Interview with Author Betty McMahon

A Rendezvous to Die For

Stephanie: Hello Betty! Congrats on winning the B.R.A.G Medallion. I see that your book (A Rendezvous to Die For) falls under the mystery genre and I do love a good mystery. Please tell me about your story.

Betty: Photographer Cassandra Cassidy does weddings – but only to pay the rent. She’d prefer more interesting subjects. Which gets our reckless heroine in a lot of trouble. During a newspaper assignment to cover a 1830s Rendezvous reenactment, she points her camera inside a sweat lodge, clicks the shutter, and finds the body of her nemesis with a tomahawk in his loathsome head. She can’t help but think “good riddance,” but the local constabulary thinks our meddling photog is the main suspect. Soon she’s up to her f-stops searching for the real killer – with her only investigative skills camera-related.

Stephanie: What was your inspiration for your story and how long did it take you to write it?

Betty: I’d been a working journalist for many years and decided to take a Writer’s Digest course in fiction writing. My mystery book was generated out of the exercises for that class. It took me a long time to write it, several years. Writing fiction is different from journalism and I spent a long time learning how – through writing workshops, tons of books about fiction writing, and lots of practice. It was the equivalent of another college degree!

Stephanie: Please tell me a little about your character, Cassandra Cassidy. How would you describe her?

Betty: She’s talented and independent, a little bit sassy, sometimes naïve and always impulsive.

Stephanie: Is this your first published story?

Betty: This is my first published novel. I won several award for short stories I entered in contests. I’ve been “publishing” for many years in newspapers and magazines.

Stephanie: What got you started in writing mystery?

Betty: The Writer’s Digest class exercises asked students to develop characters and a plot. In the process, I realized I had a mystery going and went with it. I’ve always read mysteries so it was a natural progression.

Stephanie: What is most challenging about writing in this genre?

Betty: Making sure you tie up all the details – and making sure it’s not easy to determine just who the villain is.

Stephanie: What’s up next for you?

Betty: Cassandra’s next adventure is set in New Mexico. I have it almost written and hope to publish it this fall. I still need to go through the editing/rewriting process.

Stephanie: What advice would you give to an aspiring author who wants to write mystery?

Betty: Most important – READ a lot of mysteries.

Stephanie: What is the one thing that sets your book apart from others?

Betty: Putting mystery’s new female sleuth Cassandra Cassidy in a setting at a 1830s Rendezvous reenactment is unique.

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Betty: From surfing the Internet to find reviewers for my Rendezvous book.

Stephanie: Thank you, Betty!

 betty M

I’ve worn many hats in my 30-year career as a writer — newspaper reporter, newspaper editor, magazine editor, copywriter, marketing communications specialist — and now, finally, author.

Here’s what made such a career possible:  a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Minnesota in 1982, and then lots of persistence to make that degree work for me. It had to work because I love writing and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

A RENDEZVOUS TO DIE FOR grew out of the intersection of my wide-ranging interests and my writing experience. Before spinning this mystery novel, I was an award-winning short story writer, and also won numerous awards in the field of journalism. A RENDEZVOUS TO DIE FOR actually became a finalist in mystery-writing contests.

I love the idea that A RENDEZVOUS TO DIE FOR takes place in a small Minnesota town and centers around the fictional Prairie River Trappers’ Rendezvous, a weekend reenactment festival involving local citizens and Indians from the nearby reservation. It was a great setup, just asking for a mystery story.

I’m still writing (do writers ever stop writing?) and have some scenes sketched out for Cassandra’s next adventure.


A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Betty McMahon, who is the author of, A Rendezvous to Die For, one of our medallion honorees at . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, 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 Rendezvous to Die For merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.




Interview with Author Phillip Winberry

Phillip Winberry

Stephanie: Phillip, it is a pleasure to be interviewing you! Congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion for your novel, “Reno Splits.” What an interesting title! Please tell me a little about your story.


Phillip: Thanks for having me as your guest, Stephanie. Winning the BRAG Medallion for Reno Splits is a great honor, a surprise to say the least. I’m glad you like the title. It’s meant to convey the essence of the divorce ranch era that prevailed in the mid twentieth century in a place that styled itself as the ‘Biggest Little City in the World.’ During a period of about 35 years (from 1931 to the mid 1960s) Reno was a mecca for divorce seeking women, particularly eastern socialites and Hollywood starlets wanting a quick and easy way to split the sheets of an unhappy marriage.


While establishing the six weeks residency required by the state of Nevada before being granted their independence, many of the split-seekers lived a luxurious and pampered lifestyle sampling Reno’s dazzling nightlife, high-stakes gambling, and majestic scenery.  When New   York lawyer Sam Carr’s twin sister, Sally, disappeared on the day she was scheduled to receive her divorce and later is found dead in the desert, Sam travels west to track down her killer. In the process he confronts his own troubled past and jeopardizes lives as he moves closer to uncovering a shocking secret.


During the forty-two days of their Nevada hiatus many of the split-seekers lived on dude ranches, exclusive enclaves the locals call “divorce ranches.” Those rustic establishments catered to their guests’ every need, something Sam quickly realized when his search began peeling back the seamy layers of Reno’s unique Wild West culture. To his astonishment he learned Sally had been an enthusiastic consumer of that way of life; or at least had been until she fell in love with a man whose identity no one seems to know—or is willing to reveal.


Sam’s hunt for Sally’s murderer becomes more complicated when he discovers that his fiancée before the war, a woman he’s searched for since returning home from Europe, fled to Reno after he broke off their engagement. She now helps run the divorce ranch where Sally stayed.


Struggling to come to grips with his feelings about rediscovering the woman he loves, Sam plunges ahead with his pursuit of Sally’s killer. Frustrated by the peculiarities of the Reno lifestyle, he soon stumbles into the sights of a madman, leaving him with only one choice—succeed in his quest or die.


Reno Splits


Stephanie: What inspired you to write this story? Was there research involved?


Phillip: One afternoon several years ago, close to the time my forty-year-long legal career was starting to wind down, I found myself sitting in my ophthalmologist’s office next to a stack of long out-of-date magazines.  By chance I picked up a copy of Smithsonian and thumbed its well-worn pages until my eyes settled on a two-page spread about the now extinct Nevada divorce ranch industry.  I smiled at what I was reading, not only because it brought back memories of a simpler time of life, but also because the story was planting a seed in my mind. What if I wrote a murder mystery centered around life on a divorce ranch? That would give me something to do with my newly found extra time.


Within weeks, as the first images of what such a story might include flooded my imagination, I found myself on an airplane to Reno to start the research process.  Growing up in the central valley of California during the 1950s, I had a vague recollection of hearing adults talk about the easy quickie-divorce process available just across the Sierra Nevada mountains, but had little knowledge of what a divorce ranch was, and much less about the people who took advantage of the opportunity. That trip, the first of three, was exciting and educational.  It opened my eyes to a slice of American history not known to many people other than those who lived it. During those trips, with considerable assistance from the staff of the Nevada State Historical Society, I was able to pull together enough material to validate going forward with the now fully germinating ideas that were spouting in my mind.


Stephanie: Were there any challenges along the way and how long did it take to write?


Phillip: Writing Reno Splits involved an exhaustive research process that took place over a period of almost eighteen months. The actual writing of the story took less almost twelve months with another six months devoted to editing and rewriting.


The main challenge I faced during the entire creative process was the fear I was writing a story that would not find an audience. The concept of what a divorce was and what went on there fascinated me. Would it intrigue others?  That fear dogged me until my last visit research to Reno and a side excursion to the Santa RosaMountains northwest of the town of Winnemucca where the novel’s concluding scenes occurred. Back home after that trip I felt confident I had a tale that others would enjoy.


Stephanie: What is your favorite scene in,” Reno Splits”?


Phillip: That’s a tough question, because I have several. But, if I have to make the hard choice, I opt for Chapter One. That’s the chapter in which the actual murder takes place.  I wrote it not just to hook readers, but also to push them to like and identify with the young woman being murdered so that they can better understand what drives the other characters in the book to act and react in the manner they do throughout the rest of the story.


Stephanie: Who designed your book cover?


Phillip: I used a company called BookBaby to convert my manuscript into the various eBook formats. The BookBaby Design Studio created the cover.


Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?


Phillip: Most internet bookstores including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBookstore, eBookPie, Kobo, etc.


Stephanie: Are you currently working on another book project?


Phillip: Yes. I’m in the final stages of editing my next eBook, Falling from the Sky, a suspense novel set in 1944 and 1947 England. The hero of the story is young American B-17 bomber pilot Alex Kent.  During the war when Alex isn’t struggling to survive bombing raids in the skies over Germany he busies himself pursuing a conundrum with even greater danger: uncovering the lost heritage of William Kent, his seventh great-grandfather. Alex knows nothing about William’s life prior to his arrival in 1740 colonial Virginia as an eleven-year-old indentured servant.  Kent family folklore suggests William might have been a member of the English aristocracy. Over the generations several Kent family members tried to prove that belief.  None succeeded.  Some died trying.


On leave in war torn London from his bombing duties, Alex meets Lady Sarah Perkins, fiancée of the Duke of Wyeford’s only son.  Alex and Sarah soon realize they are attracted to one another and she agrees to help him with his quest for William’s heritage.


When the duke learns of their collaboration, he understands Alex’s quest poses a threat to the conspiracy of silence concocted two hundred years earlier to deny William his birthright.  Discovery of the conspiracy would topple the Wyeford dynasty. The duke vows to take whatever actions are necessary to see that never happens. Danger and tension escalate as Alex’s quest barrels toward a conclusion that will change lives forever.


I’m excited to see reader’s reactions to Alex’s story because I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.


Falling from the Sky


Stephanie: When do your best ideas for stories come to you?


Phillip: Inspiration and ideas come from many places. I told you earlier in this interview about how I came to write Reno Splits. Falling from the Sky is the product of my discovering a minuscule reference to a distant relative when I was doing some family genealogy research a few years ago.  I let my imagination run wild with that minor detail and Alex Kent’s story was the result. The idea for my next novel comes from closer to home.  The story will be set on an island at the northern end of Puget Sound.  I live on such an island.  The tentative title of the story is Foxglove. Foxglove grows in the wild on my island.  Over the years, it’s been used for medicinal purposes. It has also been used as a murder weapon.  Put all of that together and you have the making of a great mystery.


Stephanie: What are the hardest things about writing?


Phillip: For me the hardest part is knowing when to stop the research and start the actual writing. The internet is a vast source of knowledge, but it can also capture you and keep you thinking the next discovery is just around the corner.


Stephanie: How did you discover IndieBRAG?


Phillip: I “discovered” IndieBRAG while doing an internet search on the subject of marketing indie books.  That proved to be a great find because IndieBRAG provides priceless assistance to writers like me who are seeking validation as well as a respected entity to help promote their stories. And, of course, as a result I’ve gotten to meet you.  Thank you for this opportunity to introduce me and my stories to your audience.


Stephanie: Thank you, Phillip!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Phillip Winberry , who is the author of, Reno Splits, one of our medallion honoree’s at . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, 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, Reno Spilts merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Review: The Reputed Wife by Jo Ann Butler

The Reputed Wife

Set in 17th century Northeast, primarily in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, The Reputed Wife is the story of Goodwife Herodias “Herod” Gardner a/k/a Hicks and her struggle to free herself from the bonds of a rash marriage to John Hicks. After Hicks beats her to within an inch of her life, Herod finds solace, love, and security in George Gardner, but in the process loses the children that she had with Hicks. It is the story of redemption and her efforts to vindicate herself in a patriarchal puritanical world.

The Reputed Wife is also the story of Rhode Island’s developing, and at times rocky, relationship with neighboring areas. A turf war between the governors over their fiefdoms is in progress at the start of the novel and continues throughout. Complicating this is that Rhode Island is viewed as an unruly step child that no one wants because it befriends Quakers and any others who have the audacity to call attention and protest against abuses, whether leveled by Puritans, government, or individuals seeking vengeance.


Butler’s writing is easy to get into, though at times, it is hard to tell who is speaking, particularly early on when the reader does not have the necessary background. In spite of this, the story resonated with me; I could identify with Herod in her quest to determine what she wanted out of life. In her time, women’s options were limited and as a result she finds her voice, in some rather painful ways. This pain is not borne in vain, however. Herod finds that the simple good life of home and hearth can be compelling, testimony, maybe more so than the vocal martyrdom engaged in by her friend, Mary Dyer and other Quakers. Butler also brings out through Herod’s struggle with recognizing when God has spoken that sometimes a quiet faith can be as powerful as fire and brimstone oratory.


In terms of the structure, I have no complaints, though I would have liked to have had the ending a bit more fleshed out. Herod’s story ended too quickly. I envisioned more detail of the understated tug of war for Herod’s attention and heart that was occurring between George Gardner and John Porter by bringing this conflict out in the open between Herod and Porter and then by giving the reader what my husband calls a snail’s eye view of Herod’s decision to resolve to make amends with Gardner and reclaim her life with him and their children.


All in all, The Reputed Wife was excellent and I learned a lot. If Goodreads allowed partial stars, I would have given the novel a 4.75.


A Layered Pages Review.

By Susan Berry


Interview with author Barbara Dzikowski

Stephanie: I would like to introduce Barbara Dzikowski. Winner of the BRAG Medallion. Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost is Barbara J. Dzikowski’s debut novel. She earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy and a graduate degree in counseling from Indiana University. These areas of study fueled her desire to create fiction that closely examines the human heart and its complex search for love and meaning. Fascinated by the passion, idealism, and lost hope of the 1960s, she is putting the finishing touches on her second novel, Losing Is Still Ours, about two families struggling with the changes and uncertainties of that decade, with a particular focus on the cataclysmic year of 1968. She is also hard at work on her third novel, which depicts a family’s personal struggle while caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.

I have been so intrigued about your story, “Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost.” Please tell me a little about it.

Barbara D.

Barbara: Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost is a story about coming of age during the tumultuous 1960s. Although it begins as a “look back” from an adult’s perspective, at its heart, it’s a story about Andi Powell, a young, lonely, eleven-year-old girl, who’s dealing with great fear and change. To begin with, she’s lost both her parents in a car accident, and she’s being raised by a grieving grandmother obsessed with her own daughter’s death. Andi harbors many fears and anxieties about death, dying, and what’s happened to her parents.

Over the 100-year history of her school, two sixth graders have purportedly seen Lincoln’s ghost in the school auditorium.  When Andi prays on her dead mother’s rosary to be the next sixth grader to encounter Lincoln’s ghost as “living” proof of an afterlife, a complex chain of events is set into motion, including the sudden appearance of a new boy at school, John Malone, who becomes her first love and who’s harboring a horrific secret—and mysterious moaning coming from the dark stage after school. While Andi desperately seeks answers to life’s most difficult questions, an unlikely new friend emerges—a mystical bait shop owner named Ezra, who seems to have all the answers she’s looking for.

Stephanie: You have come up with a fantastic title and it truly stands out. How does it tie into the story?

Barbara: Abraham Lincoln is that iconic hero that everyone can relate to—a symbol of honesty and truth—and studying the life of Abraham Lincoln is a part of most American childhoods.  I know it certainly was a big part of mine. And so are good old fashioned ghost stories!

As I was first beginning to envision the outline for this book, I came across some very intriguing stories about Lincoln’s ghost. I was so captivated by them that I wanted to weave them into the story.  The Lincoln image seemed like a great hook for a tale about coming of age during a very turbulent time in our nation’s history. In Andi’s case, her search for Lincoln’s ghost becomes her personal search for truth and meaning.

Stephanie: I really like the premise of your story and how clever you tied in your title. Who designed your book cover?

Barbara: I’m so glad you asked that—I think having the freedom to choose your own cover image is one of the greatest things about being an indie author! It’s like putting icing on your cake—part of the complete package. It’s so integral to the overall message you’re trying to convey and the type of readers you’re hoping to attract. I know a lot of my friends choose what books they’re going to read simply based on the cover design. I poured through dozens and dozens of stock images and nothing seemed quite right, until I finally discovered this particular image, which I found very compelling. I immediately knew it was the right one!

Searching for  Lincoln's ghost

Stephanie: I believe the cover and title is so important in a reader choosing a book to read. First impressions are reality when selecting a read.

What genre does your story fall under?

Barbara: That’s a great question, because I’m still not quite sure! Mainly, I describe it as a coming-of-age novel for young adults. I think that examining hard social issues and human nature through the painfully honest, innocent and impressionable lens of childhood can be powerful, and that’s exactly what many YA novels are able to accomplish. However, most of my readers have been adults who classify it more as historical fiction.

Stephanie: It does seem to have a historical feel to it.

Is there a character you connect to? And were there any challenges writing this story?

Barbara: Absolutely I relate most directly to Andi, but I think that there are pieces of every writer in every character that they create. The greatest challenge of writing this story was to tie all the disparate themes together in a logical, cohesive whole. I wanted to use the issue of segregation back in the 1960s to connect with current social issues that we’re experiencing today.

Stephanie: Could you please tell me a little about Andi Powell’s grandmother and why she is so obsessed with death? And how that might affect Andi?

Barbara: Andi’s grandmother lost her daughter very suddenly, in an automobile accident. To lose a child has to be the most excruciating pain imaginable. And sudden death is very difficult to process. The cruel combination left Andi’s grandmother stuck in her own grief.

I think that when we lose someone we deeply love for the first time, we really start pondering whether or not there is a life beyond this one. That’s exactly the impact that her grandmother’s prolonged grief had on Andi Powell.

Stephanie: That is really profound.  

Why did you chose the 1960’s as your time period?

Barbara: The 1960s fascinate me to no end! To me, it was a unique time in our nation’s history, when all the best and brightest dreams of youth—love over hate, peace over war—were all being birthed into a changing reality. It was a time of wild idealism, but also of great change, unrest, and turmoil. And great fear.

I felt that this era was a perfect setting to tell Andi’s story. A lot of bad things happen because of fear. Hatred arises from fear. And I wanted to use that period of life to explore the motivations of why people hurt other people, how we first learn fear and prejudice. The underlying message of this book is the power of the individual to make choices: how are WE going to respond to people or situations we fear or don’t understand?

The 1960s was a time when society was still very much segregated, but things were rapidly changing. Andi’s school is still experiencing segregation, with the white kids living in their neighborhood on one side of the school, and the black kids living on the other. Andi’s search for Lincoln’s ghost gives her the daring to cross over to the “forbidden side” of her neighborhood.

Stephanie: What are some of the historical aspects to your story?

I really wanted to capture what it felt like to grow up in the 1960s – the sights, smells, sounds of that era. The candy we ate. The paddlings that happened at school. The way teachers looked, dressed and acted back then, and the students. It was definitely a different era than the way children are raised today.

Stephanie: How long did it take to write, Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost?

Barbara: I researched, outlined and “incubated” for about six months before I actually started writing. That’s pretty typical of my style—but I think that the “gestation” period is really a critical stage of the writing process. At least it is for me. The actual writing took around six months, with about a year’s worth of revisions after that.

Stephanie: What is your next book project?

Barbara: Actually, I’ve got two novels in the offing. Losing Is Still Ours is an historical novel that examines the nature of love through the story of two families struggling with the changes and uncertainties of the 1960s, with a particular focus on the cataclysmic year of 1968. The second novel, which is at the editors as we speak, is a sequel to that book, depicting a family’s transformative journey while caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.

Stephanie:  How did you discover indieBRAG?

Barbara: I first discovered indieBRAG through Goodreads, and what an awesome and phenomenal discovery it was! And very forward thinking too, I might add. The indie author is here to stay, but it’s definitely not an easy road, particularly for fiction. IndieBRAG encourages and supports independent authors to strive for quality. I deeply appreciate their mission and positive support.

Author’s link:

Stephanie: Barbara, thank you for chatting with me today!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Barbara Dzikowski , who is the author of, Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost, one of our medallion honoree’s at . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, 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, Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

Review: The Prodigal Son by Anna Belfrage

The Prodigal Son

He risks everything for his faith – but will he be able to pay the price? Safely returned from an involuntary stay on a plantation in Virginia, Matthew Graham finds the Scottish Lowlands torn asunder by religious strife. His Restored Majesty, Charles II, requires all his subjects to swear fealty to him and the Church of England, riding roughshod over any opposition. In Ayrshire, people close ranks around their evicted Presbyterian ministers. But disobedience comes at a heavy price and Alex becomes increasingly more nervous as to what her Matthew is risking by his support of the clandestine ministers – foremost amongst them the charismatic Sandy Peden. Privately, Alex considers Sandy an enervating fanatic and all this religious fervour is totally incomprehensible to her. So when Matthew repeatedly sets his faith and ministers before his own safety he puts their marriage under severe strain. The situation is further complicated by the presence of Ian, the son Matthew was cruelly duped into disowning several years ago. Now Matthew wants Ian back and Alex isn’t entirely sure this is a good thing. Things are brought to a head when Matthew places all their lives in the balance to save his dear preacher from the dragoons. How much is Matthew willing to risk? How much will he ultimately lose? The Prodigal Son is the third in Anna Belfrage’s historical time slip series, which includes the titles The Rip in the Veil and Like Chaff in the Wind.


My review:

I really admire Belfrage’s use of voice and language. She makes it so that the characters are well developed and thought provoking. And I admire how her characters interact with each other and does a good job expressing their emotions. Her dialog is also engaging and flows really well.

She gives wonderful details of the domestic life of the time the story is written in and details of what they had to endure in the regards to the government’s (Charles ll of England) unreasonable rule. There were laws or should I say-Charles ll required his subjects to conform to the Church of England- on how they were to worship which as you know made it extremely difficult on the people. And that is putting it mildly.

Mathew Graham has risked much to support and protect his minister, Sandy Peden. And his family has suffered for that. I did not always agree with him and was often times frustrated with the decisions he was making. But having said that, he is one of my favorite characters in this story. I believe Mathew truly loves his family and has adjusted quite well to the fact that his wife-Alex-is from the future. I’m sure he is more tolerate to her ideas and beliefs than what most men during that time would have been.

Sandy Peden is a pious and fanatical minister who I actually enjoyed reading about in this story. He is opinionated- thinks women have their place and feels Mathew should put his wife in that place and has no problem telling him so. It is obvious he does not approve of her one bit. But she certainly matched wit for wit with Sandy. I do admire how Sandy is a survivor and he stands by what he believes and does not give into being told how he is to worship and what organized faith he is lawfully suppose too follow. Very entertaining….he adds a lot to this story.

Alex is a strong woman who is from the future and I believe her knowledge has really helped her and yet sometimes it was a hindrance for her, I think. I do however think she adapted quite well in the 17th century for someone being so forward thinking and modern of course. She does have a stubborn streak to her but so does her husband. I really enjoyed seeing the way they interacted with each other. Their relationship is really dynamic. And I do admire their strong sense of family and values. Alex does something in this story that I truly respect her for. But I cannot tell you! You will just have to read the book to find out!

I really have enjoyed this series so far and I look forward to continuing to read them! The Graham family are definitely among my favorite families to read about! I am giving this story a four and a half star rating and I highly recommend this whole series to people who are looking for a quality written time slip.



Layered Pages


About the Author

anna belfrage


I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favorite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.

I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.

For more information, please visit Anna Belfrage’s WEBSITE.

Layered Pages latest interview with Anna Befrage :

Links to where you can purchase her stories:

Interview with Author Mona Rodriguez

Forty years in a day book cover

Hello Mona! I read Forty Years In A Day and was absolutely intrigued with your story. Could you please tell your audience about your book?

Mona: Thank you, Stephanie, for hosting us today. It’s a pleasure. Our story begins in Italy, 1900. After years of torment and neglect, Victoria and her four small children immigrate to Hell’s Kitchen, New York, to escape her alcoholic, abusive husband. On the day they leave, he tragically dies, but she does not learn of his death for several years—a secret that puts many lives on hold.

Quickly, they realize America’s streets are not paved with gold, and the limits of human faith and stamina are tested time and time again. Poverty, illness, death, kidnapping, and the reign of organized crime are just some of the crosses they bear.

Victoria’s eldest son, Vincenzo, is the sole surviving member of the family and shares a gut-wrenching account of their lives with his daughter during a visit to Ellis Island on his ninetieth birthday. He explains how the lives of he and his siblings have been secretly intertwined with an infamous Irish mob boss and ends his unsettling disclosure with a monumental request that leaves Clare speechless.

The story takes the Montanaro family through several decades, providing the reader an opportunity to stand in the shoes of a past generation and walk in search of their hopes and dreams. It is layered with the struggles and successes of each family member, illuminating the fact that human emotions have been the same throughout generations; the difference is how people are molded and maneuvered by the times and their situations.

Stephanie: Is this story based on anyone you know or who you have come across?

Mona: The characters are based on family members, both deceased and living. I’ve had this particular story churning in my head for many years, sparked by the stories of my family’s past. Forty Years In A Day begins in 1900 and follows the incredible journey of a young mother and her four children as they escape from Italy into the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. That woman was my grandmother. The story ends with a woman who knows the father of her children is living a double life with another, but she loves him so much that she overlooks the arrangement rather than forfeit the man. Those were my parents. In between are the stories that I had heard from family members, intertwined with a twist of fiction and sensationalism to have some fun.


Stephanie:  Were there any challenges you faced while writing this story?

Mona: There were many challenges that I had faced undertaking this project. First and foremost, I had the idea of the story in my head before I had the skills to share it. I’m a mathematician and an environmentalist so this challenged the other side of my brain. While writing is something I always admired, to me, the passion was in the story and the writing was the vessel to get it told.

Second, people ask me how much of our book is realistic; especially family members who want to know if this is the actual story of what had happened. They try to draw a parallel between family members’ personalities and our characters’ personalities. The truth is that no one can totally piece together that puzzle of tales; there are parts to every family’s story that were pushed under the rug for fear it would tarnish the family’s reputation. The elders think they are doing their family justice by taking some of the more scandalous stories with them to the grave. When, as a writer, you realize all this, you are forced to conjure your own conclusions from the pieces of stories that you gather.

Third, I coauthored the book with my cousin Dianne Vigorito. She gave me the support and validation I needed to pursue this project. I was lucky to find a family member to work with, and she had an immediate interest in the idea. She grew up hearing the same crazy stories, some of which were almost unbelievable, that were told by our ancestors.  Working with another has taught me the power of more than one and the art of compromise.

Stephanie: Was there a particular scene you felt difficult to write?

Mona: The story of Vinny and Ava represents my parent’s story and the story that resonates closest to my heart. When they were alive, I had discovered secrets about their past that they didn’t want my siblings and me to know. When they died, I felt more compelled to delve into their past, but no one could (or would) tell me the whole story. I realized that I should have asked more questions when they were alive, been more adamant to learn the truth. I questioned aunts and uncles, but I sensed there were bits of their lives, and everyone’s in our story, that would never be unearthed. The story of Vinny and Ava is conjured from the pieces of stories I had put together, and my interpretation, especially emotionally, of what had happened between my parents.

Stephanie: What was the inspiration for your story?

Mona: We don’t realize what our ancestors went through to make life better for themselves and for us. What they faced was incredible—the living conditions, poverty, disease—and their work ethic was admirable. Although I had started with the intention of writing a story about my father’s family, it turned into a novel. There was so much more I wanted people to know about this fascinating era.


Stephanie How long did it take to write, Forty Years In A Day?

Mona: I started by writing down the stories I had heard and interviewing the elders that were still alive. It took seven years—researching, attending seminars, workshops, conferences, and reading everything from books on how to write dialogue to reading mainstream fiction and rereading classics. I also studied the history and lifestyles of the era.  Dianne and I worked on our own, and we also worked together several days a week, collaborating, rewriting, and editing. I had a story to tell and I knew it had to be told.


Stephanie: You did a fantastic job with your research. It’s truly a beautiful and thought provoking story. And I believe it’s written in such a way that the story transcends you into that period and gives you a wonderful picture of the human conditions.  


Is there a sentiment you hope readers come away with after reading your story?

Mona: Forty Years In A Day is more than an immigration story about an Italian family; it epitomizes the immigration experience and coming to America in the early 1900s. It reignites curiosity and admiration for what our ancestors had endured and accomplished to make our lives better. There are many themes that run throughout the story—the loss and rebound of hope, honesty, perseverance, forgiveness, survival, the list goes on—but I think the main theme is the importance of family. Forty Years In A Day also reminds us that every family has hidden secrets and that the choices one person makes echoes through generations.

Stephanie: The different themes in your story was well written and I felt that some of them hit home with me. Your story has given me a lot to think about. Especially about family and relationships.


Is there a character that you feel connected to in any way?

Mona: I have a connection to all the characters, but the one I admire the most is Victoria. She was an amazing woman who wanted to do the right thing for her children. Without giving away the story, I often wonder how she summoned the strength to do what she did, and if I would have been so courageous. She did it not so much for herself, but for her children. She was the ultimate mother.

Stephanie: I admired Victoria as well. She certainly pulled at my heart strings. What book project is up next for both?

Mona: There are six cousins at the end of our story. The idea is to take that next generation into the next era.

Stephanie: Ooo…I’m really looking forward to reading your next book! What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Mona: Read the works of authors you enjoy and respect, study and practice the craft, and try to develop a personal style and formula for success.  When reading a diverse collection of books, you take away, along with the story, a little of each author’s craft.

Thank you, Mona!

About the Authors

Mona & Dianne


Mona Rodriguez coauthored Forty Years in a Day with her cousin Dianne Vigorito.
Throughout their lives, they had heard many stories from family members that
were fascinating, sometimes even unbelievable, and decided to piece together
the puzzle of tales. Through research and interviews, their goal was to create
a fictional story that follows a family through several decades, providing the
reader an opportunity to stand in the shoes of a past generation and walk in
search of their hopes and dreams. What they realize in the process is that
human emotions have been the same throughout generations – the difference is
how people are molded and maneuvered by the times and their situations.

Mona Rodriguez has her MS in environmental Management from Montclair State
University. She is presently a trustee on the board of directors of a nonprofit
foundation created to benefit a local public library and community. She lives
with their husband in New Jersey, and they have two grown sons.

For more information, please visit the official website.


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Interview with Award Winning Author Gael Harrison

Gael at Nottinghill I would like to introduce Gael Harrison. Winner of the B.R.A.G Medallion. Gael was  born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1954, where her father was a rubber planter. At the age of eleven, she returned to Scotland to complete her schooling at Morrison’s Academy in Crieff.

She qualified as a teacher in Dundee in 1975, and married in the same year. She and her husband moved to Singapore and later to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, East Malaysia. Together with their three young children the family moved back to Scotland and lived for the next eleven years in an old manse in Glenelg, on the west coast of Scotland.

 After her divorce Gael moved to Edinburgh and worked as a teacher. In 2001 she took the VSO challenge with Save the Children UK, and spent a year in the north of Vietnam working as a pre-school teacher trainer. After that assignment, she spent the next three years at the United Nations International School in Hanoi and during that time she met her husband, John. For the last ten years they have been working in Kiev, Qatar, Australia and New Zealand. They are now back in Scotland and settled in Edinburgh.

 Gael: “I’ve been lucky, in friendships and in my children, and in the ability to have white hot passions for a variety of intellectual and not so intellectual pursuits. I have pursued everything I have undertaken with a sense of optimism and happiness, and I hope that will continue for a long time to come”.

Gael’s website

Stephanie: Tell me about the Highland Games.

Gael” ‘The Highland Games’ is a ‘tongue in cheek’ observation of a small village in the West Highlands of Scotland. Not much happens there, but each small thing becomes a drama. It is the story of Suzannah, who goes to Drum Mhor for a few months before she starts a new teaching job in Kiev. She meets all the local characters, is subjected to their scrutiny and gossip and is swept off her feet by James MacTavish. The story covers all the local fun and games, and has a little twist in the tail, in the form of the Ukrainian lover that Suzannah brings back from Kiev.

The Highland Games

Stephanie: What genre does it fall under?

 Gael: I would say it is Romantic fiction, although the real focus of the book is the village itself.

Stephanie: Is this your first published book?

 Gael: No, I have also published ‘The Moon in the Banyan Tree’ with Athena Press in 2005. It is the story of my time in the mountains of Vietnam, working as a pre-school teacher trainer. It seems to sell quite steadily.

I have also published the sequel to ‘The Highland Games’ –  ‘The Highland Rocks’ which is set again in the village of Drum Mhor but does not focus on James and Suzannah, but instead on Dolly McBride.

I have also published ‘Where the Golden Oriole Sang’. This novel is set in 1950s Malaya, during the time of the Emergency. The story features the lives of the rubber planters at that time. It is in the historical fiction category and has had some very good reviews.

 Stephanie: Why did you decide to self-publish?

 Gael: I had an agent for ‘Where the Golden Oriole Sang’ and she asked me to make so many changes in the novel, then the publisher asked me to change other things. In the end I wondered who was in charge of the story. I also felt that they expected me to write in a certain way for a certain market, so I decided to self-publish. I was so happy with all the staff at SilverWood, and they were supportive all the way through.

 Stephanie: What inspired you to write this story and was there any research involved?

Gael: I lived for twelve years in a small highland village, and I have so many memories of the fun characters and the small things that made life worth living. I haven’t written ‘about’ that village but I did draw on many of the happenings and spun a tale of fiction around the daily events.

Stephanie: Were there any scenes you found a challenge to write?

 Gael: No, not in this book. I enjoyed every minute of it, especially some of the repartee between the acerbic- tongued women! I also loved writing about the Ghillies’ ball.

 Stephanie What book project are you currently working on?

 Gael: I am writing a final book about the Highlands, called ‘The Highland Curse’ and have also started a novel about East Malaysia, called ‘The Fish in the Tree’. I seem to have two ‘voices’ in me. I like to let both have their say! They are very different styles but I like them both.

Stephanie: Will you self-publish again?

 Gael: Definitely. I really liked the experience with SilverWood. The only downside is the marketing. I am not very good at that!

 Stephanie: How did you discover Indie B.R.A.G?

Gael: I discovered them through SilverWood and then was delighted to win the B.R.A.G medallion. If you go to my webpage, you will see that I have the medallion proudly displayed on the first page as well as on The Highland Rocks page!

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

Thank you so much for everything. Bye for now,


A message from BRAG:

 We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Gael Harrison, who is the author of, the Highland Games, one of our medallion honourees at . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Highland Games merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.