A Writers’s Life Part II with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree G.J. Reilly

Garrith OReilly BRAG II’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree G.J. Reilly to Layered Pages. Back in July we talked about his writing process, how writing has impacted his life and where his ideas come from.  Today we talk further in-depth about his emotions as a writer, goals, boundaries and so on…

By day, G. J. Reilly is a teacher of (mostly) ICT and Computing in the South Wales valleys, where he lives with his long-suffering wife and 2.4 cats. 

He has an eclectic selection of hobbies, from playing a number of musical instruments with varying degrees of competence to learning the art of contact juggling and teaching sword-based martial arts. Having gained his degree, he spent ten years working in industry, before deciding to change career and head into education.

With an interest in high fantasy, contemporary fantasy and science fiction from a young age, it comes as no surprise that his first work falls into the young adult contemporary fantasy genre.

What are your goals as a writer?

At the moment, my goal is to write stories that readers remember and enjoy. If it leads to bigger things in the future, I’ll be happy with that.

What are the boundaries you push as a writer?

At the moment, it feels like just about everything is a boundary for writers unless you’re the type that enjoys the potential for controversy. We seem to have entered a period of heightened social awareness (fairly recently), where just about anything can be taken out of context or be offensive to somebody. There seems to be a confused state of what is acceptable, where any personal opinion made public needs to be sanitized first, or risk the wrath of thousands. For example, if I were to publish the language used by John Steinbeck in ‘Of Mice and Men’ nowadays, I’d be close to committing professional suicide for the backlash it would invite.

InquestorWith the ‘Book of Jerrick’ series, I’m trying to challenge this pervasive sense of moral superiority that’s crept into daily life. ‘We are better than them because …’ and ‘You can’t say that because …’ have become the mantra of social media in everything from politics to religion. So, by creating two factions that share a common ancestry, I hope I can illustrate how we are one as bad the other in the atrocities we commit, but equally as good as each other for our acts of kindness and civility. Or to put it another way, our history is important for the lessons it teaches us, but it’s how we live in the present that defines us.

It’s not exactly a great shove in the direction of social reform (like books on the civil rights movement, or stories about the heroines of women’s liberation); it’s more a passive statement of dissatisfaction about the current state of affairs, aimed at the generations that will shape the future and buried in enough subtext that it doesn’t spoil what I hope is a good story.

What are the changing emotions you have as a writer?

From the point of view of the story, I can wholeheartedly say that I try to empathize with my characters as much as possible. I’ve always felt that investing emotionally as an author helps readers to do the same. What that means (to me anyway), is writing from experience. In instances where I don’t have the experience to draw on – like the horror of killing someone for example – I try to imagine myself in that situation and translate how I would feel to the page. I suppose it’s how I would imagine what life is like as a method actor, but instead of one character at a time, there are hosts of them running around in my head, all needing the same attention to detail to make them pop. It can be an exhausting process, especially if I’m writing two or three different scenes at a time. And it can be just as exhausting away from the keyboard too. There’s the excitement of a great idea, or solving a problem I’ve been thinking about for days and the trepidation of how the story is going to be received. It’s a wonder most writers don’t end up a hot mess in a corner somewhere, gibbering insanely!

What are your personal motivations in story-telling?

Piper_altFor me, it’s mostly about reciprocation. I used to love being read to as a child, but there’s little better about a good book than discovering it in your own voice and in your own time. I consider myself to have been extraordinarily privileged to have had access to some amazing stories, told by some exceptional wordsmiths. Giving that experience to somebody else would be a dream come true for me.

My favorite stories are the ones that move me in some way, whether they make me feel happy, or sad, or angry, it doesn’t matter. But, to have the gift to be able to move someone you’ve never met to tears, or laughter, without them ever really knowing the sound of your voice … it fascinates me. You can always tell when an author’s doing it right if you look at the face of someone who’s engrossed in their book. To me, that is what story-telling is all about: allowing readers to take a trip outside of themselves if only for the length of a chapter each time and giving back a little of the joy I’ve had in the worlds of other authors.

Define your writing style.

I’m not sure I can answer that. I think the best thing to do would be to ask the people who have read my work. All I can tell you is that you’ll probably find echoes of a number of authors and various styles in there. I read as widely as I can, even textbooks from time to time, so I’d be surprised if none of that experience has influenced my writing in some way. I think it would be sad to think that it hadn’t.  It’s definitely my voice, however. If we had ever spoken face to face, I’m sure you’d recognize the intonation (even without the valleys accent on words like ‘hear’ and ‘year’).

Five sentences that describe your craft.

To me, writing is a magical mishmash of personal experience and an overactive imagination.  It’s a real pain in the butt when I’m trying to get a good night’s sleep. It’s an intimate look at what goes on inside my head – but only the best bits. It’s also the easiest thing in the world to practice and the hardest to try to master. And it can be long, hard, lonely work sometimes … but it’s worth it!

Check out these other great posts with G.J. Reilly!

B.R.A.G. Interview

 A Writer’s Life Part I

 Self-Publishing: An Author’s Experience

A Writer’s Life with G.J. Reilly

Garrith OReilly BRAG II’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree  G.J. Reilly to Layered Pages! By day, G. J. Reilly is a teacher of (mostly) ICT and Computing in the South Wales valleys, where he lives with his long-suffering wife and 2.4 cats. 

He has an eclectic selection of hobbies, from playing a number of musical instruments with varying degrees of competence to learning the art of contact juggling and teaching sword-based martial arts. Having gained his degree, he spent ten years working in industry, before deciding to change career and head into education.

With an interest in high fantasy, contemporary fantasy and science fiction from a young age, it comes as no surprise that his first work falls into the young adult contemporary fantasy genre.

Why do you write?

I’ve always used writing as an escape, even when I was young. There’s something about being able to disappear into my own little world for an hour or two that helps to settle my mind. It’s like trying to think about an ear-worm – you know, those snippets of music that get stuck in your head, but can’t remember the name of for days … then suddenly it comes to you? No matter what the problem, a few hours writing and suddenly I’m so much closer to the solution.

What is your writing process?

So far, it’s always begun with a good long chat with my wife. Some of my best ideas have germinated from conversations over a glass (or two) or something nice at a restaurant or a café. Once those ideas have been given a little flesh, I write the outline for the first half of the story chapter by chapter, with a view to how I want my story to end. I won’t outline the second half until the first is on the page and I’m happy with it. Once the first draft is finished, it goes away for anything up to six weeks before I touch it again. Then all the work begins.

I’m not one of those writers who seem to effortlessly plow out a perfect first draft of their story outline. Heck, I won’t even look at grammar or pace until I’ve redrafted the manuscript to correct errors in the plot. The second draft also gets a cursory edit for anything obvious, then it goes to my wife for a first read. Inevitably there are changes to make before I go to work on the semantics and grammar.

Another two drafts later and it might be finished. By this time I’ve probably read and re-read it some fifteen/twenty times, so, for the sake of my sanity, it goes to my wonderfully patient editor. Once all of the edits have been completed, it goes out to the first set of beta readers who scrutinize it for any missed errors. Only once they’re satisfied do I begin formatting and aesthetics before starting on the blurb and other pre-release sundries.

How has writing impacted your life?

It hasn’t quite taken over completely … not yet anyway. I’m fortunate enough to have a very understanding wife who prefers early mornings to late nights. That leaves me a few quiet hours before bed to work. Family time has always been important to me, so I don’t let the writing interfere with personal plans … ever! Other than that, I pretty much obsess over characters, story arcs, ideas, covers … and everything else … every chance I get.

Other than the actual business of writing, it’s also helped me to meet some incredibly interesting people. Writing can be a very lonely pastime, especially when you’re at a passage that sticks, or if you suffer from a block, but I’ve found some wonderful groups where I can talk to other writers and readers who understand and offer the right sort of advice. They also offer an escape from the page and somewhere to blow off steam. If anything, writing has made me great deal more social.

InquestorWhen do your best ideas come to you for a story?

When I least expect them. I suppose it sounds a little corny put that way, but it’s true. I can be anywhere, doing pretty much anything and suddenly it’s there. Thank heavens for mobile technology because at least it means that I don’t have to carry a pen and paper with me everywhere I go. My next series, for example, is entirely based on the most ludicrous idea about a girl who … well, you’re going to have to wait, but it’s a lovely, playful idea that appeals to me as a storyteller. The idea for that series came from two words in a discussion about something completely different that caught my imagination.

When I first began the ‘Book of Jerrick’ series, I was terrified that it would be my first and last good idea, but since then, I’ve been introduced to flash fiction and drabbles in particular. I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve never heard of a drabble before, I hadn’t. They’re stories of exactly 100 words, which can be a challenge in itself, but after I’d read my first few to get the hang of the style, I found myself completely addicted to them and have since published some 20 or so in the last year through a fantastic online site for indie book lovers called BookHippo. As strange as it sounds, since I became hooked on them I see stories in just about everything. Whether they’d make good novels is another question, but you’d be amazed by how much you can pack into so few words. One of my favourites was a story about an old man who repairs books. The idea came to me whilst I was helping out at a school and came across a battered copy of the complete works of Charles Dickens that was missing its appendix – which really appealed to my sense of humour. But it just goes to show that even the ordinary and mundane can be inspiring if you look at it the right way. I’ve added it here, just as an example.


When I found her, her spine was cracked. All but broken, she was a real mess; dirty and dishevelled.

Wet from the rain, I dried her carefully, patting her down and laying her near the fire but not so close as to burn her. I wondered what she could tell me. I wondered what her story was, but I didn’t pry until she was ready.

It took a good few days before she was fit enough; but I enjoyed Rebecca’s company immensely, before placing her on the shelf next to my Dickens compendium, whose appendix had been so inexpertly removed.

Piper_alt How do you respond to positive and negative reviews?

I’d like to think that I respond to both in the same way, but I’m as human as the next writer and probably don’t.  Everybody likes positive reviews. They help us to validate all of the hard work and efforts we’ve put into our writing. On the other hand, negative reviews can cut to the bone, making us feel inadequate and often frustrated that the reader hasn’t connected with the story in the way that we’d hoped. Positive or negative, I try to see constructive criticism in both (although, it takes a few hours before I can see the bright side of a negative review). What I try to remember is that these are people’s opinions and, good or bad, they are entitled to express them, which makes one review as valid as another.

Where they differ, however, is that I will try to leave a ‘thank you’ note for a positive review, to let the reader know how much I appreciate their comments. That’s not possible for a negative review, however well meant. No matter how hard you try, whether as a writer, artist, musician or chef or as anyone who opens up their work to public consumption, you will never please all of the people all of the time. As a writer, all I can do is take negative comments on board and decide whether I can accommodate them in my next publication. If I can’t, then at least I know that I’ve considered them and hope that the reader will consider joining me for a different story sometime in the future.

What advice would you give a beginner writer?

As a beginner writer myself, I’m not overly qualified to give advice, but this is what I’ve learned:

Read everything – pamphlets, leaflets, blogs, crisp packets (err … potato chips for those of you outside the UK), it doesn’t matter what it is. If it has information to give, study the way it’s offered to the audience.

If you’re set on a particular genre, read everything in that genre that you can get your paws on. Go back as far into the history of that genre as you can and pay attention as you go. Learn everything you can from them.

Admire other authors, don’t emulate them. Find your own voice and pace.

Don’t be afraid of what other people might think, write your story your way and find out what they really think. If it sucks, write another and another and another. Practice makes perfect.

Find a group of people somewhere, anywhere, who write in your genre and learn from them. Remember, when someone offers you advice, take it on board. Look at their back catalogue because they’ve probably written a whole lot more than you have!

And lastly: you’re only limited by your own imagination; nurture it, expand it, but above all, share it.

A Writer’s Life-Part II with Valerie Biel

Valerie Biel BRAG II

I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Valerie Biel to Layered Pages to talk about-further in-depth-her life as a writer.

Valerie, what are your goals as a writer?

Initially, I had no goals. I had a far-off idea that someday I would write all the stories building up in my mind, but I put it off. I was busy. I had a job. I had kids, a husband, a house, laundry . . . I meant to write but I let all these things override that desire, along with the self-defeating voice in my head that told me my writing was unimportant in the vast sea of amazing writers in the world.

Then in 2003, my oldest sister died after a one-year battle with terminal cancer. At the time, of course, we were just devastated, but never thought that this very rare cancer would recur in our family. Fast forward to 2008 and a second sister is diagnosed with the same terminal cancer. My siblings and I quickly realized that this cancer had a genetic component, making us all potentially susceptible. Even without the possibility that this cancer could strike at any time, the loss of two siblings caused me to reflect on my priorities.

I made a life-affirming decision to embrace my writing, and all the opportunities in front of me. I decided that my dreams couldn’t wait any longer. I decided that it didn’t matter if I ever made the New York Times’ Bestseller list. I would write for me—just for the satisfaction of sharing my thoughts, my ideas, and my stories.

In 2009, I made this vow and began that elusive novel. I didn’t tell anyone other my closest family members I was writing it. Internally, I had a five-year plan to publication, but I didn’t voice this either. I completed the novel in 2010. I was encouraged by early critiques and contest accolades and kept going. For the next three and a half years, the manuscript was alternately being edited and marinating while I wrote two middle-grade novels. Finally, in 2014 I achieved my goal of publishing my debut novel Circle of Nine – Beltany.

Now, my goal is to write as much as possible every day. I have story ideas stacked up and waiting for my attention.

What are the boundaries you push as a writer?

I wouldn’t have said that I was pushing any boundaries (other than the amount of sleep I need each night) until I received a few mixed reactions from particularly religious friends. My Circle of Nine series highlights a Celtic pagan culture akin to modern-day Wicca. Some of my plot-lines also address the conflict between the early Christian church and pagan customs and the subjugation of women by a patriarchal society. Oh yes, and there’s magic! Lots and lots of magic. What’s funny is that I never set out to push boundaries. I set out to tell a certain story the best way that I could.

What are the changing emotions you have as a writer?

Ha – this is funny. I once saw a cartoon that highlighted the emotion of an author throughout the day and it went something like this.

I really suck.

Hey, this isn’t so bad!

This is brilliant. I rock!

Nope. My writing sucks.

That about sums it up. In seriousness though, we all go through bouts of self-doubt no matter what occupation we’re in, but I think it is harder in the arts when you are creating something that is so personal to you. I am much more confident at promoting myself and my writing now than I was when I first started. And I have a much thicker skin when it comes to criticism. You will never please everyone! When I get down about things, I can look to my successes and feel quite good about what I’ve accomplished. I know writers always say they write because they have to write. A better way for me to put this is that I am my whole person when I write. Allowing myself to embrace my need to be creative, brings a lightness to my world and a feeling of self-worth that is different from the other areas of accomplishment in my life.

Circle of Nine Valerie Biel II

What are your personal motivations in story-telling?

My main motivation is to write the very best story I can, which means that I work hard to create something that is both entertaining and intriguing and possibly makes the reader see the world just a little bit differently.

Define your writing style.

That one is hard for me. Hmmmm – define my writing style.

When writing fiction, I try to keep my modern-story style very true to the rhythm of current conversation patterns – particularly teen dialog when writing YA. The historical portions of my stories require more thought. The formality with which I construct the sentences becomes much more deliberate to convey the correct sense of time and place. I am very particular about word choice in my historical stories and double check that certain phrases would indeed have been used in that era.

I have this “thing” about including educational-type details in my stories . . . mostly this is a matter of good research and (I feel) gives my stories an authenticity about the era.

I use the word just too much and usually take out half (or more) of the “justs” when editing.

I don’t use commas enough. Thank goodness for my critique partners who are excellent grammarians.

I like writing in first person and third person equally well, but I always write in past tense. I’ve written one piece of flash fiction just recently in present tense and it won an award, so maybe I should try that more.

I wish I lived in England so I could spell favourite and colour this way because it looks so much cooler. And, because I want to call my cell phone my mobile.

Five sentences that describe your craft.

I have a vivid recollection of what it felt like to be different ages, which is why I like writing for teens and tweens so much.

Writing allows me the freedom to indulge my love of history through the research needed for my stories set in different eras.

Asking the question “why?” is as important as asking the question “why not?” whether in life or in story construction.

I attempt to create accessible stories that transport the reader to another world or place or time, entertaining and possibly enlightening them along the way.

I write the stories that I want to read.

Valerie Biel’s love for travel inspires her novels for teens and adults. When she’s not writing or traveling, she’s wrangling her overgrown garden, doing publicity work for the local community theatre, and reading everything she can get her hands on. She lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and three children and dreams regularly of a beautiful cottage on the Irish coast where she can write and write and write.

Her debut novel Circle of Nine – Beltany has been honored as a 2015 Kindle Book Award Finalist, a finalist in the Gotham Writers’ YA Novel Discovery Contest and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Contest as well as being a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree.

 Author Websites:





Amazon Author Page

Book Trailer



A Writer’s Life with Barbara Lamplugh

Barbara Lamplugh BRAG

I’d like to welcome Barbara Lamplugh today to talk with me about her life as a writer. She was born and grew up in London, studied in York and then moved to Shropshire. Her writing career started in the 1970s, inspired by a life-changing overland journey to Kathmandu in a converted fire-engine. This trip was followed by a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway and several months backpacking around Japan and SE Asia. Her two travel books, Kathmandu by Truck (1976) and Trans-Siberia by Rail (1979) were the result. Another new experience – motherhood – came next. With two children to bring up, her extensive wanderings came to an end but she continued to write, turning instead to fiction. She has written several novels, though Secrets of the Pomegranate is the first to be published.

Her day jobs have included working as a librarian (her first career), as a project officer for Age Concern (inspiration for one of her earlier novels), running a Volunteer Bureau and, briefly, recording milk yields on Shropshire farms. She trained as a counsellor and worked in a voluntary capacity for two local organisations. At the same time she was writing articles for various magazines and newspapers, including The Guardian and Times Educational Supplement.

In 1999, she fulfilled a long-held ambition and moved to Granada in Spain. Having trained to teach English as a Foreign Language, she soon found work, a place to live and new friends. A job as English Editor followed, along with some freelance editing and translation. After a few years, she found her dream job as a regular Features Writer for Living Spain magazine, to which she contributed around a hundred articles over several years on topics as diverse as garlic, machismo, the life of a lighthouse keeper and the nightmarish experience of being trapped at an all-night drumming festival.

Her novels have always focused on ordinary people rather than the privileged or exotic. Working in the community and meeting people from all walks of life proved to her that everyone has stories to tell and that the most fascinating and unexpected are sometimes hidden behind a seemingly conventional exterior. Almost everyone has secrets – some that may never be revealed, others that are only revealed to a select few, but by their nature, secrets are always subject to discovery and, as in Secrets of the Pomegranate, may be catapulted into the open by a dramatic event. 

She is currently working on her next novel, set during and after the Spanish Civil War.


Like many other writers, I write because I have to; because it’s something I feel compelled to do. But it’s not a burden. I want to write. I feel more alive when I’m writing. It opens something up in me and gives me a high that’s like no other. Yet at the same time, I feel more grounded.

I first discovered this joy of creativity at primary school. I remember, at the age of about ten, writing an essay imagining I was a sailor on Captain Cook’s ship, describing the rats and the scurvy and the long days at sea. And around the same time with the same teacher, writing with passion about William Wilberforce and his attempts to end slavery.

I love using my imagination to create characters and stories, but I love equally the very different process of playing around with words, choosing the precise right one, finding the best structure for a sentence or paragraph.

I wrote my first novel when I was pregnant. I gave birth to the novel and my baby son around the same time. The novel left a lot to be desired but I learnt from my mistakes and discovered the joy of writing fiction, having previously written only travel. My son was perfect from the start!


It has had a huge impact on my life because it takes up so much of my mental and emotional energy and so much of my time, preventing me doing other things I might also enjoy. I try to keep a balance, ensuring for example, that I get enough physical exercise and time outdoors. This isn’t always easy – there never seems enough time in the day to fit everything in and I’ve realised this is because writing expands to fit whatever time is available, there is no end to it! I live alone and I’m happy writing so there’s a real danger of becoming isolated. However, I do manage to see friends and family and have a social life. What tends to get neglected is housework.

Publishing my novel, Secrets of the Pomegranate, has been a life-changing experience. Having appreciative audiences at my various launches and presentations, receiving positive feedback from readers and being awarded the BRAG medallion have boosted my confidence enormously and made me feel more justified in calling myself a writer. Previously, despite two published travel books and many years of journalism, I didn’t always feel I was being taken seriously as a writer.


I would say persistence is one of the most important qualities necessary to be a writer. Writing is hard work and getting published is even harder. It’s no good giving up at the first or even the hundredth setback. Good writing doesn’t come magically at first draft. Be prepared to rewrite and rewrite, to go on courses, learn from reading critically and by asking for feedback from those who will be honest and constructive and who read similar books. You have to be thick-skinned and not let criticism and rejection put you off. At the same time you have to be hyper-critical of yourself – or rather of your writing – to make sure it’s the best it can be.


Ideas can be sparked by something I read. But my best ideas usually come when I’m completely relaxed and my mind is open. This happens when I’m walking alone in the countryside. It happens when I’m near water – lying on the beach, swimming in the sea, walking by a river, or even in the bath or shower. It doesn’t tend to happen sitting at my desk in front of the computer.

Author Website

Facebook: Barbara Lamplugh

Barbara L Book Cover BRAG

Passionate, free-spirited Deborah has finally found peace and a fulfilling relationship in her adopted city of Granada – but when she is seriously injured in the Madrid train bombings of 2004, it is her sister Alice who is forced to face the consequences of a deception they have maintained for ten years. At Deborah’s home in Granada, Alice waits, ever more fearful. Will her sister live or die? And how long should she stay when each day brings the risk of what she most dreads, a confrontation with Deborah’s Moroccan ex-lover, Hassan? At stake is all she holds dear…

Secrets of the Pomegranate explores, with compassion, sensitivity and – despite the tragic events – humour, the complicated ties between sisters, between mothers and sons and between lovers, set against a background of cultural difference and prejudices rooted in Granada’s long history of   Muslim-Christian struggles for power.


A Writer’s Life with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Charlene Newcomb

Charlene Newcomb-BRAG

I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Charlene Newcomb to talk with me about her writing. Charlene is the author of Men of the Cross, Book I of Battle Scars. A tale of war’s impact on a young knight serving Richard the Lionheart and of forbidden love, this historical adventure is set during the Third Crusade. Book II, For King and Country, will be published in 2015. Visit Charlene’s website and find her on Facebook at CharleneNewcombAuthor, and on Twitter @charnewcomb.

Why do you write?

Growing up, I was the youngest of three children. With an 11-year age difference between my brother and me, I often was on my own. As early as I can remember I had stories floating around in my head. But it wasn’t until I was well into my 30s that I seriously put pen to paper. Back then, I carved out writing time to escape the pressures of family, work, and graduate school. Now the children are grown and on their own. Work and life remain busy, but I have more free time for writing. Not enough, mind you, but it’s a great feeling to see that blank page – or screen – take shape with words. Writers are told to write for themselves, but in all honesty, I have a great desire to share my journey with readers.

For the last few years, that journey has been to the 12th century. I don’t remember learning much about that era when I was in school: there were crusades, Thomas Beckett was murdered, John would be king, and Magna Carta would inspire 18th century colonists on this side of the Atlantic to write a Declaration of Independence. History was little more than names and dates. The way it was taught created little lasting impression on most students. My classmates called it boring! I had one or two teachers who introduced a human element and that brought the past to life for me. If I can do that for a few people through my historical fiction I am thrilled. Names and dates, politics, culture, and religion, are critical to the backdrop of the story. But through the characters in our stories – whether real persons or fictional ones – we can let readers experience all the joys and heartaches of those past lives and times while we entertain and educate.

How has writing impacted your life?

Writing has given me friends for life, both in-the-flesh ones and virtual ones. These folks encourage me to write and offer valuable critiques. It’s brought imaginary people to my life, too, who sometimes talk to me in the strangest places. You sing in the shower? I have conversations there. In the car: it’s good we have hands-free cell phones, else the folks sitting next to me at a stoplight might wonder about the animated conversation I’m having with myself.

The research I do for my medieval fiction has been so much more eye-opening than anything I learned in school. I feel I have a much broader perspective of events that have shaped our 21st century lives. I am much more aware of bias in reporting, now and then. I have grey shades on. Nothing is black and white, is it?

Men o

What advice would you give to beginner writers?

I still feel like a beginner myself though I published my first short story 21 years ago. I am still learning and honing my craft. But I am happy to share with other beginners how I approach this writing life, what works for me. I write. I revise, but not until I have written “the end” on the first draft. My most productive writing time is in the morning, and I try to write at least 5 days a week even if it’s only for 30-60 minutes. I do my research. I accept that I cannot possibly know everything about the time period, but I do my best to read multiple sources of information. I write the story I want to write, though it may not be the most popular genre or era. I don’t plan to retire from my day job. And lastly, I hang out with people who encourage me to pursue your dreams.

If you plan to self-publish

  • read
  • find good critique partners; listen, and don’t be defensive
  • revise, revise, and then revise again
  • use beta readers
  • get editorial help
  • pay professionals to design your cover art unless you are skilled with graphic design
  • be prepared to become a business manager
  • use social media to engage other writers and to find readers but DO NOT do the hard sell. “Buy my book, buy my book, buy my book” will only turn people off
  • submit your book to reputable reviews and awards sites

Keep writing! And now, for me, back to final edits on Book II of Battle Scars.


A Writer’s Life with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree T.J. Alexian

Ted Mitchell BRAG

I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree T.J. Alexian to talk with me a little about his writing. T.J. lives in Attleboro, Massachusetts in a renovated green Victorian, along with seven ghosts and his long-time (and long-suffering) partner. He also has three kids and one spiritual kid, and their stories and their spirit form the heart and soul of his novel, Pictures of You. A profiled author in the Writer’s Digest book Writer with a Day Job and an award-winning communications specialist, Pictures of You is Alexian’s first novel, although he has two more being prepared for distribution: The Late Night Show and Confessions of a Diva Rotundo.

T.J., Why do you write?

Compulsion? Insomnia? Not enough love as a child?

That all may be true, but I can’t think of a better release to have. I’ve always felt that people who love to write possess the ability to rule the world. At least, the world of the page, or of the screen. And those who write well, who capture the interest of others and somehow manage to draw them into this world? Who have the ability to bring their stories so vividly to life that others believe in it, too, and get swept away from the mundane day-to-day and slip into the version of reality they’ve created? Now that’s a whole new level of power: for some, I’d call it eternal life.

That’s why I write. For the challenge of creating life, of aiming to capture lightning in a paperback, of somehow managing to breathe life into my own personal Frankenstein. One of these days, I’ll get it right!

How has writing impacted your life?

That’s a hard one to answer, because I can’t think of a day where I haven’t written, in some way, shape or form. So how would I know what life would have been without it?

Duller, that’s for sure. I think because I can write, I’ve never been bored. I don’t like it when people say they’re bored. How is that possible? There is always something to do in this world. Or at least, something to write.

I certainly think it’s given me an income, and the ability to take care of my family and live a somewhat comfortable life. That’s appreciated.

I also think it’s given me an outlet. For creativity, yes, but also as a means to express my frustrations and avoid blowing up. Besides writing, I direct plays, and I once had to deal with an extremely unreasonable actor who was playing my lead and also making my life miserable. Re-blocking scenes, staging tantrums. Rather than having a meltdown myself, I went home and wrote about the insane things he did each night. In my story, I made him as unreasonable and over-the-top as I could…hey, this was my version. It got to the point where I couldn’t wait to go to rehearsal, just to see how badly he’d behave, because that meant a new story for me to tell! I think that’s a great way to get rid of a problem.

Finally, writing has given me a chance to reach out and make connections, all across the world. I love that feeling. I love this shorthand way or bridging the distance. It’s truly a gift.

Pictures of You BRAG Book

When do your best ideas come to you for a story?

Ideas are like flowers in a garden: they can pop up practically anywhere. I do think, though, as a general rule, my best ones occur in the morning. So why the heck am I writing this at night? Mornings are great for ideas, though. Afternoons are good for heavy writing.

The thing is, even when I’m not writing, I still am, in my head. Working through problem sentences and plot flaws. Thinking about my main character, and sometimes not very nice thoughts. And that’s why the morning is so great. You’ve had the whole day before, plus a few hours sleeping, to think things over. So if I can manage to wake up in time, it makes getting something down that much easier.

How do you respond to positive and negative reviews?

I always make it a point to thank someone for a positive review. If they take the time to write about what your story meant to them, it’s the least you can do.

I never respond to negative reviews—but I do read them. And hopefully, learn something.

What advice would you give to beginner writers?

Write every day. Even if you’re not feeling inspired. Even if you think you have nothing to say. Set a goal of one page, then one chapter, then ten. Or one poem. Or one song, wherever your inspiration leads you. And then, work at it. Rewrite. Improve. Little things can grow big over time. Ask any acorn.

Take classes in grammar. It’s not fun, I know. It can be as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist. Still, it will give you a better feel for the rules of the road and allow you to better express yourself. By the way, revisit this periodically. Like the dentist, a check-up never hurts.

Keep a journal. Seriously! Look at your own life as a story and the people in your life as characters who inhabit your world. Learn to tell your story vividly, because it will help to color and influence the stories you want to tell, and will make them that much more believable. Side note: it will also make you extremely annoying at family gatherings, because you’ll know the real story. And have evidence to back it up.

And finally, network. Talk to other creative people: authors, storytellers, illustrators, editors. Get to know them as people, and not simply as minions designed to advance your career. Successful writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and also, people can spot insincerity a mile away. Besides, couldn’t we all use a few more friends?

Author Links:







A Writer’s Life with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Marisha Pink

Marisha Pink - Headshot

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Marisha Pink is a rat race escapee turned author and entrepreneur.

Born and raised in London, from a young age she had an unhealthy obsession with books. She always dreamed of one day writing stories with the power to take readers on a journey, but somehow she wound up studying Chemistry and working in marketing instead.

In September 2012, after five years of climbing the corporate ladder, she decided that it was finally time to take the leap. Backpack in hand, she left everything behind to travel Southeast Asia and complete her debut novel, Finding Arun. She’s been on a mission not to live life by the book ever since.

Eventually returning to London in February 2013, Marisha raised the finance to publish the book through crowdfunding, and joined the self-publishing revolution. Released globally in September 2013, Finding Arun has earned a 5* Readers’ Favorite review, a B.R.A.G. Medallion, and a shortlisting for the inaugural Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction.

Marisha has been featured on BBC London 94.9FM, The Literary Platform, and across several popular blogs and podcasts. Her second novel, Last Piece of Me, the prequel to Finding Arun, was published on 5th March 2015 and is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook.

Marisha, why do you write?

There are two reasons why I write: a love of storytelling and therapy! As a child, my head was always stuck in a book because I loved getting lost in other worlds and other lives. Books fascinated me in a way that television was never able to, because words give you just enough to construct an environment, but let your imagination fill in the detail. I would write short stories and also song lyrics, which are essentially another form of storytelling, but I always had this burning desire to write whole tomes capable of delivering the powerful reading experiences that I enjoyed myself. When I started to write properly it was as though a tension had been released and I find the whole process very therapeutic and cathartic. Writing is a creative outlet for me and I enjoy crafting and tinkering with words on the page, knowing that I am creating something unique which others will be able to immerse themselves in and interpret in their own way.

How has writing impacted your life?

Writing has changed everything! I quit my job to write and though I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices in order to keep writing full-time, the experience has made me appreciate everything in my life so much more. The writing life has a much slower pace than the rat race does, and because I have slowed down I am far more observant of the world around me. I actually notice when the trees are blossoming or the leaves are on the ground, instead of simply hurrying along the street to get to my next appointment. I see things much more clearly than I ever did before, and I am constantly drawing inspiration for my writing from the places I visit and the people I meet. Everyone and everything has a story; if it doesn’t, then I find myself making one up – I can’t help it.

When do your best ideas come to you for a story?

Inconveniently, the best ideas usually come to me when I’m in the middle of writing another story! When I am writing I am at my most creative, and I often feel as though I am in an entirely different headspace, which breeds ideas faster than I can write them down. It’s tempting to hop from one project to another, especially because new ideas can feel more exciting than something that you have been working on for ages, but I have taught myself to note down new ideas so that I can come back to them at a later date. That said, earlier this year I had a brilliant idea for a story during a massage in Malaysia, so I guess ideas can appear at any time!

How do you respond to positive and negative reviews?

With gratitude. Whether someone has good words or bad to say about your work, you should appreciate that they have taken the time out of their day to let you know their thoughts. Positive reviews can make you smile for days and negative reviews can make you grow, so embrace them both as a part of your journey to becoming the best writer that you can be.

What advice would you give to beginner writers?

Just enjoy yourself! Often when we seriously turn our attentions to our passions and creative endeavours, we feel a tremendous amount of pressure to “get it right” first time or to be successful overnight. Yet this is not the reason that most writers begin writing and true commercial success is not a reality for most writers anyway. You should never lose sight of why you started to write and remember that writing is a marathon, not a sprint. It can take time to find your unique voice and you should enjoy the process of discovering it, because it’s all part of the joy of being a writer.

Where can readers buy your book?

Finding-Arun-3D-book Marisha Pink BRAG

Finding Arun is available in both Kindle ebook and paperback from Amazon US and Amazon UK)

More links:

Twitter: @marishapink

 Author Website


A Writer’s Life with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Travis Daniel Bow

Travis Daniel Bow

Travis Daniel Bow

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Travis Daniel Bow to Layered Pages to talk about his writing. Travis is the author of Thane and its sequel, King’s Table. He grew up in Reno, NV (where he raised pigs for FFA), earned degrees from Oklahoma Christian University (where he broke his collarbone in a misguided Parkour attempt) and Stanford (where he and his bike were hit by a car), and now does research and development work for Nikon. He has eight published short stories, four pending patents, one wonderful son, one beautiful wife, and one loving God.

Travis, why do you write?

Because it’s fun! I love reading (my parents had to limit my reading time to an hour a day when I was a kid), and writing is kind of like reading in reverse. You get to escape into a different world, but you also get to create that world yourself. What could be cooler? (besides a million dollars, or a Nobel prize, or a life-time supply of macaroni and cheese, of course).

I also write (non-fiction) because it helps me clarify my thoughts. When I want to form an opinion on a tough issue, I write my own little research paper about it. When I want to pray without letting my thoughts wander, I write my prayers. When I want to express something important to a friend or loved one, I write a letter or email. Writing is a more studied and careful method of communication that helps me be logical and organized.


How has writing impacted your life?

In too many ways to count. It’s allowed me to log workouts, update Facebook statuses, compose witty messages scrawled in car-window dust (‘Wash Me!’), and even buy a house, get married, and pay my taxes (none of which would be possible without signing my name).

On a deeper level, writing has given me an outlet, a way to express stories or topics that I care about to people that I may never meet. I hope I never take that opportunity for granted.

King's Table Front Cover by Travis Bow

What advice would you give to beginning writers?

There’s a lot of good advice I could regurgitate here. Write a lot. Read a lot. Write about things you care about or know about. Don’t give up. These are things we all know, and they sound a lot better coming from someone wise and successful.

My most unique tip would be this: don’t take your writing too seriously.

Here’s what I mean. If you’re a writer, you probably enjoy English, which means you probably took a lot of English classes, which means you probably spent a lot of time over-analyzing the writing of famous people, which means you’ve probably fantasized about being one of those famous people, which means that when you write, someplace in the back of your head is probably envisioning a class full of dreamy eyed students crooning over the genius of your choice of verbs or metaphors or font style.

There are two things wrong with letting this type of fantasy shape your writing (OK, at least two things).

One is that it’s probably false; most people that read your work will be reading it for entertainment, not analyzing, and if it ever becomes one of those unfortunate classics ready to be picked apart by college English students, you’ll probably be dead and gone anyway.

The second is that obsessing over the literary greatness of your writing will limit your writing.

I am convinced that the majority of writer’s block and pompous, generic, or ridiculous writing comes from the writer thinking too much about what people are going to think about the words being written. This can paralyze you (like my two-year-old son gets paralyzed when he tries to draw something on his whiteboard and realizes it doesn’t look write… and concludes that he should stop drawing). It can also make you write lame imitations of what you’ve already seen in an attempt to latch on to someone else’s greatness, or alternatively rebel and write ridiculous metaphors in an attempt to be different from anything you’ve ever seen.

Don’t do it. Don’t worry about the greatness of your every sentence… at least until the second or third draft. Some of the best material I’ve written has started with me saying, “OK, I’m now going to write the worst story ever”

Author’s Book Links:


Barnes & Noble

Or Smashwords Also, as of today, King’s Table (Thane’s sequel) is also available on Amazon   and Smashwords