Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Ginger Bensman

Ginger BensmanI’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Ginger Bensman today to talk with me about her award winning book, To Swim Beneath the Earth. Ginger is a life-long student of the human condition with a deep interest in philosophy and ecology. She holds a Ph.D. in Human Development/Child and Family Studies from the University of Maine in Orono and has spent more than 25 years working in family support and child abuse prevention programs.

She lives with her husband in Salem, Oregon. This is her first novel.

Hello, Ginger! Thank you for talking with me today. Please tell me how you discovered indiebrag?

A couple years ago, I discovered a wonderful book, After the Sucker Punch by Lorraine Devon Wilke. Wilke’s book was a recipient of the Indiebrag award, and after I read her book, I began to notice and appreciate that little gold medallion as an indicator of quality. Two years later, when I published my own book, I knew I wanted to submit it to the Indiebrag process. The possibility of winning a medallion was an exciting but secondary motivation, mostly, I wanted a straight up evaluation of my novel. Indiebrag is a gift to readers and independent authors, helping readers find high caliber indie books, and supporting writers to produce their best work.

To Swim Beneath the Earth BRAGTell me about your book, To Swim Beneath the Earth.

To Swim Beneath the Earth is a literary novel about the possibility of reincarnation. Megan Kimsey, my protagonist, is a young emergency room physician from a small town in South Western Colorado. Since early childhood, she has been haunted by premonitions and dreams that, in the context of her life, make no sense. Her mother sees these experiences as evidence of a psychological disorder and brings in a psychiatrist to cure Megan of her hallucinations. But her father, with whom she shares a close and loving relationship, tries to help her understand and explore what’s happening to her. When he is killed in a hit-and-run accident, Megan is devastated, but the memory of his love and his belief in her, and the belated birthday gift she finds from him after his death, give her the courage to embark on an expedition to Colombia and Ecuador, determined to face her phantoms and piece together the riddles in her dreams.

Describe the La Plata Mountains.

I spent my growing-up years practically in the shadow of the La Plata Mountains. Geographically, the La Platas are a range of mountains in Southwestern Colorado, about a 14 mile drive from Durango, the setting for the first half of my novel, and the town where I was born. When I think of the La Platas, I think of snow-fed rivers, forests of aspen and evergreens, cool mornings, and clean pine-scented air. I spent a lot of time in those mountains. My grandfather was a hunting guide, my uncle was a forest service trapper, and my dad was an avid fly fisherman. My family spent several weeks every summer hiking and camping in the La Platas, and sometimes packing into remote areas on horseback. I learned at an early age to love and respect the Colorado mountains in a very intimate way.

Will you tell me one of the images that Megan is haunted by?

Throughout the book, Megan is haunted by sightings of the puma in both her waking and dreamlife. The puma is at once fearsome and comforting, and the she-cat often appears when Megan is stressed or at a transition point. The puma is a vestige from Megan’s former life and self (her power animal) meant to urge Megan toward some necessary but unknown (to her) future. In native mythology, the puma, the condor, and the snake make up the Incan trinity, and I give each of them their moment in the book. For the Incas, the condor represented sky—capable of taking messages to the gods and a being that does not hunt but feeds only on the dead; the snake travels to the underworld to shed its skin and be reborn; the puma represents earth and signifies patience and strength, characteristics Megan will need if she’s going to find what she’s looking for.

Talk about the courage and strength of Megan—and possibly the isolation she may feel with these attributes.

Because of Megan’s innate sense of what she knows to be true, the memories she has that are foreign to her own lifetime and culture, and her visions (past and future) that, if known, could make her seem strange and even dangerous, she has to be courageous and strong just to be herself. She has to keep secrets and tell lies, or else suffer assaults from the people (her mother, her friends, everyone but her father) and institutions (her church, medical community, etc.) that are supposed to protect and take care of her. She’s in a true double bind, and that makes her reluctant to trust or get close to other people.

I find your premise really fascinating. What inspired you to write this story?

To Swim Beneath the Earth really came about as an accumulation of ideas and images. For years, I was haunted by two different news stories. One, a newspaper article I’d read about a little girl from the American Midwest who died on the front porch of her family’s home during a snowstorm; the other, a feature with glossy photographs in the National Geographic about an Incan child that archeologists found sacrificed near the summit of El Plomo in Chile. The two children lived centuries and worlds apart, yet, in my mind, they kept converging.  Those two images became foundational when I began to pull together ideas to write a book about a young woman who has experiences that put her in conflict with the concrete “realities” of her life. At one point in the novel, Megan’s father says to her, “Just because something’s crazy doesn’t mean it isn’t true,” and, at least for me, that statement is the fulcrum of the novel.

Where can a reader buy your book?

It’s available as an e-book from Amazon, and from both Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback.

What are your personal motivations in story-telling?

I think, like most writers, my aim is to write the kind of story that I enjoy reading. I want the story I’m telling to be able to be experienced and understood on many levels. I’m an avid reader and I have author heroes whose work thrills and inspires me; I’d like to offer that same kind of reading experience to my readers.

Define your writing style.

I would say my writing is character driven and descriptive. I give my characters a lot of latitude to do what they will, and language is important to me. I love to parse words and create images.

What’s up next for you?

I’m working on a novel about two aging sisters coming to terms with each other and the indignities of growing older.  I hope to have it published next spring.

Thank you, Ginger!

Author Website

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to Ginger Bensman who is the author of, To Swim Beneath the Earth, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, 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, To Swim Beneath the Earth, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

indiebrag team member

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Elle Jacklee

Elle-Jacklee BRAGI’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Elle Jacklee to talk with me today about her book, The Tree of Minala. Elle’s professional titles have included software programmer, bilingual sales rep, and proposal specialist. But her favorite title, besides wife and mother, is author! It’s the only one that lets her call daydreaming “research”. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two young sons, none of whom are in a hurry to grow up, and that’s just fine with her!

Thank you for chatting with me today, Elle! Tell me how you discovered indiebrag?

Thanks very much for having me! I discovered indieBrag when I was book shopping online and saw a book listed as a B.R.A.G. medallion honoree. I’d already read the book so I knew the high quality of it, and I’ve since gone on to read other wonderful titles that have earned the same distinction.

Please tell me a little about your story, The Tree of Mindala and how you came up with the title.

Sure. The main character, Miranda Moon, has always had a vivid imagination, and it’s had a way of getting her into trouble. But when she and her younger brother are mysteriously thrust into Wunderwood, a world they never knew existed, a world where magic flows through the trees, and everyone knows their family name, where an evil villain has a score to settle with every branch of their family tree, Miranda realizes everything she’s imagined may not be fiction after all. When she discovers her own role in the villain’s sudden release from a long banishment, she knows it’s up to her to stop him before he destroys the entire realm. The only problem is, the one thing that could save it has just as much chance as dooming it forever.

The name “Mindala” is actually an anagram of a name in my family.

What was your inspiration in creating your character, Miranda Moon?

I always had a vivid imagination as a child, and I think most kids do. (Some of us never grow out of it, apparently 😉 I think it’s one of the best things about being a child, and it’s also the reason I think kids will find Miranda easy to relate to. Who, during their childhood, hasn’t been in that position? Of believing in something so deeply even though other people, especially people older than them, think is silly or couldn’t possibly be real? I think the moment we stop believing in those things, when some of that wonder starts to fade, is a bit sad. So Miranda’s story explores the question of “What if it’s not just your imagination?” And I hope her story is also a reminder to always look for those things in life that are magic in their own way. The idea is that what’s real is magic and what’s magic is real. It’s all just a matter of perspective.

The Tree of Mindala BRAGDescribe Wunderwood.

Imagine flowers and leaves and trees in shapes, colors, and sizes you’ve never seen before. Then imagine animals, some familiar, some unlike any you’ve seen before, that stand on two legs and speak in your language. Imagine, not lightning, but black, jagged bolts that rip through the sky. And people who use magic and have other unique abilities. I hope this gives you a taste of it, but there’s much more to discover in the pages of the book…

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

The characters are all different, each with their own characteristics that can be to their advantage or not, depending on the circumstances. Though serious topics and important questions are raised for the readers to ask themselves, the tone is humorous and sometimes whimsical, so that it’s all easy for them to digest.

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

Miranda is sensitive about her active imagination so it’s no wonder that she’s driven to find out everything she can about Wunderwood. It validates her position that just because something seems “unbelievable” or “fantastical” or “impossible”, doesn’t mean that it is, that it can’t be real.

I can imagine you had great fun writing this story. Did you face any challenges?

I had a blast writing this book and its sequel! My main challenge was finding time to write it. I’m a mom of two rambunctious young boys who keep me very busy! But I have recently made the commitment to writing full-time (or as close as a busy mom can get to “full-time” 😉 so I’ll be able to produce much faster than I had in the past.

Could you share an excerpt?

““Where are we?” Marcus whispered.

Miranda took another slow look around. “I don’t know exactly… but it seems like we may be inside the globe I found under the floor in our bedroom at the cabin… or maybe the globe is a replica of a real place, and we’ve somehow been transported there.”

Marcus crossed his arms and rolled his eyes at Miranda, which was his usual reaction to her storytelling.

“Well, look around you!” Miranda’s arm swept their surroundings. “This doesn’t look like the bedroom we were in a second ago, does it? But it does look like the scene in this water globe. You explain it!” Miranda held the globe up in front of Marcus for emphasis, and at that moment, the ground rose beneath them. She slowly pulled the globe back toward her, and the ground beneath their feet fell at the same rate back to where it had been.

“I think this world is being affected by what happens in this world!” Miranda whispered, pointing to the water globe. Slowly, Marcus approached the curious trinket while Miranda gazed at it from above. That’s when they discovered the miniature versions of themselves inside. Something else was different, too. A candle’s flame flickered orange through the little house’s door, which was ajar.

“That’s strange,” Miranda said. “I’m pretty sure that door was completely closed the first time I saw it through this thing.”

That’s strange?!””

Where can readers buy your book?

“It’s currently available on Amazon, and will soon be available at all the major retailers.”

What is up next for you?

I’m continuing to work on the Wunderwood Series (I’ve planned for 4 books in all). I am also working on two other projects. One is the conclusion to my Etchings and Embers series (a Muirwood fan-fiction series, the first of which you can find here .) The second is also unrelated to Wunderwood, but my muse insists it require my immediate attention J But Wunderwood Book 2, The Triad of the Tree, is now available!

Thanks again, Stephanie, for having me! It was a pleasure!

Author Links:

Amazon

Website

Facebook

Twitter

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to Elle Jacklee who is the author of, The Tree of Mindala, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, 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 Tree of Mindala, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

indiebrag team member

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

Garrith OReilly BRAG II’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree G.J. Reilly to Layered Pages! By day, G. J. Reilly is a teacher of (mostly) ICT and Computing in the South Wales valleys, where he lives with his long-suffering wife and 2.4 cats. 

He has an eclectic selection of hobbies, from playing a number of musical instruments with varying degrees of competence to learning the art of contact juggling and teaching sword-based martial arts. Having gained his degree, he spent ten years working in industry, before deciding to change career and head into education.

With an interest in high fantasy, contemporary fantasy and science fiction from a young age, it comes as no surprise that his first work falls into the young adult contemporary fantasy genre.

Hello, G.J.! Welcome back to Layered Pages. It is a delight to be chatting with you again and congrats on another B.R.A.G. Medallion. Please tell your audience how you discovered indieBRAG and self-publishing in general.

Hi Stephanie and thanks very much for having me again, it’s great to be back.

I decided to follow the self-publishing route mainly because I was completely new to the industry. I’ve been writing on and off since I was young, but ‘Inquisitor’ was the very first full-length manuscript I’d ever produced. When a friend got in touch to tell me that there was an exciting open submission opportunity a few years back, I jumped the gun a little and sent it out unpolished and unrefined. What really surprised me was how long it went un-rejected! Of course, with the huge number other submissions, I finally received my very first ‘no’ and was surprised to find that it was incredibly polite and sincere. That’s when I discovered the indie writing community. But until I joined the Goodreads Kindle User Forum in early 2015, I had no idea how vast that community was. Well, one thing led to another and I soon noticed indieBRAG’s name on my screen time and again.

After looking at the quality of work submitted by other honorees at the time, I didn’t think that ‘Inquisitor’ would stand a chance of being accepted, so I put it out of my mind. Then, sometime during that summer, another writer friend brought indieBRAG up in conversation again and persuaded me to send my details. So I did. Then I forgot all about it again, so that I wouldn’t be too disappointed when it was rejected.

Well, I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone who’s received that confirmation from Geri how it feels! Now I visit the site every day just to marvel at the company I’m keeping and to check out the blog and read the interviews.

Piper_altTell me about your story, Piper.

‘Piper’ continues the Book of Jerrick story two years from the end of part one. Now a Grand Inquisitor in training (under the watchful eye of the ever-present Mr Catchpole), Tamara learns that Michael is alive and begins to form a plan on how to rescue him from the clutches of the Elder Council.

Meanwhile, having fled from their home at the old Masonic temple, Michael, Anna, and their friends learn that the Flayers – grim, half-dead shadows that lurk in the world between the mirror portals – have been growing in number and that the Piper of legend has returned to settle a score with an old enemy.

When Jerrick is forced to take refuge, things inevitably take a turn for the worst. In his absence, the more militant elders of the Council decide that the time is right to break with their passive traditions and take the war to the Inquisition. Having been ordered to guide a team of would-be assassins back to the academy, events take an even darker turn for Michael, as a heart-wrenching mission becomes a battle for survival.

Please tell me about the new Grand Inquisitor and what is the mood or tone he/she makes and how does this affect the story?

Although Tamara Bloodgood is the new Grand Inquisitor, she is very much the puppet monarch of the Inquisition in Britain until she’s eligible to take up her reign at 16.  In spite of the fact that Tamara’s story seems to take more of a backseat in ‘Piper’, she’s perhaps more important than Michael to the tone of the story.

Tamara’s decisions impact the story from the very first page, bringing the Inquisition closer to open conflict with the Council than we’ve ever seen them. Her intentions are absolutely clear and she even goes as far as brokering a deal with the Piper to achieve her goals. Even when she discovers the truth, Tamara’s still intent on the destruction of the Council once she’s rescued Michael from his ‘captors’.

‘Piper’ takes a very much darker, broodier tone than ‘Inquisitor’, but it’s not all Tamara’s fault. It was intended to reflect the changing moods most of us experience during our teenage years. But I didn’t want it to be the angst-ridden melodrama of some other coming of age stories either. Michael’s rite of passage comes in a single incident, where we can tell the kind of person he’ll be later on, but Tamara’s is drawn out for almost the entire length of the book.

Her attempts to break out from under Catchpole’s shadow only serve to draw unwanted attention from some important people. In a way, her drive to succeed forces the magister’s hand towards the end of the book and leads us into the next part of the story. For me, that’s where the most dramatic change happens. I don’t want to reveal the ending, but I wanted there to be an icy feeling to it that reflects what happens to Tamara. Hopefully, readers will feel the full impact of that change in the next book.

Who is Jerrick and what are his motivations?

Simply, Jerrick is the genie of the lamp. His story is a mishmash of the original ‘nights’ legend and the story of Solomon and the Djin (with a few embellishments). Unfortunately, because of the nature of his imprisonment, he decided long before the beginning of the series that he couldn’t lead the Elder Council any longer and now only serves as an advisor.

His motives for everything from the time we first meet him at the end of ‘Inquisitor’ are driven by guilt. To a certain extent, he was responsible for the beginning of the war and for the creation of the Inquisition. When we next meet him, we learn about his part in the Pied Piper’s tale and why he carries a share of the burden for the missing children of Hamelin.

‘Piper’ reveals a little more of Jerrick’s past, and of how a once compassionate idealist becomes the vengeful trickster of many folktales. He’s is a paradox in that his actions seem to be for the good of the Council and for the people he cares for, but his motivation is his own redemption for past mistakes.

Please share with me something suspenseful in your story.

I’d love to, but rather than hearing about from me, here it is:

“ Michael closed his eyes again, centering on the Inquisitor closest to him. Extending his will, he let it wander until it met the warrior’s defences, feeling an unpleasant tingling in his brain as he came into contact with the barrier. Tracing the line of the wall upwards until the tingling subsided, Michael pushed his mind over the top until he came into contact with the barrier’s caster. The Inquisitor’s head snapped upwards immediately. The sickening renewed tingling broke Michael’s concentration.

Okay, he thought. I can’t attack, but perhaps I can disarm.

Just as he had done time and again, Michael began to draw on his target’s power. He willed it upwards until the ribbon of energy arched over the Inquisitor’s shield and wound towards him. Risking a glance, he was elated to see that his attack had gone unnoticed. He stopped, knowing her suspicions would be raised if she suddenly ran out of power.

Is it possible to do more than one at a time? Michael wondered.

Stretching out again, he began with the woman and spread his attention to the next Inquisitor in the circle. As both streamers rose, Michael felt a noticeable difference in the ease of his endeavour, but it was still manageable, so he moved on to a third. The tricolour of energy felt like a sack of wet sand on Michael’s mind, and when it reached him, the squirming of it made him blanch. His stomach felt like he’d eaten an eight-course meal, and his head spun from the effort of moving so much weight so far.

It’s just like the trials, he reassured himself. If I can move an anvil, I can do this. What did Rupert say: “let’s kick some serious booty,”?

This time, he took a deep breath and let his shoulders drop. Watching through closed eyelids, he drew on the nearest Inquisitor once more, splitting his attentions in both directions. The weight of it was much easier to bear as he directed the ribbons to a space above the centre of the circle and held it there. Extending his will to the next in line, Michael felt a jolt of pressure as he watched the fresh colours mingle with the others.

By the time he had completed the circle, his shoulders were shaking and sweat poured down his face.  He groaned with effort, trying to control the ball of energies that hung in the air above the Inquisitors. Unlike the dull, cold iron of the anvil, the ball felt white hot in Michael’s head, as though he were trying to lasso the sun. It struggled against him, wriggling and twisting in Michael’s mental grasp. At last, he cried out in anguish, shuddering with pain as he let it go.”

(From ‘Piper; The Book of Jerrick – Part 2’; by G. J. Reilly)

What are the mirror portals?

Mirrors have been used in stories for as long as there have been fairy tales; either to see over great distances, tell the future or, most famously, to fuel the jealous rage of wicked queens. But as well as for spying, I use them as doorways that magically interconnect like a vast subway system. The rules for using them are a little complicated, but I hope they’re as realistic as they could be under the circumstances. For example, people can only travel between mirrors they can fit through, so your average car rear-view would be great for putting a hand through to steal something, but no good for travelling from London to Paris. Only highly reflective surfaces can be used for travelling; shop windows are good for spying, but not reflective enough to support a stable connection over long distances. Most importantly, however, the heavier the weight travelling between two destinations, the further apart the portals become, making solo travel almost instant, but group travel a much longer journey.

Will there be another book for this story?

Yes, two in fact: The Cull; The Book of Jerrick Part 3, and the final chapter (no official name as yet). I have outlines for character stories in this universe as well – one for Catchpole and one for Jerrick so far, but I’m planning on a well-earned break in another world before I put pen to paper on those.

Where can readers buy your book?

Readers in the UK, you can get both parts at: Amazon

Readers in the US can visit:
Amazon

Or visit any of the other Amazon stores supporting Kindle worldwide.

Thank you, G. J.!

You’re very welcome, it’s been a pleasure!

Be sure to check out G.J. Reilly’s B.R.A.G. Interview for his book, The Book of Jerrick-Part I here

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to G.J. Reilly who is the author of, Piper, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, 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, Piper, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

indiebrag team member

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree James Cardona

James Cordona BRAGI’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree James Cardona today. He has won multiple awards for his young adult science fiction and fantasy novels including the gold medal from the Wishing Shelf Awards, honorable mention from Reader Views Awards, and the Independent Book Readers’ Appreciation Group Award, all for Community 17. He has also been a finalist for the Wishing Shelf Awards and received the Independent Book Readers’ Appreciation Group Award for Santa Claus vs. The Aliens and been a finalist for the Wishing Shelf Awards for Under The Shadow Of Darkness. He is planning on writing many, many more. 

James received his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Delaware with a minor in Religious Studies. He lives in Southern New Jersey and works as a Senior Test Engineer for the Laboratory and Testing Services group of the Public Service Electric and Gas Company.

 James, how did you discover indiebrag?

Goodreads. Indiebrag is one of the book awards sites that independent authors have been boasting about on the Goodreads forums. While there is a plethora of book awards for writers associated with the big five publishing firms, unfortunately not much exists for indie authors. Goodreads is such a great information sharing social platform not only for readers but also for writers. It has been a pleasure dealing with Indiebrag and now I have become one of those boasting authors.

Commubtiy 17 BRAG Tell your audience a little about your story Community 17.

 Let me start with the book’s blurb:

In a dark future, Jessia and Isaias, two pleb teenagers scraping a living by selling metal out of the dump, want to program, become citizens and escape the fetid slum lanes of Community 17. But if they don’t both make it, they will be eternally separated.  Can Jessia share her feelings with Isaias and risk their friendship? Can she allow herself to love a man that might remain a pleb forever? Can he?

Living in Community 17, Isaias is exposed to a constant push-pull struggle. He wants to escape the fetid slum lanes by becoming a citizen—if he can only pass programming. He has a dream: a small home in the city, married to Jessia, surrounded by his children at his knees. Is that life even in his grasp?

So in the world of Community 17, some cataclysmic event has destroyed the earth and a large number of people are living—quite well, in fact—clustered in a heavily defended city. The people of the city expel their trash, their criminals and any foul, unwanted citizens out of the city forever. Additionally, people fleeing the wasteland have accumulated outside of the city’s tall, concrete walls, forming trash-strewn communities, living in homes constructed of found items, refuse, plastic sheeting, rotting wood and cardboard. It is in this backdrop that Jessia and Isaias live.

The City Women have a charitable program that allows children and teens of the communities to become citizens if they complete an arduous classroom-style training called Programming. It is every plebs hope and dream to pass programming and this hope is something that halts outright rebellion. But almost no one has passed programming and those that have were never seen again.

All Jessia and Isaias want to do is escape the slum lanes and become citizens; they desperately want the dream to be true. Quite a number of other characters seem to have completely different ideas for them.

The book is dystopian, but not in the style of the current crop such as The Hunger Games or Divergent or even The Maze Runner. I like to think Community 17 is more “classically” dystopian, like 1984, Brave New World or even A Clockwork Orange in that it is a critique of societal norms and, hopefully, makes people think and perhaps even—gasp!—change.

Please tell me a little about Jessia and Isaias.

Jessia and Isaias are two teens born and raised in the fetid slum lanes outside of the beautiful, walled city. They both dream of achieving the rare feat of passing programming, becoming citizens with a home, a job, nice clean clothing, and edible food. The two are best friends and certainly have strong feelings for each other, but at some level don’t want to become too close because, in the back of their minds, they know there is a strong possibility that one of them won’t advance and they will be separated forever.

Isaias lives alone with his mother since his father had been taken away to be Harmonized by the Agency Men some years ago. If only he had kept his mouth shut and his eyes pointed down at the oil-soaked ground!  Isaias no longer sifts through garbage at the dump looking for scrap to sell. Now he attends programming in the city where he learns about citizen’s values. They even give him food pellets! He sneaks a few out each day so his rail-thin mother doesn’t starve. His mother says he must program; he must go on, live his life, even if it means leaving her behind. She says she’ll be able to make it without him. He is not so sure.

Jessia is one of the few teens in Community 17 to have both her parents. Their shack sits close to Sewage Lake. It smells dreadful there, unnatural, chemical, but the sunset across the shimmering, mercurial, translucent orange-green haze is beautiful and if you scrape the cancer cysts off the fish, they don’t taste half-bad. Her parents are Freethinkers and take her to secret meetings where they can speak their minds, openly and honestly, without fear of being rifle-butted and dragged away by the Agency Men. They are a smart, cautious and careful people. They’ve seen too many taken to be Harmonized, never to be seen again. Jessia has a lifetime’s experience living such a guarded life under her parents’ watchful eyes.

Jessia’s parent’s hopes and dreams rest with her. She is the one who is supposed to make it. She is the one who is supposed to get inside so she can change things and somehow, some way, save her parents from dying in the filth. She knows better than to risk everything. Especially for Isaias.

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

I like to think Jessia and Isaias behave as would any teen today who was thrust into such a situation. The two are cautiously optimistic that they will pass programming and one day become citizens yet they also see the reality of not making it and how their future could abruptly end. It’s as they are straddling two worlds.

Each morning they walk through the checkpoint and step into the city. They see the beautiful city, the buildings covered in glimmer-glass, the flying cars, the gorgeous women wearing white pencil skirts with bright red painted lips, the rose gardens and the bright, clean streets. It seems as if it is there, in their grasp, for the taking. It’s not so much the city itself but opportunity. The possibilities seem endless. It is a future. It is hope.

At the end of the day they leave the city and return to the fetid slums and reality comes crashing down around them. If they don’t make it, they will be trapped there forever. They can see it in the slack-faced adults lying in the gutters getting blind drunk on poisonous moonshine, in the people missing fingers and limbs caused by small cuts at the dump, people with no medical care, in the jealousy, venom and mistrust in everyone’s eyes.

Can they make it? Can they turn their backs on everyone they ever loved to save themselves? What are they willing to do to save themselves? Are they willing to become that which they hate to escape the slums?

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

Isaias loves his mother deeply and with his father gone he feels it is his responsibility to protect her, no matter how bad she verbally abuses him. So it is insanely difficult for him when his mother pushes him to do things that he patently feels are wrong.

Isaias is more of an idealist, I think, than Jessia. He wants to do what is right. He wants to believe the Agency has the plebs best interests in mind; he wants to believe the propaganda even though, deep down, something in the Freethinkers arguments ring true. Yet, he can’t trust the Freethinkers, either. They’re murderers, after all. If he could only keep his mouth shut, only just close his eyes and blind himself to the chaos and strife all around him, just go to program and one-day escape. Maybe then he wouldn’t have to choose; he wouldn’t have to do something to sacrifice all his ideals; he wouldn’t have to become like either the Agency Men or the Freethinkers.

Jessia has never really been alone, like Isaias. She never had to take a patriarchal role and provide for someone else. She has always had both of her parents. And her friends—Jessia has lots of friends. But life in Community 17 is tenuous. People die. People disappear or are Harmonized. If they return—and that’s a big if—they seem… different, very different, indeed. As Jessia becomes more and more alone, she starts to see her world unravel and comes to the point where she needs to make a decision. It is this decision that could change everything.

Describe the fetid slum lanes of Community 17.

When my eyes scan across the landscape of Community 17, I see shanties loosely constructed of found material, cobbled together with rope and tape and nails. Galvanized sheet metal and plywood if they are lucky; cardboard and plastic sheeting if they are not. They are mostly one room affairs, stacked upon each other and sharing adjoining walls and packed thick with people. The rooms are tiny, overcrowded, dark and hot. It burns like the devil in there; the air is stifling. Everyone stays outside, crowding the narrow, zigzagging, mud-filled streets.

In Community 17, you must be careful what you say. A thin plastic sheet separates Isaias’s shack from another’s and the old hag there and her eight children have big ears. A secret, a bad word about the Agency, a good word about the Freethinkers, any word, even a lie, is worth a day’s meal if sold to the Agency Men. Even if it isn’t true. Even if it gets someone Harmonized.

The raked-dirt slum lanes are rutted and puddled with oily water and trash. Still, everyone is outside. Children play in them. Eppo’s wild runtling pigs charge down them, squealing, chasing the rotten food he feeds them. The place is thick with black flies. Still, everyone is outside.

I see drunks lying, strewn face down on the ground, sleeping off the effects of the dark yellow moonshine that made several men go blind, an oily concoction sold from a hut two doors down from Sewage Lake. Still, everyone is outside.

I see old women arguing as they cook in the hard-packed dirt over small fires built between two stones; I see young girls flirting in the fetid slum lanes, their faces dirty, their hair caked with mud; mothers bathing their children in washbasins; men tending goats; others squatting in the curb to gamble coins at card games; boys playing pelota. And still, everyone, everyone is outside, crowded into the dirt lanes.

Community 17 is not without its conveniences, though. Some years ago, the Agency Men installed a single metal pipe and some few hours a day clean, cold water flows from it. They never know when, so there is always a line of people with an assortment of plastic containers and old whiskey bottles waiting anxiously for the Agency to turn on the water from the single Community 17 pipe. They wait for hours. They wait every day. Wait. Wait. Wait. Always waiting, them.

The Agency also built a wooden platform that extends out onto Sewage Lake, bless their hearts, so the fishermen could fish and those feeling the need could relieve themselves without wading out into the water.

In order to maintain order, the Agency installed cameras and screens throughout all the communities and even in each home. Each night, the plebs are expected to watch the report, to nod at the proper time, to sing the praises of the Agency. Then, each night, potential citizen candidates record their video diary, a vlog, into the screen. A teen disappeared the other day, Harmonized, Malekai had said, because she didn’t use exactly the right words. The Agency had questions, he said. Maybe she will return.

What was the inspiration for your story?

I spent six years in the military, served in the war, and visited many countries that have levels of poverty that would be deemed completely unacceptable in the United States. Living in the so-called first world, many don’t realize that this kind of poverty exists, poverty that is similar or even worse to that described in Community 17.

After spending some time trying to understand why things are so, I realized there is a (human) tendency to subjectify others. So much so that we even do it to ourselves! People who are in such a condition, living in slums, sifting through garbage to find food or a few scraps of aluminum to sell, diseased and infected, even label themselves and embrace such a lot in life as if it were preordained. It is almost as if division and classification of humans is part of the natural order of things.

Of course, it sounds as if I am trying to raise the alarm of the condition of the poor. Those who have read the book know that is not exactly the case. I am also sensitive to the needs of government, scarce or limited resources and the need for order. Just because a city is surrounded by the poor and destitute does not mean that they have the means to do something substantial about it. The current refugee crisis occurring in the EU is a prime example. There are countries who have accepted refugees equal to ten percent of their population. How can they be expected to take more? If a city of one thousand was surrounded by millions who are starving, what can they do but be selective about who and how many they let in?

These are the types of issues I like to raise and the types of things I want people to discuss. Inciting dialog, then, is my first and foremost goal. I like to present both sides of an argument, fully and thoroughly, and let the reader think about what he or she would do in the same situation.

This is but one of the subjects I wanted to address with the book. Controlling influences in human relationships is another thread that flows throughout the book.

Truly, If I have been successful, at the last page the reader closes the book, stunned.

How did you get in to writing Science Fiction?

I have always loved to create. In fact, I do not so much call myself a writer or an artist as a “creative.” I have always drawn, painted, made music and the like. I also like nontraditional forms of creativity such as building robots and writing computer code. It is only in the last ten years or so that I have pursued prose writing.

I still create graphic art, but instead of painting with a brush or drawing with a pencil, I use Photoshop and DazStudio. For me, writing is just another outlet to attempt to create something beautiful, deeply meaningful, something that resonates in the soul.

What were the Science Fiction books you read growing up?

I was a voracious reader as a young kid. Mainly I read whatever books my parents had around the house. Mom was into both romance and horror-suspense, so I read all of her Stephen-King-type books but none of the Harlequin stuff. Dad was sci-fi junkie but also read spy novels. I read both the classics and the pulp: Heinlein, Asimov, PKD, John Le Carre, Len Deighton, Ian Fleming, and the like. I especially liked the robot short stories that Asimov penned.

My auntie was a librarian, which was convenient because whenever Mom went to visit her sister I could run around the cavernous, two-story, Lorain Public Library. It seemed like great things, secret, hidden things of great value were lurking undiscovered everywhere in that building.

As a teen and young adult, I started buying my own books. I grew up lower middle class—maybe poor, I don’t know—so I always felt like my school system was sub-par and I was under-educated. In retrospect, I am not sure if that was true or, at least, one might say that about a larger swath of America’s education system. Anyway, I had decided I was going to do something about that and bought pretty much every book in the classic literature section of the B. Dalton’s bookstore and plowed through them. Funny how so many of the recurring themes and insights in classic literature appear prominently in the best science fiction.

I think if I had to pick my favorite authors, they are ones who write “hybrid” books that people tend to classify as literature set in a science fiction world or perhaps science fiction written with a literary lilt, authors such as Ursula Le Guin or Margaret Atwood. I love a great science fiction tale, but if it does not address the human condition, I am typically left feeling empty. I guess I aspire to be like those two. Who knows? Maybe one day I will be.

What is up next for you?

I have an assembly line sort of work ethic to my writing, so I always have about three or so books in the pipeline: one in the editing-releasing stage, another being written, and another that is more or less in the idea stage. I expect to published the third book in The Apprentice Series in the next month or so. The Worthy Apprentice follows several apprentice magicians as they battle giant spiders, try to track down a murderer, and attempt to uncover a plot to steal one of the most powerful magical stones in all the lands.

The draft for the fourth book in the same series, Into Darkness, is nearly finished being written and I am just fleshing out the plot line for a new science fiction novel called Rebirth. I am super-excited about that one. For a taste, one of the Laws of Rebirth states:

HUMANS. We look like them. We act like them. We live among them. But they can never, ever know.

 Into Darkness should publish in late 2016 and Rebirth maybe sometime in 2017.

 Where can readers buy your book?

I am currently exclusive to Amazon with almost all of my books. Readers can buy my books in print or ebook there. Just search by my name. Also, readers who have Kindle Unlimited can download my books for free.

Additionally, I am currently working with a British company that formats books for the visually impaired, so those versions should be available soon. Check my blog at Goodreads or my website for updates.

If your readers are curious about any of my books or if a student might like to write a book report on me, please check out my website. In addition to detailed information about me and my books, you’ll also find some of the graphic art that I created depicting scenes from my books. You can also contact me there.

Other links:

Amazon

goodreads

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We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview James Cardona who is the author of, Community 17, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, 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, Community 17, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money

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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:

Website/Blog

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Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon Author Page

Book Trailer

 

 

Historical Fiction & Meaning with David Cook

David Cook II’d like to welcome David Cook today to talk with me about his Historical Fiction writing. David has been interested in history since his school days, and developed a love for the Napoleonic Wars era from his father, who painted and amassed a lead model army of the Battle of Waterloo. From there David became fascinated with The American Civil War, The English Civil Wars and English medieval history, particularly the legend of Robin Hood. David is writing a novel entitled The Wolfshead, a story of Robin Hood, but based on the original medieval ballads as the source.

What are the periods of history focused on for your writing?

I write about anything historical that I fancy. What I’ve self-published, so far, are the years 1793-1815; the Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars.

It all started in 2006 when I began to write about a British expeditionary force being sent to Egypt in 1801 to *remove* the remnants of a French army there. It is the start to a twenty volume series I’ve outlined. I finished the book, titled The Desert Lion in 2008. I immediately started to write the second and all these years later I’m 50% of the way through. What brought on the long pause was that after the first was completed I sent it out to try to get a literary agent interested. After some initial rejections I was also advised that it was an ‘unpopular era’.  So I put it on hold.

I started to write something different. A different genre and told in a different style. Robin Hood has always captivated me and so I spent the next few years researching and writing the legend but based only on the known medieval sources.

Then I got married and became a father and things slowed down. In 2014, I decided to self-publish the Soldier Chronicles series which started out as back stories to the twenty volume series I had begun in 2006. Each story is a standalone and are companion pieces.

I’ve written about the Roman period, the Norman invasion, the Tudor era, the English Civil War and the American Civil War. I’m not sure if I’ll publish them, but if I do, it’s not for a few years.

Fire and Steel Final Cover I

Why Historical Fiction?

Simply that I just love history. I find it so interesting. I love reading about subjects I don’t know much about. I find nothing more rewarding than research. To some it might be tedious. I don’t. With Tempest, the sixth story in the Soldier Chronicles (out in April) I found immense joy in debunking myths and finding out the truths. I just get a buzz out of going back in time.

When did you know you wanted be a HF writer?

When I was a teenager I was on holiday with my parents and we went to a museum about Roman finds in Somerset. I was interested in Roman soldiers and spent ages drawing imaginary battles and writing character names.  When I was sixteen I was reading a lot about the Crimean War and the American Civil War and wrote about an Englishman involved in both conflicts. I thought it would be a good idea to show a man forged by battle and come out of one war to be thrusted into another. I suppose it was then that I was first interested in writing.

How much time do you spend on research? What sources do you use?

It really depends how busy I am. With the novellas of the Soldier Chronicles, it can be 3-6 months. With the novels, six months to a year. I mainly use books. I do use sources on the internet. I have visited museums. Whatever I do use, I make sure they are notable and reliable. I take pride in trying to write accurate historical stories.

Heart of Oak I

What do you feel is the importance of historical fiction?

As I said above, I take pride in portraying the people and the times. I feel a great responsibility for making sure it’s as accurate as possible, as well as thought-provoking and enjoyable. Sometimes too much historical detail can ruin a story. Some will say you cannot achieve complete accuracy in the storytelling. I do know this, but as an author it’s my choice. Can I write how English people spoke during the time of Robin Hood? No. Even if I spent years researching that, I’m not sure anyone would understand it or want to read it.

I don’t want the story to sink under the weight of all the detail, but neither do I want to write an historical piece with nothing in it. There’s a fine line. There has to be a balance. There is also no right or wrong. However, if I do take artistic liberties, then I will explain my reasons for doing so and the truth in the note section at the back of the book.

Who are your influences?

There are lots to be honest. For me the number one is Bernard Cornwell. He is responsible for taking up far too much of my book shelves. I’m a big fan of his Richard Sharpe series and his Saxon stories.

Simon Scarrow, Sharon Kay Penman, George. R.R. Martin, Jane Austen, J.R.R Tolkien, Philippa Gregory, Alison Weir, Ken Follet and Elizabeth Chadwick to name but a few.

How do you feel the genre has progressed in the last ten years?

It’s a niche market. Well there’s more of it available now (thank God) and so there’s more choice. It’s certainly and still very popular with readers, but some time periods are lacking. Some are saturated. As long as it’s supported and marketed well, it will continue to grow.

What are the important steps in writing HF?

Showing the reader your great enthusiasm in the story you’ve created. Believe in it. Trust it and love it. Make the research count. All the hours put into it, use them wisely. Make the characters interesting, believable, and human. We all have flaws. Don’t be afraid to show them.

Liberty and Death II

What must you not do writing in this genre?

Try to show the times in the story. One example: I had to write about a character beating his wife and I hated it. But it was during the mediaeval period when a man was entitled to. Disgusting, but it’s the truth and I wanted to show that. There are lots of examples. I think you have to immerse your readers of the times, be honest and hopefully it won’t disappoint.

When writing, do you use visuals to give you inspiration?

I use photographs, paintings, portraits. I visit places where and when I can too. I think its vitally important to visit the place I’m writing about and at the same time of year. You can get a better sense of it. When I went to the Waterloo bicentennial last year, I was on the battlefield and stayed there nearly all day. I felt something that day. The June crops, the weather, the skies, the animals scampering into the woods, the air and the very ground. There’s something special about it that I can’t really explain.

Thank you, David!

Author Links:

Twitter @davidcookauthor

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