Cover Crush: The Man In The Lighthouse by Erik Valeur

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I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

The Man in the LighthouseThe Man in the Lighthouse

Pub Date 14 Mar 2017

All his life, Viggo Larssen has been haunted by the same troubling dream, which he calls the Omen—a vision of a woman beckoning to him from the surface of a churning sea. Now, as he broods over his shipwrecked existence in a remote lighthouse off the outermost coast of Denmark, he is about to be borne backward by the current to a past he thought he had escaped forever.

On the Danish mainland, the widowed mother of the nation’s prime minister mysteriously vanishes from her prestigious nursing home. As the police search for clues, evidence mounts that her disappearance is tied to an unsolved crime from Viggo’s childhood. Told through the eyes of multiple characters from Viggo’s old neighborhood, Erik Valeur’s dark, serpentine mystery is a profound meditation on the persistence of memory, the power of dreams, and the secrets we hide from one another—and ourselves.

My Thoughts:

I don’t read a lot of  Scandinavian Literature but I do watch a lot of Scandinavian shows. So when I spotted this story, I thought this would be something to look into. The cover is certainty has a brooding, dark tone feel about it. It shows how at times, the sea can be unforgiving-if you will. Imagine being shipwrecked upon those rocks. This cover is dramatic and I believe fits the premise. Adding this book to my never ending reading pile!

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary.

Other great book bloggers who cover crush:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired Books

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation

More cover crushes over at indieBRAG!

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Interview with Best-Selling Author C.S. Harris

me-iiI’d like to welcome C. S. Harris today to talk with me about her new release, Good Time Coming, novel of the American Civil War. C.S. is the bestselling author of more than twenty novels including the Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mystery series and the standalone historical Good Time Coming. Under her own name, Candice Proctor, she is also the author of seven historical novels and a nonfiction historical study of women in the French Revolution. As C.S. Graham she writes the Tobie Guinness contemporary thriller series.

A Former academic with a PhD in European history, Candice has also worked as an archaeologist at a variety of sites around the world and spent much of her life abroad, living in Spain, Greece, England, France, Jordan, and Australia. She now makes her home in New Orleans with her husband, retired Army intelligence officer Steve Harris, and an ever-expanding number of cats.

Hi, Candice! Thank you for talking with me today about your newly release novel, Good Time Coming. It is a true honor to be talking about what I think is the most important work of fiction of the American Civil War I have read this year and in a long time. Please tell your audience about the premise of your story?

c-s-harrisHi Stephanie, thanks so much, and thanks for having me! Good Time Coming is the story of Amrie St. Pierre, a young girl forced to grow up fast in Civil War-torn Louisiana. This is a side of war we don’t often hear about—the struggle faced by the women and children left alone to survive in the face of starvation, disease, and the ravages of an invading army. War looks very different when seen through the eyes of a child learning hard truths about personal strength, friendship, and the shades of good and evil that exist within us all.

Rarely do I hear people talking about what the women endured during this war. I believe many are uncomfortable talking about it for many reasons. Neither do many people realize the starvation that was taking place because of the blockades and soldiers taking food for their own needs. You really touched on this and I am glad you did. Were there any moments while writing about this that you thought that it might not be well received? Also, what were your own emotions about this while writing your story?

When I first started thinking about this book, I simply wanted to tell a story about a dramatic, compelling aspect of the Civil War I felt had been neglected for some strange reason. (Yes, you can call me naive!) I’d never lived in the South until I moved to New Orleans shortly before Katrina, so I had no idea just how horrible the war was for the women and children of Louisiana until I started reading their surviving letters, diaries, and memoirs. Although I’m a historian and therefore should have known more than most about the brutal realities of warfare, I was frankly stunned. I was also disturbed to realize just how effectively the truth has been glossed over and hidden.

All nations mythologize their past, but I have a sneaky suspicion Americans do it more than most. The brutal realities of our Civil War don’t fit well with the stories we Americans like to tell ourselves, so we tend to ignore them—or try to. Slavery was a vile institution, and anyone who tries to excuse it (as some, amazingly, still do) by saying most slaves were well treated hasn’t read the numerous extant journals and letters of the period, or the Slave Narratives from the Depression-era Federal Writers’ Project. The simple truth is that slaves worked because they were whipped. Full stop. And because a statistical percentage of any population has sociopathic tendencies, any institution that allows one group of people absolute power over others is a recipe for sadism. At the same time, it’s important to remember that the North did not go to war against the South to end slavery. Their war aim was to preserve the Union, and their motive was the same one that led to the Mexican-American War and the virtual extermination of the Native Americans. The army that marched against the South was the same army that perpetrated the massacres of Native American women and children at Sacramento River and Harvey and countless other sites, a well-understood reality that terrified Southern civilians. To turn the Civil War into a morality play in which one side equals good and the other evil serves only to distort history and perpetuate the dangerous divisions that still exist in our country over 150 years later.

But breaking that taboo and telling a story that portrays what really happened is dangerous for a writer. I knew the book would probably provoke discussion; I didn’t realize it would be so controversial that it would be hard to get published. As for its effects on me, writing this book was a wrenching, highly emotional experience. It’s a powerful story and I still cry when I reread it. I poured my heart and soul into this book, and I am not the same person I was before I started it—it was that life altering.

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I believe you have truly captured the diversity of people and social standings and showed different views of the war in a concise way. The attitudes of the war and government were so complex. It wasn’t as straightforward as people would like to believe. Without giving too much away will you tell your audience a little about how you portrayed people’s attitudes during that time?

I carefully studied the people who were living in St. Francisville and Bayou Sara before the war and made a determined effort to be true to their profiles (many of the minor characters in the book are real historical figures). A surprising number of residents were recent immigrants either from the North or Europe. There were a few wealthy, large plantation owners, but most people were small farmers, shopkeepers and tradesmen who owned no slaves. Some, inevitably, were eager for war (as was the case at the outbreak of WWI, most people assumed the war would be over quickly and their side was sure to win). Many were swept up in a patriotic fervor that sounds eerily similar to that of the Revolution. Others, like Amrie’s father, opposed secession but felt compelled to step forward and defend their homes and families. And some, like Amrie’s uncle, a West Point graduate, made the agonizing decision to remain in the Union army and fight their own people.

And then there’s the fact that a huge percentage of the people in the area were enslaved. The antebellum South was also home to over a quarter of a million gens de couleur libres or “free people of color.” Louisiana, especially, had a large population of free African-Americans. Some owned plantations and slaves themselves. Some formed units that fought for the Confederacy; others formed the Corps d’Afrique and fought for the Union. As the war continued and more and more slaves walked off the plantations, those numbers increased.

The longer the war went on, life became increasingly desperate, and society simply broke down. What happened to the people of the area during those years had repercussions that lasted for generations. For many decades after the Civil War, the Feliciana Parishes (in Louisiana, the civil administrative districts known elsewhere as counties are called parishes) had by far the highest murder rate in the country—higher even than the wild, wild West! To be frank, in a very real sense I don’t think it has recovered yet.

What are some emotional triggers for Amrie and her mother and how do they act on them?

One of the things that made the war particularly hard on Southern women was the fact that nineteenth-century Southern culture really did treat women differently—and expected them to behave differently. For example, it was not unusual for women in the North to become schoolteachers and nurses, but that was not true in the South; in fact, it was powerfully discouraged. So when the men all marched off to war (and died at a shocking rate: something like a quarter of the male population) it was even more of a stretch for their women to take over the farms and start running shops. Amrie St. Pierre is what we would today call a tomboy, while her mother defied expectations as a young woman by attending medical lectures in New Orleans (women were allowed to attend lectures even though they could not be licensed as doctors). Yet despite these advantages, they still face enormous hardships in an increasingly dangerous world. And of course one of the truths this story confronts is the reality of rape in war and how Southern women handled that. Two important themes are women finding strengths they don’t know they possess, and the bonds that can form amongst a community of women undergoing hardship together.

Please tell us a little about the supporting characters.

One of the most interesting characters for me to write was Amrie’s mother, Kate St. Pierre. At the beginning of the book Amrie sees her the way all children tend to see their mothers, with little understanding of the hardships and strains Kate is facing. But as the war goes on and Amrie grows up, their relationship subtly shifts, and Amrie begins to realize just how much there is to admire about her mother—and the ways in which they are and are not alike. The mother-daughter dynamic is always a powerful one, and when it is played out against the strains of war and extreme hardship, it’s fascinating.

A very different character is Adelaide Dunbar, Amrie’s grandmother. Adelaide is a hard woman who has done some terrible things in her life (Amrie discovers just how terrible as the story progresses), and yet she has an inner grit that can’t help but inspire respect. She forms a distinct contrast to Castile Boudreaau, a freed slave who serves as something of a mentor to Amrie. He’s an evolved soul who has already lived through so much pain and hardship that he has the calm and wisdom that Amrie lacks—and sorely needs as the war progresses. I could go on and on, talking about Finn, Amrie’s childhood friend, and Hilda Meyers, the enigmatic German shopkeeper; they’re all so real to me that since I’ve finished the book I find I miss them the way you miss friends you haven’t seen in a while.

For those who are not familiar with Civil War battle sites like Port Hudson, Bayou Sara, and Camp Moore, could you talk a little about that?

It’s hard to overstate the strategic importance of the Mississippi River in the Civil War. The Union knew that if they could take the river, they would effectively cut the Confederacy in two and stop the influx of cattle, horses, and other vital supplies coming into the South from Texas. Once New Orleans fell, the last two Confederate strongholds on the river were Port Hudson and Vicksburg, which became the scenes of horrific sieges. The once prosperous town of St. Francisville and its port, Bayou Sara, lay in between the two, so they suffered grievously from the depredations of Union troops trying to overrun both those two fortifications and Camp Moore, an important Confederate training ground that lay just to the east. The entire area was constantly raided and burned, and guerilla attacks on Union supply lines led to brutal acts of retaliation against area civilians. The things done to the women and children of Louisiana were abominable.

This is a big leap from your Regency England St. Cyr series. What prompted you to write this story and will there be any more like this from you? I hope so!

One of the hazards of keeping a series going for years and years is that there’s a risk of the writer becoming complacent or bored working always with the same characters, setting, and types of stories. For a while I was also writing a contemporary thriller series (under the name C. S. Graham), but I’m a slow writer and it almost killed me trying to keep two series going at the same time. So for me, standalones like this are a better solution.

I’ve actually wanted to write this book for over a decade, ever since I wrote a historical mystery set in occupied New Orleans (Midnight Confessions: currently out of print but due to be reissued soon under my real name, Candice Proctor). That’s when I first learned something about how hard the war had been on the civilian population of Louisiana, and I started thinking about looking at those events through the unblinkingly honest eyes of a child. Then Katrina hit, and one of the ways I survived those first horrible months of living in a devastated city was by reminding myself of how the residents of other destroyed cities throughout history pulled together to survive and rebuild. And that experience put a new spin on the story I wanted to tell.

I’m currently writing a novella set in Kent during World War II that will be part of an anthology by four authors called The Jacobite’s Watch. This is a new venture for me in two ways: it’s a time period I’ve never tried before, and I’ve never written a novella. I do think it’s important for a writer to keep challenging herself.

How would your characters describe you?

Ha! That’s an interesting question. I guess it would depend on the character. Amrie and I have much in common—she has a lot of my faults along with a number of characteristics I’d like to have but don’t. Ironically it wasn’t until I was reading the galleys for the published book that I realized Amrie’s mother is in many ways a blending of my own mother and grandmother with parts of me, too. I suspect all writers do this—put parts of themselves in their characters, including parts they don’t have but wish they did.

How much time and research did you spend on Good Time Coming and what was the process in getting a publisher to take it on?

I researched this book for years. I read hundreds of letters, memoirs, and journals, along with countless histories on various aspects of the war. I visited the historic sites that are important in the story—Port Hudson and Camp Moore, Jackson and the site of the vanished town of Bayou Sara. I even bought a weekend house not far from St. Francisville, between Jackson and Clinton! I went to Civil War battle reenactments, toured plantations and slave quarters, and spent days and days in dusty museums learning everything I could about how things were done and what objects actually looked like. And then I sat down and wrote the manuscript in five months in a white heat of eighteen-hour days, seven days a week. I’m normally a painfully slow writer, but this book just came pouring out of me.

Because I’d never written anything like this before—a coming-of-age story told from the first person viewpoint of a young girl—I was more than a bit apprehensive about my ability to do the story justice. But I honestly believe it is the best book I have ever written, and my agent was so excited when I sent it to her. Then she sent it out, and we received the most glowing, lyrical rejection letters ever penned. The problem was the subject matter—the effect of the Civil War on Southern civilians, plus, oddly, the issue of rape. New York editors were afraid to touch it. There’s a reason this book was published in England.

What do you feel is the importance of historical fiction?

As a professional historian, I find it frightening how little so many people know about the past. History has so much to teach us, not only about past events but also about human nature. As the saying goes, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme (a truism attributed to Mark Twain although he actually wrote something slightly different). For those who may not enjoy reading nonfiction histories, well-researched historical fiction offers an accessible window to the past.

Who are your influences?

I’ve long believed that the books we read as children influence us the most, and as a child I read Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, and Alexandre Dumas. Plus we lived in Europe when I was young, and our weekends and summers were spent crawling around crumbling castles, abbeys, and Roman ruins. So it’s no surprise I grew up fascinated by history, and that when I started writing I gravitated to historicals.

Other writers that undoubtedly had an influence on this book are James Lee Burke, both because of his insight into human nature and his lyrically beautiful prose, and of course Harper Lee. It’s impossible to write about a young girl coming of age in the South without consciously or unconsciously referencing Scout.

When writing, do you use visuals to give you inspiration?

I’ve never been one of those writers who makes collages with photos of characters, houses, clothes, etc. But I do like to go to the places I’ll be writing about and look at objects—a Civil War surgeon’s instruments, for example, or a real nineteenth-century homemade bow (I was so excited when I actually found one hanging on the wall of an outbuilding of a St. Francisville plantation house; they were common in the South in the years after the Civil War because former Confederate soldiers were not allowed to own guns).  I tramped all over the extensive battlefields of Fort Hudson, waded through the swamps of Cat Island, and stood in St. Francisville’s churchyard to watch the annual reenactment of what they call the Day the War Stopped (a commemoration of the time Federal and Confederate Masons joined together to give a Union captain a Masonic funeral). When I sit down to write, those are the things I draw on.

What is your writing process and how much time during the day do you write?

I do the bulk of my research before I start writing because I find my plots and characters grow out of what I’m reading and learning. I’ve heard some authors say they plot first and then research only what they need as they’re writing, so they don’t “waste time” learning what they’ll never use. The problem with that approach is that it risks turning history into mere window dressing. When I’m writing, if I come upon something I need but don’t know, I will stop and look it up. I’ve spent half a day chasing down information to get one word right—it’s the hazard of having been a history professor.

Ever since Katrina (when I had no choice) I’ve learned to love writing my books by hand in a legal pad. Recent studies have shown that there is something about holding a pen that stimulates the creative parts of your brain, so I’m not just imagining it. When I finish a chapter, I type it up, print it out, then find a comfortable chair to reread and edit. I constantly go back and edit the chapters I’ve written, so that by the time I finish a manuscript it is virtually in its final state. Yet I have a good friend who composes entirely on her computer, never edits until she’s finished, and never prints out her manuscripts. À chacun son goût.

As for how much of my day I spend on writing, I feel as if I’m always working, that I’m never free to just relax the way someone with a 9-5 job can. The problem with working for yourself is that you feel as if you should always be working. And yet because you’re operating on this long deadline—in my case, usually a year to write a 440-page manuscript—it’s all too easy to waste time, to tell yourself you need to think more about your plot or that the article about sociopaths you want to read is “research.” And then there’s the Internet. Publishers push their writers to be active on Facebook and Twitter, but I think it’s a mistake—soooo many writers I know are now locked in a constant battle against the distraction of social media. It’s a huge time sink.

There was a time I was rigorously self-disciplined. Now, not so much.

What is up next for you?

The twelfth book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series, Where the Dead Lie, will be out in April 2017, and I’ve almost finished #13 (which unfortunately still doesn’t have a title). Then I’ll be moving on to #14, which does have a title: Who Slays the Wicked (love that title!). The anthology with the World War II novella I mentioned will probably be out in 2018. And I’ve also been revising four of my out-of-print historicals; they should all be available early next year.

Where can readers buy your books?

The Sebastian St. Cyr series is available in virtually all outlets in the States and online elsewhere. Good Time Coming is available in hardcover and e-book through various outlets online and can also be ordered through independent bookstores.

Author Links:

Website

Twitter:  @csharris2

Facebook

Amazon

 

 

 

Interview with Award Winning Author Lisa Brunette

me-iiI’d like to welcome back two time B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Lisa Brunette today to talk about her award winning book, Framed and Burning. Lisa was born in Santa Rosa, California, but that was only home for a year. A so-called “military brat,” she lived in nine different houses and attended nine different schools by the time she was 14. Through all of the moves, her one constant was books. She read everything, from the entire Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mystery series to her mother’s books by Daphne du Maurier and Taylor Caldwell. 

A widely published author, game writer, and journalist, Lisa has interviewed homeless women, the designer of the Batmobile, and a sex expert, to name just a few colorful characters. This experience, not to mention her own large, quirky family, led her to create some truly memorable characters in her Dreamslippers Series and other works, whether books or games.

Always a vivid dreamer, not to mention a wannabe psychic, Lisa feels perfectly at home slipping into suspects’ dreams, at least in her imagination. Her husband isn’t so sure she can’t pick up his dreams in real life, though.

With a hefty list of awards and publications to her name, Lisa now lives in a small town in Washington State, but who knows how long that will last…

Hi, Lisa! Thank you for chatting with me today. First, I HAVE to ask you how you came up with the name “Dreamslippers” for your series.

lisa-brunette-ii-bragThat’s a great question. Before I published the first book in the series, Cat in the Flock, I’d been mulling over what to call the psychic dreaming gift that my characters possess. I had used the phrase “slip into your dreams,” and one of my BETA readers, Chrysanne Westin, suggested I call it “dreamslipping.” When I released the first book with the old cover (which my husband and I designed) in July of 2014, it ran under the series title “McCormick Files,” after protagonist Cat’s last name. But when I updated with a professional cover, I decided at that point to call it the Dreamslippers Series. It’s perfect for a family of sleuths with the unique but limited ability to slip into other people’s dreams.

Tell me about Framed and Burning. By the way, I love the title.

Thank you. I agonized over the title for quite some time, testing a few with BETA readers. I settled on Framed and Burning because, like the title for book one, it contains a double entendre. Someone gets framed in the book, and there’s a lot of different kinds of burning in the book, that of the fire in the first scene but also burning ambition, passion, truth… The story opens with a fire in Mick’s studio, killing his assistant, Donnie Hines. The evidence shows its arson, and the police suspect Mick. His sister and grand-niece are PIs, and they work to clear his name.

By the way, it used to be part of my job description to name mystery games at Big Fish; I’ve named hundreds of games. It’s never easy, but it can be fun!

Will you give me a little background on Mick Travers?

Sure! He’s often the only dude in the room, since my series is very female-centric. Mick is a fellow dreamslipper, but he uses the images he picks up from other people’s dreams as inspiration for his art. His older sister, Amazing Grace, and his grand-niece, Cat McCormick, use it to solve crimes.

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How is your character(s) influenced by their setting?

Mick is very jaded after living most of his life in Miami, which can be a plastic-y, materialistic place. Grace is a dyed-in-the-wool Seattleite: politically liberal, spiritually open, self-directed, and very DIY. Cat is like a lot of people from the Midwest: practical, skeptical, grounded. But she’s also adventurous and curious, which draws her to the other two locations.

What are the habits of your protagonist?

Grace’s habits form the basis for much of Cat’s apprenticeship. Grace is a lifelong yoga devotee, a practitioner of several different spiritual paths, including Buddhism and New Thought, and she regularly meditates. In book three, she takes up a holistic, barefoot dance practice called Nia. And she does all of this in her 70s! You can tell I have a lot of fun with her. Cat is a Millennial who’s tied to her tech, never without her cell phone and adept at online research. But she allows her grandmother to take her under her wing, learning the value of yogic breathing, for example, and using it.

How long did it take to write your story, and what was your process? Did your process for this book change from Cat and the Flock?

Framed and Burning came out in a rush over two months. But that was just the first draft. I spent another six months polishing it. My process for Cat in the Flock was much different, as I took two years to craft the story, but I was working 50-70-hour weeks at my day job during that time and couldn’t concentrate on it as much as I did with Framed and Burning.

Tell me a little about the quirky Miami art world in your story. What does art mean to you, personally?

I didn’t grow up around art or museums, but as soon as I left home and was free to explore on my own, I made art discovery a priority, visiting museums in every city I went to and covering my walls with inexpensive art poster prints. In college, I made it part of my curriculum in American Studies, and I worked for a time at the St. Louis Art Museum (selling memberships), where I spent hours staring at paintings, especially in the modern and contemporary galleries, coming to think of them as my friends. My first husband was an artist who worked out of our home, so I was surrounded by paint and canvases for eleven years, with artists of all types traipsing in and out, and I acquired numerous pieces of my own through that experience.

That doesn’t really answer your question, though, does it? I guess you could say I fell in love with art on my own first—and then I fell for an artist. Even though the ex and I have been apart now for seven years, the art is very much still with me.

Who designed your book cover?

I work with Monika Younger, a super pro with more than a decade of experience designing covers for Harlequin (both their romance and mystery lines). I highly recommend her.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just launched the third book in the series, Bound to the Truth. It’s about the murder of a brilliant Seattle architect. Her widow hires Cat and Grace to investigate a man she suspects as the killer, a well-known conservative radio talk show host.

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

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A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Lisa Brunette who is the author of, Framed and Burning, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, 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, Framed and Burning, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

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Characters in Motion with Annie Whitehead

Welcome to Question Time, coming to you ‘live’ from 10th century Mercia. Here with me tonight are, from To Be A Queen, Aethelflaed and Ethelred, and from Alvar the Kingmaker, we have Alvar, Káta, and Alfreda. Our first question comes from our viewer, Stephanie, and she would like to know which of the senses you consider most vital.

Alvar II.jpgAlvar and Káta, if I could turn to you first? 

“Thank you, Annie. Lord Alvar will allow me to begin, but I wish to speak about him. His sense of smell is acute. Once, before he met me, he wandered off in search of a ‘lady’ of the court, trying to locate her by catching a waft of her scent. When he gets angry, he talks in terms of smell, and has been known to declare that foul play ‘Stinks worse than a Welshman’s fart.’ Please excuse my language.”

Lord Alvar?

“Yes, I do notice smells. Káta is too self-effacing to tell you, but when I lay wounded and barely alive, the first thing I perceived when I regained consciousness was the delicate fragrance of her perfume and I knew I was in her care, and would recover. She has always been envious of Queen Alfreda, but she will discover, poignantly, that Alfreda wears that same perfume, and it reminds me always of Káta.”

Lord Alvar, can you tell us about Káta now?

“She will tell you that I am never comfortable talking about the women in my life, and especially about her. I get tongue-tied and often make a fool of myself, but I shall try. I love watching her: her fingers are nimble and throughout our story I have watched her bandaging various people, myself included, and working at her spinning. When she is worried, she will reach out and touch her loved ones, for reassurance or to check that their wounds are healing. In relaxed moments, she will run her hands through a sack of dried peas, or, out walking, she will tug at the plants along the hedgerow, often playing with a stalk of grass that has come away in her hands. I watched her once, threading a chain of flowers, and when she caught me looking at her, I don’t know which of us was more embarrassed. And, after I’d tried and failed to describe Queen Alfreda to her, I tickled her face with a blade of grass. That very nearly led to something we both would have regretted at the time.”

Ah yes, now we should speak to Queen Alfreda?

“Well, it’s all about the eyes, isn’t it? It’s about what people see, or don’t see. Beauty and bruises. I spent my early life making sure that folk could not see the marks upon me. I hid away, I held my hands to my chest when I walked, I sat in dark corners. Then a powerful man, the king, no less, declared me beautiful and persuaded me to believe him. There was a moment, when I made a decision to wear my best and most expensive dress, of green silk. That decision changed my life, for people saw me and knew me to be a noblewoman. It was the day I shed one life and began another. Nowadays, I make sure that whenever men look upon me, they see me at my best. I will smooth my skirts, I sit up straight, and I meet their gaze. I have found, though, that it pleases them if I then look away and slightly downwards. Except that the lord Alvar…”

To BE Quuen by Annie Whitehead II

Thank you, and please don’t upset yourself. Shall we turn now to our guests from To Be A Queen? Lord Ethelred?

“I was a warrior and I relied upon all my senses. I would have answered Stephanie’s question by saying that they are all equal. But there came a time in my life when my eyes and legs failed me. I had to rely for a while on my hearing, and at first it played tricks on me. I lay in bed, and listened, but sometimes in the swirling world between sleep and wakefulness I couldn’t distinguish between the flocks of geese and the noise of chatter from the great hall. Gradually I learned to listen more closely to what I was hearing, and was able to detect the subtle change of tone in people’s voices, that betrayed their true feelings. Did you know that, my love?”

Lady Aethelflaed?

“Yes, I did. And I know the conversation you have in mind. But let’s not dwell on that.”

“No, my love, let us tell them instead about you, and how you honed your missile-launching skills. I watched you, remember, playing with the children and trying to hook horseshoes onto a stick in the ground? It was just after you had thrown a shoe at the crow to scare it away from the newly-planted herb bed. I recall the night you silenced a row between Mercians and their visitors from Wessex by hurling plates and cups at them from the head table. And I daresay those Vikings outside the walls of Chester were a bit surprised to see what you ordered to be pelted over the walls at them.”

“Well, they made me cross. And we had to do something, folk were starving…”

Ah yes, Lady Aethelflaed. We’ve talked tonight about Smell, Touch, Sight, Hearing, and Hand-Eye Co-ordination. What of Taste?

“Annie, dear author, do we really need to remind you? Even when we are not enduring famine, which happens frequently, our food is, really, quite appalling. My wedding feast was sumptuous, thanks to my Lord Ethelred’s generosity, but when I tell you that we had the luxury of expensive herring, you might remember that everything is relative. Mostly, even we rich folk eat what you would call basic foods: meat (boiled or roasted), fish, cheese, fruit, nuts, pulses, vegetables. Oh, and most of us will wear our teeth down quickly because our bread is very gritty. I believe that Káta ordered her flour to be ground more thoroughly when her lord was home, but says she doesn’t need it so finely ground when he is away.”

Ah, but when you say ‘her lord’ you don’t mean Alvar, do you? Perhaps we’d better move on. Thank you to all my guests tonight. Next week there will be a different panel, and no doubt a completely different question from our viewer, Stephanie. Thank you all for watching, and Goodnight.

Annie Whitehead head shot II

Annie Whitehead is a history graduate who now works as an Early Years music teacher. Her first novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016. Her new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, which tells the story of Aelfhere of Mercia, a nobleman in the time of King Edgar, is available now, and is the story of one man’s battle to keep the monarchy strong and the country at peace, when successive kings die young. Attempting to stay loyal to all those who depend on him, he must make some very personal sacrifices. A third novel, also set in Mercia, is due to be released in 2017. Annie is currently working on the novel which was a prize-winning entry in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing competition and which she was encouraged by judge Fay Weldon to complete.

Alvar the Kingmaker

To Be a Queen

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Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree J.T. Bishop

Judy Bishop BRAG

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree J. T. Bishop today to talk with me about her book, The Red Line: The Shift. T.J. is the author of the Red-Line trilogy. Born in Dallas, TX, she began writing in 2012. At that time, the end of the Mayan calendar was approaching (Dec. 21st). There were all sorts of theories and speculation as to what the date meant and what would happen when it arrived. J. T. watched a video on Facebook that spoke about the Mayan calendar. It talked about how extraterrestrials had visited earth thousands of years ago in order to meet and exchange information. J. T. didn’t know much about that, but it did spawn an idea. What if those extraterrestrials were still here and lived among us? Thus, Red-Line was born.

Two years later, the trilogy was complete. She has been working hard since then to publish all three books and is excited to announce that the third book in the trilogy, Trust Destiny, will be published on Nov. 1st, 2015. J. T. currently works in the corporate world, but hopes soon to be a full-time writer. She enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling to amazing places, and spending time in nature. Getting up in the morning with a cup of coffee and her laptop, ready to write is the start of a perfect day.

J.T., how did you discover indieBRAG?

I think I heard about in an author discussion on Facebook. Somebody mentioned it, so I did a little research to find out more about it. I submitted my book soon after.

Please tell me about your story, Red Line: The Shift.

Red-Line: The Shift is about Sarah, a woman who learns she’s a member of an extraterrestrial race living on Earth. She is about to Shift, which is a transformational event that all people of her kind experience. But her Shift will be different. Because she’s a Red-line, a member of her species not seen on Earth in over seventy years.

John Ramsey, a Protector has been assigned to ensure her safety, and together with the help of three others, they must keep Sarah alive as she Shifts. But at the same time, they also learn of a new threat – another Red-Line that has other plans for Sarah.

Red line  the shift BRAG

What an intriguing premise! What was your inspiration?

I was inspired by a video I saw in 2012 regarding the end of the Mayan calendar. It theorized about Earth’s origins and how extraterrestrials visited here thousands of years ago to meet and exchange information. It made me think, what if they were still here?

I also liked the idea because it gave me the freedom to play with these characters. I could give them unique abilities and talents. They are highly sensitive, intuitive and empathic. They also have the ability to manipulate energy. Most of the time, if you have characters with special powers, they are witches, vampires, werewolves, etc. I love those books, too, but I liked that I could do something different in this story.

How does Sarah get along working in a bookstore?

Sarah starts out working in the bookstore, but she’s not there for long. Events occur that alter her life forever, making her future career plans obsolete. The only reason she’s in the bookstore when the book opens is because she’s lost her corporate job, and she needed to find work. Her aunt knew someone and helped her find work there. Sarah is in a transitional period when the story begins, which makes sense considering what’s about to happen to her.

Please tell me a little about John Ramsey.

John Ramsey was a fantastic character to write. Very few know this, but I based him on the Robert Downey Jr. portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. I even made Ramsey’s middle name Sherlock. He’s cocky, brash and impulsive. But also fiercely loyal, compassionate and he takes his job very seriously. He will do whatever it takes to protect Sarah. Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s falling for her, too, which adds a whole other dimension to his character. Very fun.

What is one of the abilities that Sarah develops during her, “Shift”?

Sarah is a Red-Line, which makes her unique. The other characters are Gray-Lines and they all have intuitive abilities, some more than most. After Sarah Shifts, she must quickly adjust to her new sensitivities and learn how to use them. As a Red-Line, she can do everything a Gray-Line does, but at a higher level. She also has additional gifts that Gray-Lines do not. One of the most important talents she finds she has is the ability to heal. I won’t say more than that, because I don’t want to give anything away.

Who is Hannah and what is her relationship to Sarah?

Hannah is also another favorite character. She shows up to help John Ramsey with Sarah. She is a former nurse who helps Sarah with her personal needs as she experiences her Shift. She gets more than she bargained for though when she realizes who Sarah is and how her assignment could turn dangerous. She hangs in there though and decides to stay and help despite the risk. Hannah is a Gray-Line and becomes an important friend to Sarah throughout the trilogy. Her role becomes pivotal as the story progresses.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

It’s related to the story and embodies exactly what is happening to Sarah, the main character. It was a logical choice.

Who designed your book cover?

Peter from BespokeBookCovers.com. He lives in England. I found him while doing research for book cover designers on-line. I liked his other covers, plus he’ll do as many changes as I need without charging extra fees. I’ve used him for all three books and he’s done a great job. It’s a little more expensive, but a good cover is a must, so it’s worth it.

When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?

I’ve been pretty lucky so far. Writing this book came easily and so has writing the subsequent books. I usually have an idea of what I’m going to write when I begin a scene. Occasionally, I may question how to begin a new chapter, but I find if I just start writing, even if it’s not something I’m sure about, that within a few sentences, the flow starts to kick in. If I don’t like what I wrote when I get started, then I can always go back and fix it. As far as writer’s block, it’s never been a serious issue.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on my fourth book, entitled Curse-Breaker. It’s a new story with new characters, but there’s a connection to the trilogy, which makes it fun.

Curse-Breaker is a stand-alone story. It can be read before or after the trilogy. The trilogy books all have cliff-hangers, so I wanted to write a book with a beginning and an end.

It’s mystery/suspense with a little romance thrown in.

Do you stick with just genre?

Yes. Those are the stories that draw me in. I don’t exactly think of it as “writing genre,” though. I just write what I’m interested in. I read genre, though, so I suppose that’s why I write it.

Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?

I like to write in my living room. I grab my laptop, sit down on the couch, get comfortable and start writing.

My process is simple. I have an idea what I’m going write that day and I just start. I don’t really outline the whole story up front. I tried it once, but then never referred to it. I didn’t really need it. I find that I like being open to whatever happens as I write. New characters can show up, and the story line can take an interesting turn. Usually when that happens, I pay attention because it usually means something important. Many times, something pops in my head, I add it in, and somewhere down the line, maybe several chapters later, I can see how it fits perfectly into the story. It’s funny how often that happens.

And if I end up writing something I don’t like, I’ll just take it out. Not a big deal.

Is there a favorite food or drink you like to enjoy while writing?

I usually write in the morning after I wake up, so I’ve usually got my cup of coffee in hand.

Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?

I’m pretty low key. I like to visit family and hang out with friends. I live near a nature trail and when the weather is nice, I love to go for a hike. I also love to go to the movies and when I get a chance, travel.

For my birthday, someone gave me the coloring books for adults, along with the coloring pens. I find that this is also a great way to relax. An occasional massage doesn’t hurt either.

If you’d like updates on upcoming books and events, then connect with J. T. on the J. T. Bishop website and her Facebook page.

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Amazon Author Page

Goodreads

 

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview J.T. Bishop who is the author of, Red-Line: The Shift, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . 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 Red-Line: The Shift, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

My Guest and Author of the Amazon Bestseller, Martin Crosbie

Martin Crosbie 2

In a press release, Amazon referred to Martin Crosbie as one of their success stories of 2012. His self-publishing journey has been chronicled in Publisher’s Weekly, Forbes Online, and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. Martin’s debut novel, My Temporary Life, has been downloaded over one hundred and fifty thousand times and became an Amazon bestseller. He is also the author of the Amazon bestsellers:

My Name Is Hardly-Book Two of the My Temporary Life Trilogy

Lies I Never Told-A Collection of Short Stories

How I Sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle-An Easy-To-Follow Self-Publishing Guidebook

Believing Again: A Tale of Two Christmases

Martin was born in the Highlands of Scotland and currently makes his home on the west coast of Canada. The third book in the My Temporary Life Trilogy is due for release in 2014.

Stephanie: I would like to welcome back Author Martin Crosbie. I consider Martin on of the gurus of self-publishing.

Hello Martin! I’m glad to have you visit Layered Pages again. It is always a pleasure to talk with you. You work tirelessly in the self-publishing community and that is much respected by many. I would like to say thank you for all you do and I would like to know how you find the time to do it all?

Martin: Hi Stephanie, thanks for having me back. It’s always fun to talk to you.

I realized some time ago that I had to change my ratio of writing/marketing. I’m proud to say that currently I’m sitting at about 50/50 and I’m pretty happy with that. I made a commitment three months ago to write a minimum one thousand new words every day and so far I’ve stuck with it. So, my priority every day is writing. Everything else has moved down the list.

Stephanie: That is fantastic and I have been cheering for you ever since you told me about your challenge.

Please tell me about the workshops you teach and give lectures at?

Martin: I teach a self-publishing weekend workshop. In a weekend my partner and I try to show authors how to produce a professional product without breaking the bank. We call it the Secrets of the Bestsellers Weekend.

Stephanie: Do you have another one coming up? Tell me about it.

Martin: The next Bestsellers Weekend is in November but I have a number of other events between now and then.

I’m teaching a free self-publishing workshop that the local library is sponsoring in May. Here’s the link: Surrey Libraries

I have two others in the coming months. I’m teaching at a writers retreat in Northern British Columbia. We’re in lockdown at a remote (not-so-secret) location and we’re going to write and talk about writing for four days. Rural Writers

And, I’m very proud to be opening the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival in October. I’ll be facilitating a one day workshop for attendees. The Vicious Circle

Stephanie: Was there a moment when you were giving a lecture that impacted in you some way or should I say, what has been your most profound moment in these speaking engagements?

Martin: During the past workshop that I taught in March, by the middle of the second day the tide turned. The authors attending were quoting phrases and facts that I’d given them on the first day and were nodding and buying into my philosophy. They were talking about making sure their manuscript was polished before publishing and hiring professional cover designers and most importantly, editors too. It felt really good to be in a roomful of writers who were all on the same page.

Stephanie: What are some of the compliments you have received from these lectures?

Martin: I guess the biggest compliment is that some of the authors come back. Several folks who attended my first workshop have come to others too. The greatest compliment though is seeing the success that writers are having once they publish. I see their books zipping up the rankings on Amazon and often overtaking my own work and hitting bestseller status.

As I’ve traveled to writers groups giving information on my workshops I’ve made a startling discovery. There are some very, very good books out there that are just waiting to be published. The quality of writing and creativity of the stories has blown my mind. I often tell writers to please alert me once their books are out and they probably think I’m saying it to be polite.

I’m not! I can’t wait to read some of their books once they go live.

Stephanie: What is the number one advice you give to a writer who is getting started and wants to self-publish?

Martin: Have patience and don’t publish until the work is ready. There’s no excuse for releasing sub-standard material. There are writers groups and beta-readers galore just waiting to help us. I have requests from readers asking about the third book in my trilogy all the time. I had a draft partially written last year but I stopped and started over. It’s my name on the cover and I won’t release a book until I know it’s the best I can produce. You’ll never regret waiting until you know that your work is the best you can produce.

Stephanie: Has there been any bumps along the way in your publishing career and was there a moment you wanted to through in the towel?

Martin: No. I’m doing what I always wanted to do – writing, connecting with readers and being paid for it every month. I’m very lucky.

Stephanie: What are some of the mistakes a self-publishing writer can avoid when using social media?

Martin: Treat your followers and Facebook friends as though they were your real-life, actual, dear friends. In other words, forget that you’re online. I wouldn’t walk up to one of my friends and say “buy my book”. Social networks have changed the way we interact but we don’t have to let them change the way communicate. Treating each other with respect is still the key to maintaining relationships – virtual and actual.

Stephanie: Where do you see this industry in five to ten years?

Martin: Right now, when I publish a book and upload it I feel as though my readers are just around the corner from me. They’re that close. Within a few years it’s going to feel as though they’re in the same room. I don’t what form that will take but the relationship between reader and writer is changing and the two are becoming closer. The escapism that we provide readers will always be there but the actual relationship has changed and that’s a good thing. It’s helped me and others get our work to our audience.

In terms of where the publishing industry will be that’s difficult to say. The only constant will be change. Things will continue to change and we’re going to be here enjoying every peak and valley along the way.

Stephanie: Before you go, is there a message you would like to give to your audience about your own work?

Martin: I’m very proud of my novels and I’d love for your readers to check them out but my bestselling book is currently my self-publishing guidebook. I keep the e-book pricing at $4.99, so it’s quite affordable. The key with this book is that it keeps changing. I released it in September and already have revised it once and will revise it again this summer and again at the end of the year. Each revision contains updated sites where you can promote your work, find editors, places to find free photos and images, and much more. Plus, I update some of the content in terms of what’s working and what isn’t too. So, if you purchase the book and I update the content Amazon will actually advise you that it’s been revised and direct you to the area where you can download the newer version for free. My goal is to have the most current self-publishing guidebook on the market all the time.

I’d love for your readers to check it out Self-Publishing Guidebook

Thank you, Martin!

Places you can find Martin:

Twitter

Facebook

Martin’s Website

email

Amazon Author Page

Martin’s self-publishing journey has been documented here:

Publisher’s Weekly Apr/2012

Globe and Mail Newspaper Apr/2012

Forbes Online Aug/2012

Here are just a few samples of many things people are saying about Martin’s books.

What readers are saying about Lies I Never Told-A Collection of Short Stories:

Lies I never told

Could not put this book down. I am amazed at the depth of feeling and emotion in his words. All of the stories are so different yet so connected at the emotional level. My only disappointment is that the stories were not longer. I really hope that this book is just a prelude of the novels to come. Martin grabs me from the first line and takes me on an emotional journey with all his characters.

Debbie Dore-Amazon review

Where Martin Crosbie found his voice is a mystery. His ability to create stories (here very brief ones) that explore the psyche of his chosen stand-in trope in such a way that within a few sentences you are so aware of the character’s life and feelings that he seems to be sitting beside you, in conversation with only you.

Grady Harp (Hall of Fame reviewer)-Goodreads review

What readers are saying about How I Sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle-An Easy-To-Follow Self-Publishing Guidebook:

How I sold....

Yes, I was skeptical because I’ve read one or two of these books, and their suggestions are… let’s just say not that good. Last night, I skipped the intro and jumped right to the meat of the book. Chapter One was better, much better, than I had expected. But it was when he said, DON’T go out on Twitter and FB and shout “read my book” a thousand times a day that he convinced me that he was honest and knew what he was talking about. For anyone at the publishing stage or who wants to get there, so far 🙂 [I will always be a hardcore skeptic] this is a good reference on what to do, on how to build relationships instead of walls. If you’re not yet at the publishing stage, start now to build an audience and support group. And Martin C practices what he preaches, especially the part about supporting other authors. He followed me back on Twitter and friended me on FB.

NSW-Amazon Review

If you are a new writer this book is a must. I wish I had it when I first started writing. It is filled with easy to read and easy to understand information. However, even if you are an already published writer this book will offer you new information you might not have known. I found it helpful in so many ways. There are also links to various other sites that offer valuable info that is very difficult to find. Basically, “How I Sold 30,000 Ebooks on Amazon Kindle,” takes a lot of the guessing and hard work out of self publishing.

Roberta Kagan-Amazon Review

What readers are saying about My Name Is Hardly:

My name is hardly

Martin Crosbie’s remarkable storytelling talent is apparent throughout his most recent novel, “My Name Is Hardly.” The story seized me from the first paragraph and held me relentlessly until I’d come to the novel’s thoughtful and moving conclusion.

Kathleen Lourde-Amazon review

I have no doubt that when the last piece is in place, Crosbie’s work will stand tall as exemplary literary fiction, and a reproach to those who mourn the decline of the “gatekeepers” of commercial publishing. Any gate too small to let in Martin Crosbie should have been blown up a long time ago.

Steven Hart-Goodreads review

A Pound of Flesh by Stuart S. Laing

A Pound of Flesh

Edinburgh 1745.

Deep beneath the rain soaked and wind scoured streets of the city a foul crime committed in the dark of night leaves two men lying dead in a dank cellar. A bankrupt young nobleman with an addiction to the twin vices of gambling and loose women stands accused of the horrific double murder and all the evidence seems to point towards his guilt. In desperation his lawyer turns to the one man in Edinburgh who can save him from the hangman’s noose.

Robert Young of Newbiggin.

He is a young man who has earned a reputation amongst the city’s legal fraternity for being the one person who can root out the truth by venturing into the capital’s criminal underbelly. His investigation leads from the elegant drawing rooms of Edinburgh’s high society to the city’s most infamous brothel and into the grim hovels of the lowest alehouses on the Cowgate.

But as more bodies are discovered Robert Young is forced to confront the possibility that his client may actually be guilty!

330 pages

Published February 18th 2012 by KDP

Available on Amazon

About Stuart’s latest book,  Major Weir’s Dark Legacy  here