Characters in Motion with Meghan Holloway

“Often times the best inspiration comes within us.” Writer Meghan Holloway shares with us how she fleshes out her characters to drive the plot.

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Storytelling is, at heart, an exploration of the human condition. More than evocative imagery or lyrical prose or a captivating plot, a story must have a character at its center in whom I can invest.

Achieving a fully-fleshed character is one of the most challenging aspects in writing. Creating a paragon or a villain is a simple thing, but also a flat and unsatisfying achievement. Building a well-rounded character—humane, flawed, fallible, and nuanced—is a task as formidable as it is rewarding.

We writers tend to be a solitary lot for we pursue a sequestered craft. We are watchers, though, sentinels of interaction, cartographers of existence. It is through this lifelong pursuit of observation that we find the lens through which to view the human experience and the clay with which to build our characters.

When I tell a story, I have a two-fold beginning:  I have a plot arch in mind first or a particular setting and event in history I want to explore; but the key piece that moves this germ from idea to tale is character. The plot is what creates the arc of storytelling; the character is the vehicle in which the reader is transported.

Meghan Holloway

About Author:

Meghan Holloway

“My dearest darling …” That was how my grandfather began all of his letters to my grandmother while he was stationed in Okinawa in World War II. I never knew my grandfather, but I’ve poured over his letters. I used to draw lines up the back of my legs, just as my grandmother had as a young woman whose nylons had been donated to make parachutes, and I’ve endlessly pestered my paternal grandfather for stories of his childhood and service. The worn letters and patiently-told stories cemented my interest in history, especially in the WWII era.

I found my first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at a friend’s house and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. I flew an airplane before I learned how to drive a car, did my undergrad work in a crumbling once-all girls school in the sweltering south, spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, finished my graduate work in an all-girls school in the blustery north, and traveled the world for a few years. Now I’m settled down in the foothills of the Appalachians, writing my third and fourth novels, and hanging out with my standard poodle.

Author Links:

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Manic Monday and Weekend Mystery

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As we all know Mondays can be pretty manic and generally I look forward to Mondays nonetheless. This past weekend, Georgia had its first snow of the year-more like snow turned to ice-and left many trapped indoors for an entire two days. I’m not complaining though, it was a great time to catch up on shows, movies, format blog posts, drink lots of tea and talk with friends via social media about books. Alas, no reading for me. I know. I’m shocked myself. Let me explain why. Book reviewers can often go through a reading funk. Having so many books to get through and often times feeling like you are reading much of the same stuff, one can get frustrated. Well, that is me at the moment. Okay, I have to admit it’s been increasingly getting to a boiling point with me and so far the books I have selected and read this year has not been a good beginning for the new year. I have three books to write a review for that I was less than satisfied with. My main complaint with these stories is that there is no depth to the characters and not enough back ground information to really get to know them. One must get to know the character in order to sympathize and relate to them. Furthermore, the plots were weak and contrived.

With that said, I even wish agents and publishers would accept more stories with male protagonists. I’m also tired of seeing stereotypical characters. More so in the male roles. Another thing that concerns me is that the market to think that women just want to read about other women and their issues. It’s time for some changes. Yes, I said it and feel relieved to finally express my feelings about this. Agents and publishers, if you are reading this, I hope you take this into consideration. When a female author pitches a story to you with a male protagonist, please accept it! I can confirm I am not alone with this. Many of my fellow book bloggers and friends are right there with me.

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Having feeling this way and wanting to find something to get out of my reading funk; I then asked my friends, co-bloggers and author friends for some mystery titles with male protagonist. I posted this request on my Facebook wall. In the HNS Facebook Group and on twitter. The recommendations came flooding in and what great conversations it made! Soon I will be sharing those titles with you. I am currently arranging them in a file and formatting the post. I might do a series of them. Be sure to be on the lookout for that! I am really hoping this will get me out of my reading funk. We will see. Ha!

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Today I have lots of blogging things to do! I have a ton of interview questions to get out, answering emails, book promoting, draft two book reviews and turn them in. This doesn’t include all my other responsibilities that I have today…Whew! Here is hoping to a productive day! I know many of you can relate! More on my thoughts as a reader coming in the near future. Stay tuned.

Have a wonderful bookish week and be sure to come back every day this week to Layered Pages for some great posts!

Take a look and follow these amazing book bloggers! They do a tremendous job in supporting authors and books.

Flashlight Commentary

The Maiden’s Court

A Bookaholic Swede

A Literary Vacation

Let Them Read Books

2 Kids and Tired Books

Celticlady’s Reviews

A Bookish Affair

Thank you for visiting Layered Pages! Hop on ever to check out my post on a readers’s voice over at my BlogSpot

Stephanie M. Hopkins

One Reader’s Voice Out Loud

Disclaimer: All book reviews, interviews, guest posts and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie. M. Hopkins/Owner of Layered Pages

**Bookish Happenings**

me-iiIt’s that time again for bookish happenings! Today, I am sharing a few things that have been going on in the world of blogging and at indieBRAG. We are completely drawn into the world of stories and the people who write them. Our passion is to share our love of reading, good reads and our hunt for them. Daily we are exploring social media and various book sites for the next great read.

This week has been a really busy week with blogging posts, setting up author interviews, catching up on emails, social media promoting and reading of course! Though I have to admit, I am in a bit of a reading slump still. But I think I am getting out of it. One of the things to help me do that is buying more books! Ha! One of the books I ordered on Amazon this week was The Inn Keeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen. Which is perfect because I have been watching a series-Cranford on amazon Prime and I hear that this book fits in line with village life in England. How lovely! I should be getting my copy in the mail tomorrow. I am really looking forward to it.

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the-innkeeper-of-ivy-hillThe Innkeeper of Ivy Hill!

First Series from Bestselling Author Julie Klassen!

On a rise overlooking the Wiltshire countryside stands the village of Ivy Hill. Its coaching inn, The Bell, is its lifeblood–along with the coach lines that stop there daily, bringing news, mail, travelers, and much-needed trade.

Jane Bell lives on the edge of the inn property. She had been a genteel lady until she married the charming innkeeper who promised she would never have to work in his family’s inn. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Jane finds herself The Bell’s owner, and worse, she has three months to pay a large loan or lose the place.

Feeling reluctant and ill-equipped, Jane is tempted to abandon her husband’s legacy and return to her former life of ease. However, she soon realizes there is more at stake than her comfort. But who can she trust to help her? Her resentful mother-in-law? Her husband’s brother, who wanted the inn for himself? Or the handsome newcomer with secret plans of his own . . . ?

With pressure mounting from the bank, Jane struggles to win over naysayers and turn the place around. Can Jane bring new life to the inn, and to her heart as well?

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I have several posts to highlight. Normally I highlight mine and my fellow book bloggers posts. Which you will see but I am also adding two posts from authors that have really stood out to me this week.

Be sure to check them out. These bloggers and authors are dedicated to their craft of sharing stories and a big support to the book world. I highly recommend you follow their blogs and stories.

This is brilliant! Neil Gaiman on Writing: “Your first draft doesn’t count.” by Neil Gailman

Who would have thought a post about the postal service would be fascinating?! Well, it is!  A brief note about the post by Anna Castle  

Today I am highlighting two posts this week from both Layered Pages & Layered Pages II: Top 12: Historical Fiction Authors Who Write English Historical Fiction Novels  & Cover Crush: The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman

throne-of-grace Guest Post by Cecily Wolfe, Author of Throne of Grace over at A Literary Vacation

 Cover Crush: A Long Time Gone by Karen White over at A Bookaholic Swede

 Books I Have Forgotten over at 2 Kids and tired Books

 secrets-in-the-mistReview: Secrets in the Mist by Anna Lee Huber over at Let Them Read Books

 Audiobook Discussions: How Do You Listen? Over at The Maiden’s Court

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Thank you for visiting Layered Pages today and enjoy your weekend! Happy reading!

Stephanie M. Hopkins

stay-calm-and-support-book-bloggers

 

 

 

 

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

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.

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Book Trailer

 

 

The Importance of a Beta Reader with Heidi Skarie

Heidi Skarie BRAG

I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Heidi Skarie today to talk with me about the importance of Beta Readers. She writes visionary novels that are an intoxicating amalgam of action, adventure and romance, featuring strong, spiritually inquisitive heroines. Star Rider on the Razor’s Edge is her first science fiction novel. She previously published Red Willow’s Quest, a historical novel based on a past life, about a Native American maiden training to become a medicine woman.

In the fall of 2015 Heidi plans to publish her new novel: Annoure and the Dragonships, another historical novel based on a past life, about a young woman kidnapped by the Vikings. In 2016 Star Rider and the Ahimsa Warrior, the second book in her Star Rider series will be published.

 Heidi, do you use beta readers?

Yes, it’s wonderful to get feedback on your book.

I know of a few authors who use beta readers for different phases of their manuscript. How many do you use and in what phase of your WIP do you require them?

I write the first draft of my novel without any input so I can create a cohesive story without being influenced by anyone else. Then I work with my critique group and go through the manuscript chapter by chapter.  After I’ve gone through the manuscript with them, I use beta readers for feedback on the entire book.

On my last book I used three beta readers, but I’d like to have more.

What is it that you look for in a beta reader? What is the importance of them?

I look for people who like novels in my genres, which are science fiction and historical fiction.  People who read a lot are best so they have a good sense of story and can give me constructive feedback.  I want to know both what they liked about the book as well as the areas where they think it needs work.  An author gets so close to the novel that it is hard to see it as a whole. My critique group is helpful, but they only critique a few chapters at a time. A person sees different things when they read a novel through in its entirety.

I want feedback on the plot.  Are there are any inconsistencies? Was the ending satisfying? Did the story keep you engaged, so you didn’t want to put it down?  Did you think about the story after reading it?

I also want feedback on the characters.  Did you relate to the protagonists and their problems?  Were the main characters three-dimensional, including the antagonist?

I’ve found that beta readers are good at seeing different aspects of the book.  Some beta readers give very detailed feedback and others give their overall impression of the book.  For my last book, one of the readers pointed out the timing in one scene was off.  It was morning in the beginning of the scene and a few paragraphs later the sun was setting.  Another beta reader said there needed to be more references to the minor characters.  Both these points were well taken and easy to correct.

It’s also important to find people who have the time to read the manuscript fairly quickly so I can meet my deadlines.

Star Rider on the Razor’s Edge

How do you choose your beta readers?

I asked a few people who I know well and trust, but in the future I’d like to get feedback from people who I don’t know.  They might be more objective.

What has been your experience with them?

It’s been a great experience.  They are usually supportive and happy to read what I’m working on.  They often tell me they get emotionally involved with the characters and storyline.

Is it always helpful to get feedback?

Not always.  You can’t change your story to please everyone.  Not everyone is going to like it. It’s like a painting: some people like modern art, some impressionistic and some classical.  If your book is space opera and they like hard science, they aren’t your best choice as readers.

How often do you take their advice and what is the impact they have had on your writing?

I try to keep my vision and the theme of the novel in mind as I go through the comments.  If the comment is just pointing out a mistake, I fix it.  If the comment is subjective, I think about it.  If different readers have conflicting ideas, I go with what I think will best fit the characters and overall plotline.  In the end I have to trust my own inner voice.

Do you use them for every book you write?

Yes, and I plan to continue to use them.  Many successful novelists find beta readers helpful and constructive.

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