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

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon Author Page

Book Trailer

 

 

Characters in Motion – Valerie Biel

Circle of Nine Valerie Biel IIOne of the best parts of being an author is the freedom to create diverse casts of characters. I like combining characters of different ages or characters from different eras. In my debut novel Circle of Nine: Beltany, I combine historical chapters and modern chapters. The main character in this novel is a modern teen in the United States, but the historical characters (her ancestors) are Irish and range in age from teen to elderly. And, one of my middle-grade novels is set at a senior living center, combining a cast of pre-teens with octogenarians.

This is why my rejection letters often said, “While I enjoyed the story and characters, I am not certain how to market this.” Oh, the horror! What shelf should this book live on?!? The good news is that my books have managed to live on many shelves, and I have had no problem marketing my titles to a broad audience of readers.

Writing diverse characters within the same novel is not always easy. In the Circle of Nine series, two of my favorite characters are roughly the same age but live more than 550 years apart. They have so many similarities, including sharing the same magical heritage as descendants of the Tuatha de Danann—a legendary founding tribe of Ireland. But, their reactions to challenges and their overall life experience is very different.

With one character living in medieval Ireland and the other in the modern-day USA, I had to think about how their decisions and viewpoints would have been informed by the era in which they live and the constraints placed upon females in that era. Reactions would be different because their options and choices are impacted by the sheer reality of their worlds, even if their hopes and dreams are the same.

And truly their desires aren’t that different. Both Dervla living in mid-1400s and Brigit living in the 2000s want to fit in with the others around them and they both (desperately) want to control their own destiny. Brigit, of course, living in the modern world has the most freedom to chart her own course, while Dervla is at the mercy of her brother who has decided to arrange a marriage for her.

But, while you would assume that Brigit has all the advantages by living in modern times, that isn’t completely the case. In Dervla’s world, while not everyone is an enthusiastic supporter of mysticism and magic, at least she doesn’t suffer much societal rebuke for practicing these “old ways”.  In Brigit’s world, her mother is looked upon as a freak or possibly a witch and is the subject of gossip and innuendo that has followed Brigit her whole life, keeping her mostly on the fringe of others the same age. These different experiences have a big impact on how they embrace their magical heritage when learning of it for the first time. (See excerpts below.)

My goal was to make these characters’ desires, wishes, and hopes very relatable, and my prep work with character mapping and research paid off, giving me a platform to create authentic emotional reactions for both of them.

Another equally important aspect of creating believable characters from different eras is using accurate language. When done properly, a character’s vocabulary and manner of speaking or diction should transport the reader into the correct era and make the reading experience that much more enjoyable. While it is not always simple to write modern teen dialog, it is even more challenging to create a manner of speaking in keeping with the 1400s. I spent a lot of time on word research . . . I am forever grateful that I live in the internet age.

There are so many characters that have stuck with me long after reading their stories. I only hope that the characters I’ve created do the same for those reading my books.

(Excerpt from Circle of Nine: Beltany, conversation between Brigit Quinn and her mother.)

“Brigit, you need to take a deep breath. I know it seems unfair I’ve never mentioned this. Tradition dictates that our heritage isn’t revealed until you are old enough to understand and not abuse your power. This is not a curse. It is a gift. The Tuatha have certain abilities, but . . .”

“Abilities?” I screeched. “What abilities?”

“It’s too soon to know what yours will be. Each Tuatha has different gifts, and now that you are fifteen, we’ll explore what yours might be. Maybe it will be something like my skill in botany. It’s no different than anyone else’s talent like musicians or mathematicians. It’s nothing to be frightened of.”

But I was afraid. No matter what she said, I knew this was nowhere near the same as being able to play the piano well or do Calculus. “We are witches,” I whispered.

Mom shook her head forcefully. “No, we don’t use that word. We are Tuatha.” She finished very seriously with her eyes staring straight into mine and squeezed my hand in reassurance.

I wrenched my hand out of her grip and glared at her. I didn’t want any part of this. I wanted to go back to being Normal Brigit like I was yesterday—well, almost normal anyway.

She ignored my simmering defiance and left the table to pour more tea. “You have a choice. You always have a choice to be whatever you want to be, but you owe it to yourself to know what you are choosing between.”

(Excerpt from the novella Dervla’s Destiny, conversation between Dervla Quinn and her mother.)

“Each of the Tuatha has special gifts. It is too early to tell what yours might be, but at a minimum you will likely be more skilled in one area over the others.”

“What is yours?”

“You already know mine—the gift of healing. I seem to know what ails people and can create medicines that will help them. Sometimes I do not understand exactly how my gift works, but I seem to have an instinct about what people need. The rest of what I do is normal knowledge, like how chamomile can calm a headache.”

Dervla nodded and drank more of her mother’s tea. Even though she had only pretended to have a headache, she hoped that the soothing nature of the brew might stop her mind from playing tricks on her. After a few sips, she asked her mother, “How long will it take for me to learn my special gift?”

“That is very hard to predict,” her mother said. “It may be obvious right away or it may take some time to uncover. The only way to find out is to begin your training.”

“When can we start?” Dervla asked immediately.

Her mother laughed at her eagerness. “Finish your tea and meet me in our workroom.” As she left, Dervla thought she heard her add, I have so much to teach her.

Valerie Biel BRAG IIValerie 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

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon Author Page

Book Trailer

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

Valerie Biel BRAG

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

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

How did you discover indieBRAG?

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

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

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

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

Here’s my back cover blurb:

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

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

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

***

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

Circle if nine-Beltany Valerie Biel BRAG

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

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

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

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

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

Beltany Stone Circle - County Donegal - Irish Megalith website

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

DCIM100MEDIA

What intrigues you most about the Neolithic circles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s not just a legend?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, of course, I did.

Who designed your book cover?

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

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

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

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

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

What are you working on next?

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

Do you stick with just genre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Websites:

Website/Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon Author Page

Book Trailer

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Valerie Biel who is the author of, Circle of Nine-Beltany, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Circle of Nine-Beltany, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.