Interview with Author Alan Cooke

I would like to introduce Alan Cooke. Author of, “Naked in New York.” Alan, how would you describe your book to a group of artist?

An immigrant odyssey on the streets of New York in a post 9-11 Era. A transformational journey of my soul and body and heart. A book of longing sadness and beauty and an experience of leaving Ireland and going to the center of the world that changed me forever. A poetic homage to the city and all the millions who dwell in her centre. An intense stream of conscious reflection of what it is to leave what is familiar to you and dive into the unknown.
Naked in New York
Did you come to New York knowing you would write a memoir?
I came to New York with 1000 dollars and 4 weeks after the towers fell. I only came for a short period. I had no idea I would be there for five years. I had no idea my identity and my spirit would be so challenged and pulled apart and reformed amongst the millions of New York inhabitants. I am an actor by trade and a film maker. So to write a memoir came out of an intense desire to pour out all that was withheld inside. All the madness, the hurt, the loneliness, the wonder, the beauty, the encounters, the walking, the wandering, the tears, the heartbreak and the salvation. I wrote in cafes, I wrote on the subway in the dark winter tunnels. I wrote in bed with the sounds of intense city wildness outside my cracked window. I wrote in tears and I wrote to save my sanity. Naked in New York became a way to purge all that I could not bear anymore. To try and transform intense experience into a universal story.
What is the most profound experience you had while visiting New York?
The people. New York is a jungle of humanity. It is not nature but the nature of people. The voices and languages, the broken dreams, the smiles and the hope. I walked over 10,000 miles in New York. Every brick and avenue, every stone tower was my ache and my possibility. The confinement of such a dense place became my own private universe. My own private dreamscape and terror. It pulled out of me all that I was experiencing. People always the people were the extraordinary experiences that kept changing my view of the world. On subways I could feel their emotions and their endurance for surviving in such a tough city. When I was pale and tired and desperate I would be given a smile by a bagel seller or a jogger that would keep me going. All of it was profound. The whole circus of New York is the circus of us all. The human cycle. Watching the rich on park avenue or the hobos huddled in winter cracks half frozen but singing to the universe. Feeling my cold breath on a platform in Queens or being left to die in a hit and run in the Bronx, waiting for my working papers in -3 temp under a full lonely moon. Or the joy of sipping a beer on a hot pavement in the summer as the world spun around me. I was changed by it all.
Your book title speaks volumes, When was the moment you knew that you would name your book, Naked in New York?
 I seen a man , with no top. Bare chest. Howling in the streets like an injured wolf. Ignored. Destitute. Failing. Ignored by the passing crowds. I was in a cafe with a big window. He was my picture. He was broken. He was naked. I felt like him at times. I felt New York could strip you to the bone. So Naked in New York is that metaphor. All is exposed.
What was your writing process like? Did you create an outline or keep a journal?
I had tiny notebooks. Thousands of words. Thoughts, poems and feelings that came crashing through my mind night and day. I am sensitive and intense at the best of times. I am an observer of the human condition. So I was in the centre of that human condition. Ten million souls affecting each other. All I could do was write to save myself.
 Is there anything new you discovered about yourself while writing, Naked in New York?
Yes that words matter. That words transform, they change the very soul of the self. That all your pain, your joy , your wildness and dreaming can be brought to birth. That all you thought you had lost can be born again. That you can turn it all around and place the pen hard on the page and feel alive again. Words. Words. Words. So much they affect our lives. I was not sure if I could ‘ write a book’. I was an actor and I had also made a documentary about my time in New York called HOME. But creating a book seemed another universe. But something called to me. Frank Mc Court who wrote Angelas Ashes whom I knew said if you ‘ have an itch scratch it.’ So I did. And I kept going. And when i took out all my journals I found I could begin and pull it all together.
How often do you write? And when did you first begin to write?
I write only when I am writing a book. I do not write everyday. If I am inspired I will begin a new novel. I have three books written now. One is another memoir called The Spirit of Ireland an Odyssey Home about my return to Ireland and also a thriller set in Ireland. I want to write a memoir about going across America and also about Paris. I had always written small plays and shorts as an actor but never a book. New York gave me an odd confidence born of struggle to cut the ties of what I THOUGHT i could do and dive into possibility. The idea of not leaving any dream at the doorstep is the essence of New York hope.
Were there any aspects to your story you found a challenge to write?
The biggest challenge was self doubt. The idea of thinking you are worthy to write a book, that you have something to say, something that would affect a life. I feel books are beautiful things. Electronic , paper or otherwise. I write because I feel. Because I am alive and it is a mystery. I do not feel anyone has anything figured out but art , writing books is my way of making sense of the senseless at times. These are dark times for many. It is for so many and I guess I am lucky that I have a way with my acting my films and my books to funnel all of this immediate darkness and hopefully make some light for others. I see art as a vital aspect of our survival. I see it as a way to save our humanity. Artists are potent shapers of culture, the right culture, the one that informs and questions and ignites our hopes and aspirations. That is a worthy goal for me. As loft as that sounds and that is the challenge to serve others with my work. Maybe someone living in a small apartment in New York will read my book and go ‘ Hey that’s how I feel.. so there is hope.’
If an aspiring writer wanted to publish, what advice would you give them?
Don’t give up. Write with passion. Don’t aim for a market. I know we all have to pay the bills. I hope we all get success. But stick to what moves you in your work and others will be moved then anything is possible. Finishing is the art in a way. The rest is in the hands of the world. And I think there is a revolution going on in publishing. With Amazon and other self publishing formats have made a massive leap to helping writers take control of their money, their brand and their future. You can publish a book straight onto a global platform now. That is a game changer and gives artists hope.
What is your favorite quote?
I cant go on , Ill go on’ Samuel Beckett an appropriate mantra for an artists life if ever there was one.
Alan  Cooke
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Thank you!
Layered Pages

Interview with Author Jill Carroll

Congrats Jill for winning the BRAG Medallion. Please tell me about your book, ” Quail Fried Rice.”

Quail Fried Rice is a love story featuring two middle-aged, professional women who end up in the same small West Texas town due to varying life circumstances.  The novel explores the themes of life transition, dealing with change and death, living a life of meaning, and finding true love.  Although it’s a love story between two women, its written is such a way that it appeals to a broad audience.  Many of my readers are heterosexuals (both women and men) and they have given it positive reviews.

Quail Fried Rice

That is an interesting title. Tell me how you came up with it and how it connects to your story.

The title comes from a recipe that Elena Rios, one of the main characters, develops for use in the camp kitchen that she and her business partner, Tori Reed, run for their ranch guests.  The recipe captures Elena’s simple elegance, which appears in both her person and in her food, and evokes the tones and textures of the West Texas experience their ranch offers to their guests.

Are there any scenes you have written based own your own life experiences?

The novel is not autobiographical in any way–none of the characters are rooted in my own personal life, or mirror my life.  However, much of the novel is rooted in my own experience as a lesbian who has found a life partner and soul mate (for 11 years now), as a former landowner in West Texas, as a bird hunter, as someone who lives deeply sensitized to the natural world around me, as someone who seeks to live a meaningful life consistent with my values, and as someone who believes in love as the most important quality in life.

How do your characters voices come to you?

They come from composites of all the people I’ve met and remember, from the details I remember about them–the way they wear their jeans, the crinkle at the corner of their eyes, their distinct dialect or way of stringing words together, the aura they project when they are at their best as well as at their worst—-I tend to observe people and the world at this level, so these type of things naturally make their way into my characters, and their personas emerge from these details.

How do you start your writing process?

I brood about the general storyline and arch of the novel for a while–weeks, months, and in this case, years.  But, I don’t really have all the details down pat when I sit down to write.  The general storyline is set, but the winding trail that gets us to the end emerges in the actual writing. It’s a very different mode of writing than what I’ve done for most of my academic career and currently do as a freelance journalist.  Academic and journalistic writing is more planned, outlined and researched down to the minute detail–at least the way I’ve done it.  Fiction writing, so far, feels like writing in the dark much of the time.

Were there any challenges you faced while writing your story?  

I started the story 7 years ago, wrote 2 chapters and then let it sit and didn’t go back to it until November 2012.  At the time, during those 7 years, I called myself procrastinating.  But, looking back, I had life experiences–like fighting cancer, deepening my relationship with my partner, quitting my job– that rounded me out as a person.  Without those experiences, I couldn’t have written the novel I ended up writing.  I used the structure of NaNoWriMo to write the first 50K words, then took another few months to finish it (at almost 150K words).  I really liked the NaNoWriMo structure–it helped me avoid the usual obstacles writers deal with all the time that are just part of being a writer (writer’s block, finding time to write, staying on task, etc.).

In your book description on BRAG you said, “Quail Fried Rice is a romance novel written in a somewhat literary style outside the usual “romance” formula.” How so?

Genre romances, in both straight and gay subgenres, are written mostly according to a formula in which the two protagonists are set up to be opponents, or rivals, or at least not to like each other.  The erotic sparks fly between them, however and they are forced to admit (and consummate to some extent) their attraction or love for each other.  But, a huge obstacle (circumstance, personal trauma or baggage from the past, etc.) threatens to doom their love forever.  They collapse into a huddled ball of misery until something happens that allows them to fully embrace their love and they live happily ever after.  In many instances, the plot line that follows this basic narrative functions merely as the scaffolding that gets the reader to the best parts, namely, from one sex scene to the next.  QFR does not follow this narrative format at all with regard to the two protagonists.  Also, I wrote the novel with a dominant “third” protagonist, and that is the West Texas landscape itself.  The novel has a strong and distinct sense of place and location, and both main characters come into themselves and into each other in the midst of a rootedness in the natural world.  So, this lends a philosophical or spiritual component to the novel that most genre romance novels don’t concern themselves with.  Thus, QFR fits more in a literary category than in a straight genre romance category.

Also, QFR is much longer than most genre romances–twice as long.  It’s a slow, soaker of a novel rather than a faster-paced, more action driven style of novel that dominates genre fiction.  Those who prefer faster paced novels won’t like QFR (and have said so on the Amazon reviews).  Others, though, who like to linger with characters as they work through the situations in the story, and like to spend a weekend reading just one book, will like this novel (and say so on the reviews).

Where can a reader buy your book?

Where do you see the Self-Publishing market in five to ten years?

I suspect that self-publishing will continue to have much of the wild, wild West flavor that it has today; however, I think that certain controls or standards will have been developed to help readers sift through the deluge of self-published books in order to get to the “good stuff” more easily.  I also expect to see more self-pub presses emerge:  not just authors, but entire imprints or presses that partner with authors to publish work in a way that will help the work stand out from the crowd.  It’s an exciting time to be a writer, or a creative of any sort.  There are so many ways to reach audiences, and so many of the barriers of the past have been removed.  I feel fortunate to live at this precise moment.

What is your favorite quote?

From QFR?  Not sure . . . . My favorite scene, in terms of when I felt myself to be writing at a high level, is the death scene when Elena lays next to her mother on the bed as she passes.

My favorite passage, with regard to writing, creating, putting yourself out there despite obstacles, comes from the forward Friedrich Nietzsche wrote on his birthday during a year in which he was very ill, but during which he wrote several of his most important books:

” On this perfect day, when everything is ripening and not only the grape turns brown, the eye of the sun just fell upon my life:  I looked back, I looked forward, and never saw so many and such good things at once.  It was not for nothing that I buried my forty-fourth year today;  I had the right to bury it; whatever was life in it has been saved, is immortal.  The first book of the Revaluation of All Values, the Songs of Zarathustra, the Twilight of the Idols, my attempt to philosophize with a hammer–all presents of this year, indeed of its last quarter!  How could I fail to be grateful to my whole life?–and so I tell my life to myself.”

I love this quote because of its joyful, grateful stance toward life itself, toward the gift of one’s own life, and toward the opportunity to express oneself through creative work.

I am a freelance writer and scholar who lives with my partner, Nishta Mehra, and our son in a suburb of Houston, Texas.  I hold a Ph.D. from Rice University in philosophy of religion and spent much of the last 25 years as a university professor and scholar.  I left academe 4 years ago and now work as a freelance journalist for the Houston Chronicle, as a program consultant for the American Leadership Forum-Houston/Gulf Coast, and as a speaker/expert on topics of religious diversity in America.  I also write fiction–Quail Fried Rice is my first novel.


A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Jill Carroll who is the author of, Quail Fried Rice, 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, Quail Fried Rice merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
Thank you! Stephanie

Q & A with Author David Pilling


I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing David a couple times before about his wonderful stories and I have asked him to come back to visit Layered Pages and tell me a little about his personal interest in the literary world. Thank you David! First tell me,  What is your favorite all-time movie?


Probably Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgunday. I was tempted to go for something historical but this film makes me laugh too much to be ignored!


What are you currently reading?


An old copy of Moby Dick I found in my father’s book cabinet. Strangely, I’ve never read it before.


Any bad habits? Do you tend not to finish books? Skim? Scribble in margins? Fall asleep while reading?


Plenty of bad habits! I couldn’t be bothered to read the Harry Potter series so I picked up the last book when it came out and read the last few pages. Job done.


Have you ever read a book and afterward wish you never read it?


Once or twice. If I dislike a book I tend to put it down long before finishing it.


What is the truly last great book you read?


Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope.


Describe the perfect novel.


That’s an almost impossible question. If I knew the answer I would be trying to write it, ha!


What is your favorite event in history?


Another difficult one. Possibly the Renaissance?


Who is your least favorite person in history?


A neat toss-up between Hitler and Stalin, for reasons that should be obvious.


If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?


Shakespeare, and I would want to know how he worked and from where he derived his endless inspiration.

David Pilling
David Pilling’s website Links:

Novel’s of David’s I have read thus far. Fantastic reads and I highly recommend!
Folville’s Law (The John Swale Chronicles, #1
The King Stag (The John Swale Chronicles, #2)
The White Hawk (Revenge, #1)
The Half-Hanged Man
Thank you!

indieBRAG, LLC.

BRAG highly values readers and depend upon them for a candid assessment of the books
being considered for a medallion. Therefore, we are selective in who we invite
to become a part of this group. We have many women and men reading world wide as
well as authors. The single most important criterion that we ask our readers to
use in judging a book is whether or not they would recommend it to their best
friend. Once a book meets this standard of quality, we award it our B.R.A.G.

Our mission is to recognize quality on the part of authors who self-publish both
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Holly Bush Virtual Tour Giveaway

Romancing Olive


Romancing Olive



Publication Date: November 1, 2011 | BookBaby | 205p
In 1891, spinster librarian, Olive Wilkins, is shocked to learn of her  brother’s violent death at a saloon gaming table and her sister-in-law’s subsequent murder, traveling far from her staid life to rescue her  niece and nephew, now orphans. She arrives to find the circumstances of  her brother’s life deplorable and her long held beliefs of family and  tradition, shaken.
Accustomed to the sophistication of Philadelphia, Olive arrives in Spencer, Ohio, a rough and tumble world she is not familiar with, facing two traumatized children. Her niece and nephew, Mary and John, have been living with a neighboring farmer, widower Jacob Butler, the father of three young children of his own and a man still in pain from the recent loss of his wife.
Real danger threatens Olive and Mary and John while Jacob and his  own brood battle the day-to-day struggles for survival. Will Olive and  Jacob find the strength to fight their battles alone or together? Will  love conquer the bitterness of loss and broken dreams?
Reconstructing Jackson

Reconstructing Jackson

Publication Date: September 25, 2012 | BookBaby | 191p
1867 . . . Southern lawyer and Civil War veteran, Reed Jackson, returns to  his family’s plantation in a wheelchair. His father deems him unfit, and deeds the Jackson holdings, including his intended bride, to a younger  brother. Angry and bitter, Reed moves west to Fenton, Missouri, home to a cousin with a successful business, intending to start over.
Belle Richards, a dirt poor farm girl aching to learn how to read,  cleans, cooks and holds together her family’s meager property. A violent brother and a drunken father plot to marry her off, and gain a new  horse in the bargain. But Belle’s got other plans, and risks her life to reach them.
Reed is captivated by Belle from their first meeting, but wheelchair bound, is unable to protect her from violence. Bleak times will  challenge Reed and Belle’s courage and dreams as they forge a new  beginning from the ashes of war and ignorance.


Holly Bush


About the Author

Holly Bush was  born in western Pennsylvania to two avid readers. There was not a room  in her home that did not hold a full bookcase. She worked in the  hospitality industry, owning a restaurant for twenty years and recently  worked as the sales and marketing director in the hospitality/tourism  industry and is credited with building traffic to capacity for a local  farm tour, bringing guests from twenty-two states, booked two years  out.  Holly has been a marketing consultant to start-up businesses and  has done public speaking on the subject.
Holly has been writing all of her life and is a voracious reader of a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction, particularly political and  historical works. She has written four romance novels, all set in the  U.S. West in the mid 1800’s. She frequently attends writing conferences, and has always been a member of a writer’s group.
Holly is a gardener, a news junkie, has been an active member of her local library board and loves to spend time near the ocean. She is the  proud mother of two daughters and the wife of a man more than a few  years her junior.



HollyBushTourBannerFINAL photo HollyBushTourBannerFINAL_zps3b9db709.jpg



The giveaway is for one eBook of either book (winner’s choice, ePub, mobi or PDF) and open internationally. And will run today and end on April 8th. To enter please leave a comment with your email address where you can be contacted. Thank you!







The Art In Reviewing: Part I

The most important thing to do when reviewing is to read the book first of course. You must understand what you are reading in order to write a good and honest review. Here are tips I use when reviewing, everyone has their own method, but I have found that this works best for me. Some people highlight passages, or scribble in the margins. I, however- do not want to mark up my precious books, so I keep a notebook. As I read each chapter, I jot down what stood out to me and my feelings of what I’ve just read. After reading the entire book, I wait a day to gather my thoughts before sitting down to start on my review. I start by writing a few sentences. Then I take a step back and ponder on a few things more.


First, I ask myself, if the author wanted me to get an idea from the book, what would it be? How does it compare to the world I know? What has the author accomplished in writing their story? What is the subject matter or topic of the book? Does the author cover the subject adequately? For instance, if it’s historical fiction, is it true to time and place? Is the voice of the characters true to the language of the time? Does the author use intelligent and eloquent prose? I look at the overall layout of the book and for any editing problems I might see.


Second, take care of your reader, don’t write a spoiler. Giving the plot away ruins the appeal for a potential buyer of the book. I discourage this strongly, you want to attract the reader’s attention to the story, not write a book about the book. The art of writing a good review is to build a bridge between the book and the reader.


Third, too often I see insulting, crass and downright rude reviews. It turns many readers-such as myself- off to wanting to read anymore reviews by that person. Please keep in mind that the author has put so much time and effort into their story. Instead of being crass, give constructive criticism, show actual examples of the problems you had with the book.


(“Constructive criticism is the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. In collaborative work, this kind of criticism is often a valuable tool in raising and maintaining performance standards.”)


If you feel you cannot give a good report of the book without being insulting, then it’s best not to write the review. Just because everyone else might be trashing the book, it doesn’t mean you have to step in line and do the same. Just move on to the next book


Stay tuned!



Layered Pages


You may also find my article here:

Interview with Thea Atkinson

Thea, congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion for your book, Throwing Clay Shadows. Please tell me a little about your book.


Throwing Clay Shadows



TCS began as part of a larger 3 time framed novel. Because  it had reincarnation theories as its base, it explored the lives of five  characters over three lifetimes and how they connected.

It was really way  too large a project to be considered a single novel.

When I began to self  publish through ebooks, I broke the book into pieces because I realized they  could stand alone and not be connected to each other. TCS became a single novel  about a girl who loses her mother in 1800s Scotland. Maggie comes to think she  is the cause of her ma’s death and carries the guilt of it while she struggles  to make sense of her father’s new marriage to a woman who is different than her  ma.

TCS had a sad ending at first because it was connected to the other  novels, but when it became a single entity, I discovered the ending needed to be  changed. It has its dark parts, as most of my novels do, but these characters  come to a clear happiness at the end, so I think many chick-lit readers who enjoy  historical settings and much angst might enjoy it.


What was the inspiration for your  story?


For me, the inspiration was really  the setting. Well, that and still feeling like I wanted to explore reincarnation  theory, so I wrote until I felt I’d exhausted my exploration.


Is there a character in your book  you connect to?


I actually like Angus the most, and  really enjoyed examining his grief and guilt.


How long did it take for you to  write, Throwing Clay Shadows?


That depends. The full 3 part novel  took a little over a year. When I re-edited it for Kindle, it took an additional  month to make it stand alone.


Who designed your book cover?   


That would be me, with a little  help from William-Adolphe Bouguereau.


Of the books you have written,  which is your favorite?


That would have to be Anomaly. I  truly enjoyed writing it and I really enjoyed the two main characters. J was a  surprise for me, and so was Molly in so many ways. I still feel like J is  waiting for another storyline.


What is your favorite literary genre?


Hmmm. I don’t think I have one:  I’ve read shampoo bottles before. But I CAN say it isn’t medical thrillers.  Nope. Not at all.


On average, how many books do you  read per year?


At least a dozen, sometimes way  more. Depends on how much I feel like procrastinating or the weather, or the  wine, or the ….well, you know. It varies.


Do you have any advice your an aspiring author?


Don’t give up. Read lots. Help  others. Write in as many genres as you can.


How did you discover indieBRAG?


That would be thanks to  Kindleboards. Love that forum!


Thea Atkinson


Thea Atkinson is a writer of character driven  fiction; call it what you will: she prefers to describe her work as something  akin to the left of mainstream. Her characters often find themselves in the  darker edges of their own spirits but ultimately manage to find the light they  seek.

She  has been an editor, a freelancer, and a teacher, but fiction is her passion. She  now blogs and writes and twitters. Not necessarily in that order.

Please visit her blog for ramblings, guest posts,  giveaways, and more

or  follow her on twitter!/theaatkinson

 or  like her facebook page:

Buy  me from ebook retailers:


A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Thea Atkinson who is the author of, throwing Clay Shadows, 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, Throwing Clay Shadows merits the investment of a reader’s time and money. Thank you! Stephanie indieBRAG



Thank you!