branden, is a professional drummer and drum teacher.

Associated Web Site Links – my book publishing web site – my blog web site – my music publishing web site – My book is a 2012 Honoree

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview John Hickman who is the author of A Cold Snow in Castaway County, one of our medallion honorees at To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, 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 A Cold Snow in Castaway County merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Thank you,

Layered Pages

Wednesday Reviews

The Queen’s Guard by Traci E. Hall

The year is 1147, and Lady Isabella de Lacey is traveling to Jerusalem with Queen Eleanor, King Louis of France, and his army of crusaders as a member of the Queen’s Guard. Having first arrived in Constantinople, the Queen has Isabella spy on Raoul Laskaris, Emperor Manuel’s closest guard, not knowing that Raoul is acting as a spy for Manuel.

Isabella is fiercely loyal to the Queen, because she saved Isabella from an abusive husband and will give her life to protect her. Knowing she could possibly lose her life, she must find out what the Emperor wants with King Louis. Raoul and Isabella form an attraction to one another that they both try to deny. Throughout the story, they face many obstacles that bring them closer together.

The author weaves a well-written story of political intrigue, espionage, attempted murder and mystery. There were so many twists and turns to the story that at first I wasn’t sure how the plot was going to come together, and I was pleasantly surprised as I read on.

What really stood out for me in this book was the Queens Guard, a group of talented women the Queen chose to protect her. I enjoyed the author’s rendering of the strong, individualized personalities of each of the women. What is so unique about them is their relationship with the Queen; they are like daughters to her and share a special bond. While there is not anything in history to support the idea that Queen Eleanor had Guards that were women, the focus of the close-knit group of women was a clever invention. I highly recommend this book.

4 stars

You can also find my review on…

Layered Pages

Narrow Marsh by A.R. Dance-Cover currently unavailable

Narrow Marsh by A.R. Dance is a different type of historical fiction than I usually read. I typically don’t read about the “common” man—my normal fare for novels set in England are about a royal personality—so when the opportunity arose to review a book about a man growing up in Nottingham of 1811, a time when the wages were low & the hours were long. Workers had very little rights, and while some might be willing to live this way, that is not true for William Daniels, the main character. For me, the plot is where Dance excelled in this novel. The tension between the upper and lower classes is what kept the story rolling, as well as the forbidden relationship between William and a certain young lady. I also appreciated that although this was a time period that I have read little about, nothing was confusing or misleading. It was a very light read, but at the same time, very informative. My one qualm about the novel was that I didn’t always feel what the characters were feeling. I knew that William was in love, but I didn’t always feel it. At times there was a bit more telling than showing. I feel like some of that just has to happen in historical fiction, otherwise the book would be forever long, but it was something that I noticed while reading. Narrow Marsh was a nice departure from some of the romance-heavy historical novels out there. This one is definitely not focused on the romance, and, overall, it was refreshing for that very reason.

3.5 stars

Beth Bulow
Layered Pages Review Team