Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree J.B. Hawker

J.B. Hawker

J.B. Hawker

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree J.B. Hawker to talk with me about her book, Vain Pursuits. J.B. was born and raised in rural Northern California. After twenty years serving small churches from Alaska to South Dakota as a pastor’s wife, she returned to her California roots to start over as a single business woman, speaker and author. She has published many articles on faith and ministry. J.B. has three grown sons. Her oldest, the father of her three beautiful granddaughters, lives in northern Italy, where J.B. visits as often as possible.

As Jonna Hawker Turek, J.B. is an inspirational leadership trainer and conference speaker and has published the book Power for Women’s Ministry Leaders.

Hello, Jonna! Congrats on a second B.R.A.G. Medallion and thank you for chatting with me today. Please tell your audience how did you discover indieBRAG?

I stumbled across it when doing an Internet search and submitted my first book, Hollow, on a whim. I forgot about it until learning many months later that I had been honored with the BRAG Medallion. What a thrilling surprise that was. You can imagine how excited I am to be recognized, once again.

Please tell me about your book, Vain Pursuits.

Vain Pursuits is the second book in the Bunny Elder series. It begins a year or two after Hollow ends. Bunny has gone to live in Idaho with her older sister, Linda. Linda’s husband suffers from a terminal illness. Following his death, she suggests a trip to Italy to find an authentic Neapolitan crèche for her collection of nativity sets. While Bunny and Linda tour Italy in pursuit of the Christmas miniatures, they unknowingly become the target of a group of smugglers who mistakenly believe the sisters have stolen some of their contraband. The local color is from my own visits to romantic Italia, from a tourist’s viewpoint.

Tell me a little about Bunny Elder’s sister, Linda.         

Linda is a retired nurse who has spent the last few years caring first for the sisters’ elderly mother, then for her own ailing husband. She’s ready for a bit of self-indulgence. Linda is petite, like Bunny, but with a striking silhouette, ala Dolly Parton. Linda practices yoga, a skill which comes in handy more than once during this Italian adventure.

What is one of the challenges that Bunny faces?

Bunny’s biggest challenge is always trying to be faithful to her beliefs, in spite of her natural inclinations. Her soft spot for childhood sweetheart, Max, gets her into more than one testing situation, and, like many Christians, she often fails, but keeps trying.

VAIN-PURSUITScover medallion

Could you please share an excerpt?

The severely blonde flight attendant wrestled impatiently with her serving cart while making halting progress along the narrow aisle between banks of cramped gray seats in a Lufthansa Airbus high above the Atlantic Ocean. Turning from side to side she grimly dealt out pre-packaged dinner trays to the restless passengers. Although her icy pale hair and crisp blue uniform remained unruffled, the stewardess was obviously near the end of her tether from long hours of forced congeniality with the fretful mass of economy-class passengers assigned to her care.

A creased and crumpled, though still dignified, elderly man, inching back to his seat from a thoroughly disheartening visit to the claustrophobic restroom, inadvertently blocked the attendant’s forward progress. Peremptorily rapping the old fellow’s shoulder, she hissed sharply with Prussian authority, “You must not block the aisles! Return to your seat, immediately.” With a gasp, the man recoiled, stumbled and landed without ceremony in the soft lap of a petite middle-aged woman. Mortified, he attempted to scramble to his feet, but the serving cart bumped him back onto his startled seat mate.

The old gentleman creaked stiffly to his feet as soon after the flight attendant’s passing as possible, trembling with humiliation and repressed rage.

“Please excuse me, madam. I am so terribly sorry. Have I injured you?”

The man addressed his fellow victim in very slightly accented English as he attempted to regain his composure.

“Oh, no, not at all. I’m fine. Really. Don’t worry about it. That certainly wasn’t your fault. Brünnhildes assault would have done in a lesser man, I assure you. You are lucky to have survived.” Bunny Elder replied with a wry smile, as she straightened her khaki skirt and pushed a lock of graying blonde hair back into place behind one ear.

“Yes, well, it would appear there are reasons why this particular airline was never touted as part of the ‘friendly skies.’ Thank you for being so gracious. My name is Parma, by the way, Anthony Parma.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Anthony. I’m Bunny.”

“Bunny?” Parma raised an eyebrow as he asked.

“Oh, that’s just a nickname, really. My given name is Leveline, I’m afraid. I’m Leveline Elder on my driver’s license, but when I have a choice, I’m just Bunny.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Mrs. Elder.”

“Bunny, please.”

“Yes, well, I am pleased to meet you…Bunny. Again, I apologize for the unfortunate nature of our meeting. I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.”

“Thanks. You too,” Bunny replied as Parma squeezed his way into the window seat a few rows back. “Well, that certainly perked things up, Linda. I didn’t expect to have charming men falling into my lap when you invited me on this trip,” Bunny addressed the diminutive dark-haired woman beside her, Linda looked up from the book she was reading, blinking her startlingly blue eyes as though just waking from a dream.

“What are you talking about, Bunny?”

Bunny could not believe it. Her older sister had not even noticed all the commotion going on mere inches away. Linda had been engrossed in reading for most of the ten hours they had been in the air. While Bunny was struggling to find a comfortable sitting position, attempting to do the blood-clot-prevention exercises promoted by the in-flight magazine, praying not to crash, frantically studying her Italian-English dictionary, resisting the urge to visit the nasty airplane toilet, trying vainly to sleep and worrying about the jet lag ahead, like any rational modern air traveler, Linda was oblivious to it all, lost in one romance novel after the other….

What do you like best about writing cozy-suspense-adventure stories?

I love to be able to imagine myself and people I’ve known in these exciting situations. It lets me play out alternate lives where I am myself, but with all the “extras” I’ve always dreamed of. In my next book, my lead character has a gift for languages, something I’ve always wanted. My oldest son’s wife and his daughters are Italian, and I struggle with the language, but my “something extra” me would be fluent.

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

Against the advice of sleep experts, my office space is in my bedroom, with my desk in front of a window looking out on sky and trees. However, I also write on a laptop, a couple of different PC’s and an iPad, keeping all my files in my Dropbox folders. I have a full-time outside job, so most of my writing is done early in the morning or on weekends. I’m a morning person, and I’ve tried to work in the evening, with dismal results, but occasionally I will wake in the middle of the night to jot down plot points before I forget them. Like most writers, I’m composing in my head almost all the time. I outline each book, work out characters’ biographies, etc. before beginning, then I plunge in. Every few chapters I go back and re-read and edit before going forward. This helps me with continuity and recharges my creative juices when I hit a wall.

Who designed your book cover?

Once again going against expert advice, I designed it myself. [Warning: don’t try this at home] When I was starting out, I used the CreateSpace themes, but I have recently tweaked all the Bunny Elder series covers to give them a unifying format. It was hard work, and frustrating at first, but I’m learning to use the free graphics applications, Gimp and, and am starting to enjoy the cover design process. I was a commercial art major in college, so it’s nice to flex my rusty talent using modern technology.

What are you working on next?

I’ve just begun the eleventh chapter of the second book in my First Ladies Club series. This one is called The Body in the Belfry. The series focuses on a group of pastors’ wives in the small fictional coastal town of Bannoch, Oregon. They are women from diverse denominations, cultures, ethnicity and ages, but all love the Lord and their pastor husbands. Each book will feature a different member of the club and a new suspenseful adventure. I’m having such fun including vignettes based upon my own experiences in small church parsonages all around the western USA.

Do you stick with just genre?

I stick with Christian fiction, because anything I write will naturally have a Christian world view. My first book was a true mystery, as is my work in progress. The others are Christian Suspense/Thriller. When I published it, I didn’t describe my first book, Hollow, as Christian Fiction, supposing in my naiveté that anyone would know it was a Christian book, since the lead character was a pastor’s widow, but I had some critical review comments about “too much religious content” and “pretending not to be Christian fiction” and that convinced me to be very clear when categorizing my books. I write inspirational books and articles under my married name, Jonna Hawker Turek, but my fiction is not written to evangelize, although all the books have unashamedly Christian leads whose faith influences their lives.

Where can readers buy your book?

I publish through KDP for Kindle format and Draft2Digital for the other eBook readers, so you can order from Amazon, Kobo and Barnes and Noble, or any of the digital outlets. My print copies are on Amazon and can be ordered from most book sellers.

Thank you, Jonna! It has been a pleasure chatting with you.

It’s been my pleasure, too, Stephanie!

Author Links:

Author blog: The Works of J.B. Hawker

Book landing page

Twitter: @HawkerJB


Jonna’s weekly inspirational blog, Power Walking with Jonna

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview J.B. Hawker who is the author of, Vain Pursuits, 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, Vain Pursuits, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.




Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree David Penny

David Penny

David Penny

Today I have Author David Penny to talk with me about his B.R.A.G. Medallion book, The Red Hill. He is the author of 4 Science Fiction novels and several short stories published during the 1970’s. Near-starvation led him down the slippery slope of work, which distracted him from his true calling. He has now returned to writing and The Red Hill, a Moorish mystery thriller, was published in June 2014. He is currently working on two new books: the follow up to The Red Hill, and a thriller set in the world of industrial espionage.

Hello David! Thank you for chatting with me today about your book, The Red Hill! First, tell me how you discovered indieBRAG.

Hi Stephanie, and thanks for asking me. I’m honored. I’m a committed networker, both online and in person, and love nothing more than talking to readers and other writers. I couldn’t say exactly when I first heard about IndieBRAG because it’s been in my awareness ever since I came back to writing and decided to go Indie. I suppose what triggered me to investigate further was the presence of the IndieBRAG Medallion on a lot of the books I was reading.

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

Pretty good! I used to be traditionally published many years ago with four novels in print in the 1970’s, but somehow I drifted away from writing for too many years. When I returned I had to decide whether to try to pick up my lapsed career or take matters into my own hands. I think what it came down to was two things. I’m too impatient to wait the 18 months between finishing a book and seeing it in print. I’ve also become too much of a control-freak, and I love the ability to take command of my own destiny, from covers to formatting to content.

Please tell me about your story?

The Red Hill is set in the last years of the Moorish Caliphate in southern Spain, and takes place in 1482. It features Thomas Berrington who left England at the age of 13 with his father to fight in the final battle of the 100 years war. When his father was killed Thomas found himself abandoned and alone in a foreign land. Eventually he found himself in Andalusia in Spain where he trained to become a surgeon.

The book centers around the Sultan’s request to track down a killer who is stalking the Alhambra palace in Granada. He enlists the help of his friend, the eunuch Jorge.

The Red Hill is a story of murder, mystery and betrayal set in a culture that has little written about it.

The Red Hill

How did you come up with your title and who designed your book cover?

The title was the start of everything. Because the story is set in the Alhambra palace. The name comes from the Arabic al-Hamra, which translates as The Red Hill.

The cover was designed by Alisha of Damonza, and I’m incredibly pleased with what she did for me. The brief was a hooded figure, corridors, and Arabic script on ancient paper and she came up with something that met all those criteria.

As an avid reader of history and historical thrillers, I am thrilled with your premise and will be adding your book to my reading list for this year. Why did you chose last remnants of Moorish Spain as your setting for your story and what fascinates you about this period?

Great question, Stephanie, and I’m not sure I altogether know the answer to that. I think it chose me rather than the other way around. What I do recall is sitting at home one evening several years ago talking about nothing in particular with my wife and the kids when I suddenly sat up and said something like “Has anyone ever written a detective story set in Moorish Spain?”

And that was it!

Well—almost. Two more years of research followed while I searched for old source material, which was made more difficult because when Spain expelled the Moors they destroyed almost all of the original books in their libraries.

The more research I did the more I fell in love with the Moorish culture and this period in history. Between 790 and 1100 Spain was an Islamic nation, and regarded as the cultural beacon in a Europe rent by war, dissension and ignorance. The depth of knowledge developed over this period is remarkable, and they were acknowledged as the leading practitioners of medicine and surgery of the day. In fact many of the instruments and techniques they invented can be traced down to the present.

After 1100 their rule began to be eroded as Spain gathered its own forces, until eventually only a small enclave in the south of the country remained in Moorish hands. I set my book at that time because turbulent historical periods are always more fun to write about.

Please tell me a little about the political and religious history of this period your story is written in.

At the end of the 1400’s Andalusia was the last remaining foothold of the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula. Until then, barring the occasional skirmish, the Spanish and the Moors had reached some kind of accommodation. Only when Isabel and Fernando married and united the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon was a fresh onslaught made on Andalusia, fueled primarily by a religious conviction that the whole of Spain must be Christian. This led not only to the final expulsion but to persecution of the Jews who ran most of the civic administration, and the setting up of the Inquisition.

So, a pretty vibrant period to write about. Another fascinating aspect was to discover the links between Queen Isabel and the English monarchy. It is known by many that her daughter married two English Kings – including Henry VIII, but perhaps less well known that we was the great-great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt.

Please tell me about Thomas Berrington and the challenges he faces as a surgeon of his time and how he came to investigate a series of murders…

As I mentioned briefly before, Thomas came to be a surgeon almost by accident, but when he did embrace the profession be became highly skilled. This skill is what ultimately leads to his involvement in the murders. At the time the Moorish physicians were skilled surgeons performing many procedures that were unknown in the rest of Europe. One example is they had already been removing cataracts for hundreds of years in a procedure that remained unchanged until the introduction of laser surgery. Prior to the start of the book Thomas saved the life of the Sultan’s youngest son, Yusuf, which led to a position as physician to the palace and harem. When an earlier investigation of the murders in the palace came to a dead end the Sultan asked Thomas to help – a request he felt unable to refuse.

What do you like most about writing historical thrillers?

When I was previously published I wrote science-fiction, but over the years stopped reading it and turned to history and mysteries and thrillers. When I returned to writing I naturally wanted to write what interested me, but I do in fact find a great deal of similarity between science-fiction and historical fiction. Both deal in world building and the description of places and people that no longer (or do not yet) exist. It is this sense of vanished worlds that fascinates me and keeps me coming back.

Are there any challenges writing in this genre?

Oh yes! The biggest one is the research. You can guarantee that however much research you do, and however much you know about a period, there will always be someone who knows more and will take great pleasure in pointing out your mistakes.

The Moorish period, as I alluded to before, presented particular challenges because very little remains of the documents and books that existed at that time. Most of the materials I found always had to be read through the filter of the prejudice of the writers of that time, and I needed to pick out truth from falsehood and fiction.

Where can readers buy your book?

The Red Hill is available in both print and eBook format through Amazon.

The follow up novel Breaker of Bones was published April 13th 2015, and I have a further eight books planned for the series. I have already written the final scene of book 10!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview David Penny, who is the author of, The Red Hill, 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, The Red Hill, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

You can find out more about David and his writing at his website. His email address and you can connect on twitter @davidpenny_



Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Alison Morton

Alison pic2

Alison Morton writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with strong heroines. She gained a BA in French, German and Economics and thirty years later went back and bagged a masters’ in history (with distinction!).  

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…

Six years in the UK reserve forces (where she rose from private soldier to captain) not only reinforced her sense of common purpose and self-discipline, but provided her with experiences and opportunities no civilian would ever touch. Oh, and travel and fabulous mess evenings.

Setting about her novelist education with the persistence of a Roman road builder, she joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme, studied with the Arvon Foundation, joined the Historical Novel Society and attended numerous specialist workshops and conferences. Thanks to her independently published book sales figures, she has recently qualified as a full member of the UK’s Society of Authors. She has recently been accepted as an author member of International Thriller Writers.

Alison talks and writes about alternative history at conferences and workshops including for the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Historical Novel Society and in Writing Magazine. She also writes a monthly column in the local English language magazine and has published a collection of these as The 500 Word Writing Buddy: 25 Inner Secrets for the New Writer.

Stephanie: Hello, Alison! I am delighted to be chatting with you today about your book, SUCCESSIO, which has been honored the B.R.A.G. Medallion. Praise indeed, and congratulations are in order. As I understand it, SUCCESSIO, is the third book in your Roma Nova alternate history thriller series. Could you please tell your audience the titles of the first two and how you came about to write this thrilling series?

Thanks for inviting me, Stephanie! It’s always a pleasure to be your guest. The first two books in the series are called INCEPTIO (the beginning) and PERFIDITAS (betrayal).

Their origin goes back into my own ancient history! I was 11 years old and on holiday in north-east Spain. Fascinated by the beauty and extent of the mosaics in Ampurias, a former Greek then Roman sea-port, I asked my father, “What would it be like if Roman women were in charge, instead of the men?” Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain, maybe early feminism peeping out or maybe just a precocious kid asking a smart question. But clever man and senior ‘Roman nut’, my father replied, “What do you think it would be like?”

That idea bubbled away in my head until the novel writing trigger was pushed in 2009.

In one paragraph please tell your audience what SUCCESSIO is about.

Roma Nova – the last remnant of the Roman Empire that has survived into the 21st century – is at peace. Carina Mitela, the heir of a leading family, but choosing the life of an officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces, is not so sure. When a blackmailing letter arrives from a woman claiming to be her husband Conrad’s lost daughter and Conrad tries to shut Carina out, she senses danger crawling towards her. Trying to resolve a young man’s indiscretion twenty-five years ago turns into a nightmare that attacks the imperial family itself. With her enemy holding a gun to the head of the heir to the imperial throne, Carina has to make the hardest decision of her life…


I absolutely love the idea of “the last remnant of the Roman Empire that survives into the 21st century” and how this concept is woven into the modern world in your books. Alternate history is a new favorite of mine and there is so much a writer can do with this concept. To make it believable were there any challenges you faced in the history aspects of this story and what advice would you give someone who wants a hand at writing alternate history?

Briefly, the tools for writing alternate history are similar to regular historical fiction, plus an overactive imagination and a good overall sense of how history ‘works’. I have written whole articles on this! Readers might like to visit my blog for the detailed handout I provided for my recent talk on alternate history (here), but

My top tips:

  • Identify the point when your alternative timeline diverges from the standard historical timeline and make it logical;
  • Research the divergence point thoroughly so you can set the scene accurately;
  • Anchor the divergence point story with references to the past;
  • Use elements from the historic record carefully, but not fearfully;
  • Think through the setting that has formed your characters;
  • Make sure your characters live naturally within their world.

Why alternate history?

Good question! ‘Althist’ is based on the idea that the historic timeline split at a ‘point of divergence’ in the past and the new timeline follows a different path from the one we know. And there’s no going back. Classic ones are what if the Germans had won the Second World War, or the Spanish Armada had succeeded in 1588? I sometimes wonder how English history would have developed if Elizabeth I had married and had children…

The writer can exercise her imagination outside of the confines of known history. What would our world be like if X or Y had or hadn’t happened? I think we’ve all experienced events in our personal lives we’d like to have gone differently. I didn’t know you could change or ‘alternate’ the historical narrative until I read Robert Harris’ Fatherland. Perhaps my early idea of a women-led modern Roman society could turn into a real story…

What part of the Roman history fascinates you the most and how long have you studied the culture….

The first of those is very difficult to answer as Rome lasted in the West over 1229 years; it’s like stretching from AD 785 to today. I’m fascinated by all of it. My favourite emperor is Vespasian as he brought stability to Rome in AD 69, but I also admire the trio of Augustus, the first emperor, his wife Livia, and friend, supporter and ‘fixer’, Agrippa. I first ‘met’ Rome at age 11 and haven’t stopped since. I clambered over most Roman ruins in Europe with my parents, but I loved it. So much that was left was elegant and solid; their history so concrete and purposeful. As I grew older and studied the Romans and Latin more formally, I appreciated what a complex, clever and determined society they had made. With sheer force of will, they had progressed from mud hut tribal subsistence farming to the heights of the Pax Romana with its rule of law, art and literature, trade, engineering, and ability to learn; Romans set the template for the western nations that emerged over the following centuries. I don’t want to sound too much like the John Cleese video, but you get the idea I’m impressed! However, we should remember not everybody lived well, especially at the lower end of the social spectrum, but the majority of people had a standard of living that wasn’t achieved again until the nineteenth century.

…and please tell me a little about your research.

Roma Nova has strong roots in Roman culture, attitudes and values. I ‘mine’ the late Republican/early Empire period for those that I transfer to Roma Nova, but with an eye to how the situation was in AD 395 and the conditions that impelled the colonists to leave Rome and found Roma Nova.

Some sources are scarce but detailed, others are plentiful but frustratingly general. I use the methodology I learned while doing my history masters’: check everything three times. And then you can project that forward in a historically logic way.

As your series goes….do you write in new characters or do you pretty much keep the same ones throughout?

I mix and match! Conrad and Carina are central to all three books. Some secondary characters like Aurelia, Flavius and Lurio are in every book, others pop in and out. Like many readers, I love meeting familiar characters again, and seeing what’s been happening in their lives, but new actors bring in an extra dimension.

How would you describe Carina’s and Conrad’s relationship with each other?

Fraught! Conrad is a bone-and-blood Roma Novan and does not allow sentiment to interfere with his job as a senior Praetorian officer. Until one terrible day… He has a strong sense of duty and honour, but also hidden problems dating from his childhood as we discover in SUCCESSIO. But his sense of humour and his love for Carina let us see another side of him. Sometimes, he is driven mad by Carina but feels a visceral bond with her. He cannot imagine his life without her. She just loves him, and fights for him with all her strength. But she has her own set of values that don’t always chime with the Roma Novan ones…

Was there a particular scene in this story that was a challenge to write?

Not particularly. The one I had to do most research on was about illicit drugs – not an area I knew much about. But I have a friend who was a prison officer, so I grilled her!

When you are done with this series, what is next for you?

Well, I have just written book 4 – that’s gone to my structural editor and I’ve drafted part of book 5. These two, plus book 6, form another three book cycle based in 1960/70s Roma Nova, and tell the story of Aurelia Mitela, Carina’s grandmother. I think I’ll be immersed in Roma Nova for a little while longer!

Where can readers buy your book?

Online as an ebook at Amazon, B&N Nook, iTunes, Kobo, plus as a paperback at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online; all the direct links are HERE

Alison, it has been a pleasure chatting with you and I would like to say thank you for being such a big supporter of indieBRAG, self-publishing and for sharing your wonderful and thrilling stories. The world needs more people like you. Please come back to Layered Pages again soon!

A message from BRAG:

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