A Writer’s Life-Part II with Valerie Biel

Valerie Biel BRAG II

I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Valerie Biel to Layered Pages to talk about-further in-depth-her life as a writer.

Valerie, what are your goals as a writer?

Initially, I had no goals. I had a far-off idea that someday I would write all the stories building up in my mind, but I put it off. I was busy. I had a job. I had kids, a husband, a house, laundry . . . I meant to write but I let all these things override that desire, along with the self-defeating voice in my head that told me my writing was unimportant in the vast sea of amazing writers in the world.

Then in 2003, my oldest sister died after a one-year battle with terminal cancer. At the time, of course, we were just devastated, but never thought that this very rare cancer would recur in our family. Fast forward to 2008 and a second sister is diagnosed with the same terminal cancer. My siblings and I quickly realized that this cancer had a genetic component, making us all potentially susceptible. Even without the possibility that this cancer could strike at any time, the loss of two siblings caused me to reflect on my priorities.

I made a life-affirming decision to embrace my writing, and all the opportunities in front of me. I decided that my dreams couldn’t wait any longer. I decided that it didn’t matter if I ever made the New York Times’ Bestseller list. I would write for me—just for the satisfaction of sharing my thoughts, my ideas, and my stories.

In 2009, I made this vow and began that elusive novel. I didn’t tell anyone other my closest family members I was writing it. Internally, I had a five-year plan to publication, but I didn’t voice this either. I completed the novel in 2010. I was encouraged by early critiques and contest accolades and kept going. For the next three and a half years, the manuscript was alternately being edited and marinating while I wrote two middle-grade novels. Finally, in 2014 I achieved my goal of publishing my debut novel Circle of Nine – Beltany.

Now, my goal is to write as much as possible every day. I have story ideas stacked up and waiting for my attention.

What are the boundaries you push as a writer?

I wouldn’t have said that I was pushing any boundaries (other than the amount of sleep I need each night) until I received a few mixed reactions from particularly religious friends. My Circle of Nine series highlights a Celtic pagan culture akin to modern-day Wicca. Some of my plot-lines also address the conflict between the early Christian church and pagan customs and the subjugation of women by a patriarchal society. Oh yes, and there’s magic! Lots and lots of magic. What’s funny is that I never set out to push boundaries. I set out to tell a certain story the best way that I could.

What are the changing emotions you have as a writer?

Ha – this is funny. I once saw a cartoon that highlighted the emotion of an author throughout the day and it went something like this.

I really suck.

Hey, this isn’t so bad!

This is brilliant. I rock!

Nope. My writing sucks.

That about sums it up. In seriousness though, we all go through bouts of self-doubt no matter what occupation we’re in, but I think it is harder in the arts when you are creating something that is so personal to you. I am much more confident at promoting myself and my writing now than I was when I first started. And I have a much thicker skin when it comes to criticism. You will never please everyone! When I get down about things, I can look to my successes and feel quite good about what I’ve accomplished. I know writers always say they write because they have to write. A better way for me to put this is that I am my whole person when I write. Allowing myself to embrace my need to be creative, brings a lightness to my world and a feeling of self-worth that is different from the other areas of accomplishment in my life.

Circle of Nine Valerie Biel II

What are your personal motivations in story-telling?

My main motivation is to write the very best story I can, which means that I work hard to create something that is both entertaining and intriguing and possibly makes the reader see the world just a little bit differently.

Define your writing style.

That one is hard for me. Hmmmm – define my writing style.

When writing fiction, I try to keep my modern-story style very true to the rhythm of current conversation patterns – particularly teen dialog when writing YA. The historical portions of my stories require more thought. The formality with which I construct the sentences becomes much more deliberate to convey the correct sense of time and place. I am very particular about word choice in my historical stories and double check that certain phrases would indeed have been used in that era.

I have this “thing” about including educational-type details in my stories . . . mostly this is a matter of good research and (I feel) gives my stories an authenticity about the era.

I use the word just too much and usually take out half (or more) of the “justs” when editing.

I don’t use commas enough. Thank goodness for my critique partners who are excellent grammarians.

I like writing in first person and third person equally well, but I always write in past tense. I’ve written one piece of flash fiction just recently in present tense and it won an award, so maybe I should try that more.

I wish I lived in England so I could spell favourite and colour this way because it looks so much cooler. And, because I want to call my cell phone my mobile.

Five sentences that describe your craft.

I have a vivid recollection of what it felt like to be different ages, which is why I like writing for teens and tweens so much.

Writing allows me the freedom to indulge my love of history through the research needed for my stories set in different eras.

Asking the question “why?” is as important as asking the question “why not?” whether in life or in story construction.

I attempt to create accessible stories that transport the reader to another world or place or time, entertaining and possibly enlightening them along the way.

I write the stories that I want to read.

Valerie Biel’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.

 Author Websites:





Amazon Author Page

Book Trailer



What it Means to Appear on Layered Pages by Anna Belfrage

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

Anna Belfrage

03_Anna Belfrage

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

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

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

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

A Pound of Flesh by Stuart S. Laing

A Pound of Flesh

Edinburgh 1745.

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

Robert Young of Newbiggin.

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

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

330 pages

Published February 18th 2012 by KDP

Available on Amazon

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

Interview with Author Christina Pilz

Christina E. Pilz

About the Author

Being a writer is not just what I do, it’s who I am. Even if everything else in the day turns sour, if I have written, then it’s still a pretty good day.

I decided I wanted to be a writer when my fourth grade teacher (Mrs. Harr) gave me a good grade on a creative writing story I’d written. And not only that, she added “I like your ending,” along with a smiley face. At that point, I was off and running. I’ve been writing and making up stories ever since.

I live in Colorado. I’ve tried to live elsewhere, but it’s always too far from my family, so I returned for good some time ago. Colorado is a brilliant location to live in as it’s not very far from either coast, and the local international airport is only an hour away.

Right beside my writing desk, I have a green arm chair and ottoman that I call The Vortex. There are two reasons I call it that. The first is that it’s always trying to suck me in and sit down and do nothing but think and read and stare at the sunlight and shadows as they dapple the walls and ceiling. The second is that once I sit down in the thing, it’s almost impossible to get up, as The Vortex keeps sucking me in.

Visit Christina Pilz’s website for more information. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Stephanie: Hello, Christina! Welcome to Layered Pages. Please tell me about your book, Fagin’s Boy.

Christina: Fagin’s Boy was my paean to the ideas in Oliver Twist. I wanted to write a story that would continue the tale of Oliver and those people in his life. Because while there are some characters who are mean to Oliver, there are many, perhaps more, who are kind. Looking back, I can see that one of the themes is the kindness of strangers, people who help you for no reason, with no benefit to themselves. But when I started writing the story, of course, I had only the idea of taking Oliver on an adventure.

And, in taking him on that adventure, I discovered many things about him that I’d not known. Oliver tends to drink a lot (he’s got a taste for the gin, you see), and drunk or sober, he’s got a violent, flash-paper temper. He likes his creature comforts (this I knew, I think), but he’s also fussy about having enough hot water and soap. Plus he’s a foodie, which, I’m sure, surprises no one. He’s picky enough about his food to turn away peas, but when he’s starving, he’ll even eat eel stew. (Not in this book, though. In the next one, I think, he’ll actually eat eel. And he hates eel!)

Fagin's Boy

Stephanie: I greatly admire Dicken’s stories and find your premise interesting. What inspired you to write this story?

Christina: When I was around 7 years old and my Dad was in the Air Force, we were stationed in Germany. I went to a German kindergarten, and spoke German, and everywhere there was the German culture. One summer we took a vacation in England, and for some reason, my brain became affected to the English culture, which, at the time, was the opposite of the Germany I’d been living in.

During the middle of this vacation, we were in London, and my parents dropped their daughters off at the movie theater to see Oliver! We were placed in the charge of a kindly bobby, and in those days, they escorted you to your seat. My brain was on alert (we were in England, where things felt different) and I cannot forget the moment during the opening credits when we finally sat down. (It was the graphical image of two pugilists.)

Long, long story short (too late!), I remember connecting with the character of Oliver Twist so hard, it was like a blow. He was alone and adrift from anyone who had his interests in mind. People were mean to him, he went through a lot of hard times, and yet, in the end, he found a home in the world. Plus, Mark Lester was so cute, I adored him, simply adored him. I wanted to marry him!

The other characters in that movie were vividly painted in my mind, as well: Jack, and Nancy, and Bill, and Fagin. I thought that the actors who portrayed them all did an excellent job; they definitely left a colorful legacy for me to work with. When Jack Wild passed away, I really came apart; I couldn’t explain to anyone what the trouble was, because, of course, I didn’t know Jack Wild, and had never met him, so why on earth would I be upset about it?  But part of my childhood had died, you see.

After seeing that movie, a few years passed until I realized that the movie Oliver! Was based on an actual book, so in Junior High, I checked out a copy from the school library, and boy, was I surprised. To a 7th grader, Dickens is a bit of a slog; the writing style is different, for one thing, and Dickens tended to dwell, dwell, and dwell on the most uninteresting things. Plus I was shocked to find out that a) Fagin gets hanged at the end of the novel, and b) that Jack is harrested (as they say) for a two-penny, half-penny snuffbox, and is simply and unequivocally never seen again.

For years, these ideas chased each other in my brain: Why had the story ended the way that it did? Why did Dickens write so many chapters about characters who were not Oliver? Why did Dick have to die? Where did Jack go? And, most importantly, why did ever single review I ever read about the book have at least one paragraph on what a two-dimensional milksop of a character Oliver was?

That made me mad, and, yes, I thought Dickens was sloppy with his character development; Oliver has no kind upbringing, yet he’s a thoughtful, gentle boy who has perfect diction. But to say that Oliver was two-dimensional and a milksop character? Red flags, man, red flags. As I read the book, and re-read the book, I began to understand that the milksop description of Oliver was somewhat off the mark than you might think.

Take the ur-scene, where Oliver asks for more. I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet who does not know this scene. Oliver takes a dare that has his knees shaking, and yet he goes up and asks for more, in front of Mr. Bumble and everyone. And then, afterwards, he’s locked in a dark room for two weeks. He subsists on bread and water only. He is taken out every day to be flogged in front of the entire workhouse. He wraps his arms around his head and refuses to cry.

Then there is the scene where Oliver is about to be apprenticed to the chimney sweep dude, Mr. Gamfield. Oliver quickly sees that being a chimney sweep is not a good choice, so he is able to convince several people who are insistent that he does go with Mr. Gamfield that he should not go with Mr. Gamfield. Keep in mind, that this is a 10 year old boy who is disagreeing with a) two magistrates, b) Mr. Gamfield, and c) (last but not least) Mr. Bumble himself.

Then there is the pivotal scene where Oliver has had enough of Noah Claypole’s abuse (at Sowerberry’s funeral parlor), and he rises up, the lion in his breast. He attacks Noah hard enough to send the older boy crashing to the ground. Then this small boy walks 70 miles to London to make his fortune.

When Oliver meets up with Jack in Barnet, he hears about a “kindly old gentleman,” aka Fagin. Oliver, in short order, resolves to himself that he will, in time make this particular gentleman’s acquaintance, and, at the same time, usurp Jack’s place. Oliver is all of 10 years old, for crying out loud, but his first plan is how to manipulate the situation to his own advantage.

Are these the actions of a milksop? I think not. That’s what stuck with me. And part of why I wanted to write Fagin’s Boy. Oliver is an underappreciated character, and I thought he deserved to have his story told.

Subsequently, while I honed my writing skills (waiting till the day when I’d be brave enough to write a sequel to something that Charles Dickens wrote), any story I wrote, any character I invented or thought about during those days, had elements of Oliver in them, and, by association, Jack. The two characters were a foil for each other; not that I used the word foil, but I felt, even in my young brain, that the actions of one character went nicely (comfortably) with the actions of the other character. Oliver and Jack were like salt and pepper, peaches and cream, and all my variations on that theme (Mark and Peter, Shadow and Pascal, etc.) were really, Olive rand Jack in different guises. Only the names and circumstances changed.

Stephanie: Is this your first published work?

Christina: This is indeed my first published work. I’m proud of it, because it was such a Sisyphean task, given all the real life stuff that kept trying to get in the way. I love the cover that Jenny Q designed for me; I felt it brought the story to life.

Stephanie: How long did it take you to write, Fagin’s Boy?

Christina: A long, long time, it seems, and much of that time was spent not writing it.

I started working on the project in 2007, which is the first time I was part of a company-wide layoff. I’d been writing stories for a while, since 1993, and that had always been fun and fairly straightforward.

The first draft (which took about six months) was 100,000 words, which I thought was a fairly good sized novel. I put in everything I liked, and nothing I didn’t. Then the story began to falter because I had spread myself too thin (putting in everything will do that do you), and the story felt like an unwieldy monster in my hands.

Then I talked to my editor friend, Kathy, and she was kind enough to have me walk through the whole thing. She very gently pointed out that perhaps the story was one I’d carried in my head for so long, that it was part of a younger me, and as a more mature me, I could develop something more sophisticated.

I put the story aside for a while, and came back to it. And then left it during 2008, 2009, 2010…touching it every now and again to make sure it was still there. I had the idea in my head that I was a writer, and as long as it was there, my touchstone, I could still continue to say that, even though I wasn’t really writing.

Actually, I was writing; under the pseudonym of Sylvia Bond, I wrote reviews for a website called Pink Raygun. The owners of that site were terrifically supportive, giving me free rein, and I spent most of five years writing reviews for a TV show called Supernatural. But long about season 7, I determined that I could no longer spend my time doing that (the emotional payoff began to drain; my readers were terrific, but the subject matter got old), and I bid Pink Raygun a fond adieu and worked on Fagin’s Boy some more.

Then in 2012 I was part of another layoff. I had learned so much from my previous time off, and had a good idea of how the story wanted to go. So I spent as much time as I could rewriting and revising and redeveloping Fagin’s Boy, and during the year 2013, I wrote the second draft.

Since the second draft was so, so, so different than the first one (they’re almost like two different books!), I would say that it took me 6 months to write Fagin’s Boy, three months editing and revision, and two months prepping for publication. So that’s 11 months with much real life stuff trying to get in the way.

Stephanie: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Christina: I knew I wanted to be a writer in the 4th grade. My teacher, Mrs. Harr assigned her class a story writing project. There was a pile of laminated covers of books and magazine articles or just pretty pictures. I picked up the picture that was the back of a Reader’s Digest; it was the picture of a boy and a girl flying a kite and a bear in the woods.

I combined these elements into a story; the boy and the girl lose the kite, and go into the woods to rescue it. The bear comes after them, and they are able to escape. The moral of the story (I put in a moral because I thought it was important; I was a very serious nine year old child) was that you shouldn’t go into dangerous places like the woods. Mrs. Harr really liked the story, and wrote on it. She said, “This is a really good story, I really like your ending.” Then she put a smiley face next to her comment.

For any child, and for me in particular, this type of attention, with good, positive praise, was rather like getting a shot of adrenaline. I thought, hey, I can do this! So I began to write.

Keep in mind that I had no idea what writing was about, and for years didn’t know what a sentence fragment was, among other things, but I began as I meant to go on. I wrote little fragments of stories and plays, took a stab at poetry, found inspiration in Star Trek and Dark Shadows, and kept writing. In Junior High, the stories got longer, and I found someone to illustrate my stories for me; that particular friend, Danuta, is now a terrific artist and paints horses, and gets her stuff sold in all the high-end galleries in Tucson.

Then in 7th grade, based on several short stories I had written in her class, my English teacher Mrs. Meyerlie wrote a letter home to my parents. She commented that I had creative writing talent and should be encouraged to continue. Whether my parents read the letter or not, I have no idea; they never mentioned it to me. I think I came across the letter, one day, sitting on the kitchen counter, and I was amazed at it. That this person, my teacher, wrote to my parents to say that I was good at something, it was like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. I still have that letter, pasted in a scrapbook.

Other teachers have been encouraging, if not instrumental, in helping me along this path: Mrs. Baird at Platt Jr. High, Mr. Craig at Fairview High, Russell Croop (also at Fairview), who monitored my Independent Studies Project, where I worked on creative writing, Dr. Brand at UNC in Greeley, and Dr. Stratman at CU-Denver. There are so many other teachers who helped me along the way I would list them all, if I could. Teachers were the foundation of my experience, and all of them had something to contribute, whether they realized it or not.

Stephanie: What is your day like for writing? Do you write every day and how many words a week do you average?

Christina: It’s a funny thing, writing. I know readers like to hear something specific, like, this was my schedule, and this was what I accomplished. But I’m about to disappoint because it doesn’t always work like that.

I like to think of myself as a disciplined writer, and when I’m doing it, I’m really doing it. But when I’m not doing it, then I can slack off for weeks or months at a time. This is terrible and makes me feel bad!

So let’s look at Fagin’s Boy, which I mostly wrote during the times that I was unemployed. I would set myself a goal to write X number of words a day, but being unemployed made me depressed so it was really hard to stick to that goal, even though I had all the time in the world to write. I would come to the page feeling unfocused and scattered – the caffeine I ingested at the coffee shop didn’t help much either – and would end up working on my 3 x 5 cards, and redoing the outline, and futzing around.

But let’s just say it’s a good day. I’ve had my veggies, and enough sleep, a decent breakfast, and I’m at my desk. I type fairly fast, so when I’m going, I can write anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 words in a few hours. There was one day I wrote 10,000 words in one day, but I got up from the desk and I was vibrating from head to toe, so I vowed not to do that again.

I once wrote 100,000 words in a month but nothing else got done, the dishes were piled to the ceiling, the trash was overflowing the bin, and I had no clean clothes to wear. But I remember that as a very powerful time in my life; I said no to everything else, and just wrote. But, if I’m sane, and if I’m in the middle of a project and I’m committed, I can on average write around 2,000 words a day, and that makes me feel pretty good.

Since I published Fagin’s Boy, I’ve been focused on marketing, so that’s taken time away from writing. I promised myself that I would start writing again on a regular, daily basis at the beginning of March, and so here we are. What’s the plan? 2,000 words a day, full stop. Plus blog posts. : D

Stephanie: What is it that you love most about writing and how has writing impacted your life?

Christina: Writing is one of the few, if not the only area in my life, where I get to say who, what, when, where, and how. My writing is a line that no one gets to cross. I will take input and feedback, but in the end, the final decision is mine. In the rest of my life, there’s more give and take, more teamwork, more getting along for the greater good. But my writing is all mine.

Stephanie: What book project are you currently writing on?

Stephanie: I’m currently working on the sequel to Fagin’s Boy. I figured that while I have the characters in my mind, and all those notes, that this would be the best time.

Also, I feel that Fagin’s Boy explored Oliver’s world a great deal, and that Jack got the short end of the stick, a bit. I had wanted to make Fagin’s Boy a two-person point of view, but I had so many words already, and every time I tried to imagine Jack’s life, I went down a rabbit hole that took me away from what I thought Fagin’s Boy was about. So now it’s Jack’s turn, and there will be more about Oliver as well.

Stephanie: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Christina: Write, write, and write. Keep writing. Write some more.

Don’t let anyone tell you what to write. Don’t let anyone tell you what not to write.

Take care of yourself. Your hands and your brain and your body are part of how you create your stories. If those parts of you are not functioning, and, just as importantly, if they are not functioning in sync, then your stories will suffer.

Read some books on writing, but not too many.

Don’t read those books on writing that have you do little exercises, as I think those are a waste of time. They are a waste of time because the little writing exercises have no context; they are separate entities and will not give you the heady feeling you get when you connect this character with that one, when you sync the details in your plot with the main story arc, or when you create the most perfect descriptive paragraph ever. You get all of those things when you simply write a story.

The books on writing that I feel are the most helpful are those that talk about writing, and how other writers handled their career. Stephen King’s On Writing comes first to mind, and the Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is also a good one. I call these books the kind that are about the philosophy of writing.

Classes on writing are okay, conferences/conventions about writing are fun, but the most important thing to do is find someone to talk to about what you’re working on. That one person, not an editor, necessarily, but that person against whom you can bounce ideas, but who, at the same time, won’t try to direct your writing.

Some people like writing groups, but taking your writing in such an infant state (“Bring two chapters and we’ll critique it!”) tends to make me feel like I am writing in front of an audience. That kind of atmosphere tends to make me, at least, clam up and shut up and stop writing. Everyone has ideas about what you should be writing; it’s hard enough working against that, why on earth would you want to sign yourself up for a group of them?

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

Christina: A lot of writing comes from the dark places of the soul. I have never, really, have never met anyone who writes or who reads a great deal who doesn’t have a jaggedly bad history. Truth be told, everyone has a story about something that happened to them, something so bad, so miserable and painful, that I’m constantly amazed that they’re walking around at all. But they are, and usually with some dignity, not spilling their misery everywhere. This makes me humble, for some reason, while at the same time, I’m taking notes. While I might not write about a particular miserable event, that knowledge sparks something in me that wants to tell other people’s stories.

The other thing I would like to say to my readers is this: live your life. Live your dream. Don’t let anyone ever, anywhere, ever, tell you what your life is for. There is enough pressure in the world to go to the right school, get the right job, live in the right neighborhood – there’s enough pressure from the outside world telling you who to be, that I think they’ve had their say and then some. Don’t listen to them anymore. Don’t watch commercials – don’t let anyone try to convince you that your life will be better because you have this watch or drive that car. Buy the car you want and then, when you’ve done that, express your inner dream.

I feel somewhat adamant about this point, because upon publishing Fagin’s Boy, I’ve had many, many people (sweet people, good people) tell me that they’ve always wanted to write a book. To which I say, you should write it! To which they respond, oh no, I couldn’t. I want to sit every single one of those people down, and stand over them till they’ve written the first word of their book. I want to be that strict governess with a ruler standing at the ready, and I’d say: Write that book! Do it! Do it now! There’s no reason not to, and no better time. With so many good, indie publishers (who will give you great personalized service) and the self-publishing option that makes it so easy to get your work out there – there are no more excuses!

Stephanie: Thank you, Christina!

Christina: You are more than welcome. It was a pleasure. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this character that I’ve cared about for so long.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/faginsboytour

Tour Hashtag: #FaginsBoyTour

Publication Date: January 1, 2014
Blue Rain Press
Paperback; 624p
ISBN-10: 0989727300

Buy the Book

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Interview with Author Robert Lautner

Robert Lautner (credit Mary Keating)

ROBERT LAUTNER was born in Middlesex, England.  Before becoming a writer he owned his own comic-book store and was a wine merchant, photographic consultant, and recruitment consultant.  He lives with his wife and children on the coast of Pembrokeshire, Wales, in a wooden cabin.”

Stephanie: Hello, Robert. Thank you for chatting with me today. Your book, “Road to Reckoning,” looks really intriguing. Please tell your audience about your story.

Robert: Hello, Stephanie. Thank you for this. I don’t do this very often! My story is set in 1837 Pennsylvania and is very much a “road” story as the title suggests. It centres around twelve year old Thomas Walker who is making his way back home to New York city after finding himself alone in the comparative wilds of the boroughs and counties west of the Delaware. It is also the story of the first practical revolver as invented by Samuel Colt, and the introduction of the true handgun to America.

Thomas Walker isn’t a brave boy, he’s secular and introverted and very much afraid of his predicament. He finds a reluctant protector in an aged Indiana ranger, Henry Stands, who is heading to Philadelphia and tags along with him until such time as their paths might split. Naturally nothing is that simple.

Stephanie: What genre does it fall under?

Robert: I originally intended it to be a YA story, and it can be read as such and I’d like to think that there’s something inspirational in it for young adults, but I suppose it’s regarded as a more literary historical novel.

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

Robert: I’d always known the legend of the young Sam Colt carving his first gun out of a wooden ship’s block when he went to sea on a merchant clipper and however apocryphal that might be I wanted that wooden gun to become a story. The idea that drove the book was that just the sight of a gun shocks people and I thought about what type of man could face down a group of armed killers with just a wooden model of one in his fist. Getting to that scene carried me through the writing and overall I’d guess that it took about ten months to write but I had it in mind long before that so I was always thinking about it and most writers will tell you that is part of the process. I’ve never stared at a blank page. I come to it ready.

Stephanie: How did you come up with your title?

Robert: My working title was “The Wooden Paterson” the gun of the story, but we all agreed that the title only made sense after you read the book and didn’t leap off the shelf so there were months of titles going back and forth from the publishers until my editor realised that the problem was that everyone got different things from the book so titles were rejected based on personal experiences from reading it. Eventually we decided on a middle-ground. Something traditionally dramatic but intriguing.

Road to Reckoning

Stephanie: Were there any challenges you faced while writing your story?

Robert: Not really. You always get doubts when writing, especially if you’re writing something that isn’t contracted. You don’t know if anyone is going to be interested or it might not meet a publisher’s agenda for that year or reach the right editor’s desk. But I was writing it very much for my own pleasure and that was enough to carry it. I wanted to read it.

Stephanie: Did you work with an outline or just write?

Robert: With historical fiction you have to do a certain amount of research before you start and that becomes a sort of outline but generally I just work out points that I want to get to in the story and that becomes my plot. But I let the story come out organically. I don’t rigidly plot as I feel that modern readers are so much better at seeing where a story is going due to a much wider cultural experience than past readers. We see so much more TV and movies that arcs and plots can be spotted a mile off. If I don’t know the end of my book it’ll be harder for the reader to know.

Stephanie: Have you learned anything new from writing your book?

Robert: It was interesting to discover that the period I was writing in was also a time of recession for the country and I could draw many parallels to that in the story. It occurred during a time of industrial change; moving from horse and canal to steam and locomotive and even something as small as going from coin to paper money seemed to make a great change to everybody. All of that was very interesting to discover and gave a great perspective of the minutiae of history outside of the people they teach you about at school.

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

Robert: I write in the corner of the living room. I live in a small wood cabin so the main room is the kitchen as well. I don’t think I could work alone or in an office. I like to be surrounded by my family. Writing is a singular activity but because I work from home I’m with my wife and children when I work and I’m thankful for that and its disruption.

Stephanie: Is there a particular writer who has influenced your own writing?

Robert: I grew up reading comic-books. I learned to read from comics. That is true. When I was a young man Frank Miller was writing Daredevil for Marvel. I never knew that a comic could be like that and then Alan Moore came along and comics began to transcend the medium. I wanted to write comics but had no idea how to do it so I got my own store and started to show kids what they should be reading. It was twenty years after before I sat down to write myself but I always remembered what it felt like to be moved by writing for the first time.

Stephanie: What is up next for you?

Robert: I have completed a new novel and am currently working on another. I usually start a new book before I have finished the last. That might sound like I work hard but I don’t. Writing is my relaxation so it’s a win-win.

Stephanie: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Robert: Don’t worry about the first draft. Don’t worry about the second. Worry about the third. If you can’t see the book by then it isn’t a book.  And a story is not a book. A screenplay is a story. A book should be more than just a story.

Stephanie: Sound advice. Is there a message you would like to tell your readers?

Robert: Read the book twice. And then read it for the first time later.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Robert: It should be available everywhere I hope! But one day I’d be pleased if you found a battered copy on a shelf somewhere and the pages were dog-eared. That will do for me. That’s how I found it.

Author photo credit: Mary Keating

Simon & Schuster


Interview with Author Barbara O’Connor

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Barbara O’Connor lived on a small ranch on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, where she attend public schools.  She graduated from Robert E. Lee High School, attended the University of Texas at San Antonio and McNeese State University in Lake Charles Louisiana.  Her first short story was published in The War Cry, and she wrote a features column for The Leon Valley Leader.  She also published country and western songs with her partner Jimmy Harris and wrote and performed stand-up comedy in San Antonio, Austin, and Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Her first novel, Goodbye, Paris Nash, received a B.R.A.G. medallion after a friend submitted the book for consideration.  She is currently working on her novel, The Resurrection of Elizabeth Moss.

Barbara lives in New Braunfels, Texas, with her husband and two furred family members.

Stephanie: Hello Barbara. Congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion. It is a pleasure to talk to you today. Please tell me about your book, “Goodbye, Paris Nash.”

Barbara: Hello Stephanie, It is my pleasure to share my experience writing “Goodbye, Paris Nash” with you.

Many times in life, I’ve been surprised by the impact a chance meeting has had on me. Since I am a believer in the adage that all things happen for reasons we do not understand, I used that as a thread in developing the characters of Siobhan O’Shaunessy and Paris Nash.

Goodbye, Paris Nash is a story about a friendship that develops in the face of adversity. There is a fifteen-year age difference between the two main characters: Paris is a fifteen-year-old girl who grew up in a loving family on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country; Siobhan is a thirty-year-old reporter who is divorced, and was abandoned as a toddler by her mentally ill mother to be raised by her grandfather. When Siobhan covers the judging for the Grand Champion Steer at the Alamo City Livestock Show and Rodeo, the two meet, and though they have little in common, they experience an immediate trust, respect and eventually, love for one another that changes their lives.


Stephanie: What are some of the themes you touch on in your story and is there a message you want your readers to come away with while reading your story?   

Barbara: There are three main themes: (1) We can make a difference in the lives of people we meet; (2) Everything happens for reasons we cannot understand, and (3) Love lives forever. The last line in the book and a gesture Paris’s boyfriend Charlie discovers in the book was the gesture that actually saved my life. I was so depressed after my son’s death that I thought I’d end my life. I couldn’t imagine going on without him. After a day of reflection and conversation with my God, the idea came to me that I didn’t have to leave him. I felt I had to keep thoughts of him uppermost in my mind, that to forget him even for a minute was to abandon him. So when Siobhan watches Charlie stop next to his Jeep each morning, touching his finger tips to his temple, to his lips to his heart, she asks him the meaning. He tells her it’s how he can go on. He takes Paris from his mind, symbolically kisses her, and tucks her into his heart so she is with him always. That becomes Siobhan’s gesture and the last line of the novel.  I’ve heard from many people that after reading about the gesture in my book, they have used and shared the gesture with grieving friends and family members. They let me know that it to helps them deal with the loss of their loved one, makes them feel they are keeping their loved one near.

Stephanie: Was there any research involved?

Barbara: Since the story is told as a retrospective, I did a lot of research to make sure the dates, event and activities were accurate. Years ago, when I first conceived of the book, I asked the news director for our local CBS affiliate if I could follow a news crew around. That gave me the information I needed to accurately portray the portions about KWNK where Siobhan is employed. As a representative of a beer company for thirteen years, I learned about the operations of a distributor, and actually won the Grand Champion Steer in fierce bidding at the San Antonio Livestock Show on several occasions. My Grandfather was a third generation rancher and I grew up around animals on acreage outside of San Antonio. I guess I’ve been researching all my life.

Stephanie: Tell me about Siobhan O’Shaunessy. What are her weaknesses and strengths?

Barbara: Siobhan’s weakness is her lack of self-confidence. Her friend Phyllis is always trying to bolster Siobhan’s self-image with makeovers and helping with wardrobe selections, but Paris helps change Siobhan’s self-perception more than anyone else does. Siobhan’s greatest strength is her belief in destiny. She has a determined spirit, takes risks, makes decisions, and allows herself to experience life to its fullest because she is purposeful.

Stephanie: Who or what inspired you to write your story?

Barbara: Back in the late eighties I became aware of a young girl who was, as Paris is, diagnosed with terminal melanoma. Her family was unwilling to accept the diagnosis and the girl went through chemo, radiation and all the means available to treat her disease, all to no avail. I wanted to write a story that gave that little girl a happier end of life. That is also the primary reason for telling the story in retrospect. Today there are some advances is the treatment of Melanoma that often, but not always, provide a better outcome


Stephanie: How long did it take you to write it and what made you decide to self-publish?

Barbara: It took years before I could actually sit down to write without interruption. Once I began in earnest, the process took about two years.  My mother was the impetus that urged me to self-publish. She is approaching ninety years of age and wanted to see my book in print.  It was the correct decision.

Stephanie: What is the most single challenging thing about writing?

Barbara: For me, the single most challenging thing is keeping it real. My goal is to maintain authenticity of setting, of character, of plot, of voice…of everything. I owe that to my reader.

Stephanie: Are you working on a book project now?

Barbara: Yes, I’m currently working on another novel set in Texas. The title is: “The Resurrection of Elizabeth Moss: It is a more personal story about two families struggling to survive the loss of their children.

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Barbara: A friend and fellow writer submitted my book. He told me after the fact and I was thrilled.

Stephanie: What is your favorite quote?

Barbara: My favorite quote is what I live by. It comes from “De Profundis” by Oscar Wilde…this is paraphrased, “I have to make everything that has happened to me, good for me. To deny my experience is to inhibit my growth.”

Stephanie: Thank you!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Barbara O’Connor, who is the author of, Goodbye, Paris Nash, 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, Goodbye Pairs Nash merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Inerview with Author Deborah Swift

Author  Deborah Swift

Stephanie: Deborah Swift used to work in the theatre and at the BBC as a set and costume designer, before studying for an MA in Creative Writing in 2007. She lives in a beautiful area of Lancashire near the Lake District National Park.  She is the author of The Lady’s Slipper and is a member of the Historical Writers Association, the Historical Novel Society, and the Romantic Novelists Association.


Hello Deborah! It is a pleasure to chat with you again. Please tell me about your book, A Divided Inheritance. 


A Divided Inheritance is about Elspet Leviston, a lace-trader’s daughter who loses her inheritance to a mysterious cousin – the hot-headed swordsman Zachary Deane. Elspet must leave her beloved English home and go to Seville to confront him. On the way she finds courage persistence, and much greater self-reliance. She also finds love in unexpected places.

 deborah's book

Stephanie: How much research was involved and will you please tell me a little about it?


Each of my novels takes about eighteen months. For this novel I researched by using archives and museums for the part set in London, and then I travelled to Seville to take photographs and visit locations for the Spanish part of the book. I also corresponded with various experts on swordplay, the almost-forgotten Morisco culture, and the art of lace-making.


Stephanie: What was your inspiration for this story?


I wanted a strong female protagonist, but found it was hard to give my heroine much of importance to do in the shuttered society of seventeenth century London. In the end I decided I would have to make her grow strong through the events of the book. This proved to be a much more satisfying arc to write.

At the same time as I was mulling over this, I came across a fascinating book about 17th century fencing masters and thought it would be interesting to research women who fought using rapiers and to find out more about whether any women used these training techniques. I have an interest in this through practising swordplay through martial arts. The particular Spanish training method I was researching is an esoteric system designed to produce a kind of ‘Renaissance man’ – or in this case, woman. I was also interested in a period of history in Spain where there was massive cultural change and Phillip II expelled a large population of Spanish citizens – an act that divided families and was to impoverish Spain for generations. So this seemed an ideal backdrop for my family drama.

Stephanie: Tell me a little about Elspet Leviston. What are her strengths and weaknesses?


At the beginning of the book she fits into a role cast for her by her old-fashioned scholarly father. When things go wrong she must find persistence and courage to get what she wants. Her journey leads her to discover there are many ways to live, and opens her eyes to new possibilities.


Stephanie: If your story was to become a movie. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your book?


I was very impressed with the film ‘Alatriste’ which I watched for some of my research into the Spanish fighting arts, and so I’d go for Viggo Mortensen. I also loved him in Lord of the Rings. For the female lead role I would choose Anne Hathaway who when she played Jane Austen had the quality of Englishness appropriate for my female lead Elspet Leviston..


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


Generally I write from my home office on an ancient computer, but my favourite time of year is the summer when you can find me with my stack of notebooks and research books in our garden summerhouse.


Stephanie: Do you have a favorite coffee or tea by your side while writing?


Tetley tea and a chocolate brownie (I hope!)


Stephanie: Who are your influences?


Anything and everything. I read voraciously – all sorts of things, not just historical. I’m in a book club too, so I read stuff for that. I analyse what works and what doesn’t in terms of storytelling to try to improve my craft. I like listening to radio and reading poetry too, so I guess it all seeps in somehow.


Stephanie: What book project are you currently working on?


I’m working on a Teen novel about a real 17th century character. I’ve never attempted a teen novel before, but thought it would be nice to tempt some younger readers with a love of English history!


Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?


e-book from Amazon US http://www.amazon.com/A-Divided-Inheritance-ebook/dp/B00CYM19CA/

e-book from Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Divided-Inheritance-Deborah-Swift-ebook/dp/B00CYM19CA/


UK Paperback from Amazon UK or bookshops http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Divided-Inheritance-Deborah-Swift/dp/033054344X/

US Paperback from Book Depository http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Divided-Inheritance-Deborah-Swift/9780330543446


Many thanks to Stephanie!

You can find me on twitter @swiftstory

Or at www.deborahswift.com


Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/adividedinheritancetour
Twitter Hashtag: #DividedInheritanceTour

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Interview with Author Mona Rodriguez

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Hello Mona! I read Forty Years In A Day and was absolutely intrigued with your story. Could you please tell your audience about your book?

Mona: Thank you, Stephanie, for hosting us today. It’s a pleasure. Our story begins in Italy, 1900. After years of torment and neglect, Victoria and her four small children immigrate to Hell’s Kitchen, New York, to escape her alcoholic, abusive husband. On the day they leave, he tragically dies, but she does not learn of his death for several years—a secret that puts many lives on hold.

Quickly, they realize America’s streets are not paved with gold, and the limits of human faith and stamina are tested time and time again. Poverty, illness, death, kidnapping, and the reign of organized crime are just some of the crosses they bear.

Victoria’s eldest son, Vincenzo, is the sole surviving member of the family and shares a gut-wrenching account of their lives with his daughter during a visit to Ellis Island on his ninetieth birthday. He explains how the lives of he and his siblings have been secretly intertwined with an infamous Irish mob boss and ends his unsettling disclosure with a monumental request that leaves Clare speechless.

The story takes the Montanaro family through several decades, providing the reader an opportunity to stand in the shoes of a past generation and walk in search of their hopes and dreams. It is layered with the struggles and successes of each family member, illuminating the fact that human emotions have been the same throughout generations; the difference is how people are molded and maneuvered by the times and their situations.

Stephanie: Is this story based on anyone you know or who you have come across?

Mona: The characters are based on family members, both deceased and living. I’ve had this particular story churning in my head for many years, sparked by the stories of my family’s past. Forty Years In A Day begins in 1900 and follows the incredible journey of a young mother and her four children as they escape from Italy into the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. That woman was my grandmother. The story ends with a woman who knows the father of her children is living a double life with another, but she loves him so much that she overlooks the arrangement rather than forfeit the man. Those were my parents. In between are the stories that I had heard from family members, intertwined with a twist of fiction and sensationalism to have some fun.


Stephanie:  Were there any challenges you faced while writing this story?

Mona: There were many challenges that I had faced undertaking this project. First and foremost, I had the idea of the story in my head before I had the skills to share it. I’m a mathematician and an environmentalist so this challenged the other side of my brain. While writing is something I always admired, to me, the passion was in the story and the writing was the vessel to get it told.

Second, people ask me how much of our book is realistic; especially family members who want to know if this is the actual story of what had happened. They try to draw a parallel between family members’ personalities and our characters’ personalities. The truth is that no one can totally piece together that puzzle of tales; there are parts to every family’s story that were pushed under the rug for fear it would tarnish the family’s reputation. The elders think they are doing their family justice by taking some of the more scandalous stories with them to the grave. When, as a writer, you realize all this, you are forced to conjure your own conclusions from the pieces of stories that you gather.

Third, I coauthored the book with my cousin Dianne Vigorito. She gave me the support and validation I needed to pursue this project. I was lucky to find a family member to work with, and she had an immediate interest in the idea. She grew up hearing the same crazy stories, some of which were almost unbelievable, that were told by our ancestors.  Working with another has taught me the power of more than one and the art of compromise.

Stephanie: Was there a particular scene you felt difficult to write?

Mona: The story of Vinny and Ava represents my parent’s story and the story that resonates closest to my heart. When they were alive, I had discovered secrets about their past that they didn’t want my siblings and me to know. When they died, I felt more compelled to delve into their past, but no one could (or would) tell me the whole story. I realized that I should have asked more questions when they were alive, been more adamant to learn the truth. I questioned aunts and uncles, but I sensed there were bits of their lives, and everyone’s in our story, that would never be unearthed. The story of Vinny and Ava is conjured from the pieces of stories I had put together, and my interpretation, especially emotionally, of what had happened between my parents.

Stephanie: What was the inspiration for your story?

Mona: We don’t realize what our ancestors went through to make life better for themselves and for us. What they faced was incredible—the living conditions, poverty, disease—and their work ethic was admirable. Although I had started with the intention of writing a story about my father’s family, it turned into a novel. There was so much more I wanted people to know about this fascinating era.


Stephanie How long did it take to write, Forty Years In A Day?

Mona: I started by writing down the stories I had heard and interviewing the elders that were still alive. It took seven years—researching, attending seminars, workshops, conferences, and reading everything from books on how to write dialogue to reading mainstream fiction and rereading classics. I also studied the history and lifestyles of the era.  Dianne and I worked on our own, and we also worked together several days a week, collaborating, rewriting, and editing. I had a story to tell and I knew it had to be told.


Stephanie: You did a fantastic job with your research. It’s truly a beautiful and thought provoking story. And I believe it’s written in such a way that the story transcends you into that period and gives you a wonderful picture of the human conditions.  


Is there a sentiment you hope readers come away with after reading your story?

Mona: Forty Years In A Day is more than an immigration story about an Italian family; it epitomizes the immigration experience and coming to America in the early 1900s. It reignites curiosity and admiration for what our ancestors had endured and accomplished to make our lives better. There are many themes that run throughout the story—the loss and rebound of hope, honesty, perseverance, forgiveness, survival, the list goes on—but I think the main theme is the importance of family. Forty Years In A Day also reminds us that every family has hidden secrets and that the choices one person makes echoes through generations.

Stephanie: The different themes in your story was well written and I felt that some of them hit home with me. Your story has given me a lot to think about. Especially about family and relationships.


Is there a character that you feel connected to in any way?

Mona: I have a connection to all the characters, but the one I admire the most is Victoria. She was an amazing woman who wanted to do the right thing for her children. Without giving away the story, I often wonder how she summoned the strength to do what she did, and if I would have been so courageous. She did it not so much for herself, but for her children. She was the ultimate mother.

Stephanie: I admired Victoria as well. She certainly pulled at my heart strings. What book project is up next for both?

Mona: There are six cousins at the end of our story. The idea is to take that next generation into the next era.

Stephanie: Ooo…I’m really looking forward to reading your next book! What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Mona: Read the works of authors you enjoy and respect, study and practice the craft, and try to develop a personal style and formula for success.  When reading a diverse collection of books, you take away, along with the story, a little of each author’s craft.

Thank you, Mona!

About the Authors

Mona & Dianne


Mona Rodriguez coauthored Forty Years in a Day with her cousin Dianne Vigorito.
Throughout their lives, they had heard many stories from family members that
were fascinating, sometimes even unbelievable, and decided to piece together
the puzzle of tales. Through research and interviews, their goal was to create
a fictional story that follows a family through several decades, providing the
reader an opportunity to stand in the shoes of a past generation and walk in
search of their hopes and dreams. What they realize in the process is that
human emotions have been the same throughout generations – the difference is
how people are molded and maneuvered by the times and their situations.

Mona Rodriguez has her MS in environmental Management from Montclair State
University. She is presently a trustee on the board of directors of a nonprofit
foundation created to benefit a local public library and community. She lives
with their husband in New Jersey, and they have two grown sons.

For more information, please visit the official website.


BOOK TRAILER:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfJ5p4qCzmM&feature=youtu.be

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