Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author R. Cyril West

Rob West

Cyril West studied Arabic and International Relations at the University of Arizona, and grew up on Air Force bases ranging from Hickam A.F.B. to Lincoln A.F.B. He appreciates the work done by our veterans to keep America free and views the men and women who serve as the real heroes of our country. There is no freedom without the heroes who serve in our armed forces. He currently supports the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the Wounded Warrior Project. If he is fortunate enough to be successful as an author, he plans to create a MIA Recovery Fund to help families of the missing find and bring loved ones home.

Cyril West lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and children.

Hello, Rob! Thank you for chatting with me today. It is an honor and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for you book, The Thin Wall. I am intrigued by your choice of majors in college. How did you get from Arabic Studies and International Relations to writing about the military?

I am interested in global politics and history. When I was in high school. I was attracted to World War I history and the creation of the modern Middle East. I have always been fascinated by T.E. Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia.

I gather from your biography that you were an Air Force brat. Was that the basis for your interest in the military in general, and POW’s in particular?

I am a proud USAF brat! I grew up on Air Force bases and among military heroes. My father served for 20 years and most of his pals served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The military culture is in my blood. One of my earliest childhood memories was in 1973 when American Prisoners of War returned home during Operation Homecoming. In writing about the POW/MIA Issue, I hope to spread awareness to the fact that many servicemen are still missing, as well, that the U.S. government has lied to families of the missing and to American citizens about the status of many heroes who were abandoned by the country they served.

Please tell me about your book?

The Thin Wall is a character-driven portrayal of the 1968 Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, brought to life through the conflict between an intriguingly cultured, yet conniving KGB colonel and the people of a small village who courageously (and sometimes timidly) try to resist oppression. It also tells the story of American Prisoners of War who were secretly transferred from Vietnam to the Soviet Union. The story is filled with tragedy, yet hope for the human spirit.

The Thin Wall

What was it about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that caught your attention?

In my research on the POW/MIA Issue, I uncovered little known information that suggests American Prisoners of War were taken from the battlefields of Vietnam in the late 1960s and secretly transferred to the Soviet Union – via Czechoslovakia. Once in the U.S.S.R., the POWs were interrogated, experimented on, punished and imprisoned in the Siberian Gulags. None of them ever came home. I felt the immediate weeks following the 1968 Soviet invasion would make for the perfect setting to tell my story because it was a time of turmoil and uncertainty. While The Thin Wall is a work of fiction, I believe the book’s premise — that the U.S. government was aware POWs were secretly transferred to the USSR (and not just during Vietnam, but after Korea, WWII and WWI) and did nothing to stop it. Most American people are not aware of this dark chapter in our history. Perhaps this is because certain bureaucrats in the U.S. government have conspired to cover up and erase the past.

How did you do your research for The Thin Wall? And in particular, how did you research such a secretive organization as the KGB?

Like most authors, I read a lot of books and articles online. I enjoy reading non-fiction more than fiction. My goal as an author is to write novels that make people think, as well include real moments in history. In The Thin Wall, readers will learn a lot about the political life of people living in Czechoslovakia under communism during the 1960s. In some ways, my novel is also a work of non-fiction.

What more can the U.S. Government and/or military do to determine the fate of the 83 thousand servicemen still missing from foreign wars?

Firstly, most of the 83,000 heroes who are still missing died on foreign lands fighting for our freedoms. For some, their deaths were met in a plane crash that has yet to be found, others went down at sea, still others were lost in a labyrinth jungle or a battlefield, or died in prison and were buried in unmarked graves. We must never stop searching for the remains of these heroes. We must bring them home to the country they loved and served.

Secondly, some of the 83,000 missing servicemen were POWs (by my estimate 9,000) who were never repatriated and ultimately were killed by their captors and buried in unmarked graves. It’s possible a few POWs from Vietnam could still be alive and incarcerated in Vietnam, Russia, North Korea or China. The bottom line is that all of these missing POWs were abandoned by the country they served. We owe it to them to not only recover their remains, and any hero who might still be alive, but to expose the crime the government has committed and kept secret from the American people.

Please tell me about Ayna and her role in this story.

Ayna is a single mother and an outcast of her remote mountain village because she is said to be cursed. In her late twenties, she has been in three serious relationships and all three of her lovers have died sudden and tragic deaths. As the story opens, she has given up any hope for love. When a egotistical and cruel Soviet KGB officer enters her village and begins to torment the local people, she rises up to defend the village while the villagers hide in cowardice. She soon attracts the KGB officer’s attention and he attempts to court her, but she refuses him. He grows angry that she has rejected him and begins to pick on her. Along the way, Ayna meets a mysterious doctor who arrives to the village and falls in love again. But the relationship is doomed. Or is it?

Who is Dr. Husak? What are his strengths and weaknesses?

Without giving away too much detail (and plot twists) Dr. Milan Husak is an American who fought alongside the Czech resistance during WWII. After the war he agreed to stay behind and spy for the U.S. government. However he became lost in the shuffle and was never contacted by anyone in the CIA, therefore, never spied. During WWII, he accidently killed 13 orphans. He has spent his entire life in Czechoslovakia as a pediatrician, helping children. In The Thin Wall, he moves to the village (where the story takes pace) to open a clinic. There he meets and falls in love with Ayna. He eventually discovers that the Soviets in town are holding an American POW. Suddenly his past has come back to haunt him. He is contacted by the CIA and asked to help rescue the American. It’s confusing for Dr. Husak because he no longer considers himself an American citizen. In the end, he must choose between his love for Ayna and attempting to rescue the American. Which will he do?

Were there any challenges in writing this story?

The book is very dark and doesn’t have a happy ending. There was a point where I stopped writing and thought about making substantial changes to the plot because I was so depressed about what I had written. But advisors, several of them Vietnam veterans who are close to the POW/MIA issue, encouraged me to finish. They reminded me that the POW/MIA issue is not a happy story and that my telling is entirely plausible. So I finished the novel.

Why did you chose to write a political conspiracy book?

I felt the truth about what happened to our missing POW heroes must be told. It’s been 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War. We can’t allow the government – at this point the few who are tasked with keeping POW secrets hidden from the public – to get away with a crime like this. We must expose the truth about what happened: that the government left servicemen behind in Vietnam, in Korea and after World War I and after World War II. Almost all of these POWs were hidden in communist countries, and except for a few, never came home. We must expose this little known fact to the American people so that it never happens again.

What are some of the response you’ve reviewed about your book besides the B.R.A.G. Medallion?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. In particular, I have been contacted by family members of missing servicemen. Like me, they wonder what happened to their loved ones. Their story of loss and tragedy is personal and very real. There is no greater reward than to be thanked by a reader who is missing a loved one.

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

I absolutely love being in control of the entire project. A true joy!

How did you discover indieBRAG?

I did a search for self-published book honors

And now, I have Author Stuart S. Laing as a guest interviewer on Layered Pages today who has some questions political to ask you.

Stuart: Had Dubcek’s attempt to loosen central control of the Communist Party succeeded in 1968, do you think it would have created a domino effect across the Warsaw Pact 20 years earlier than the era of Perestroika and Gorbachev?

In theory, yes. However I can’t imagine that it would have occurred because Brezhnev and his supporting cast of iron-handed cronies would have never stood by and allowed the reforms to take root. Keep in mind, the key to the break-up of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was having a reformer like Gorbachev at the top—someone who was looking to improve ties with the West. Like Dubcek, Gorbachev wanted to reform the political and social structure of what was defined as the communist nation; this included less government control over the lives of people and economic enterprises.

Do you think that Putin’s iron man image threatens to create a new Cold War?

It already has. Putin has nationalistic ambitions. He has secured Crimea and I expect before President Obama leaves office will make a move on the Baltics. If a major war breaks out in the Middle East with ISIS, or Iran, I expect the Russians to move quickly to secure their interests in Eastern Europe. As well, with the tanking Russian economy, Putin might do something desperate . . . like escalate the current hostilities in Syria. He has high approval ratings in Russia because he is seen by the Russian people as being a strong leader. He risks losing power by softening his image.

If so can you see a time when US service personnel risk being drawn into situations where they risk falling into the hands of Russian forces again, even if they are operating under the guise of anti-government rebels such as in eastern Ukraine?

We are possibly in the early stages of WWIII. If a large war breaks out in the Middle East, the Russians will likely side with Syria and Iran. If the war spirals out of control, and Russia invades the Baltics and also attempts to take over Ukraine, then yes.

And finally, does the situation in Ukraine have any parallels with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia back in ’68?

Absolutely. The leadership and people of Ukraine wanted to align themselves with democracy and with Western society. Only this time, when the Russians attempted to invade, the United States and NATO (and to some degree the world) were ready. But have they done enough to thwart a full-scale invasion? I am not so sure. I suspect the Russians will not withdraw from their proxy control over Crimea and have ambitions for future expansion. Right now everything hinges on how things play out in the Middle East with ISIS and the growing shadow of Iran.

Author Website

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview R. Cyril West, who is the author of, The Thin Wall, 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 Thin Wall, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

 

 

Interview with Author Lorna Fergusson

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Born and brought up in the north of Scotland, Lorna Fergusson studied English at Aberdeen and Oxford Universities. She now runs Fictionfire Literary Consultancy. In addition to her own workshops, she teaches creative writing at the University of Winchester’s Writers’ Festival and for various Oxford University writing programmes. Her novel The Chase was originally published by Bloomsbury and is now published under her own imprint, Fictionfire Press. Her stories have won an Ian St James Award, been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and long listed for the Fish Short Story Prize. Her unpublished children’s novel Hinterland reached the shortlist of four for Pan Macmillan’s Write Now prize. Her chapter on Pre-Writing appears in Studying Creative Writing, in the Creative Writing Series published by The Professional and Higher Partnership. Her story ‘Reputation’, longlisted in the Historical Novel Society’s short story award 2012, appears in the e-anthology TheBeggar at the Gate. She is working on a collection of historical short stories and a novel, the opening of which has recently won Words with Jam magazine’s First Page Competition. She has just won the Historical Novel Society’s London 2014 Conference Short Story Award with her story ‘Salt’.

Stephanie: I am so delighted to be interviewing Author Lorna Fergusson about her book, The Chase.

Hello, Lorna! It is truly a pleasure to be chatting with you today.

Lorna: Thanks Stephanie! I’m delighted to be here – thank you so much for inviting me.

Stephanie: Congratulations on the HNS Short Story Award. That is absolutely wonderful! Before we officially start this interview about your book, The Chase, could you tell me a little about ‘Salt’?

Lorna: I come from the north of Scotland and the story is inspired by memories of my grandmother, who was a ‘herring lassie’ at the time when the herring trade was huge. The fish were known as ‘the silver darlings’. The men went out to sea and the women followed the fishing fleet to gut the catch and pack it in barrels. Incredibly hard work and not in the least bit glamorous! My grandmother was working in Great Yarmouth, on the east coast of England, at the start of World War 1 and something she said about that experience when I was a little girl is what triggered the story.

Stephanie: How wonderful to have such amazing memories and to share them. I would love to hear more about your grandmother sometime…

Your story, The Chase, sounds amazing! I love stories like this and I have lots of questions and I MUST read your story soon. Please tell your audience a little about it and what genre it falls under.

Lorna: The story is about an English couple, Netty and Gerald Feldwick, who move to the Dordogne region of France. Gerald has fallen in love with a house there, deep in the woods near the village of Malignac. Netty is less happy about the move and is soon oppressed by the house, which is imbued with an almost supernatural sense of the past. We learn that their real reason for leaving England is to try to escape memories of a traumatic loss. They need to heal their marriage.

In France, they meet a range of characters, some English like themselves, some French, including the wealthy owner of a nearby château and a local wine farmer. Netty becomes friendly with a Cambridge professor who has retired to a cottage nearby. Gerald returns temporarily to England – and while he’s there he does something that will only add to Netty’s pain.

As the shadows close in and Netty learns the truth about her husband, her state of long-suffering passivity is about to change …

As for genre, well, that’s always been a tricky question to answer! It’s ‘literary fiction’, I suppose, though that can be an off-putting description. It has thriller, suspense and mystery aspects, along with satire of the English expatriate community and the social class system. The Chase has been compared to Daphne du Maurier – who famously wrote Rebecca – because the atmosphere of place and the sinister brooding quality is there, and also to Joanne Harris, who wrote Chocolat, because of the descriptions of the sensory pleasure of living in France. It’s Chocolat, with a darker bite!

The Chase_MEDIUM

Stephanie: Why did you choose the Dordogne region of south western France in 1989 for your period and setting? And please tell me, if it won’t give anything away, how the past is revealed to Gerald Feldwick and his wife Netty?

Lorna: I chose the Dordogne region because for several years my husband and I part-owned a house there. Le Périer stood on a hillside overlooking a vineyard – that’s the view I had when I flung open the shutters and sat at my desk to write! We grew to know the area very well, and I was fascinated by the rich layers of history all around, from prehistoric caves to Roman ruins, to medieval castles. Our house had an old bread oven built into the back wall of the kitchen and we were told the German soldiers used to get their bread there during the occupation of the region in World War II. I wanted to celebrate the richness of the location from its natural beauties to the pleasures of its food and drink. 1989 was a time when even more English people than usual were choosing to have holiday homes there or even move out there permanently, so there were villages which were like little England. The English and French have had a long-term relationship in that part of France, going back to the Middle Ages. There are castles there which changed hands repeatedly during the Hundred Years’ War.

In the novel, it’s Netty who is more sensitive to the echoes of the past, when she converses with the Professor or visits Claudine Bellenger, the châtelaine of Bel Arbre. She senses the dark memories of Le Sanglier – is almost haunted by them, you might say …

Stephanie: What is an example of the house’s history they live in and how old is the house?

Lorna: Le Sanglier, we learn, was built as a hunting lodge just prior to the French Revolution, by the Comte de Saint Eymet – and he got up to fairly nefarious activities there. What Netty and Gerald don’t know is that the location has been the site of dramatic events for centuries. The novel opens with the caves beneath it being painted with images of the animals of the hunt, like the famous cave at Lascaux. Only the reader knows those caves are there.

Stephanie: The past covers a pretty wide range of history from the Roman period, through the Hundred Years’ War, the French Revolution period, to the early nineteenth century and the Second World War. Was there extensive research involved for you to cover these periods? Or were some of them mentioned briefly in your story? And what is one of the ways the past affects the people living on the land in the modern period of your story?

Lorna: I did quite a lot of research, especially on the Roman aspect and the French Revolution, partly by reading, partly by visiting places such as the Roman Tour de Vésone in Périgueux and the museum there. Each of these periods features as an inset narrative, a self-contained short story – but I enjoyed relating those periods to the modern era by showing the ruin of a Roman temple, the descendants of a character featured in the Revolutionary period – and even the consequences of what happens in the World War II episode. I wanted to show that everything is connected and everything repeats itself.

Stephanie: Please describe Gerald and Netty’s relationship. And what are their strengths and weaknesses?

Lorna: Their relationship is in serious trouble, even though they’ve loved one another for a long time. I wanted to explore the effects of trauma – how individuals deal with loss, plus the paradox that grief can tear people apart rather than bring them together. Netty and Gerald have very different ways of handling their situation. Gerald is a doer and a talker – he has energy and drive but is self-pitying and lacks dignity, Netty feels. Netty is buttoned-up and passive – but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. She has a lot of anger brewing. She is also sensitive and creative; during the course of the story she learns a lot about who she really is – and she doesn’t always like that person.

Stephanie: Could you give an example of what their relationship is like with their children?

Lorna: I don’t want to go into too much detail, but alienation and secrets play their parts!

Stephanie: Please introduce me to Professor Rutherford Appleby. What is he a professor of and what is his role in the story? And does he know the history of the land?

Lorna: Professor Rutherford Appleby is genial and sensible and he understands Netty better than her husband does. He’s a kind of wise old uncle figure – but Netty has to learn he isn’t perfect either. He’s a Professor of Comparative Mythology and understands not only the history of place but the history of beliefs about place. He’s particularly expert in the Gallo-Roman history of that part of France and has chosen to retire there because he knows it so well.

Stephanie: In my questionnaire to you, you told me beautifully how you came to write your story and I absolutely love what you said. Could you please tell your audience what that is?

Lorna: The Chase is, first of all, an expression of love for France and for a special time in my life. The story came to me out there, via a vision of its ending. I started to explore what would bring the characters I visualised to such a pass, and the whole novel developed from there. I incorporated images of hunting and of tapestry to illustrate the tension between death and life, between destruction and creation. I focussed on how hard it is for people who love each other to handle loss – how people cope, or don’t cope, in different ways. My characters question the very notion of a benign order to the world and they demonstrate that even when you try to escape your past, the past is always with you.

Stephanie: Who are your influences? And what are you currently reading?

Lorna: My influences are probably too many to mention! I love writers who create a sense of place, definitely. I studied English Literature and specialised in Medieval English, so have an affinity with that, which meant I loved writing the Hundred Years’ War vignette in The Chase! Currently I’m reading an excellent non-fiction work, Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground, which is about the search for the spirit of place and why places are so important to us and have been throughout history. He lives in Cornwall and describes it so well – and Cornwall is one of my favourite places in the world.

Stephanie: How much time do you spend writing and where in your home do you like to write?

Lorna: I write in my study upstairs, which is a lovely room fast disappearing behind ramparts of books and piles of paper! It’s painted ivory white and a Greek island blue, which I find both restful and stimulating. As for time, well, there’s never enough. I run a literary consultancy so spend much of my time thinking about, editing and responding to other people’s fiction! When I do write, it tends to be in the middle of the night, because I’m quite an owl. It’s usually past 3 a.m. before I go to bed.

Stephanie: How has writing played an important role in your life?

Lorna: Writing is central – it’s central to my sense of who I am and what I’m here for. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer and even when I’m not being productive, I think like a writer – I notice things, formulate things in my head, jot notes and phrases on scraps of paper which then get lost, and wonder ‘What if …?’ all the time!

Stephanie: Thank you, Lorna! Your story sounds absolutely wonderful and I look forward to reading it soon!

Reviews:

‘Lorna Fergusson weaves a vivid but dark tale set in the beautiful Dordogne, where past and present fuse in a page-turning mystery. I could go back to this again and again.’ Alison Weir, novelist and historian

‘Superbly written, ambitious in scope, morally complex, emotionally challenging, this is a real page-turner.’ Linda Gillard

‘Steeped in the atmosphere, history and excitement of France … It is definitely the sort of book that is difficult to put down.’ Living France magazine

‘Lorna Fergusson has a natural gift for telling a story – think of Daphne du Maurier.’ Scotsman newspaper

The Chase is available as a paperback and an ebook and also on Kobo

Fictionfire Literary Consultancy

Fictionfire Press

Lorna’s blog, Literascribe

YouTube

Facebook and Facebook Fictionfire-Inspiration-for-Writers

Twitter: @LornaFergusson

 

 

 

 

 

Review: The Lost Duchess by Jenny Barden

The Lost Duchess

My Review:

The Lost Duchess holds several meanings for me. I love my countries history and I’m fascinated with the early settlers who came to the new world. The history holds such a profound interest to me not only because I love knowing about people of the past,  how they lived and built a new world but because this countries founding history is engrained in my own family ancestry.

I have read several books about the early colonies where the story begins with the settlers already here. This story begins in England with a young lady named Emme who is a lady of Queen Elizabeth’s court in the sixteenth century. Emme falls prey to a titled man and desperate to escape him designs a plan to leave England and make the long journey to the new world. Emme endures many hardships along the way and quickly develops an attraction to one of the men sailing with her named Kit Doonan-who has happen to have quite a life to say the least. When they arrive to the new world they find themselves not only striving to learn and endure the everyday life of a world that is unknown to them but a race for survival.

Emme is a woman of courage and strength and a person to admire. I was truly caught up in her story and her plight. I couldn’t read fast enough to see what she would do next and the outcome of her decisions and actions.

This story also explores the lost colony of the Roanoke. One that I have always been intrigued with and I have always had my suspicions of what happen to the colony and I have to admit I was impressed with the author’s rendition of the story. I recommend you read this book to find out what it is….and you will be caught up in the adventure of Emme and Kit as much as I was.

I thoroughly enjoyed the pace of this story and the beautiful descriptions throughout. This story meant so much to me that I still have this book on my night stand. That says a lot right there…..and the book cover, beautiful!

Stephanie Moore Hopkins

Buy the Book

Amazon (AUS) Amazon (UK) Book Depository

About the Author

Jenny Barden

I’ve had a love of history and adventure ever since an encounter in infancy with a suit of armour at Tamworth Castle. Training as an artist, followed by a career as a city Jenny (Portrait 2) solicitor, did little to help displace my early dream of becoming a knight. A fascination with the Age of Discovery led to travels in South and Central America, and much of the inspiration for my debut came from retracing the footsteps of Francis Drake in Panama. The sequel centres on the first Elizabethan ‘lost colony’ of early Virginia. I am currently working on an epic adventure during the threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada.

My work has appeared in short story collections and anthologies and I’ve written for non-fiction publications including the Historical Novels Review. I am active in many organisations, having run the ‘Get Writing’ conferences for several years, and undertaken the co-ordination of the Historical Novel Society’s London Conference 2012. I am a member of that organisation as well as the Historical Writers’ Association, the Romantic Nevelists’ Association and the Society of Authors. I’ll be coordinating the RNA’s annual conference in 2014.

I have four children and now live on a farm in Dorset with my long suffering husband and an ever increasing assortment of animals.

I love travelling, art, reading and scrambling up hills and mountains (though I’m not so keen on coming down!).

Author Links

Website Facebook Twitter Jenny Barden’s Blog English Historical Fiction Authors Blog

Monday, May 26 Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books Book Blast at Reading the Ages Book Blast at Literary Chanteuse Book Blast at Bibliophilia, Please

Tuesday, May 27 Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews Book Blast at Flashlight Commentary Book Blast at To Read or Not to Read

Wednesday, May 28 Review at Carole’s Ramblings and Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell Book Blast at The Little Reader Library

Thursday, May 29 Book Blast at The Maiden’s Court Book Blast at Cheryl’s Book Nook Book Blast at Book Reviews & More by Kathy

Friday, May 30 Review at WTF Are You Reading? Book Blast at The Mad Reviewer Book Blast at Curling Up by the Fire

Saturday, May 31 Book Blast at From L.A. to LA Book Blast at Gobs and Gobs of Books

Sunday, June 1 Book Blast at Lily Pond Reads Book Blast at So Many Books, So Little Time

Monday, June 2 Review & Giveaway at The Tudor Enthusiast Book Blast at The Bookworm Book Blast at CelticLady’s Reviews

Tuesday, June 3 Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book Book Blast at West Metro Mommy Book Blast at bookworm2bookworm’s Blog

Wednesday, June 4 Review at The Wormhole Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book Book Blast at Kelsey’s Book Corner

Thursday, June 5 Book Blast at Books and Benches Book Blast at Book Lovers Paradise

Friday, June 6 Interview at Dianne Ascroft Blog Book Blast at Kincavel Korner Book Blast at Caroline Wilson Writes

Saturday, June 7 Book Blast at Royal Reviews Book Blast at History Undressed

Sunday, June 8 Book Blast at Book Nerd

Monday, June 9 Review at A Chick Who Reads Book Blast at The Musings of a Book Junkie

Tuesday, June 10 Review at She Reads Novels Book Blast at Just One More Chapter Book Blast at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Wednesday, June 11 Review at Historical Fiction Obsession Book Blast at Books in the Burbs

Thursday, June 12 Book Blast at Big Book, Little Book Book Blast at Historical Fiction Notebook

Friday, June 13 Review at Susan Heim on Writing Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Saturday, June 14 Book Blast at Hardcover Feedback Book Blast at One Book at a Time

Sunday, June 15 Book Blast at Passages to the Past

Monday, June 16 Review at Layered Pages Review at Starting Fresh Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Tuesday, June 17 Review at The Lit Bitch Book Blast at Griperang’s Bookmarks

Wednesday, June 18 Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading

Thursday, June 19 Review at A Bookish Affair Book Blast at Girl Lost in a Book

Friday, June 20 Review at Broken Teepee Review at Jorie Loves a Story Review at The Musings of ALMYBNENR Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

The Lost Duchess_Tour Banner_FINAL

Interview with Author Jennifer Blake

Jennifer Blake

J.A. Blake (Jennifer) has been working in school public relations and marketing for more than 15 years. Her areas of strength are in feature and press release writing, publication design, speech writing and presentation, special event planning, and meeting facilitation. She has won numerous commendations from professional organizations, including awards from the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals. In addition to her work with schools, Jennifer is the owner of Blake Communications, a small company specializing in writing, design, and editing services.

Jennifer received a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Neumann University and a Master of Science in Management from Rosemont College. She is a member of several professional organizations, including the Public Relations Society of America. She is a lifelong writer and reader who, in her spare time, enjoys traveling with her husband, Kai, and playing with their dogs – two pugs named Calvin and Lucy.

Stephanie: Jennifer, congrats on winning the B.R.A.G Medallion! I absolutely love the title of your book, “They All Fall Down.” Please tell me a little about your story.

 They All Fall Down Book Cover

Jennifer: They All Fall Down is about London Drake, an aspiring musician with a haunting past. When he was 11 years old, London came home from school to find the murder/suicide of his grandparents. As an adult, he is diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and has difficulty coping with his past and the memories around his family. He is unable to form lasting romantic relationships and tends to use people, particularly women. As he becomes more and more successful as a musician, he becomes less and less able to cope, almost caving under the pressure. But London is a complicated character. He is very aware of his shortcomings – to the point that he’s in therapy for them. He longs to be a stronger, kinder person, but seems unable to make any significant change and often falls back into his familiar habits. He struggles with the love he feels for his family and the anger that his family’s past causes him. He must reconcile those feelings to find the happiness for which he longs.

The title, They All Fall Down, is actually a play on words for some of the themes in the novel:

First, we see in the novel that even the perceived strongest things are fallible. There’s a scene in the novel that references September 11 and the fall of the twin towers. London’s father, looking out the window of a hospital, points at the skyline where the towers once stood and says, “As big as they are, as tough as we build them, as strong as the walls are…they all fall down.” This line was written to give the reader pause … to consider whether London’s father is talking about the towers, or his own failing health. He could also be referencing the death of his own father, which is a main theme of the book.

Secondly, the idea of letting things fall away is the predominant theme for the book. For London, he needs to let the anger he feels for his family fall away. It consumes him and controls him. In addition, he has to let down his guard and trust in the goodness of other people. For any of us to connect with each other, we need to let our emotional walls fall down.

Stephanie: I can tell your story is heartfelt. What was your inspiration for writing it?

Jennifer: I co-wrote this novel with Nick Moccia, a friend and musician who I’ve known for almost 15 years. Many of the events in They All Fall Down actually happened in his life and his story is what inspired me to want to write the novel. While the book is a work of fiction, many of the scenes and characters are inspired by real people and events.  

In addition, They All Fall Down includes an original music soundtrack, written and performed by Nick Moccia. Many of the songs on the soundtrack are reference in the novel. So as one reads about the music, he/she can also listen to it and experience the character’s voice and emotion. I found this connection to music very inspiring.

Stephanie: Was there any research involved?

Jennifer: Yes! This book took three years to write! Because the book is based on real life events, Nick and I spent a significant amount of time talking about the events that happened in his life. I learned about his family and his upbringing, and I visited many of the places referenced in the novel. In addition, Nick took a recorder to his actual therapy sessions where many of the themes in the novel were discussed. He recorded these sessions (with permission from his therapist) and we listened to them together. Then we wrote. In total, there were about 30 therapy sessions which represent almost 30 hours of conversation.

In addition to the therapy sessions with Nick, we also researched places in New York where some of the scenes are set and we looked into police records from events referenced in the novel.

Stephanie: Sounds like your research was really in-depth and rewarding. As a writer, what are some of the challenges you face and what are the awarding moments of writing for you?

Jennifer: As a writer, my biggest challenge is actually finding time to write, as writing is not my full-time “day” job. It is important for me to keep my relationship with characters going and to make the story move forward. I am also not a linear writer (I don’t write chapter one, then chapter two, etc.). I write as ideas and inspiration come to me and then I have to piece those paragraphs together. When I’m engaged in writing a novel or story, the characters I am developing live with me. I consider them in every situation I’m in … trying to determine how they might react.

The biggest reward for me is when readers respond favorably to my work. More importantly, when they tell me that they’ve been able to connect with my story or with one of the characters, I am just thrilled. My goal in writing is always to connect with other people … to shed light on some shared human condition and to encourage readers to think about how they might react. When a reader says that the saw themselves or those they love in one of my characters, it makes all the hard work worth it!

Stephanie: I can so relate to finding the time to write and you have a clear picture of what it is like for the writer. To connect with other people and to encourage the reader to think about how they might react. When a writer can do that….the writer has written a good story. Have you written other stories?

Jennifer: I have been a writer since I was a child. I wrote mostly poetry as a child and young adult and I have written some short stories. They All Fall Down is my first novel.

Stephanie: Who designed your book cover?

Jennifer: I designed the book cover. I also have a background in graphic and publication design. The images on the cover represent elements in the book.

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Jennifer: After we published They All Fall Down, I was doing some research on the internet about ways to promote/market the book. I came across the web site for indieBRAG and was immediately drawn to its mission of promoting self- published authors.

Stephanie: Please tell me what your writing schedule for the week is like?

Jennifer: I write something every day, even if it is just in my journal. I just started my second book and try to spend at least a few hours on that every week. But I also started blogging recently (www.jablakewrites.wordpress.com) and am really enjoying that. I also am trying to spend more time every week reading. I believe that strong and frequent readers make strong writers.

Stephanie: Is there something you like to say to your readers?

Jennifer: I guess I would say thank you to those who’ve already read the book and have shared their feedback. I appreciate the interest readers have taken in London and his friends. I also appreciate constructive criticism. I believe it makes me better. Readers can follow me on Facebook (TheyAllFallDown2012) and on Twitter at prjenntacular or theyallfallbook. I’d encourage them to connect with me and share their thoughts about They All Fall Down or any of my writing.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Jennifer: They All Fall Down is currently available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and a number of independent web sites. It is available for Kindle and Nook as well. Direct links can be found on our web site at www.theyallfalldown.net

LINKS:

www.theyallfalldown.net

www.facebook.com/TheyAllFallDown2012

Twitter @theyallfallbook or @prjenntacular

www.jablakewrites.wordpress.com

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Jennifer Blake, who is the author of, They All Fall Down, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, They All Fall Down, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

Interview with Author Keith Robinson

Keith Robinson

 

Stephanie: Keith Robinson is a writer of fantasy fiction for middle-grade readers and young adults. His ISLAND OF FOG series has received extremely positive feedback from readers of all ages including Piers Anthony (best-selling author of the Magic of Xanth series) and Writer’s Digest.

Keith is a self-employed website designer with a wife and daughter. Originally from England, he moved to the United States in 2001 where he now resides in the sticks of Chickamauga, Georgia. Apart from writing, he collects young adult and children’s books. He has a bookshelf crammed full of secondhand hardbacks of varying authors from the 1940s-1960s, in particular those he grew up with in the UK. He owns EnidBlyton.net and is webmaster of EnidBlytonSociety.co.uk, both dedicated to the great author. Visit UnearthlyTales.com for more.

 

Hello Keith, congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion! Please tell me about your book, Island of Fog.
Keith: Thank you!

A lonely, foggy island is home to eight families. Twelve-year-old Hal and his friends have always wondered what happened all those years ago on the mainland, that unseen place Out There beyond the fog, and after an astonishing discovery in the woods the children are more determined than ever to find out what their parents are hiding. But their lives are turned upside down when Abigail reveals her closely guarded secret. According to her, the children are slowly changing into monsters! Are they freaks of nature, or subjects of a sinister experiment?

Each child reacts differently to his or her unique monstrous transformation; after all, one may feel proud to be a dragon, faerie, or centaur, but who in their right mind wants to be a sadistic manticore or cowardly harpy?

ISLAND OF FOG is a story of intrigue and conspiracy. The reader follows Hal Franklin as he struggles to accept that he and his friends are something more than ordinary children, and that their parents have been covering up the truth the whole time. With their trust shaken and the unexpected arrival of a strange woman from Out There, the children hide their frightening shape shifting abilities and pretend nothing is wrong.

Stephanie: What was your inspiration for your story?

 

Keith: I moved with my wife from England to America in 2001, and since I worked from home building websites, I was alone in my office for much of the day with no old friends to call on. That first year was a huge adjustment, and I didn’t have a whole lot of work, so I started writing. I remember standing out on the deck one morning with a steaming cup of tea looking at the thickest fog I’d seen in a long time creeping across the lawn. There was the inspiration right there — the germ of an idea about what it would be like to grow up and live in fog without ever getting to see a blue sky, to be able to see only as far as the end of the road. (I’m not sure where the turning-into-monsters part came from!)

Island of Fog

Stephanie: What are Hal Franklin’s strengths and weaknesses?

 

Keith: He’s loyal and fair with an unwavering sense of what’s right and wrong. He’s also a little slow on the uptake sometimes. For the purposes of the story, he’s our eyes and ears; readers follow the adventure from his point of view throughout. Since he’s been burdened with perhaps the most monstrous of shape shifting abilities, his friends often look to him to lead, a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.

Stephanie: What genre does it fall under?

 

Keith: This is urban fantasy with “ordinary” children from an “ordinary” setting. Characters that we can all identify with, who happen to have as-yet-unknown abilities, end up in a world of fantasy and adventure. The book, and the entire series, is targeted to readers aged 9-12 but suitable for all ages. I would estimate that half my readers are adults!

Stephanie: Is there a message you want your readers to come away with?
Keith: No, just enjoy the story. But many readers like the fact that the eight children — who seem perfectly normal at first, with quirks and clashing personalities — come together and stand united when faced with danger. And their younger, more innocent views of the world cut right through all that grown-up political nonsense. 😉

 
Stephanie: How long did it take you to write your story?

 
Keith: The first book in the series was a long process — over six years! This was partly because I was honing my skills and writing it bit by bit, changing my mind and rewriting entire chapters while learning that plot guidelines are in fact useful. But there were two years where I hardly wrote anything at all while my wife went back to school and our daughter arrived on the scene. And there was the fact that, as a newbie, I wasn’t convinced I had anything publishable. Once I’d self-published Book 1 in 2009 and received positive feedback, my confidence was boosted. Book 2 (and subsequent books) took only 6-8 months from start to finish.
 

Stephanie: Who designed your book cover?

 

 
Keith: Me. As a website designer by trade, I do a lot of graphic work, so this was just another aspect I could keep to myself. I enjoy the entire process — writing, editing, preparing the e-book, designing the cover — and couldn’t imagine hiring anyone to do any part of it for me. I’m a control freak. The only thing I share is the beta reading and proofreading. This is an essential part of the production, and something I would NEVER do alone.

 
Stephanie: What book project are you currently working on?

 

 
Keith: Three books, actually! FRACTURED is a collaboration with Brian Clopper (http://www.brianclopper.com). It’s a sci-fi/fantasy novel for ages 10+ and will be available for free in September. It’s a full-length novel that we want to give away to introduce readers to us and our other work. Read more about it at http://www.worldofapparatum.com.

Another novel I’m working on is QUINCY’S CURSE, which is in the late stages of editing and should be available later this year.

And I’m working on Book 7 of the Island of Fog series titled VALLEY OF MONSTERS (http://www.unearthlytales.com/island-of-fog-book-7-valley-of-monsters.html), also available later this year.
 

Stephanie: Will you self-publish again and where do you see this industry in five to ten years?

 
Keith: Yes, self-publishing is my life now. Website design is still my main source of income, but the balance is starting to shift as I sell more books and do less work. It’s a shift in the right direction. As for the self-publishing industry, there’s no doubt that it’s here to stay, but I would expect (and hope) that in the future self-publishing will be somehow more regulated to weed out those who are more interested in making a quick buck than writing something decent. I think indieBRAG is a great step in that direction, a stamp of approval from a reputable organization.

Amazon is the giant bookseller at the moment, and although Apple’s iBookstore and Barnes & Noble’s NOOK are second and third places, they don’t come anywhere close to competing. I love Amazon, but I do want other substantial avenues with which to sell my books in case Amazon suddenly decide to pull the rug out!

As for marketing, there are literally hundreds of places to list a book during a promotion but very few actually deliver readers. I would love to see more services like BookBub and BookGorilla who have an awful lot of clout for a fair price. So: less saturation, and better ways for serious authors to be noticed.

 

Stephanie: What do you like most about writing and what got you started?

 
Keith: I’m not sure how to define that. Why does anyone like doing the things they like doing? I just like writing and creating. I wrote and drew comic strips when I was younger, and although they’re terrible to look at now, there was nothing like the feeling of writing a series of stories. I was always a collector of books, too, and back in England I spent all my pocket money (allowance) on Books 1-15 of one series, Books 1-21 of another, and so on, gradually filling my shelf with all the different series with their matching spines… Something about that just makes me happy. And writing my own series is the best thing in the world.

Book 1 is hard, developing characters and story. Book 2 is also hard because you have to hope it’s as well received as the first. Book 3 is a little easier in some ways, but harder in others because it might be the final book of a series (if you’re writing a trilogy). Now that I’m writing Book 7, a lot of it just flows naturally; the characters are established, the readership by this point clearly wants more (otherwise they would have stopped reading earlier in the series), and all I have to do is focus on the story — and right now there’s plenty of it.

 

 
Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

 
Keith: A fellow author had been approved, so I applied by submitting ISLAND OF FOG. A couple of months later, I was the proud owner of a Medallion! 🙂

Keith Robinson

http://www.unearthlytales.com

 

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Keith Robinson, who is the author of, Island of Fog, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Island of Fog merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

 

 

Interview with Author Betty McMahon

A Rendezvous to Die For

Stephanie: Hello Betty! Congrats on winning the B.R.A.G Medallion. I see that your book (A Rendezvous to Die For) falls under the mystery genre and I do love a good mystery. Please tell me about your story.

Betty: Photographer Cassandra Cassidy does weddings – but only to pay the rent. She’d prefer more interesting subjects. Which gets our reckless heroine in a lot of trouble. During a newspaper assignment to cover a 1830s Rendezvous reenactment, she points her camera inside a sweat lodge, clicks the shutter, and finds the body of her nemesis with a tomahawk in his loathsome head. She can’t help but think “good riddance,” but the local constabulary thinks our meddling photog is the main suspect. Soon she’s up to her f-stops searching for the real killer – with her only investigative skills camera-related.

Stephanie: What was your inspiration for your story and how long did it take you to write it?

Betty: I’d been a working journalist for many years and decided to take a Writer’s Digest course in fiction writing. My mystery book was generated out of the exercises for that class. It took me a long time to write it, several years. Writing fiction is different from journalism and I spent a long time learning how – through writing workshops, tons of books about fiction writing, and lots of practice. It was the equivalent of another college degree!

Stephanie: Please tell me a little about your character, Cassandra Cassidy. How would you describe her?

Betty: She’s talented and independent, a little bit sassy, sometimes naïve and always impulsive.

Stephanie: Is this your first published story?

Betty: This is my first published novel. I won several award for short stories I entered in contests. I’ve been “publishing” for many years in newspapers and magazines.

Stephanie: What got you started in writing mystery?

Betty: The Writer’s Digest class exercises asked students to develop characters and a plot. In the process, I realized I had a mystery going and went with it. I’ve always read mysteries so it was a natural progression.

Stephanie: What is most challenging about writing in this genre?

Betty: Making sure you tie up all the details – and making sure it’s not easy to determine just who the villain is.

Stephanie: What’s up next for you?

Betty: Cassandra’s next adventure is set in New Mexico. I have it almost written and hope to publish it this fall. I still need to go through the editing/rewriting process.

Stephanie: What advice would you give to an aspiring author who wants to write mystery?

Betty: Most important – READ a lot of mysteries.

Stephanie: What is the one thing that sets your book apart from others?

Betty: Putting mystery’s new female sleuth Cassandra Cassidy in a setting at a 1830s Rendezvous reenactment is unique.

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Betty: From surfing the Internet to find reviewers for my Rendezvous book.

Stephanie: Thank you, Betty!

 betty M

I’ve worn many hats in my 30-year career as a writer — newspaper reporter, newspaper editor, magazine editor, copywriter, marketing communications specialist — and now, finally, author.

Here’s what made such a career possible:  a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Minnesota in 1982, and then lots of persistence to make that degree work for me. It had to work because I love writing and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

A RENDEZVOUS TO DIE FOR grew out of the intersection of my wide-ranging interests and my writing experience. Before spinning this mystery novel, I was an award-winning short story writer, and also won numerous awards in the field of journalism. A RENDEZVOUS TO DIE FOR actually became a finalist in mystery-writing contests.

I love the idea that A RENDEZVOUS TO DIE FOR takes place in a small Minnesota town and centers around the fictional Prairie River Trappers’ Rendezvous, a weekend reenactment festival involving local citizens and Indians from the nearby reservation. It was a great setup, just asking for a mystery story.

I’m still writing (do writers ever stop writing?) and have some scenes sketched out for Cassandra’s next adventure.

 

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Betty McMahon, who is the author of, A Rendezvous to Die For, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, A Rendezvous to Die For merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.