Characters in Motion with Anna Belfrage

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree!

One of the drawbacks of having a vivid imagination is that at times head-space is very crowded. When actively writing about several of my characters at the same time – in the sense that I may be writing one book while proof-reading another – my poor brain can be quite the busy place, various characters rushing from one side of my head to the other, all of them clamouring for my attention.

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Well, they don’t all clamour. Some are more the retiring type, but when Kit de Guirande goes all silent I know – as does her husband Adam de Guirande – that something is the matter.

“It’s nothing,” she says airily, while concentrating on the embroidery in her hands. Adam and I share a look: “nothing” is not good.

Adam, being a far more sensitive and intuitive husband than one might expect of a 14th century knight, sits down beside Kit and places a light hand on her thigh. “What is it, sweeting?”

At first, no response. The needle flashes in the sunlight, and yet another leaf on the pomegranate tree Kit is presently embroidering takes shape. At long last, she sighs.

“Sometimes, I feel inadequate,” she mumbles, and her gaze glides over to where Alex and Helle are laughing. For those that don’t know, Alex is the protagonist of my 8-book time travelling series The Graham Saga. Various events in her life in 17th century Scotland and Maryland have shaped her into a strong and capable woman. And Helle, well, so far none of my readers have ever met her, but let’s just say she has plenty of experience to draw on – at least compared to Kit who is pushing twenty-one and who, so far, has seen little beyond the Worcestershire and Shropshire area.

“You are never inadequate, sweeting,” Adam says, leaning forward to place a soft kiss on her cheek.  Sheesh…I pat myself on the back – this man is a keeper.

“Of course you’re not inadequate!” Alex comes over to join Kit on the window bench – one of those more than normally surreal moments when my 17th century heroine sits beside my 14th century leading lady. My poor brain flips back and forth through time: Alex in her dark 17th century skirts, her neat bodice hugging her waist and her bosoms, a white lace collar, a white cap atop her dark, coiled hair, a clean white apron, and beside her Kit, at present unveiled as she’s in her solar, but her blue kirtle is somewhat more shapeless, her embroidered girdle outlining the swell of her hips. Dark red hair is collected in a thick braid, a few strands have escaped to waft enticingly around her face, and she leans away from Alex, into the protective space offered by Adam and his broad chest, his strong arm.

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“You are a product of your time,” Alex continues, “while I am a product of mine – and in my case it’s plural times, so there’s the very modern me, and there’s the 17th century me, the woman I become after years and years living with him.” She gestures in the direction of Matthew, who raises his hand in a little wave, while suggesting Adam join him over a mug ort two of good ale and leave the women to gossip.

“Gossip?” Alex snorts. “I don’t gossip?”

“No? Well there’s a lot of words coming out of your mouth, lass, and not all of it is facts, is it? Truth be told, a lot of it is opinionated and controversial.” There’s a flash in his hazel eyes, a quirk to his mouth that has Adam grinning – even Kit is smiling. Alex, however, is not.

“That’s not gossip! That’s me expressing my thoughts!” Alex is on her feet, arms akimbo.

“Aye, and I love you for it – but you do gossip, lass. All women do – you can’t help it, they tell me…” He laughs when she makes as if to punch him, grabs her hands and smacks a loud kiss on her forehead. “Now, you go back to your little natter with Kit, and Adam and I will entertain ourselves.” My two tall male leads saunter off, Matthew’s dark head close to Adam’s fair hair.

“Men.” Alex sniffs, sitting back down.

“Yes. What would we do without them?” Kit chuckles softly, pretending great interest in her embroidery.

“True.” Alex’s features soften as she studies her man. “I’d have died without him.”

“You would?” Kit sets her sewing aside.

“Oh, yes. Time travelling is not only mentally terrifying, it is damned dangerous as well.” Alex fiddles with her apron.

“Better you than me,” Helle offers, coming over to join her female colleagues. Yet another time-warp moment, rushing me several centuries forward in time. Helle is in sneakers and jeans, the outline of her mobile clearly visible through the fabric of her pocket. She gives me a dark look. “Although Anna has given me something of an odd background instead.”

“She has?” Kit sounds intrigued – and jealous. “Me, she just burdened with being the bastard daughter of a minor lord, obliged to marry under a false name.”

“Lucky you.” Helle stretches out her jeans-clad legs. “Better than being a reincarnated soul, if you ask me.”

“A what?” Kit’s eyes grow round, and she makes a hasty sign of the cross.

“Ask her,” Helle says, nodding in my direction.

“Long story,” I reply vaguely. And a rather distressing story, but Helle doesn’t know just what I have in store for her – and I don’t want to tell her, in case she goes all uncooperative on me. “Many, many lives.”

“I sort of got that.” Helle gestures at Jason, now stepping out of the murky shadow to saunter over to join Adam and Matthew. “He, poor man, remembers all of them.” Eyes a deep amber glance her way, Jason blows her a kiss, bows at Alex and Kit.

“He does?” Yet again, Kit crosses herself. She sits back, her gaze flitting from Alex, to Helle, to Adam, who happens to turn in her direction and smile at her. She smiles back, clears her throat and picks up her sewing. “Suddenly, I don’t feel all that inadequate. I feel normal.”

“Well, that’s good,” I tell her. “Seeing as you are normal.”

“And I’m not?” Helle asks.

“So and so.” I grin. “But I love you to bits just as you are.” I envelop all three of them in a huge bear hug. Fortunately, they all hug me back, which I take as a sign that they love me too.

“Huh,” Alex says. “Not always. Not when you have Matthew carted off as a slave—”

“What? She did that to him? She had Adam thrown in a dungeon and—” Kit begins.

“Enslavement? Imprisonment?” Something flashes in Helle’s eyes. “I sure hope you’re not planning something like that for my Jason!”

“Err…” I say. Much worse, actually. “Tea, anyone? Chocolate?” As always, this little distracting manoeuvre works perfectly – not for nothing are Alex, Helle and Kit my creations. Except, of course, that Kit has no idea what tea and chocolate might be…

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Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The second book in the series, Days of Sun and Glory, will be published in July 2016.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, chances are she’ll be visiting in the 17th century, more specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This series is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

For more information about Anna visit her website, her blog or her Amazon page. Anna is also on Twitter (@Anna_Belfrage) and on Facebook.

What it Means to Appear on Layered Pages by Anna Belfrage

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: a writer needs help to increase visibility of their books, and some people are generous enough to be willing to extend that helping hand, expecting nothing in return. One such person is Stephanie Hopkins, who runs a blog called Layered Pages where she frequently interviews authors, posts reviews and hosts guest posts. I’ve had the fortune of being featured a number of times on Stephanie’s blog – my most recent visit was about writing historical fiction, a subject as close to Stephanie’s heart as to mine. Now just because you’re featured on a blog, that won’t necessarily increase your author image. But Stephanie shares and tweets, she really helps spread the word, and that does help. A lot. For an Indie author like me, Stephanie and other book bloggers represent an invaluable asset – a channel to connect with would-be readers I might not otherwise reach. And it sure helps that to everything Stephanie does, she brings that genteel Southern charm!

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Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, chances are she’ll be visiting in the 17th century, more specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This series is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

Anna can be found on her website, on Facebook and on her blog. Or on twitter and Amazon.

Self-Publishing: An Author’s Experiences

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I am pleased and honored to welcome back one of my favorite writers, B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Anna Belfrage. Whom I will have the honor of meeting soon at the Historical Fiction Society in Denver at the end of this month. She always has a kind word, gives great advice and is so supportive of her readers and fellow authors. She is a treasure. Not only that, her stories will touch your heart and change your life. I can’t thank Anna enough for bringing such wonderful stories to us all and I am waiting calmly as best as I can for her new stories to come.

When she isn’t writing a novel, she is probably working on a post or catching up on her reading. Or standing about on a crossroads and wondering why time isn’t unravelling at her feet… Other than work and writing, Anna finds time to bake and drink copious amounts of tea, preferably with a chocolaty nibble on the side. And yes, now and then she is known to visit a gym as a consequence… Today Anna is talking with me about her self-publishing experiences and gives sound advice too!

Anna, when did you decide you were going to self-publish?

In 2011, I met a successful author at a work event. I complained a bit about how difficult it was to find an agent/publishing contract, and Michael just looked at me. “Umm…” I went, not sure why he was smiling like that. “You strike me as a person who generally takes control of her future,” he said. Yup. That’s me. I don’t believe in stuff just falling over you – and I am most definitely a control freak. “So self-publish,” he went on, and immediately forwarded me a number of links.

I spent the following months thinking – and sending out agent letters. Very demotivating, that was…So I sent the manuscript to a couple of professional editors, asking for feedback, and at their very positive – and constructive – comments I decided to go with my gut feeling and publish the indie way. After all, I was convinced I HAD written a series of very good books – and I am my own hardest judge. Besides, I had promised myself I’d publish a book prior to one of those momentous birthdays that end with a zero, and time was fast running out.

Three years on, I have eight published books, sales going on 35,000 and then some. Am I proud? Yes! Am I happy with my self-publishing choice? Yes!

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What has your experience been like along the way?

The single most important thing to remember is that self-publishing is a lonely venture. Ultimately, you have to make all the decisions yourself, no one will push you to kill your darlings (even if they really, really need to be murdered), no one will object to the length of your book, the content of your book. It is up to me, as the author, to set myself the standards I want to live by, and as all people have different standards, it follows that self-published books can be everything from absolute gems to dross.

I took the decision to go with a small publishing company, Silverwood Books. Why? Because they a) are selective as to what authors they take on b) are extremely professional when it comes to the final product c) are supportive and honest enough to tell you if they don’t think something works. The onus remains on me, but in the staff of Silverwood I have found some valuable sparring partners.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

The constant challenge is one of marketing and promotion. These days, traditionally published authors are expected to do a lot of that as well – many such authors are left very much to their own devices by the publishing companies, especially if their sales fall short of expectations. BUT with a traditional company, you generally get your book out to the bookstores, right under the nose of the browsers. That is a huge marketing advantage, and us self-pubs must be creative and resourceful to somehow compensate for this. Which is why we maintain blogs, are active on FB and Twitter, attend conferences and arrange giveaways – all in an effort to create visibility.

What have you learned in this industry?

First of all, the e-book has made books so much more accessible (and cheap), thereby allowing readers the opportunity of broadening their reading matter. I guess this translates into the conclusion that the market is big – but it is also price sensitive, and when I stumble across authors whose books are priced at 12 USD and more in the Kindle version, I shake my head. Who would ever pay that much for an e-book?

It is also a fickle market, and as an author this means you should strive to stay true to what you want to write rather than what you perceive the market might want. Yes, some things always sell – steamy romance has an established very large market, as does Regency romance and crime. But as an author, unless you want to drive yourself insane by always, always tracking how your books are doing in the sales charts, the single important thing is to be proud of what you’ve written – which requires that you know you’ve done your best.

It is important to remember that publishing is an industry. Thousands of excellent books are published through traditional venues every year, but we also have those less than fantastic reads: celebrities who can’t string together more than six words in a row get their books out there. Established authors get their books out there – even if the latest effort is nowhere close to what they’ve written previously. Why? Because ultimately, it is all about money – of course it is, the publishing houses have huge overheads and must invest their resources on “winners”. Sadly, winners rarely are unknown debut authors. Self-publishing gives all those talented voices a chance to be heard.

What are the do’s and don’ts of self-publishing?

The single biggest DO: Use an editor! The single biggest DON’T: Don’t publish without a thorough edit.

Other important DOs & DON’Ts: Think about visual identity, invest time and money on covers, don’t skimp on paper quality or on formatting of e-books. Always strive for an end product that is comparable to a traditionally published book including such obscure things as avoiding “orphans”, ensuring adequate indents and nice fonts. A major no-no is to clamber aboard another author’s band wagon and steal their promotional thunder for your own book. It happens, and it is very irritating when it does.

What advice would you give to a writer who is considering the self-publishing route?

It would be my recommendation to go for assisted publishing – at least for the first few books. Yes, it is more expensive, yes, one has to be very selective and do the research before choosing the provider, but it does help to have a hand to hold on to.

And once again: use an editor. Don’t assume that just because your mother, sister, cousins, best friend say they loved it that it’s a good book. After all, it is very difficult to look a starry-eyes wannabe author in the face and tell them their work is bad – especially if you love them.

Finally, stay true to yourself. Write because you love what you’re writing.

What are the promotional techniques you use via social media and how much time a week do you spend promoting your work?

I do a lot of FB, less Tweeting (should do more) and quite some blogging. I also am an active reviewer and share a lot of stuff from other authors. It is my experience it pays to be supportive of others, to be generous in recommendations, restrictive when it comes to negativism.

I’d guess I spend 10 – 20 hours a week on pure promotional activities. Some of it, like participating in this interview, is more fun than others, but ultimately it all detracts from that my most precious commodity: writing time.

My single most successful route to market are the blog tours I regularly book with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. This is a service run by Amy Bruno, and she does an impressive job pulling together reviewers and various spotlight opportunities. In fact, I consider Amy to be more or less “my” marketing department – not sure I should tell her so, as she may start demanding a recurring salary.

And, as a final comment, I think it is important to recognize the efforts of people like you, Stephanie, people who give generously of their time to support and promote writers. As I wrote recently in a dedication in a book. “People like me, need people like you.” Us authors most certainly do!

What are the different sites you use to promote your book?

To be honest, I don’t do much more than Amazon and Goodreads. Yes, I’ve listed the books with a number of promotional services, but I never know just how to measure the success of such efforts. I’d say the single biggest promotional impact is to maintain a good website and an interesting blog. I attempt to do both.

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

Well, I do believe the e-book is here to stay, but there is a resurgence in “real” book sales that I find interesting. In the long run, environmental concerns and the cost-efficient production of e-books will probably carry the day – assuming reading devices continue to develop. Personally, these days I read like 80% on my Kindle, but now and then I come across books that I just have to have in physical form.

As to trad vs self-pub, I believe there will be a blurring of the edges – there already is, with some of the larger publishing houses also offering assisted publishing services for indie authors. I believe the indie author is here to stay (I’m not going anywhere, and I am sort of counting on still being around 5-10 years from now) and I believe this will lead to lower average sales numbers for all books as readers will be able to find just their little favourite niche genre and the authors that cater to it. Which, coincidentally, brings us back to my initial comment regarding e-books and the cost-efficient costs…

If something can be improve upon in this industry, what do you think it should be?

I am a firm believer in supply and demand – i.e. a free market will always move towards the ideal equilibrium – and that applies for the book industry as well. I think the traditional publishing houses face some interesting challenges moving forward, in that they must assume lower overall sales volumes per published book – alternatively, blow their marketing budgets sky high.

What I do think has to change – and it already is – is the presumption that indie books are per definition of lower quality than traditionally published books. I can assure you there’s plenty of so-so stuff among the traditional catalogues, and as a voracious reader of historical fiction I sometimes just have to shake my head at some of the things traditional publishers allow to slip through: seriously, a princess peeling potatoes in 10th century Ireland??? A displaced Saxon noblewoman berating her Norman savior that he can put her down, it’s only a three kilometer walk back home? Sheesh!

How long have you been an indie author?

Since 2012. I probably need to start planning a celebration, right?

Yes, indeed!

For more info about Anna, visit her website or her Amazon page. You can also find her on her blog.

Serpents in the Garden by Anna Belfrage

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Publication Date: March 1, 2014 SilverWood Books Formats: Ebook, Paperback

After years of hard work, Matthew and Alex Graham have created a thriving home in the Colony of Maryland. About time, in Alex’s opinion, after far too many adventures she is really looking forward to some well-deserved peace and quiet.

A futile hope, as it turns out. Things start to heat up when Jacob, the third Graham son, absconds from his apprenticeship to see the world – especially as Jacob leaves behind a girl whom he has wed in a most irregular fashion.

Then there’s the infected matter of the fellow time traveller Alex feels obliged to help – no matter the risk. Worst of all, one day Philip Burley and his brothers resurface after years of absence. As determined as ever to make Matthew pay for every perceived wrong – starting with the death of their youngest brother – the Burleys play out a complicated cat and mouse game, and Alex is thrown back into an existence where her heart is constantly in her mouth, convinced as she is that one day the Burleys will achieve their purpose.

Will the Burleys succeed? And if they do, will the Graham family survive the exacted price?

Serpents in the Garden is the fifth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

Author Bio:

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Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does as yet not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing and time-consuming interests, namely British History and writing. These days, Anna spends almost as much time writing and researching as she does working, which leaves little time for other important pursuits such as cooking and baking.

Anna Belfrage is the author of The Graham Saga – so far five of the total eight books have been published. Set in seventeenth century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, The Graham Saga tell the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him.

Links:

Serpents in the Garden

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes & Noble

Silverwood Books

A Newfound Land

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes & Noble

Silverwood Books

Kobo

Smashwords

Links to Anna’s websites

www.annabelfrage.com

http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com

My Guest, Author Anna Belfrage

Stephanie: Hello, Anna! Thank you for chatting with me today. It is always a pleasure and I am honored you have taken the time to visit with me again. With all the wonderful stories and articles you have written, you are one busy lady! I’m in the middle of reading your book, A Newfound Land and I’m enjoying it very much! The Grahams sure do keep you on your toes! Please tell your audience a little about your new book.

Anna: “A little about my new book” – you are a hoot, Stephanie! I have a problem abbreviating my books, but if I try, I’d say that A Newfound Land is a story about attempting to recreate yourself in a new land and realizing you can’t, as you are much more defined by your past than by the place you live in. It is also about the inherent conflicts between a 17th century man and a 20th century woman – as you know, Alex Graham is a time-traveler, having had the misfortune (or not, depending on what you think of Matthew) of being propelled three centuries backwards in time. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time…

Anyway, in A Newfound Land, the Graham family is struggling to set down roots in their new homeland, the Colony of Maryland. Religious strife forced them to leave Scotland behind, and while the life of a settler is harsh, Alex is hoping that life will become less fraught with conflict in their new home than it was in their old.

Things happen, as they say, and suddenly both Alex and Matthew have to confront spectres from their past. Old enmities blossom into new life, Matthew’s defense of the Native Americans make life-long enemies of the Burley brothers, and just like that Alex is yet again thrown into an existence that very much revolves around her fear that someone will kill her husband.

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Stephanie: What are some of the different challenges they face in America versus Scotland?

Anna: To start with, they have to settle land. Sometimes I think we have a very romanticized version of what it must have been like to ride out into unknown forests and attempt to create a home, a working farm. The sheer work involved was enormous, and while 17th century Scotland had little amenities compared to the present day and age, it was substantially more civilized than the Maryland hinterlands.

Further to this, we have the Native Americans – or Indians, as I call them in the book, just as the white settlers did. If you push people off their land, you cannot be surprised when they start to retaliate, and the threat of a native uprising was always there. In Maryland, things turned very nasty in the 1670’s, affecting Matthew’s and Alex’s life.

Then there was the isolation. Living out in the woods, with well over an hour’s ride to the closest neighbor, required that you be very self-sufficient. It also helped if you liked each other, as there was no other company to be had. Fortunately, Matthew and Alex do like each other. A lot.

Stephanie: How do Alex’s children adjust to the new world?

Anna: Having experienced what it is like to move around to various parts of the globe as a child, I can tell you that as long as there’s a mother and a father around, most children have no problem in adapting to new circumstances. If anything, they have it much easier than the adults, being unburdened with such emotions as nostalgia and homesickness.

Stephanie: That is true!

What is the research that was involved for this book? What have you learned about America that maybe you didn’t know before?

Anna: Well, I obviously learned a lot about the Susquehannock – much more than I knew before, but still very little, as the tribe left very few traces of their existence. My Qaachow, the Susquehannock chief that befriends Matthew and Alex, is a homage to a people that no longer is, but that once were, a powerful tribe that controlled a large part of northern Maryland into Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Then I had the pleasure of learning more about present day Annapolis, founded in the 1650’s by Puritans fleeing persecution in Virginia and at the time named Providence, which is the name I use throughout the book. I believe, you see, that the original Puritan settlers would prefer holding on to this name rather than that of Anne Arundel’s City, which was its official name. Not a name that would go down well with Puritans, as Anne Arundel was Catholic.

Stephanie: Why did you choose Maryland as the colony they moved too?

Anna: Maryland has the proud distinction of being the first place in the world that implemented an Act of Toleration.(One could argue the Muslim kingdoms in Spain were as – if not more – tolerant, but their tolerance came at a price, as Jews and Christians paid extra taxes to be allowed to practice their faiths) Maryland’s Act of Toleration was restricted to Trinitarian faiths – i.e. to such faiths that believed in Jesus Christ, and it was expressly forbidden, under pain of death, to question Jesus’ divinity. Not much of an Act of Toleration, you might think, but if you set it into context (a century marked by religious strife, where Catholics were persecuted in some countries, Protestants in others, and Puritans in very many) it is a remarkably foresighted piece of legislation, brought into place by Lord Calvert, who was a Catholic grandee that owned the colony outright. Maryland’s Act of Toleration is in many ways a precursor to the First Amendment in the American Constitution. In a world full of religious strife, it was an innovative attempt to heal rather than breach.

So when Matthew was obliged to flee his home country due to religious issues, Maryland would have seemed a good choice. Virginia was not an option, being fiercely Anglican (and Matthew would no more return to Virginia than he would have amputated his foot, having spent several humiliating months as a slave on a plantation), Massachusetts was far too Puritan, even for Matthew (who also had to consider his opinionated and vociferous wife) and besides, he had a friend in Maryland, Thomas Leslie.

Stephanie: Can you give us some background information on the Susquehannock Indians? A without giving too much away, their role in the story?

Anna: To write a novel set in Colonial America and gloss over the consequences of white man’s arrival to the original inhabitants would be to misrepresent history. In the area where Matthew and Alex make their home, the Susquehannock used to reign supreme, so of course this was the tribe they would encounter.
In general, the story of the Susquehannock follows the depressing pattern of what happened to very many of the indigenous tribes in the wake of European colonization, both in North and South America.
Upon the arrival of white man, the Susquehannock controlled most of the region round the upper parts of Chesapeake Bay. The Susquehannock welcomed the settlers and traded with them, but inevitably tension spread as the new arrivals claimed more and more land. Despite this, the relationship with the Susquehannock remained amicable – until the Indian wars of the 1670’s, when the Susquehannock were dragged into the conflict between the Powhatan and the Virginia settlers.
The colonist militia made no difference between Susquehannock and Powhatan: an Indian was an Indian, full stop. On one occasion, a band of militia snuck upon a group of unsuspecting Susquehannock and murdered them all in their sleep, and after that the previously good relationship deteriorated into open war.
Today, the Susquehannock are no more. Decimated by epidemics and forced to flee their homelands in the conflicts of the 1670’s, many of them joined the Mohawk. A small group of Susquehannock Indians settled in Conestoga Town in Pennsylvania and survived into the 18th century, but were brutally massacred in 1763 by the Paxton Boys in the aftermath of the French and Indian Wars. One of the little boys killed was called Qaachow, which is how my Susquehannock chief got his name.

In A Newfound Land, Qaachow and his tribe befriend Matthew and Alex, and a tenuous relationship is established whereby Matthew will keep Qaachow’s back and vice versa. I wanted there to be personal feelings involved and invested when Matthew interceded on behalf of the Indian women he saves from abduction. Why? Well, it will become clear as the Graham saga proceeds.

Stephanie: Matthew, never ceases to amaze me. He is always finding himself in danger. He is quite the character. What are his weaknesses and strengths in this story?

Anna: Well, in my book, Matthew has very few weaknesses.
“Hmph!” snorts Alex. “And what about that soft spot he has for rabid preachers, hey?” Yes, she does have a point. Matthew’s somewhat over-tender conscience sometimes leads him into the company of narrow-minded little bigots, such as Richard Campbell, and this, I suppose, is a weakness, as is his desire to revenge himself on Dominic Jones, the overseer who treated him so badly all those years ago on a plantation in Virginia.
Another little weakness – at least according to Alex – is his continued affection for Kate Jones, Dominic’s wife. Alex drowns in bright green jealousy whenever she sees this elegant and attractive woman anywhere near her husband – and even worse, Alex can understand what Matthew sees in her, given that Alex finds Kate quite likeable too.

His strengths are manifold; integrity, perseverance, courage – and a big heart, large enough to accommodate his sizeable brood of children and his wife, whom he loves to the point of distraction. A good fighter, an excellent shot, he is also intelligent, steadfast and generally good at keeping his temper in check, although his wife can at times rile him to the point where his rage boils over.
Mostly, though, I like his tenderness. Not a man given to grand gestures or endearments, Matthew loves quietly, patiently – well, except when the passion he feels for his wife surges through his veins, scorching him, but even then, he is mostly gentle.
Stephanie: Will there be a fifth book in this fantastic series?

Anna: Thank you for the compliment, dear Stephanie! There will be four more books in the series, all of them written, all of them planned for publication. And when the eighth is published I’m going to crawl up in an armchair and cry my eyes out, because how am I to survive without writing (or re-writing) new anecdotes from Matthew’s and Alex’s life?

Stephanie: Where in your home is your favorite place to write?

Anna: At my desk, especially purchased for this purpose. It sits in a corner of our living room, which means I can submerge myself in my writing while still keeping a fond eye on my husband.
Stephanie: Coffee or tea?

Anna: Tea. Real tea, not that rooibos stuff. I like it black, I like it green, I like it iced but I never, ever take milk.

Stephanie: I like green tea as well, with two sugars, no milk. I especially need it while writing.

Where can readers buy your book?

Anna: Anywhere where books are sold, Stephanie. It’s available on Amazon, on Barnes & Noble, and a number of other e-retailers, plus in quite a few bookshops.

Stephanie: Thank you, Anna!! XX

Anna: Thank you for hosting me, Stephanie. It is always an honour to pop by Layered Pages.

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I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Ideally, I aspired to becoming a pioneer time traveller, but science has as yet not advanced to the point of making that possible. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.

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

Interview with Author Anna Belfrage

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Stephanie: Hello, Anna! It is a delight to be chatting with you again! Congrats on winning the B.R.A.G Medallion for your book, The Prodigal Son, which I have read and enjoyed very much!

Anna: Thank you, Stephanie – and may I say I am very glad to be here today, and extremely proud of having won the B.R.A.G Medallion.

Stephanie: Your medallion is well deserved! Please tell your audience about your story.

Anna: Set in 17th century Scotland, The Prodigal Son is the story of Matthew Graham’s struggle to balance his religious convictions with the need of his family, and foremost those of his time-traveler wife, Alexandra Lind, who has little understanding for Matthew’s continued support of his co-religionists, not when it can potentially cost him his life.

At the time, the early 1660’s, the political upheaval that so scarred the British Isles during the 17th century have come almost full circle. Charles II, son of the beheaded Charles I, has been restored, the Commonwealth replaced by a ruling monarch. While the restoration is greeted with relief by many (and not only the royalists; Oliver Cromwell was at times a harsh ruler), the people of Ayrshire are less than thrilled when the king – or his fervent Anglican counsellors – decide to bring the Scottish Kirk to its knees, forcing all of Charles’ subjects to recognize his supremacy, not only as king but also as head of all things religious.
The Scottish Kirk was traditionally ruled by a General Assembly. They had never considered the king as the head of their church, and had no intention of doing so now, and so the scene was set for a bloody confrontation between the devout Scottish people and their king.
Matthew Graham was raised in the Scottish Kirk. He has fought in the Parliamentarian armies, against the king, and remains convinced that the king has no right to meddle in matters of faith or conscience. When people he has known since childhood are threatened and bullied, when the ministers who represent his Kirk and his beliefs are thrown out of their livings and chased like wild animals across the moors, Matthew feels obliged to lend support. And while Alex sympathizes, she is also scared silly by what he risks whenever he buckles on his sword and slips out into the night to help the ministers. So scared, in fact, that one day she lays down an ultimatum; his faith or his family. Suddenly, Matthew is fighting a battle on two fronts…

Stephanie: Tell me a little about Sandy Peden and his strengths and weaknesses? He is a character I find most interesting. He is pious and has a lot of opinions about women and such. Sometimes I disliked him and other times I admired him for his stand and courage of his faith.

Anna: Ah, dear Sandy… I have spent the last few years in very close proximity to Alexander Peden, opinionated minister, dedicated preacher and loyal member of the Scottish Kirk. I must admit to admiring him, quite a lot actually. There is something very attractive about people who have the integrity to cling to their beliefs, no matter at what cost, and Alexander Peden did more than cling, he stood up and more or less shouted to his flock that God was there, with them, as long as they did not abandon their faith. Charismatic, clearly a gifted speaker and also a man of a deep and very personal faith, Sandy inspired huge loyalty among his followers, quite a few of whom risked their lives to see him safe.
To our modern eyes, there is an unattractive streak of fanaticism in a man as dedicated to his faith and God as Sandy was. But before we judge, we should also keep in mind that most men had very strong opinions when it came to religion in the 17th century, and Sandy wasn’t out to impose his beliefs on the Anglicans or Episcopalians – however weak of faith he found them – all he wanted was to continue worshiping God as he had been taught to do. A harsh God, Sandy’s God. A God that demanded obedience and humility, that would condemn the greater part of humanity to hell everlasting while only a few, through God’s grace and mercy, would ever make it through the narrow gate of Heaven. But also a God who filled the world with little miracles; the song of a thrush in spring, the burbling of a burn as it skipped its way down a Scottish hillside, here and there bordered with stands of windflowers (anemones). And I believe Alexander Peden was a man who truly admired God’s creation, from the glorious show of a sunset to the perfection of a polished pebble.
As to Sandy’s views on women, there is a little anecdote involving a young Alexander and an equally young woman. Something soured, the woman accused Alexander of having done more (a lot more) than hold her hand. He insisted that he hadn’t, and from that day forward he approached women with a certain caution, preferring always to address them as a minister rather than as a man. Besides, when he complains about Alex being far too opinionated, he is but expressing the common beliefs of the time; a good woman was a good wife and mother, a woman who stood by her husband through thick and thin, always acquiescent to his will and greater wisdom. Needless to say, such thoughts had Alex rolling over in paroxysms of hysterical laughter…

Stephanie: Do you think Matthew did the right thing by his supporting of the Sandy at the risk of his family’s safety?

Anna: From a modern perspective, I think it is easy to say “no” to that question. Matthew was risking everything in his continued support of the evicted Presbyterian ministers, and as Alex points out, he does have other responsibilities, mainly his children.
But Matthew is a man who has fought for the right to practice his faith, and as a man of his times and of his convictions, the choice is never as clear-cut as saying “family first”. To Matthew, Sandy and his brothers in faith are family – albeit a very extended family. To not help them is to risk his soul and his chance of a life everlasting. To help them is to endanger himself and his family. Not the easiest of choices – not then, not now.
Ultimately, of course, everything comes at a price, and Matthew will pay a very heavy price for his continued support of the covenanters. Too heavy, far too heavy – but that is easy to say with hindsight, isn’t it?

Stephanie: I would agree. Alex is my favorite character. What is her take on Sandy and Matthew helping him?

Anna: I’m glad you like Alex – I am very fond of her as well, even if I do have something of a crush on Matthew. (This causes some strain between Alex and me at times. She will glower like an aggravated bull, telling me to keep my hands off her husband, or else… Ridiculous really, as Matthew only exists in my head – as does Alex – but let me tell you those dark blue eyes of hers can freeze me to the spot…)
As to Sandy, Alex is very ambivalent. She recognizes Sandy as a devout and committed minister, she hates him for placing her husband repeatedly in danger. And then he has this irritating tendency to quiz Alex about the Bible, the Catechism, and the teachings of the Kirk, generally indicating just how dissatisfying and ignorant he finds her answers.
At some level, Alex understands just how torn apart her Matthew is by all the upheaval that surrounds them. She sees his pain when childhood friends are fined from home and hearth for nothing more than helping a fleeing minister, but she is also terribly hurt by what she perceives as his willingness to set his faith before their family – and her. To Alex, there is no conflict. To Alex, her family – and Matthew – always come first.
Of course, when it comes to the crunch, Alex could no more abandon her husband than she could lope of her leg. When he truly needs her, she is there, as always, doing her utmost to keep her man safe despite his stubborn insistence in risking his life, over and over again.

Stephanie: Was there research involved in this story?

Anna: Yes, of course there was – I think you only need to read the preceding answers to realize that. Alexander Peden is a real person, commemorated by a rather ugly monument in Cumnock, Ayrshire (I think it would have made him grin), and the persecution of the die-hard members of the Scottish Kirk, often collectively labelled Covenanters, is a historical fact, a tragedy that tainted the lives of the local Scots for more than two decades. I enjoy the research, and especially when it includes such a heady brew of political and religious upheaval as the 17th century does.

Stephanie: How long did it take you to write this book?

Anna: About six months – excluding all the edits and re-writes. I generally write most of the story at a very intense pace – 10 000 words a week or so. After that, I review the entire text from a historical perspective – it is important to me that the historical background is as correctly depicted as it can be. And then (cracking my knuckles here) begins the real work; the re-writes, the weighing of words, the murder of adverbs and the tweaking of dialogue. It’s like being a sculptor. There is a lump of clay before you, showing the general shape of a man encased in mud, and as the rewrites progress, the man acquires features and idiosyncrasies, evolving from an anonymous being into someone you know everything about. (“Everything?” Alex laughs out loud, shaking her head so that the curls I so envy her bounce round her shoulders. “You don’t know the half of it,” she continues, resting back against her husband’s larger and broader frame. His hands come up to cover hers, placed lightly over a rounded belly, and as I watch he bends his head to nibble her neck and….JEEZ! Cut!)
Stephanie: That is an incredible amount of words written in one week for all the work you do! You are inspiring!

Who designed the book cover?

Anna: All my covers have been designed by the marvelous Oliver Bennett of More Visual (www.morevisual.me) I sort of express an idea, he thinks about it some days and reverts with something that takes my breath away. Sometimes I worry he might be a mind reader…

Stephanie: What are some of the positive things people have said about your book?

Anna: It is always nice when people say they like your book – and many people apparently do. Many say that it touched them. One of the subplots is the story of Ian, Matthew’s son from his first marriage, and his developing relationship with Alex. The book is dedicated to all those people who open their hearts to a child not of their blood and take it as their own, and I have had a number of people approach me and express that I have done a very good job depicting Alex’s feelings as regards to Ian.
I think quite a few people have cried – at least to judge from their comments, and then there are those that are very nervous as to the prophesy Alexander Peden makes towards the end of the book. Rightly so, I might add. Me, knowing how things will work out, would recommend many boxes of tissues.

Stephanie: What do you like most about writing?
Anna: I have a very demanding day job at which I average 55-60 hours a week. I get home, shed my work clothes, inspect the fridge to see if there’s something to eat, make myself some tea and then it is writing time. I open my ongoing WIP, and wham, I am transported to another world, another time (I always have a historical element in my books). Even better, it is a world I control – to a point. Writing is my elixir, my personal bubble of escapism, a constant source of joy and energy. Plus, I learn something new every day. Isn’t that just fantastic?

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Anna: I actually discovered it when I was reading Sons of the Wolf by Paula Lofting. Her book had already won the B.R.A.G Medallion, and as I had had a couple of recent rather disappointing indie reads, I was very pleased to discover that the medal did go with quality – high quality at that. I never dared to submit the first books of the series (now I will), but The Prodigal Son is a book I am very proud of, so I completed the submission form, took a deep breath and pressed send. The rest, as they say, is history.

And may I take this opportunity to highlight yet again just how important a job indieBRAG is doing. Self-published books struggle against perceptions that they’re all trash, badly written, badly edited and badly formatted. After all, had they been good, the author would have gone mainstream, right? No, not necessarily, as some of us want total control over our babies. indieBRAG singles out self-published books that meet (and sometimes surpass) mainstream publishing standards. It sets a quality stamp on the book and the author, telling readers that this is a book they can pick up and expect to enjoy.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Anna: Everywhere where good books are sold, to quote my publisher… Seriously, it is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, a number of other e-retailers, and at quite some bookshops (if nothing else they can order it for you)

Thank you, Anna!

Anna: Well, thank you, Stephanie. Knowing how busy you are with your own writing, it is very nice of you to tear yourself away from it to host me. Best of luck with Arthur!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Anna Belfrage, who is the author of, The Prodigal Son, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com . 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 Prodigal Son, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

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Anna Belfrage’s Bio:

I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Ideally, I aspired to becoming a pioneer time traveller, but science has as yet not advanced to the point of making that possible. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred. 

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

Links, Anna Belfrage

Website: http://www.annabelfrage.com Blog: http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Anna_Belfrage Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/theAlexandMatthewstory Amazon Author page:  https://www.amazon.com/author/anna_belfrage