Interview with Author Laura Powell

Laura PowellI have the great pleasure of welcoming Laura Powell to Layered Pages today. Laura is a Features Commissioning Editor at the Daily Telegraph. She has written for The Guardian, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and various magazines. She was awarded a New Writer’s Bursary from Literature Wales and was named as one of Amazon’s Rising Stars. She grew up in South Wales and now lives in London. The Unforgotten is her first novel.

Laura, thank you so much for talking with me today about your book, The Unforgotten. What a stunning debut! I enjoyed your story and I love the complexities of your characters. Tell me how you came to write this story?

Thanks so much – it still feels funny to hear that other people have read about the world that lived in my head only for so long. I started writing it one Sunday afternoon when my then-boyfriend was in football practice. I’d been on Facebook and had seen an old face that brought back so many memories. Out of the blue I started writing a dark, sort-of love story about someone who was in a relationship but was never sure whether her feelings were returned or not. By the end of the day I’d written two chapters. I’ve since weaved in lots of other elements – murder, mental illness, moral dilemmas. But that bittersweet love story remains the core for me.

What is the premise of your story?

It’s a forbidden love story between a 15-year-old girl Betty and a 30-year-old journalist Gallagher set in 1950s Cornwall. They’re from different classes, different worlds – but their relationship becomes very deep, very fast. They meet when Gallagher arrives in the fishing village where Betty lives to report on a series of murders – but they soon make a discovery related to the murders. And they are each faced with a huge dilemma that tests their feelings for the other and questions their morality. The devastating consequences of that decision unravels over the next 50 years.

What is the mood or tone your characters portray and how does this affect the story?

It is very dark, bleak but there is also a hopefulness and a lightness to it, which I hope shines through. Though ultimately I’m a sucker for a weepy book or film so…

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

The main character, Betty, is 15 and has hardly ever left her hometown of St Steele – a fictional Cornish fishing village – aside from going to the occasional dance in the neighbouring town. She travels outside that area for the first time in her life in the book – first to St Ives, a real Cornish town. And later, to London. Taking her away from that setting makes her even more vulnerable than she always has been, but also really tests her, as she has been so insulated (geographically speaking) all her life.

The Unforgotten

How did you choose a Cornish fishing village of St Steele as the setting of your story? Is it a real place? And why did you choose the 1950’s as the period for your story?

I chose to write about Cornwall because it’s my favourite part of the country. I’m Welsh. I now live in London. And I studied in the West Midlands (Warwick). Yet I’ve been to Cornwall – usually St Ives – every year since I was born, sometimes twice or three times. I love the town, it is full of happy memories with friends and family, so it was wonderful to ‘live’ there in my head for so long when writing. Yet I didn’t want to be tied to a real place so I invented St Steele. It’s loosely based on a teeny cove called Porthgwidden in St Ives that is just gorgeous. Making it a fictional place gives you a lot more freedom to move around, and to pick up a building or a street and drop it elsewhere if that benefits the plot, rather than being tied down to the truths of history.

Please tell your audience a little about Dolores Broadbent.

Dolores is the third main character. She is the mother of Betty, the main character. And she runs the guest house in St Steele. She was by far the easiest character to write and I had such a clear vision of her – a little like Julianne Moore’s character in A Single Man (the beautiful Tom Ford-directed film with Colin Firth.) She is beautiful and glamorous and whimsical but damaged and broken. She once had any man she wanted, she wafted about and was carefree. But now she is older, widowed, with little money, failing looks and a daughter of 15 who is not at all as she was, she is finding it hard to come to terms with her lot and as a result, can be quite violent and brutal. I loved her complexity. I hope people have the same sympathy for her that I do.

What are the changing emotions you have as a writer?

I’ve probably gone through every feeling on the spectrum. But if I’m honest, the one thing I always feel is disappointed. I wonder why I wrote that terrible line, why this or that isn’t working as well as I’d like it to, I’m constantly critiquing my writing and pulling it apart. I’m a bit of a malcontent. But I’m teaching myself not to be. Slowly.

What are your personal motivations in story-telling?

To inhabit the world as clearly and fully as I inhabit the ‘real’ world.

What are you working on next?

Another book. I don’t want to say too much in case I jinx it but it’s dark and historical and layered with mystery that unravels over the years, based on a catastrophic fictional event in our pasts. The idea has been bubbling in my head for years and I’m really enjoying delving in!

What is your writing process?

I’m afraid it’s an approach I can’t recommend for others but it works for me – ‘feast and famine’ is probably the best description. I spend weeks obsessed with writing the book; I think about it, write every spare second I have, late into the night and early into the morning, I write bits on the Notes of my phone, on my laptop when I’m on buses and trains, on scrawled napkins in cafes, then back to my laptop that night. Even when I’m with friends I’m thinking about the book… Then I crash. And spend a few weeks sleeping, reading, working, living etc – before I begin writing again. This is just for the first and second drafts I should add – I’d go mad if I was like that permanently. The later editing processes are much more methodical and orderly and calming. But that early writing stage is all a bit, well, obsessive!

Where can readers buy our book?

Amazon, Waterstones or Freight Books. Here are the links! If you read it, I’d love to know what you think – I’m on Twitter @laurapow1

Sites:

Waterstones-The Unforgotten by Laura Powell

Amazon UK

Freight Books-The Unforgotten by Laura Powell

 

Interview with Meredith Allard

Meredith, thank you for chatting with me today about your book, When It Rained at Hembry Castle. Does Hembry Castle exist and if not, was there a real castle that was your inspiration?

Hembry Castle is very much a figment of my imagination, though two real life places served as the inspiration for the exterior: Scotney Castle and Wentworth Castle, both in England, of course. The picture on the book’s cover is of Scotney Castle. The interior of Hembry Castle was largely influenced by Pittock Mansion, which can be found in Portland, Oregon. Primarily, I used photos I found on Pinterest to help me describe the interior and exterior of Hembry Castle.

02_When-It-Rained-at-Hembry-Castle

Please tell me a little about your story.

When It Rained at Hembry Castle is a love story set in Victorian England. The novel is about Edward Ellis, a rising author, and Daphne Meriwether, the American niece of the 9th Earl of Staton. Daphne is new to England and she must learn how to live in the Downton Abbey-like world her father’s family lives in. It’s a blossoming romance for Edward and Daphne, and there’s some mystery thrown in involving Daphne’s uncle, Richard, the 9th Earl of Staton.

What are the common movements your main characters make?

All my novels are about characters who are or see themselves as outsiders in one way or another. In When It Rained at Hembry Castle, Daphne is very much an outsider, being an American in England who is unfamiliar with the aristocratic world her father grew up in. Edward is also an outsider of sorts. He’s the grandson of servants who is working hard to make his way as a writer. I think all of my main characters mean to do the right thing, but whether their choices are correct or not always remains to be seen.

What is the mood or tone your characters portray and how does this affect the story?

I think both Edward and Daphne are largely positive people. Neither one of them are prone to complaining and they try to make the best of whatever is thrown their way. I hope this adds a positive, hopeful tone to the story.

What are the emotional triggers of your characters and how do they act on them?

For Daphne, she’s triggered by her grandmother’s insistence that she conform to the aristocratic way of life. For Edward, he’s triggered by his love for Daphne and his frustration at the obstacle that is keeping them apart. Daphne humors her grandmother and on the outside she seems to be conforming, though she’s a bit of a rebel and isn’t as complacent as her grandmother thinks. Edward, in typical man fashion, does nothing, hoping the problem will go away.

What do you like most about writing stories that take place in the past?

I’ve loved history since I was in school, and I even toyed with the idea of majoring in history in college. Writing historical fiction is perfect for me because it a combination of the two things I’m most interested in—history and writing. I have a funny habit of writing stories set in times I’m not all that familiar with, which is fine because that’s part of the fun for me, researching the history. When It Rained at Hembry Castle is actually the exception to that because I was already pretty familiar with Victorian England.

Describe Victorian England in your eyes.

My knowledge of Victorian England came from my love of Dickens’ novels, which started for me in college, but when I researched the era as I was writing Hembry Castle I realized that the time was much more complicated than I first realized. Yes, there was the poverty and the darkness of Dickens’ descriptions, but it was also a time of great change. The Victorian era spanned nearly 70 years, and England in 1901 was very different than England in 1837. By the end of the Victorian era, we can begin to see inklings of the modern era that we live in today. Since Hembry Castle takes place from 1870-1872, the story is happening right in the middle of the Victorian era.

What are some of the romantic parts to the story readers can expect?

My stories tend to focus more on the falling in love aspect of romance. Edward and Daphne have a few obstacles they have to overcome in order to be together. Even acknowledging that they want to be together is the first hurdle. After they admit to themselves that they care for each other, Edward has a big secret he’s keeping from Daphne. How Daphne reacts to the secret remains to be seen.

How long did it take to write your story and where in your home do you hone in your craft?

Hembry Castle took me two years. I returned to college in 2014, and of course that takes a lot of my time. I had a lot of research to complete for this book, and it took me a little time to figure out the point of view. Normally, I write novels with either a one person or two person point of view, but I finally realized that Hembry needed to allow more characters their moment in the sun. Since I live in a small apartment, my computer is set up in my bedroom. I know they say don’t keep your work where you sleep, but oh well. I have a nice view from my bedroom window so it works for me.

What is up next for you?

Fans of my Loving Husband Trilogy will be happy to know that I’m writing the prequel to the series, called Down Salem Way. Like the first book in the series, Her Dear & Loving Husband, it takes place in Salem, Massachusetts during the Salem Witch Trials.

AMAZON US | AMAZON UK | BARNES & NOBLE | ITUNES | KOBO

03_Meredith-Allard

About the Author

Meredith Allard is the author of the bestselling novels The Loving Husband Trilogy, That You Are Here, Victory Garden, Woman of Stones, and My Brother’s Battle. Her newest release, the historical novel When It Rained at Hembry Castle, is a great read for fans of Downton Abbey.

Visit Meredith online at www.meredithallard.com. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+,  Pinterest, and Goodreads.

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Valerie Biel

Valerie Biel BRAG

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Valerie Biel today to talk with me about her book, Circle of Ninie-Beltany. Valerie’s love for travel inspires her novels for teens and adults. When she’s not writing or traveling, she’s wrangling her overgrown garden, doing publicity work for the local community theatre, and reading everything she can get her hands on. She lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and three children and dreams regularly of a beautiful cottage on the Irish coast where she can write and write and write.

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

How did you discover indieBRAG?

I learned about indieBRAG from a fellow author at a Book Festival.

Please tell me about your book, Circle of Nine-Beltany.

The story follows the path of fifteen-year-old Brigit Quinn as she learns she’s descended from a legendary Celtic tribe that serves as guardian of the ancient stone circles of Ireland.

This book is so many things . . . It’s a contemporary coming-of-age novel mixed with historical chapters. It’s a story of magic steeped in the mysticism surrounding the ancient stones. And it combines that all together with a dose of pagan ritual and Celtic myth.

Here’s my back cover blurb:

“Since I was a little girl I’ve been labeled a freak in my small town. There’s no blending in when your mom practices an ancient pagan religion and everyone believes she’s a witch. On my 15th birthday, my secret wish is the same as always—to just be normal. But that’s not what I get. Not even close.” – Brigit Quinn

Instead, Brigit is shocked to learn she’s descended from a legendary Celtic tribe – powerful people who serve as guardians of the stone circles of Ireland. A spellbound book of family history reveals the magical powers of her ancestors. Powers that could be hers – if only she wanted them.

And when someone sinister and evil returns to steal her family’s strength, Brigit has to make a decision. Fight to keep her unique heritage or reject it for the normal life she’s always wanted.

***

Additionally, I should note for your readers that the subtitle of the novel – Beltany – is the name of an actual standing stone circle near Raphoe in County Donegal, Ireland.

Circle if nine-Beltany Valerie Biel BRAG

Your historical chapters set in Ireland vary in centuries and I am interested in the setting of 1324. Could you please tell me a little about that?

Picking a year like that seems rather random, but I can assure you it was not. I had been researching when witch trials occurred in Ireland and that year was the earliest recorded date of a witch trial – anywhere. You can read more about that here

It was important to me that the plot line I was thinking up in my head would mesh with the historical reality of the time.

Do you have a picture you can share with us of the Stone Circle Beltany?

The best picture of Beltany comes from the Irish Megalith website. I love this one.

Beltany Stone Circle - County Donegal - Irish Megalith website

And here’s an aerial view to see the size of the circle.

DCIM100MEDIA

What intrigues you most about the Neolithic circles?

There’s something eerie and beautiful about the Irish stone circles, which rise up out of the greenest grass you’ve ever seen. They were built as early as 3700 BC – so thousands of years ago. I think it is fascinating that for the most part how they were built (with no modern equipment to hoist rocks weighing many tons) and exactly what they were built for remains shrouded in mystery. There are plenty of theories, but no one can know for sure. This mystery gives any storyteller a wonderful setting for a great tale.

Please tell me a little about your main character’s interest in history.

Brigit Quinn, the contemporary main character, knows nothing of her family’s true history until her fifteenth birthday. She’s spent her life unnerved by her mother’s pagan practices and has only wanted a normal life. When she learns of her heritage as a descendent of the Tuatha de Danann (one of the four mythological founding tribes of Ireland), she is initially unimpressed. As the book continues, she is drawn further and further into her family history as she reads a thick book about her female ancestors, starting in 1324. I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t read the book, but Brigit is at least intrigued enough about these women to keep reading.

What is one of the special talents Brigit’s ancestors had and does she portray any of them?

Oooh, now we are entering SPOILER ALERT territory. Hmmmm . . . what can I say here without giving too much away? Brigit may or may not have a special talent that she may or may not learn is shared by at least one ancestor. How’s that for a cryptic answer.

Could you please share an excerpt? (This excerpt is from the first chapter.)

“Happy Birthday, Brigit Blaise Quinn. It’s getting late, but I’m glad you’re still awake. I have a present I want to give you.”

“What? Now?” My birthday was only a minute old.

Mom carried a wooden box into my room. Her cheeks were pink and her eyes sparkled with excitement. “I’ve waited years to give this to you. My mother gave it to me on my fifteenth birthday, and now it’s my turn to pass it on to you.” She sat on the edge of my bed, and I maneuvered out of my comforter to perch next to her.

“Obviously, you know we follow a different path than most people,” Mom continued.

I nearly snorted at her understatement that the Pagan religion she followed (and I tolerated) was a simple life-style choice.

She paused and seemed to search for the right words. “You remember the story I told you about the Tuatha de Danann, the ancient Irish tribe?”

“Sure, I like that story.” The magical tales about the mythological founding tribes of Ireland who built all the stone circles were my favorites.

“Right, but the thing is – the Tuatha aren’t a myth. They really existed.”

“It’s not just a legend?”

“No, it’s not. They ruled Ireland four thousand years ago, until they were defeated and banished to the mountains.”

“Okay.” I shrugged my shoulders, confused why this was important.

“There are some people who can still trace their lineage back to the Tuatha and that includes us. We’re their descendants.”

I didn’t understand why she was making a big deal about this. “Everyone’s descended from someone, right?” And then I had a neat thought. “Wait! Does this make me royalty? Are you going to tell me I’m a princess?” Now that would be a really great birthday present.

She smiled at my suggestion. “No, this doesn’t make you a princess, but being a descendant of the Tuatha is exciting in a different way.”

She shifted the box onto my lap and said, “We can learn a lot from our ancestors.”

Curious, I ran my hand over the intricate carvings on the lid and grasped the heavy metal clasp. It was obviously very old. When I flipped it open, the hinges actually creaked. Inside was a thick book with a sturdy brown leather cover, worn around the edges. I took it out, but, before I could open it to see what was inside, Mom covered my hands with hers and said, “You’re old enough to know. This is your history, where you are from, and who you could be if you choose it.”

Puzzled by her strange message and sudden seriousness, I waited for her to pull her hands away, and when she did, I turned to the first page. Although the script was hard to read, I made out the name Onora Quinn and the date September 19, 1324.

“Someone really wrote in this book nearly 700 years ago? There’s no way it could have lasted this long.” I squinted hard at the old page.

“It has survived against all odds, so treat it gently. Onora was your twenty-fifth great-grandmother and the first of the Tuatha to record her story in written form. This book has been passed down to each generation, and now it’s yours.” She looked a little sad for a moment and then warned. ”Don’t stay up too late reading.”

But, of course, I did.

Who designed your book cover?

A local artist, Kelsey Curkeet, did an amazing job with the cover. She read my book twice before creating the lovely digital image for Circle of Nine. She is in the middle of creating my novella cover and then the one for the sequel.

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

Circle of Nine references the women in my book who form a group of nine in each generation to continue the traditions of the Tuatha de Danann, a legendary founding tribe of Ireland. Beltany is the name of the stone circle in County Donegal that plays a big part in the Circle of Nine rituals.

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

I will often make a note in the text that says something like FIX THIS SCENE or NEEDS WORK and then move on if I know what the next scene is going to be. If it is the end of my writing day, I will just come back to it with fresh eyes the next morning. This almost always works!

What are you working on next?

I just released on Samhain (Halloween) the first of three Circle of Nine novellas (Dervla’s Destiny), which explore the lives of historical characters from Circle of Nine – Beltany. (The other two will be released before the end of 2015 and a combined set with be available in early 2016.) I am also working on an April 2016 release for the sequel, Circle of Nine – Sacred Treasures.

Do you stick with just genre?

I have only published in the YA genre, but I have also written middle grade novels that I have out on submission with agents and editors. I would love to write some adult romance novels, too.

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

I move from place to place with my laptop . . . I have a desk but often sit in the kitchen at the breakfast bar or in the dining room. Much of Circle of Nine was also written at the local library between pick up and drop offs for my kids’ sports practices.

I write best in the earlier part of the day! I try to get right at it in the morning with my cup of coffee nearby. I’ll take a bit of a break for lunch and then if things are going well, I will continue until about 3 pm, which gives me enough time do things that need to be done before the end of the business day . . . book promotions, bill paying, errands. I mostly write complete crap if I attempt to write in the evening—so if I am motivated to do writerly things then, I will only make editing notations that I (carefully) review in the morning.

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

Coffee – Coffee – Coffee and it has to be in my special mug that helps me write better. J

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

I love to travel – but when that’s not possible, I read a lot and volunteer with the local community theater and historical society where I handle publicity projects.

Author Websites:

Website/Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon Author Page

Book Trailer

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Valerie Biel who is the author of, Circle of Nine-Beltany, 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, Circle of Nine-Beltany, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Damon Wolfe

Damon Wolfe BRAG

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Damon Wolfe today to talk with me about his book, Tanglewood. Damon writes for 12-year-olds of all ages. Why 12? Because 12 is the best of times, and the worst of times, and throughout life, whenever we find ourselves in the best of times or the worst of times, the 12-year-old within us shows up, and helps us enjoy the moment and survive the day.

His stories combine comedy, mystery and action. Themes in his work are often built around the challenges of leaving childhood, and the boldness required to grow up while helping others grow.

Like many writers Damon has developed his craftsmanship over many years while working in other fields. His experience and education includes:

  • Executive Producer and cofounder of Stereobox, a visual effects and animation startup company in Marin County, California, and Chennai India.
  • Computer Graphics Supervisor at Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers Digital, a Disney Animation Studio in Marin County, California.
  • Artist and Technical Director at Wild Brain Animation Studio in San Francisco.
  • Degree in Traditional and Computer Animation, Vancouver Film School.
  • Artist and Graphic Designer at various startup companies and video game studios.
  • Before his career in entertainment Damon was a medical doctor. His specialty was child psychiatry.

 

Hello, Damon! How did you discover indieBRAG?

I researched sites and blogs that provide reviews of independently published books. I recall that indieBRAG was mentioned on more than one “review of best review sites” posts, but I’m sure the link I clicked was listed on writeforkids.org.

Please tell me about your story, Tanglewood?

Tanglewood is about 11-year-old fraternal twins Jen and Ben who have a deep affection for the stand of bamboo that surrounds an unsold house across the street from them. Jen, especially, senses that the bamboo is more than just a plant, as if it has a spirit within that makes it almost human. They look forward to playing in the yard surrounded by the bamboo all summer, but then learn that they have to go to sleep-away camp so their pregnant work-at-home mom can complete a clothing design project before the baby is born. Jen and Ben are not camp kids, so they dread going. But before camp the house with the bamboo is sold to Nash, the father of a school bully, a boy named Stones, who embarrassed them horribly on the last day of school. Nash and Stones cut down the bamboo and tear its roots from the ground. The assault devastates them, and everything goes from bad to worse when they learn that Nash will be the cook at their camp, and Stones will be his assistant. On top of that, Nash is a strict vegetarian, but not for the usual reason — he believes plants are mankind’s mortal enemy. Nash is a vegetarian because “we need to eat plants before they eat us,” and he’s raised Stones to have a fear that plants are biding their time, and could attack at any moment. So the twins, who want to do something to keep Stones from bothering them at camp, create a life-sized creature from the hewn bamboo, and name it Tanglewood.

While Ben is busy building Tanglewood, Jen convinces Stones that she and her brother are friends with the bamboo he destroyed, and that it’s coming to get him. On the night before leaving for summer camp they maneuver their creature across the street, and their plan works, but in the chaos they have to flee, and they lose Tanglewood. Unseen by anyone, the bamboo puppet actually comes to life, and hides in Nash’s truck bed, which is packed up in preparation to bring his equipment and supplies to camp the next day. That’s the set-up. The bulk of the story takes place at camp, which is both unfamiliar and poorly organized. Jen and Ben find Tanglewood alive wandering in the woods. After the shock, they realize that Tanglewood is nothing like the powerful, protective creature they imagined when creating what they envisioned as a kind of older sibling to protect them. Instead they wind up having to protect their creation, because Tanglewood is actually a new being who does not understand what he is, or what is going on around him. Tanglewood is as naïve and curious as a very young child, and there is nothing truly dangerous about him. When he encounters Jen and Ben he immediately senses a connection between him and then, and becomes attached, to Jen, especially. He’s needy. In order to protect Tanglewood, Jen and Ben have to improvise, break rules, figure out how to communicate with a plant-being who does not speak, and maneuver constantly so that Nash never discovers him.

Along the way, Stones gets dragged into the mix, but, because the tables are turned, Jen leverages Stones’s fear of Tanglewood to dominate her former nemesis, and in the process she inadvertently sets up conditions for Stones to undergo a complete transformation. Of course, Nash does discover Tanglewood, and the kids must draw upon everything within themselves in order to keep Tanglewood from being destroyed. Through the story Tanglewood gains insight and independence, and, assisted by an encounter with a neighboring Taiko drumming camp, comes to understand his true nature and purpose. Tanglewood is a coming-to-life journey which reveals the powerful connection that exists between all living things. It’s a tale of transformation, and a story that explores the contemporary challenge to see our lives and the life of the natural environment as inseparable.

What is the relationship like between Jen and Ben?

They are two sides of the same coin. There’s a scene between Jen and her mother where Jen expresses concern that she isn’t as girly as she’s supposed to be. The mom explains the concept of “The Other” to Jen, i.e., that each person is a mixture of qualities that most of us mistakenly think of as separate from ourselves. Jen and Ben have a close relationship not so much because they are twins or because they live in the same family, but because they complement one another. Jen is more physically competitive, more outwardly expressive, messier, more impulsive. She’s a very creative thinker, a natural improviser. Ben, on the other hand, is quieter, prefers neatness to anything messy, and is more contemplative. He’s also creative, but in a very different way than his sister. Ben is really good at making things, whereas Jen is good at making things up. Jen comes up with the idea to make Tanglewood as a solution to their problem with the bully, Stones. But Ben is the one who figures out how to make Tanglewood as a real thing, and then constructs it himself.      The relationship between Jen and Ben is stressed to its limits at camp. Jen is driven to protect Tanglewood as her highest priority, which leads to things like her hiding with Tanglewood in the woods instead of sleeping in her cabin. Ben is left with the business of making sure that Jen’s absence isn’t discovered. And as events pile up, and Jen makes up next their next move as conditions change, Ben has to shift from one set of half-solved problems to another, which drives him crazy, but his devotion to his sister keeps him going. For a chunk of time the situation separates them from each other, and we can see how their individual qualities begin to mix: Ben is forced to improvise, and Jen has to deal with the consequences of her improvisations without Ben’s help.

What is one of the adventures they encounter?

Jen and Ben, like many kids, prefer hamburgers and hot dogs to vegetables. Their father knows the camp will serve a vegetarian diet because Nash is the cook, so when he drops them off he gives them each a 3-pound bag of beef jerky as a gift. At the first camp meeting Nash announces his strict “no meat policy” and has already searched a few cabins for contraband. He brandishes one of the bags of jerky, which happens to be Jen’s. So the twins leave that meeting, race to get Ben’s bag of jerky, and then dash into the woods to stash it. That’s when they find Tanglewood, alive. After the initial shock, Jen, Ben and Tanglewood settle into their first close encounter, a moment filled with awe and wonder for each. Then Nash’s booming voice penetrates the woods as he announces that the cabin assigned kitchen duty for the week has to show up for work. The sound of Nash’s voice frightens Tanglewood, who runs deeper into the woods and Jen takes off after him. Ben realizes he’s in the cabin assigned kitchen duty, so he’s is forced to return to the camp, dreading having to be in the kitchen with both Nash and Stones while not knowing where his sister is. As he approaches the kitchen he realizes he’s still holding on the bag of beef jerky — he’d forgotten to ditch it in the woods. Just before he enters the kitchen he flings the bag over his shoulder just to get rid of it. The bag lands in the back of Nash’s truck. That bag of jerky pays off later in the book, triggering Nash into action that leads to a big chase through the woods toward the ultimate confrontation between him, the kids, and Tanglewood.      

What is a bachi?

Bachi is the Japanese name of the sticks used to beat the large, barrel-shaped Taiko drums. Bachi are much thicker and heavier than standard drum sticks. The role they play in the story is that they’re given as a gift to Tanglewood by Senpai, the master teacher of the Taiko drum camp located over the ridge from Jen and Ben’s camp. Tanglewood responds to vibrations, and the beat of the Taiko drums draws Tanglewood to the drumming camp where he meets Senpai. Senpai believes that music and rhythm are a language bridge between all forms of life, enabling us to communicate with plants. I wanted to push the concept of music as common language to its limit, and I wanted to use vibrations, sound and rhythm as the means for Tanglewood to develop his understanding of who and what he is. When Tanglewood grasps the bachi, he senses the connection between himself and the inanimate sticks. Eventually Tanglewood discovers that the bachi enable him to cause trees to sway, and facilitate his ability to protect the forest trees from Nash when Nash goes on a destructive rampage.

What are Jen’s strengths?

Jen is loyal, energetic, has a profound confidence in her own power, and desires to be a protective force. Her confidence and power set up the conditions for her character to illustrate the thin line between power used for good versus power used for evil. Both protectiveness and aggression require force, and, although Tanglewood is nature, Jen’s character represents the force of nature. We tend to hold onto the cliché that nature is sublime and benevolent, but, in fact, nature is an awesomely powerful entity that should scare us as much as it conjures images of beauty, peace, and calm. Jen’s character reveals the duality of nature, that it is both creator and destroyer. One of the foundational ideas in the book is that we and nature are continuous and connected, and that animals in general and humans, specifically, do not exist as a separate entity. While Jen and Ben represent diverse aspects of being human, it’s the contrasting intentions and disturbing similarities between Jen and Nash that support the theme of nature as power. Although Nash is undeniably cruel, and his world view that plants are at war with humanity seems distorted, his concept of nature as a dangerous force is not wrong. Jen, on the other hand, takes action motivated by the will to be a protective force, but she has many moments where her willfulness skirts the edge of cruelty. Jen’s dual qualities and the question whether she will use her power for protection rather than cruelty plays itself out in the complex relationship between her and Stones.

What was the inspiration for your story?

 Tanglewood is the convergence of six concepts and entities that have provoked my interest and curiosity for many years, and then applying the essential “What if…?” question to each. Specifically:

FRATERNAL TWINS:  What if a pair of fraternal twins wished they had an older sibling?

OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH NATURE: What if plants have a soul or spirit within them that is similar to the soul or spirit we believe lives within ourselves?

BAMBOO: What if bamboo came to life as an animate being?

FOOD: What if a vegetarian ate plants not because he wants to spare animals, but because he believes plants are competing with people to dominate the planet and are mankind’s mortal enemy?

MUSIC:  What if music is a truly universal language that connects not only human cultures, but all forms of life including plants

SUMMER CAMP: Summer camp is supposed to be fun, but what if it’s not?

What is one of the underlying inspiration themes in the story?

I’m fascinated by the emerging multicultural world. We’re at a moment in history where more and more people throughout the world are raised with and have to reconcile the divergent western and eastern philosophies about spirituality and about the forces that enabled life to evolve. I wanted Tanglewood to be a story that, at its foundation, portrays a world where dualism exists, where imagination is a fundamental tool that enables us to integrate contradictions. Underneath all its action and adventure, and alongside the magical idea that plants share a spiritual intelligence with us, Tanglewood is a metaphor for the urgent challenge we face in the contemporary world: to embrace the fabric that unifies us all.

Will you please share an excerpt?          

This excerpt takes place after Jen and Ben have discovered their bamboo creation, Tanglewood, alive in the woods surrounding their camp, camp Triple-Bar. They’ve spent enough time with Tanglewood to realize that, although made of bamboo and as tall as a thirteen-year-old he behaves like a very young child. The problem at the moment is that Ben has already officially checked in with his cabin counselor but Jen has not. They’re approaching the camp from the woods and have Tanglewood with them.

Tanglewood with Medallion

The field at Triple-Bar was the camp’s largest open space. Between two posts at one end of the field stretched a long cord used for air-drying bed sheets.

Sheets hung along the cord’s entire length to build up a stock of fresh ones before the kids began ruining them with dirt, the occasional bed wetting, and vomit, which happened at least once a day at camp even when there wasn’t a stomach flu going around.

Jen, Ben, and Tanglewood neared the edge of the field as they descended the last bit of slope. Ben saw the sheets. “Let’s go there,” he said.

Jen hung back with Tanglewood, making sure he stayed completely hidden behind some trees, while Ben moved to the sheets and peered through a crack between two of them to see if the coast was clear.

The area surrounding the sheets was empty enough, but the rest of the field was in the same chaos they had seen when they first drove up, only this time there were more objects flying through the air. Frisbees, volleyballs, badminton shuttlecocks, all shooting up and coming down like popcorn above an undulating sea of dust in the middle distance.

Ben returned to Jen and Tanglewood. “It’s crazy in there but maybe that will help. You’ve got to check in with somebody and at least get your name crossed off a list. Where is your cabin?”

Before Jen could respond an arrow pierced one of the sheets and stuck into a tree trunk with a thwockita-sproing only four feet away from her and Tanglewood.

“Wally!” a counselor shouted from somewhere in the chaos. “There’s no archery allowed yet, Wally!!”

“Then why was the equipment closet with all the cool stuff in it left unlocked?!?” the kid named Wally yelled back.

Back behind the sheets Jen and Ben watched the arrow vibrate until it came to a full rest.

“Maybe it’s better if nobody knows I’m here,” Jen said.

“That’s insane, Jen! When you’re nowhere to be found they’ll call Mom and Dad. Then everyone will ask me what’s going on. You know how terrible I am at lying!”

As great as Ben was at making things he was truly bad at making things up.

“I wasn’t being that serious!” Jen said. Then she turned to Tanglewood, patted his cheek, and gesticulated as she explained. “OK. Tanglewood, you have to stay here for just a bit, you just stay with Ben. Ben will take care of you. I’ll be right back, there’s just some work I have to do but then you’ll see me again, soon, all right?”

Jen convinced herself that Tanglewood understood and accepted what she just said, so she turned to go, but Tanglewood threw himself at her, same as before. He just would not let her out of his sight.

Ben tried to entice Tanglewood away from his sister. “Here you go, Tanglewood. Over here. C’mon, boy. That’s a good boy!” Ben beckoned, using a sappy voice as he patted the front of his thighs.

“Oh for heck’s sake, he’s not a dog, Ben!” Jen said.

Then she turned to Tanglewood, speaking, this time, with more firmness in her voice, as if talking to a resistant two-year-old. “Tanglewood, you are going to be fine without me for five minutes.”

Tanglewood clutched her leg and sat on her feet while shaking his head vigorously.

“Hey, he understands how to say ‘no’.” Ben said, genuinely impressed now that he thought of Tanglewood as a toddler.

Jen sighed. “We need another plan.”

Ben said, “Maybe we can dress him, disguise him like he’s just another kid, really cover him up and no one will notice, not for a little while, anyway. You have that poncho thingie that Mom gave you. It has a hood, right?”

Maybe because his idea to hide Tanglewood under some clothes was as close to a complete lie as Ben had ever thought up, Jen was impressed. So impressed that she overlooked all its obvious flaws, except for one.

“Problem: You’ll have to go get the poncho. Plus get some bandanas. They’re all still in my duffel.”

“I can’t just walk into a girl’s cabin!”

“You can if you’re me,” Jen said, as she began taking her shoes off.

“What are you doing?” Ben said.

“We’re switching clothes. Put your hair up with this.” She pulled her elastic ponytail band off and handed it to Ben, along with several strands of her hair that were knotted in it.

“Ick,” Ben said, taking it with two fingers.

A minute later Jen was in Ben’s clothes and Ben in Jen’s.

* * *

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

I write in a 1959 “canned ham” style travel trailer parked in my driveway. I rebuilt the trailer myself specifically as writing studio. The trailer studio project was born of pure necessity for space, not just by the desire to have a cool writing room. However, it is a perfect combination of comfort, minimalism and style — a box of light that inspires and opens my mind every time I walk in. Here is a picture:

Damon writing space

The full story motivating the trailer rebuild is posted on my site as an essay titled, “Rehabilitation”. Briefly, my household filled up a few years ago when my mother-in-law needed to move in with us because of her frail health.

My writing process begins with ideas that emerge from stream-of-consciousness. I truly don’t know where the ideas come from, but when an idea hits and I like it, I immediately write it down. Usually characters arrive before the main narrative. Once a character takes shape I begin writing monologues. When I have more than one character, I put them together and write down their conversations no matter how superficial or deep. I write lots of dialog during the early phases. I’ll convert some dialog into action, and some into a character’s internal thought process. As the conflicts and narrative take shape, I conjure scenes, a habit I developed learning to write screenplays, which require creating many, many scenes then eliminating ones that don’t have dramatic energy, or that don’t have a satisfying payoff down the line.

Throughout the writing process I’ll maintain a document where I develop and outline the subtext of the story. That subtext document has two critical purposes. First, it reinforces the dramatic questions and goals for the story. Second, it helps me identify aspects of the story that need to be converted into action, events and character behavior, and away from description or explanation.

For developing action, and plotting, I find I have more success if I’m away from my laptop. It helps to be in motion, so I’ll go on long walks, always carrying a notebook, a red pencil, a blue pencil, and a graphite pencil. I often use my phone as a note-taking device. I used to exercise by running outdoors, but I get so many ideas while running that I now use a treadmill at a gym because it’s much safer typing into my smart phone while in motion on a steady machine without cars nearby or uneven terrain underneath.

When I’m in creative mode my mind is immersed in the story and characters most of the time I’m awake, whether or not I’m physically writing. I’ve developed strategies to keep track of thoughts with short notes. I rarely use audio to record ideas because it’s easier and faster to telegraph a thought with a few written words or a quick sketch. Back when I commuted in the car, I kept a dry erase marker on hand, scribbling thoughts or symbols on my windshield. I got good at writing along the edges of the windshield without taking my eyes off traffic. The shower is another a place I needed a note-taking solution. Standing under running water always opens up the flood gates. I told my wife “I wish I could take notes in the shower.” She searched online, and two days later I had my first pack of Aqua Notes, a 40-sheet pad of waterproof paper with suction cups you attach to tile or glass. It comes with a standard pencil. Even if the water is on full and is superhot, those notes, once written, do not run.

For narrative structure, I usually start with 3×5 cards, but I’ll hit a point where I stop using the cards, and create a document that lists slug lines of major story beats. Under each beat I’ll write down essential details of what happens in each of the scenes comprising the beat. Then I’ll go back and forth between the “beats document” and separate documents for each scene. I’ve become a big fan of the software “Scrivener” for the creation phases because it’s built to address the classic “blizzard of paper” reality inherent to long-form writing, where you’ve got plot threads, character notes, research and miscellaneous bits spread all over the place. Scrivener makes cross-referencing easy, and streamlines the winnowing and consolidation process as I reduce a story down to its essential scenes.

Sometimes scenes equate to chapters, but I use Acts as a fundamental structural framework. As the Act structure clarifies, I’ll assign and refine chapters based on the pacing and sub-arcs I want to deliver in each Act’s beginning-middle-end.

During all phases of the writing process I spend time scribbling and sketching with pencil on paper. So many of my ideas have nonverbal origins and aspects inaccessible using words and sentences as primary instruments. I may discover new characters, or clarify unique attributes of existing characters. I’ll also draw maps and floor plans to visualize layouts of exterior environments and interior spaces. These schematics help me identify opportunities for action, help me clarify staging and improve plausibility of timeframes between related or simultaneous events.

I’ll also use paper and pencil to diagram thematic forces, colliding arcs, and sources and streams of conflict. I find if I can’t diagram the story clearly using abstract symbols then something is either missing or implausible.

When I’ve completed a write-through, I’ll consolidate the book into one document before I start mercilessly editing, slashing out all the parts readers tend to skip (my favorite Elmore Leonard tip). Painful as it can be, I enjoy the editing process. I always read my work out loud, and favor rhythmic fluidity over grammatical perfection.

I use beta readers to help figure out what works and what doesn’t. Beta readers are particularly helpful identifying whether the pacing is working, or not.

Who designed your book cover?

I did. My background in illustration and animation gave me the confidence to do it myself.

What are you working on next?

Most of my writing time this year is devoted to my next novel, The Neighborhood. This one will skew toward readers a little older than Tanglewood. The Neighborhood is about kids who live in a unique setting — an isolated neighborhood designed by a modernist utopian architect. Every house has a wall of glass wrapped around its front, where the living room, dining room and kitchen are located — the public spaces of private homes. The people who live in the neighborhood don’t mind that level of transparency. No one who lives there obstructs the outer view into those public spaces with curtains, shutters, walls or landscaping. There are no fences or walls anywhere in the neighborhood, creating a universal backyard space that enables the kids to lead a free-range life.

So the question is whether the neighborhood is a place where everyone is more connected to each other, or is it just a magnet for weirdos where everyone’s secrets and lies are buried that much deeper? Within the microcosm of the neighborhood freedom of movement and trust in others is unlike what kids today experience — not in the USA, anyway. The kids of the neighborhood exist as a self-generated subculture. Without over-scheduled lives, parental micromanagement, and with room to move around, they are forced to confront the realities of living with others: adapting to difference, and managing unpredictability. The narrative bombards the kids with changes that pile up and challenge their abilities to adapt and tolerate. The main characters range between 11 and 13, a time when kids face one of life’s most dramatic shifts: the transition away from imagination as the fundamental fuel for play and fun, to the phase where imagination becomes an essential instrument needed to solve real conflicts and real problems.

The transparency angle is, in part, a metaphor for social media. We’re all unsure whether the constant public exhibition and viewing of facts and artifacts is a good or bad thing. The Neighborhood addresses the question how can we leverage increasing openness so that we become more relational, and less transactional? Are our relationships amplifying our compassion and collective will to make the world a better place? Or do we value connections only for what they can do for us, personally?

The neighborhood’s open architecture, landscape and attitudes are rooted in nostalgia, but the story’s plot lines address the challenges and confusion we’ve created for the current generation: How do we accommodate difference? How do we distinguish differences due to diversity from differences imposed by injustice? How can we hold onto wonder, curiosity and optimism in an era when people flock to cynicism, doubt and fear?

The cast of characters in The Neighborhood is an ensemble composed of widely diverse personalities, and the main character, arguably, is the neighborhood itself. Ultimately, the story is about how communities are created and evolve, and how to maintain our connection to the past as we accommodate the changes needed to improve the future.

That’s the deepest layer of subtext. My goal, as exemplified in Tanglewood, is to write stories with multiple layers such that a wide range of ages will have plenty of entertainment and, if they seek it, food for thought. I love literature and all entertainment designed to be fun, dramatic and meaningful, but the fun and drama is accessible to all while the meaningfulness is optional — the audience can see it, not see it, or ignore it, and the story still pulls you in and works. PIXAR’s storytellers are geniuses when it comes to that sleight of hand.

Two other projects I plan to complete this year:

I’m developing a short film idea for a filmmaker friend.

I’m finishing up a long-form essay on my experience working in India to develop a visual effects company I co-founded with colleagues from my animation days. The two months I spent working 80-hour weeks in India changed my view of the world, and my understanding of myself. Not a complete surprise, but the experience changed me much more than I had imagined.

Do you stick with just genre?

It depends on what “genre” means. I know that’s a weasel-y response, so I’ll clarify.

I don’t think my work fits, or will fit, into clear-cut genres, which I realize is a risk. Tanglewood, for example, has a fantasy element, but calling it “Fantasy” would be considered misleading by most fans of true Fantasy. One of my favorite comments about Tanglewood comes from an 11-year-old reader who said she loved the book because it has “believable magic”.

I write for middle-graders and young high-schoolers, but are “Juvenile Fiction” or “Young Adult” genres? They seem more like clusters of age-appropriateness, and say nothing about where their stories fit in the narrative spectrum.

I have stories planned that might be thought of as genre, like “Lunatics” which takes place in the future at a reform school on the Moon.

I’m sure my tag line, “I write for twelve-year-olds of all ages” will always hold true. And I’m sure most stories I plan to write will be a cross between magical realism and contemporary fiction. I’ve heard convincing arguments that those descriptions aren’t distinct enough to qualify as genres.

I see that you have a strong love for Historical Fiction. That’s clearly a genre, and a very challenging one to pull off. I think I have one historical fiction novel in me. The French Revolution and Cooking are probably the only two areas I’d be willing to research in depth enough to write a story worthy of Historical Fiction. I have a plan for a story that takes place right after the French Revolution. Post-revolutionary France was basically where and when the restaurant was born, and one of the reasons for that was the glut of chefs who no longer had an aristocracy to employ them. So, the basic idea is: “A chef from a French aristocratic estate is without a job after the French Revolution, and opens up a restaurant during the Reign of Terror.” I love cooking, and am fascinated by the way restaurants run, how menus are developed, and by the contrast between the chaotic clanging rush in the back-of-house kitchen and the orderly, calming atmosphere of the front-of-house dining area. The dictatorial organization of kitchen hierarchy creates an apt microcosm — a type of “reign of terror,” complete with its own set of slicing tools. There’s comedy in there, somewhere, along with the slings and arrows of surviving in an unforgiving environment. The Restaurant Business and Post-revolutionary France: they have a lot in common.

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Damon Wolfe who is the author of, Tanglewood, 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, Tanglewood, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 Author Link:

Web site: Website

Tanglewood on Amazon: kindle and paperback formats.

Tanglewood on Create Space

Amazon Author Page

Goodreads Author Page

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Laurie Lunsford

Laurie Lunsford BRAG

I’d like to welcome Laurie Lunsford to talk with me today about her B.R.A.G. Medallion book, It’s a Piece of Cake. Laurie is an artist, musician, poet, and a published author. Laurie is also the founder of Dancing Hands, an interactive music program. Her life experiences include teaching art in several elementary schools, raising three sons, inventing percussion musical instruments, and designing “one-of-a-kind rings” for those in transition.  She loves expressing herself through paint.

Painting, poetry, music, and gardening have been a healing agent as she maintains health through a chronic condition of her own.  

Laurie has started Interactive Art programs in three facilities, an Assisted Living Facility, a Psychiatric Nursing Center, and now at Golden Living Alzheimer’s Care Unit in Muncie, where she has an open art studio.  She also trains and facilitates volunteers.  She blogs on arts and healthcare blog several times a week at Hands That Create

In her free time, she is writing children’s picture books.  Her second children’s picture book is in process. It will also be useful in Alzheimer’s units to bring memories back about relationships and experiences.   Both books are very interactive and spur discussion. The past year she has been visiting elementary schools and Young Author groups, encouraging children to utilize their talents, not only in writing but in all the arts.

She also leads creativity workshops at health care conventions.

Hello, Laurie! Thank you for chatting with me today. How did you discover indieBRAG?

I discovered indieBRAG on FaceBook from a local authors group.

Please tell me about your story, It’s a Piece of Cake.

Its a piece of Cake BRAG

This is a book that encourages kids to persevere when learning something new. Young children find challenge in discovering different things to try, like diving off of a diving board, climbing a tree, or playing the piano. Nine different situations show the frustration of learning and also the success that comes with practice. The bright whimsical illustrations show children with whom the reader can readily identify. The unifying theme of “It’s a piece of cake!” comes out through incorporating a piece of cake in the illustrations to find.

What was your inspiration for this creative book?

I get ideas from things I experience every day. I love to put my ideas in story form. Some of them stay on the computer until I am ready to create something with them.   This book came from idea I had three years ago though a brainstorming session.

The inspiration to actually do the book came from meeting one of my son’s friends. Brittani was doing some unique art work, using cut paper. She made family portraits using the cut paper and it had become a business. Her art was in demand. One day she told me she had always dreamed of becoming a book illustrator. As we talked, I decided I would love to have one of my ideas in book form with HER illustrations. I went to the computer and pulled out one of my ideas and commissioned her to do the illustrations. I am an artist also and have a freer style. I have drawn a few illustrations using my style to show Young Author’s groups how we can all “be ourselves” when we draw pictures.

My inspiration also comes from children. I love interacting with them, especially   through the arts. This book fell in line with what I love.

What would you like readers to come away with your book?

Confidence to learn new things….and knowing the fun of reading a good book.

Where can readers buy your book?

It can be ordered on my interactive arts website through Paypal. It is also found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kindle. It is also sold in small specialty stores around Indiana.

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

I enjoy relaxing on my couch with my laptop in total silence.  My ideas come at all hours of the day and night.  I write my little tidbits down as I get them or dictate them into my iPhone and develop them later. A large number of ideas come while I am driving my car.

Who designed your book cover?

Brittani Gothard, the illustrator

What are you working on next?  

The next book is from the very heart of me.  It is all about slowing down, living in the moment, and using all my senses to experience wonderful things.  It is called Wait, Katie, Wait.  Katie is the essence of who I am.  I am only beginning to find the pace which comes with being old enough to be a grandma.

Wait, Katie, Wait appeals to of all ages. Children bring the energy of wanting to be on the go. Older people offer the pace that brings the ability to enjoy the moment… touching, tasting, seeing, hearing, and smelling. These are moments to enjoy and remember. Grandpa and Katie go on daily adventures. The farmer’s market, fishing in the river, and a birthday party are a few of their destinations. Grandpa’s steps are slow but Katie wants to run ahead. Grandpa enjoys Katie’s company as they share together and Katie learns how to “stop and smell the roses”. The details and pictures in this book, make it mutually satisfying not only to the one being read to but also the one reading. There are roses in the illustrations to find. Alzheimer’s patients enjoy the story and the pictures that spark memories.

Do you stick with just genre?

I write for magazines about the healing benefits of the arts.  Some of my memoirs have also been published in newspapers and magazines.  My thoughts expressed through my blog has been a creative endeavor that flows easily because of all the valuable and shareable experiences I reflect on every day.

Thank you!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Laurie Lunsford who is the author of, It’s a Piece of Cake, 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, It’s a Piece of Cake, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

 

 

 

Interview with Diann Ducharme

04_Diann Ducharme_Author

I’d like to welcome Diann Ducharme today to Layered Pages to talk with me about her book, The Outer Banks House. Diann was born in Indiana in 1971, but she spent the majority of her childhood in Newport News, Virginia. She majored in English literature at the University of Virginia, but she never wrote creatively until, after the birth of her second child in 2003, she sat down to write The Outer Banks House. She soon followed up with her second book, Chasing Eternity, and in 2015 the sequel to her first novel, Return to the Outer Banks House.

Diann has vacationed on the Outer Banks since the age of three. She even married her husband of 10 years, Sean Ducharme, in Duck, North Carolina, immediately after a stubborn Hurricane Bonnie churned through the Outer Banks. Conveniently, the family beach house in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina provided shelter while she conducted research for her historical fiction novels.

She has three beach-loving children and a border collie named Toby, who enjoys his sprints along the shore. The family lives in Manakin-Sabot, Virginia, counting down the months until summer.

For more information visit Diann Ducharme’s website. You can also follow Diann on her blog, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Diann, please tell me about your book.

Its 1868, the era of Reconstruction in North Carolina, and times are tough. Yet the barren barrier islands of the Outer Banks offer a respite for the Sinclairs, the once-wealthy plantation owners. The family of five and three servants plan to spend the summer in the newly constructed cottage, one of the first cottages on the ocean side of the resort village of Nags Head.

There, on the porch of the cottage, the 17-year-old daughter, beautiful, book-smart and boxed-in Abigail, teaches her father Nolan’s fishing guide, good-natured, ambitious and penniless 19-year-old Benjamin Whimble, how to read and write. The two come to understand, and then to love each other, despite the demands of their parents, the pursuit of prim and proper medical student Hector Newman, and Ben’s longtime relationship with sour-tongued net-mender, Eliza Dickens.

But as Abby and Ben come to learn, tackling the alphabet is the easy part of the summer. Against everything he claims to represent, Ben becomes entangled in Nolan’s Ku Klux Klan dirty work, and Abigail’s mother Ingrid, unexpectedly pregnant, reveals facets of her personality to Abigail that shed light on her growing madness and inability to mother. As Abby and Ben venture from the cottage porch to a real schoolhouse—a schoolhouse for the slowly dwindling Freedmen’s Colony on nearby Roanoke Island, they soon come face to face with her father, dressed in KKK robes and hunting a man that the entire colony of freed slaves has come to love and respect. It becomes doubtful that Abby and Ben’s newfound love will survive the terrible tragedy and surprising revelations that one hot Outer Banks night brings forth.

The Outer Banks House is the first historical fiction novel set on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the mid-19th century. It combines history, romance and coming-of-age drama, as Abby tries to adjust to life in a post-war South. Each chapter begins with a pertinent quote from Robinson Crusoe, the novel that sparks such controversy (over slavery and racism), and finally appreciation and love, between Abby and Ben.

What are some of your interests in the Civil War?

During that post-Civil War Reconstruction era, vacation homes were starting to be built along the ocean side of the Outer Banks. The questionability of such endeavors—something at which the local “Bankers” looked askance, due to the cottages’ dangerous proximity to the sea–captivated me. I wanted to write about people that would do such dramatic things. I also enjoyed imagining women in hoop skirts, fresh from the war, hanging out at beach cottages. I didn’t know much about the Civil War, nor Reconstruction in North Carolina, but I did know about hanging out at the beach, so I learned as much as I could about that time period and blended what I knew with what I had learned.

What is some of the research that went into this story?

During my research, I read a terrific book called Time Full of Trial: The Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony by Patricia Click, about the Freedmen’s Colony on Roanoke Island during and after the Civil War. The book taught me everything there was to know about the Freedmen’s Colony, of which I had previously heard nothing. Learning about such a unique and unheard of aspect of the Outer Banks piqued my interest enough to use it as a major point of reference in the novel.

I also learned during my research that many residents of the Banks were pro-Union during the Civil War. As much as North Carolina is considered a southern state, it was interesting for me to know that the people of the islands didn’t necessarily hold the beliefs that were championed by people of the mainland. This fact helped me to form Ben’s character, as well as create a picture of the independent-mindedness of the people of the Banks.

I also dragged my family all over the island in the name of research. A pivotal scene occurs on the large dune system called Jockey’s Ridge, located in Nags Head. My family and I climbed the dunes several times, and it never failed to amaze me just how high they were—a giant hill made of sand! And too, a much smaller dune system exists to the north of a unique maritime forest called Nags Head Woods. The dune system, called Run Hill, is pretty much a secret to most visitors of the Banks—eerily quiet in the dead of summer. This is where I found the trees—the northernmost beginnings of Nags Head Woods—whose trunks were buried in sand. Just as my characters stumbled upon these feats of nature, so did I explore them for the first time as well. I think such exploration made the writing more believable.

Please tell me a little about Abby’s father’s work with the Ku Klux Klan.

The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 as a way to reassert white southern resistance to the Republican Party’s Reconstruction-era policies that favored politician and economic equality for the newly freed blacks. The Klan extended into every southern state by 1870, including North Carolina. Nolan Sinclair, being a wealthy plantation owner, was a politically connected man before and after the war; these during Reconstruction these humiliated and temporarily hobbled politicians and former slave-owners set about righting a white supremacist agenda which eventually made its way into many southern legislatures.

Why did you choose the Outer Banks of North Carolina for your story?

The Outer Banks is a long, skinny chain of barrier islands that run along a good portion of the coast of North Carolina. One the one side, the ocean crashes against the naked sand, all drama. On the other side, the sounds caress the maritime thickets and marshland, more forgiving. I knew that I wanted to compare the two ecosystems, similar to the way in which I pit the “Bankers” against the mainlanders who build their vacation homes there.

Also, nothing there stays the same—everything is dynamic, fleeting—yet the tiny strip of land still hangs on, facing the wild weather year after year. The concept of change suited my characters as well.

I have vacationed on the Outer Banks since the age of 3, so it is a very special place for me.

Please tell me a little about the Sinclair family.

Nolan Sinclair, the once wealthy and powerful planter from Edenton, North Carolina, is fearful of losing his plantation in the Reconstruction aftermath of the Civil War. In a desperate act of assertion, he moves his family to the unusual house on the sand for the summer of 1868. His connections with the KKK threaten his otherwise peaceful summer plans at the seaside. His fiercely intelligent and aloof wife Ingrid is in the early stages of pregnancy, but she fears that her body cannot safely bear any more children. And their eldest child, 17-year-old Abby, misses her Uncle Jack, dead from an illness contracted during the Civil War. Their faithful servant, Asha, travels to the beach with them for the summer.

What are some of the fictional aspects of the story?

The setting is very real, but I had to imagine what it must have been like in 1868. Not a lot was written about the area during this time period.

What was your writing process and how long did it take to write your story?

It took me about 3 years to complete the first draft of the novel. I wrote during my second child’s naps and on weekends when my husband took over the household duties. But I was thinking about the novel at all times of the day and often at night!

What are you working on next?

I am working on a present-day novel about a once-beautiful woman, now scarred, who struggles to overcome her agoraphobia in order to regain custody of her two children. During her recovery, a love interest with a deer hunter ensues when she moves to her blind aunt’s home in the mountains of western Virginia.

02_The Outer Banks House_Cover

 

Buy The Outer Banks House

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 The Outer Banks Series Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 25 Spotlight & Giveaway at Raven Haired Girl

Tuesday, May 26 Guest Post & Giveaway at Susan Heim on Writing

Wednesday, May 27 Review (Book One) at Back Porchervations

Thursday, May 28 Review (Book One) at In a Minute

Friday, May 29 Interview & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book

Saturday, May 30 Spotlight at Becky on Books

Sunday, May 31 Review (Book One) at Book Nerd

Monday, June 1 Review (Book Two) at Let them Read Books Spotlight at I’d So Rather Be Reading

Tuesday, June 2 Review (Book One) at Book Lovers Paradise

Wednesday, June 3 Review (Book Two) at Back Porchervations

Thursday, June 4 Spotlight & Giveaway (Book One) at View from the Birdhouse

Friday, June 5 Review (Both Books) at Bibliotica

Sunday, June 7 Review (Book One) at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, June 8 Review (Book One) at Ageless Pages Reviews Guest Post at Curling Up With A Good Book

Tuesday, June 9 Review & Giveaway (Book One) at A Literary Vacation

Wednesday, June 10 Review (Both Books) at Unshelfish Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, June 11 Review (Book Two) at Book Lovers Paradise Interview at Boom Baby Reviews

Friday, June 12 Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes

Sunday, June 14 Review (Book Two) at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, June 15 Review & Giveaway (Both Books) at Genre Queen

Tuesday, June 16 Interview at Books and Benches Spotlight at The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, June 17 Review (Both Books) at Luxury Reading

Thursday, June 18 Review (Book One) at Books and Benches Interview at Layered Pages

Friday, June 19 Review (Book One) at Build a Bookshelf Review (Book Two) at Ageless Pages Reviews

05_Outer Banks Series_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Jane Hanser

Jane Hanser

Jane Hanser

I’d like to welcome, B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Jane Hanser to Layered Pages to talk with me about her book, Don’t Don’t Look Both Ways. The most common comments Jane receives from people are, “Are you still biking?” and “You can afford to eat anything you want.” The answer to the first is – sometimes, and the answer to the second is “No I can’t.” Since Jane left her position teaching ESL and remedial writing position in Brooklyn, NY to marry Phil and move to Boston, she has focused on her educational software business and thrived living in a medium-sized City, the Garden City, Newton MA. She has had her poetry and essays published in numerous print and online journals such as “Poetica Magazine,” “The Persimmon Tree,” “Every Writer’s Resource,” and others, and she met an amazing dog named Joey, which led to incredulous circumstances that involved her and that resulted in her writing the book, Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways. Jane is involved with many and varied local community and civic activities, such as bicycle and pedestrian safety, feeding the hungry, literacy, and environmental safety. She spends way too much time on the computer.

Hello, Jane! Thank you for chatting with me today. Please tell me a little about your book, Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways: A Primer on Unintended Consequences.

Hello, Stephanie! It’s my pleasure. You make us feel so comfortable. First about the book: Everything described in the book actually happened. That’s why some people consider the book non-fiction. Also, readers have become convinced that Joey is the author: Some insist that his name should be on the cover.

Could you share a brief excerpt?

This excerpt is from Chapter One:

Some dogs live in families where they help guide a family member who cannot use his eyes to see. These dogs work hard to assist their partners and masters with walking down sidewalks, crossing streets, going up and down escalators, going shopping, going to work, and coming back home again. This also would not be me. Dogs who do this important type of work sometimes wear a nice jacket that says, “Do not talk to me. I am working.” Wherever I go, I like to wag my tail and personally greet everybody I see. When my parents and I are outside walking along the sidewalk, I look ahead and see where I want to go, or with my nose to the ground or pointed into the wind I smell where I want to go, and step down from the curb into the street toward that destination. Sometimes I step off the curb at a spot where another road is crossing. That’s when I hear Dad sharply call out, “Joey, stop. Sit. Cars are passing here. Do you want to get hit? Sit until I say it’s okay to cross.” So I stop and force my body to form the “sit” posture, though my bottom doesn’t like to cooperate, hovering and vibrating slightly above the pavement, waiting for some sign that Dad really means what he says. In this position I remain suspended and I plant my gaze firmly on Dad’s face, until he looks back at me and repeats even more emphatically this time, “SIT,” and my bottom finally and reluctantly cooperates. This I do only because he tells me to.

What is an example of how Joey deals with a conflict?

That’s a cute question. Joey knows exactly what he wants, but is not confrontational or aggressive. So he has an array of methods that are aimed at getting him what he wants, without any confrontation. The first example occurs after he, as a puppy, is told that he is no longer allowed to run the long distances he has become accustomed to running, and he has to find a way to revoke that harsh decree. He’s only 8 months old but he succeeds in pressing his point.

Joey also is extremely patient and tries to deal with some conflicts by out-waiting us. He will stand around, look down, up, shift his eyes side to side, try to wait for us to just give up, looking out the corner of his eye to see if we’ve softened. If we haven’t, he starts wagging his tail, first slowly, then more rapidly, then in wider and wider arcs. He times it just perfectly too: just as my frustration is increasing. He knows we can’t be angry or upset with him when his tail is wagging. He has much more patience than we do and uses it to his advantage.

Loud noises don’t bother him at all, but he hates being around interpersonal conflict. If he senses two people are in conflict with each other, he simply gets up, hangs his head down low, and quietly heads out of the room and for the basement.

Dogs don't look both ways with Medallion

And what is his relationship like with his human dad?

There’s a lot of adoration between them. As long-distance running partners, who run miles and miles at 5 am throughout the four seasons, they share a closeness and a world that I can never share with either! His human dad, my husband, has tremendous respect for him.

What are a few of the habits of Labrador Retrievers that people might not know?

Anybody who gets a Labrador Retriever is surprised at how much they like to chew – everything – and at how much they like to dig. Many say that Labs love to eat and will carry their food bowls around with them. This is generally true; however, Joey did not. Many will talk about how good Labs are at swimming. This also is generally true; however, this does not apply to Joey! One habit that is generally true is that Labs love people. Never get a Lab if what you want is a guard dog!

Were there any challenges in creating a voice for a dog?

Sure! The challenge was in channeling the voice for this dog, and getting it into words and on paper. This dog oozes personality and he has a regal quality about him; so the book – the vocabulary, the sentence structure, the punctuation – had to reflect the simplicity of a dog but also convey his unique sophistication and personality.

The other aspect of the challenge was to assure that his voice was not my, or any other human, voice. Here’s a simple example: In the book I had described the utility poles with their white light at the top of each; that line the roads. Then one day in looking out my window, I realized that to Joey, there is no relationship between the two: Although when outside in the dark he passes utility poles as he runs or walks, the light above is, to him, seemingly suspended in air. And the color light we humans see is not the same color that dogs, and Joey, perceives. So I had to question everything that I experienced and ask, “What does Joey experience?” and my writing had to reflect that world of his.

What was it like for you writing the emotional scenes in your story?

I wasn’t attached to my emotions when I was writing the emotional scenes. I was busy getting in touch with the details of what had happened, what Joey was likely experiencing, including how he was experiencing me (or anybody else), and how he was experiencing me experiencing him. And so on. Even re-reading the book, I was more focused on how accurately I was depicting what had happened and from his point of view. As I now read these emotional scenes, I can see that focusing on Joey and chronicling his experience made for scenes that were packed with emotion, whether that was laughter or tears.

Is there anything you would like readers to come away with when reading your story?

The book is full of so many things, but everybody will come away with something different, which is why I love reading readers’ reviews and comments: Each one is different, everybody picks up on something else and takes away something else. But I would like readers to be open-minded.

Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways is an honest story about life, boundaries, the need to explore, the need to understand each other and the challenges we – humans and our canine family members – face; it’s about being perfect and being imperfect. I hope that everybody will laugh; in some places they may tear up, but keep on reading and laugh and smile again.

Who designed your book cover?

Jonathan D. Scott. He is a friend from my high school who I had lost touch with; we reconnected after a recent high school reunion. He’s an amazing person and I was blessed. The lesson here is that everybody should go to his or her high school reunion. You never know what friendships you’re missing out on!

Where can readers buy your book?

The easiest is to purchase it online at Amazon or Kobo. They can also order it through their local bookstore.

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

I like to write at my computer in my home office, which faces west and looks out on the (small) front lawn and road, where people are walking by day and night. I write when I feel like it – no set time. Most of my ideas come when I’m riding my bike, or when I’m in a yoga class and not supposed to be thinking about anything in particular. Surprise! When I write poetry, I often jot down ideas on my iPhone “Notes”, which preserves the ideas but ruins the pleasure of whatever it is I was doing and focusing on and also is ruining my eyes.

Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways had its own process: It began with an idea and a goal that I wanted my writing to accomplish. I quickly initiated a blog to keep a record of what was happening day by day and to create the voice, and to determine if readers were responding to the dog’s voice, and they were, so that was encouraging. I also read many books about dogs – scientific, breed-specific, historical – many relevant points of which were incorporated into the narrative. It was also important for me to incorporate a spiritual and ethical component to the book. I did a lot of reading and spoke to child psychologists about animals and their role in literature and myth-making to represent certain human concepts to children and adults. Eventually, I discontinued the blog and just worked on a larger manuscript.

Do you stick with just genre?

My writing reflects the forces that are in my life at that time and the message I’m inspired to convey. Whatever genre or vehicle that requires.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

Online, doing searches for people to review the book, and one led me backward to indieBRAG: The original website said we could get “one point” toward earning a review by having a book that was honored with the B.R.A.G. Medallion, and naturally I set about to see what that was.
What are you working on next?

Look at my blogs: I’m very interested in issues of family dysfunction and drug addiction. Subset: among individuals in “nice” middle class families, where it’s least expected. But one of my readers wants me to write more Joey stories. I like my writing to be inspiration and to help people find, and hold onto, the good.

Thank you, Stephanie!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Jane Hanser who is the author of, Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways, 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, Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

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

Marisha Pink - Headshot

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

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

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

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

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

Marisha, why do you write?

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

How has writing impacted your life?

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

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

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

How do you respond to positive and negative reviews?

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

What advice would you give to beginner writers?

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

Where can readers buy your book?

Finding-Arun-3D-book Marisha Pink BRAG

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

More links:

Twitter: @marishapink

 Author Website

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Carrie Beckfort

Carrie Beckfort

Carrie Beckfort

I would like to welcome, Carrie Beckort to Layered Pages to talk with me about her B.R.A.G. Medallion book, Kingston’s Project. Carrie has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University and a MBA from Ball State University. She spent seventeen years in the corporate industry before writing her first novel. She lives in Indiana with her husband and daughter.

Carrie, thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for your book, Kingston’s Project. How did you discover indieBRAG?

Thanks for having me, Stephanie! I’m so excited that Kingston’s Project earned a B.R.A.G. Medallion. Since I never expected to write a novel in the first place, the B.R.A.G. Medallion helps to ease a few of my anxieties in this new phase of my life. I first learned of indieBRAG from a fellow author, who I met through a mutual friend. She is also a new self-published author, and we try to help each other by sharing information.

What has your experience been like with self-publishing so far?

Publishing a novel is so completely different than anything I’ve ever done in my professional career, yet at the same time I can pull from much of my previous experience to navigate through the process. After I finished the first draft of Kingston’s Project, I started researching what it takes to publish a novel. I knew immediately that self-publishing was the right path for me at this stage of my writing career. I enjoy the control I have over the entire process. Personally, I’d say that the self-publishing process is more intimidating than it is difficult. Certainly there are parts that are difficult, such as trying to find and connect with readers, but I enjoy the challenge.

Another challenge I had was simply the fact that I had no previous writing experience. It’s hard to get people to believe in your work when you have nothing to ‘justify’ that you know what you’re doing. This is one area where indieBRAG has been a huge help. Having earned a B.R.A.G. Medallion has provided me with some credibility as an author that I didn’t have coming into the process.

Kingston's Project

When did you know you wanted to write a novel?

I have always loved reading, and more specifically I’ve always loved stories. Sometimes I worried that I spent too much time in my daydreams than in reality. However, I never considered writing a novel. I had chosen the technical path in college and eventually migrated to marketing and sales, and I connected more with data analysis and process improvement than creative writing.

Back in 2012 I told my book club gals that I was considering taking a personal leave from work to focus on my family and my health. They were supportive, but they also brought me down to reality. They knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied with staying home and having nothing to do while my daughter was in school. They started tossing around ideas for what I could do, and one of those was that I could write a book. I actually dismissed the idea pretty quickly. My thought was, “I read books. I don’t write them.”

However, about three weeks later I woke up and remembered part of a dream. I thought, “I wonder why that would happen.” My next thought was, “Oh crap, I’m writing a book.” It really was that clear for me. There was no ‘can I do this’ or ‘should I do this’—I started writing Kingston’s Project that very day.

What is your writing process and where in your home do you like to write?

I did end up taking a leave from my company when I was about halfway through the manuscript for Kingston’s Project. It wasn’t for the purpose of writing, but I certainly use the time off to my writing advantage. Because of this, most of my writing time comes while my daughter is in school. This means I don’t get much writing done during the summer, spring, and fall breaks (or on snow days), but that’s OK because spending time with my daughter is my priority. I try to stick to a schedule whenever possible—get the family out the door in the morning, go to the gym, get through emails and other admin type work, then write until the bus brings my daughter back home.

When I first started writing Kingston’s Project, I didn’t tell anyone for about four months. I was convinced that everyone, including my husband, would laugh if they knew (when I did finally tell my husband, he did laugh but only a little). Because I kept it secret, I would mostly write sitting on the couch at night after my daughter went to bed. Now, I write in our dedicated home office.

My actual writing process varies with each novel. For Kingston’s Project, I didn’t even create a timeline until I was about halfway through—and that was only because I was afraid I’d mess up my timing of events. I just started writing at the first word, and continued to the last. For my third novel, Shattered Angel, I had to start with an outline for each chapter before I could start writing. It’s a fixed chapter concept, and I needed to know ahead of time what each would be about and make sure they all fit together.

Please tell me about Kingston’s Project.

Kingston’s Project is told from the point of view of Sarah Mitchell. The novel starts two years after Sarah had suffered a significant loss. She’s struggling to move on, only really able to get through the mechanics of each day. Deep down she does want to live her life again, but she’s so far into the darkness that she doesn’t know how to find her way out. Sarah works for a company that does contract project management work for other companies. One of her firm’s largest clients—Elijah Kingston—requests to interview Sarah to lead a confidential assignment. At the encouragement of her boss and best friend, she accepts the interview and flies out to Colorado (from her home in Indiana).

She is reluctant to agree to do the project, primarily because she is not a fan of Elijah Kingston. What she learns about his project shocks her to her core. It’s enough to make her want to refuse the project and return back home. However, Elijah is able to convince her to stay with the promise to help her heal in the process. The story follows the friendship that forms between Sarah and Elijah, and how they navigate the difficult circumstances that life has thrown their way. Kingston’s Project brings each of their journeys to life—Sarah’s healing and Elijah’s strength and courage.

Tell me a little about Sarah Mitchell.

Sarah is a strong woman who doesn’t know how strong she really is. She’s confident in her professional career, but in her personal life she allows herself to become dependent on those she loves in a way that dims her own strength. She doesn’t know how to pick up the pieces of her broken life without the one person who always did it for her.

Sarah is caring and respectful of those around her. She’s able to accept people for who they are, without passing judgment their way. It doesn’t stop her from speaking her mind, but she tries to do it while respecting the viewpoint of the other person.

Sarah is very organized, which servers her well in her career. She prefers to remain professional at all times, and often finds it difficult to relax. Oh, and she loves coffee and fuzzy socks!

What is a challenge Sarah encounters dealing with her loss?

After her loss, she basically isolates herself from just about everyone. It’s hard for her to overcome something so devastating when she feels so alone. She loses herself in destructive behaviors, which include a lack of eating combined with excessive running. Elijah recognizes this and forces her to acknowledge the extent to which she has allowed her grief to impact her life and health.

What are Elijah Kingston’s strengths and weaknesses?

Oh, Elijah. I really enjoyed watching his character come to life. He’s the kind of person who has a permanent gray line between his strengths and weaknesses. What he may perceive as strength, someone else will certainly see as a weakness! He is confident, arrogant, demanding, and proud. He gets results, and it’s usually the results that he wants.

Yet, he’s a very caring person. All of his actions come from a place of good intentions. He’s capable of recognizing when he’s wrong, he’s just too stubborn to let go of his original decision. We see this in his relationship with his children. They don’t get along, and he refuses to make a change despite Sarah’s encouragement for him to close the gap. Once his course is set, he doesn’t look back. Most of the people in his life view this as a weakness; however, it’s the primary thing that helps him through his situation. So in his journey, it’s his most powerful strength.

What was your inspiration for this story?

It all started with a dream. I woke up, remembered part of something I had dreamt, and immediately went to the computer to do some research. I can’t tell you the exact dream, because it would give away key aspects of the novel. I will tell you that it was more about the relationship between Sarah and Elijah rather than their individual situations. I started with that connection, asking why it existed. Elijah’s story developed naturally from there. For Sarah, I knew she was struggling with something significant, so I decided to give her the one thing I fear most in this world. In addition, my family had recently suffered from a significant loss right before I started writing Kingston’s Project. I think I needed to write through my own grief as a form of healing.

Is there a message in your story you would like readers to grasp?

Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan. There may be loss, illness, injury, broken relationships—the list is long. However, it doesn’t mean we can’t still live and enjoy the path we’ve been given. Sarah’s unexpected path was loss. Grief is a powerful deterrent to life, but it can be overcome. Sometimes we need to reach out to others for help. And sometimes that help comes from someone we would least expect. We just have to be willing to accept and embrace it when it comes our way.

Were there any challenges in writing this story?

Since I wrote Kingston’s Project without the initial intent to publish, I didn’t struggle with too many writing challenges. I just wrote without worry. The challenge came when I finished the manuscript and decided to publish it. One of my biggest challenges was that my manuscript was entirely too long! I ended up cutting over 40% of what I had written. I actually don’t mind that I cut that much—I look at it as I was getting better the more I wrote, so it wasn’t wasted time. But it was difficult to determine what to cut. It’s such a heavy book at times, and I needed to balance that. While a certain scene may have seemed insignificant to the overall plot, if it was one of the lighter moments I had to take caution before cutting it or reducing it.

My other primary challenge after I decided to publish was making sure the information in the novel was accurate. I needed to ensure that the key aspects of Elijah’s struggle were well represented. In my research, I had come across a foundation that supports people in Elijah’s situation. I sent a request, asking if someone would be willing to read the manuscript and offer comments. I was really blessed that they agreed. It was so important for me to get the information right, and I’m so grateful for the input I received.

Where can readers buy your book?

Kingston’s Project is available in paperback and ebook through most of the online retail stores—links are provided below.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | BAM | Indie Bound

For other locations, please visit my website

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Carrie Beckfort who is the author of, Kingston’s Project, our medallion honorees 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, Kingston’s Project, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Debrah Martin

Debrah Martin -BRAG

Debrah Martin writes under three different pen names and in three very different genres. She plots fast-paced and compelling thrillers as D.B. Martin, with the first in the Patchwork trilogy, Patchwork Man, having been recently awarded a coveted B.R.A.G. Medallion. The explosive conclusion to the series, Patchwork Pieces, is to be released on 13th April 2015. As Debrah Martin she writes literary fiction, where often the truth IS stranger than fiction, and two new titles are due to be released in 2015/16. And not to be overlooked is her YA teen detective series, penned as Lily Stuart – THE teen detective. Irreverent, blunt, funny and vulnerable. Webs is the first in the series and Magpies will follow in 2015.

So why not stick to just one name and one genre?

‘Variety is the spice of life,’ she says. ‘And I continually have all these new ideas – they have to come out somehow!’

Debrah’s past careers have spanned two businesses, teaching, running business networking for the University of Winchester (UK) and social event management. She chaired the Wantage (not just Betjeman) Literary Festival in 2014 and also mentors new writers.

Hello, Debrah! Thank you for chatting with me today and your B.R.A.G. Medallion book, Patchwork Man. I must say, what a fantastic title! It catches the reader’s eyes and leaves them wanting to find out more about the story. Before you tell me how your title pertains to the story, tell me about your book.

Patchwork Man

Lawrence Juste QC finds himself tricked into taking a case defending a juvenile against a charge of manslaughter by his clever – but dead – wife. Normally he wouldn’t even have opened the folder without her around to persuade him, but she’s left something else to do that for her; a list of all the unsavoury people and events from his past. The ones he’s carefully hidden until now and didn’t even know she was aware of.

Disconcertingly, the boy reminds him of himself – not only as a person but in the crime he’s supposed to have committed. Taking the case catapults Juste into a world that touches his own past with alarming regularity until it throws up the brother he betrayed as a teenager, the bully he’s done his best to avoid ever since and a disturbingly attractive female liaison. It also leads him on a journey in which he rediscovers the family he rejected, has to answer for the murder he should have ensured was fairly tried, but didn’t, and himself – or the principles the man who styled himself Lawrence Juste once wanted to observe. By the time the book closes, the links to his forgotten family have drawn significantly closer and so has the childhood bully. And the one person who still seems to be the linchpin for all of it is Juste’s dead wife whose influence oddly still seems to be very much alive and active…

Your story is set in two specific times – Lawrence/Kenny’s childhood is based in the 1950’s in Croydon, England. Run-down, poverty-stricken and dismal. The ‘present-day’ story is 1999, with Lawrence (born 1950) and now middle-aged, well-to-do, respected and living in London. How did you decide to write about these periods, topic and what was challenging about the themes? Also, please share a bit of research you might have done.

It all started with my mother’s description of how the rag and bone man used to tour the streets years ago. My mother is now eighty. It was such a vivid piece of living history I wrote it up straight away and then started looking around at what else was happening at the time. Next I hit on some information about what it was like being in a children’s home in the fifties and how some of the children desperately wanted to leave that past behind them when they left. I started to think about what it might be like for someone with an experience so bad they wanted to entirely forget it and turn their back on the whole of their past life, even the times before they were unhappy. That obviously provided the possibility of wanting past misdeeds to be hidden too, and for them to later come back and haunt the protagonist. He, or she, therefore had to be a ‘fallen hero’ and I particularly liked the idea of one who was ultra-respectable but intrinsically damaged – or dramatically failing to adhere to the principles they once aspired too. Lawrence Juste was ‘born’, and after having seen an adaptation for the theatre of To Kill a Mocking Bird, my long-time admiration of the book found its target in the principles of justice and fairness Juste aspires to, but lost sight of a long time beforehand.

The research was easy in some ways as some of my family had lived in Croydon in both the 1950’s and 1990’s. I, myself, lived in London in the 1980’s. The more difficult area to research was the state of children’s homes in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I was both disturbed and pleased to be told by someone who’d actually worked in a children’s home round about that time that my description was very accurate – of both the kind of buildings and arrangements in place as well as the incidents that occurred. Research for me is usually a mix of research using the internet, and interviewing people with recall of appropriate places and times. Personal remembrances are much more ‘alive’ than research conducted through books or the internet, but both are be necessary because the memory is fallible, whereas recorded facts tend not to be! I’m not a legal eagle, but I had a massive stroke of luck in coming across someone who introduced me to a British High Court Judge and he checked the legal and procedural sections for credibility and accuracy. He asked to remain nameless of course, but I’m indebted to him for his kindness in helping with Patchwork Man.

What is an example of a choice or a path Lawrence takes that affects his life and how does he deal with it?

Laurence made a major life path choice in his teens when he decided he was going to cut himself off from his past. It derived from self-preservation, firstly after an incident at the children’s home he spent his teenage years in,

“… it was the determination to never be falling backwards with a knife in my gut that kept me safe until Jaggers arrived.”

And subsequently that determination to survive taught him how to subdivide his life and his emotions so he could operate almost robotically, and not be truly touched emotionally:

“… Keep everything separate; separate lives. That way the trouble of one life wouldn’t spill over into the other. The two versions. Fragmented…”

But this is only possible until he’s forced to become involved with people who operate quite differently to him; Danny – who might be his son, and Kat, who disturbs all kinds of hitherto stifled emotions. He’s never dealt in emotion or loyalty before. Facing his past as it collides with his present requires him to also face himself, and the man he’s become.

“… Advice can be good at the time, but time moves situations on and everything is changed. And to be a whole person the fragments have to be assembled …”

What is a Patchwork Man? And this must be how you came up with your title.

My patchwork man is Laurence,

“…Maybe we’re all patchworks, slowly adding to the pattern, piece by piece – some frayed, some neatly sewn, some brightly coloured and some dull and faded from over-use…”

But I think we are all patchworks, created out of our experiences and past choices. They inform our behavior, create our instinctive responses, and sometimes come unraveled if there’s a loose thread that someone or something tugs hard enough on. I’m also fascinated with how life can change dramatically from one moment to the next and what we thought was the pattern of our world can tangle or even become undone. That was what I wanted to portray in Laurence – the man who thought he’d got everything sewn up tight, only to find that single loose thread pulled, and with it everything else coming unstitched too.

How much time did you spend writing your story?

The whole trilogy took me just over a year to write. I worked on it more or less continuously during that year and the story took over and told itself after a while. I find that quite often happens when I get to know the characters well because what they choose to do is almost inevitable once I’ve understood them and their motivations and fears. Of course there is always – as with real life – the chance that they will act out of character because of a revelation, and Laurence does have one of those moments in the final book of the trilogy; Patchwork Pieces, out on the 13th April, but I’ll keep what a secret …

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

I have a writing room which used to be my daughters ballet studio – until she gave it up. I could, if I wished, admire myself in two walls of mirrors whilst hanging off the ballet barre, but of course I’d rather sit at my desk and write! My day starts with a mug of tea and a review of what I did the day before. If I’m on a roll I might get a whole chapter down in first draft, but often it’s much more slow-moving. I tend to write a whole first draft before doing any editing, and once a first draft is completed I like to put it away for a while before going back for the first round of editing. It enables me to see it with fresh eyes. I don’t use Scrivener or any of the other tools some writers use. I have a spreadsheet detailing the chapters, the main plot points occurring in them, Sometimes there are quite detailed descriptions if I’ve already imagined some elements of the chapter in my head, like a conversation between characters or a specific turning point in the plot, or sometimes just a sentence I particularly like. The spreadsheet gradually gets scrawled all over as I think of things I’d like to change or add to, or the characters themselves dictate that something different should happen. I try to break the day up with a walk with my dog unless our English weather puts a stop to that. Otherwise, Rosie, my retriever lays just behind where I sit at my desk and reminds me from time to time that she’d like some attention too! My writing day usually ends round about 4.30pm when my younger daughter arrives home from school, demanding food – why are teenagers always starving? If, by then, I’m most of the way through a chapter, it’s been a good day, but often the progress will have been more in determining plot points, character development and collating research material in the early days of the book.

Who designed your book cover?

The cover design is mainly mine, but brought to life by a cover designer. After looking at a number of book covers in the genre, I decided I needed a theme for all of the books in the trilogy and chose the images with that in mind. The basic white background of the front cover was a natural choice because of the first image I chose and it also perfectly complimented the theme of something coming out of nothing. Laurence Juste starts out as a ‘nothing’ person – hidden secrets, hidden past, hidden emotions, and on the front of Patchwork Man he’s just about to break cover. The images progress through the spying eye of Patchwork People – and there’s a distinctly spying eye at the heart of the second book in the trilogy – to the handprint on the cover of the final book in the trilogy, Patchwork Pieces, where Laurence’s identity is sealed.

In your bio it say you write under three pen name. How do you keep up with that? *smiling* That is impressive!

With difficulty! I often have more than one book in progress, is really how. At the moment I’m working on Magpies, my next YA fiction, but I’m also plagued with all sorts of ideas for The Definition of Iniquity, which is to be my next suspense thriller. I also have Thirty times Thirty, another literary fiction underway. In progress too are a re-release of a novel now out of print from 2013, and waiting in the wings with my agent is Falling Awake – also a literary fiction. I chose to write under three pennames mainly on my agent’s advice. She felt that it would be confusing for readers to pick up a book written in one genre anticipating it to be a particular kind of story, only to find it was something completely different. I can see the sense in this and as long as the ideas and stories keep flowing and readers keep reading, I’m happy to be read under any name.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

I first found indieBRAG via another author agented by my literary agent, A for Authors; Alison Morton. Alison also writes suspense thrillers and I was interested in the award she referred to having won for one of them as she is also an indie. I had a look around the B.R.A.G. website and was impressed by both its authenticity and its professional approach. I decided to submit Patchwork Man, although hardly daring think I would be awarded a BRAG medallion so you can imagine how delighted I was when I did. Being an indie author is tough at times. So many doors are closed to you by the traditional publishing world, yet I know from other indie authors that I have read that there are some extremely talented writers out there – more talented, dare I say, than some authors published by mainstream and major publishers. To receive an award based on a thorough and professional review is not only an honour – and an accolade very much worth having – it’s a validation of all the work that goes into writing a book and garnering the self-belief to self-publish it. What more can I say than that I am delighted to be able to BRAG about mine.

Where can readers buy your book?

Patchwork Man is available on Amazon

As is the sequel, Patchwork People

And the conclusion to the trilogy, Patchwork Pieces, is available for pre-order

For YA fiction readers, my first YA fiction, Webs, is available here

You can also find Debrah’s website here

Her blog is here

Her Facebook Page

And she’s on Twitter as @Storytellerdeb

Thank you, Debrah! It was a pleasure chatting with you. Please visit Layered Pages again soon.

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Debrah Martin, who is the author of, Patchwork Man, our medallion honorees 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, Patchwork Man, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.