Interview with Melanie Rose Huff, Author of Phantasmagoria

Author Name:  Melanie Rose Huff

Names of Book(s): A Phantasmagoria


What was your first thought once you were told you were a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree? It wasn’t really a thought so much as a suffusion of glee. My first novel, Ashford, was a BRAG honoree as well, so I was familiar with them and what they do, and I was very…well, honored. I love that they’ve set the standard for quality that they have with indie books. Especially when the market is as flooded as it is, I think it’s very helpful for readers to be able to see that a book is a BRAG honoree and know that it’s gone through a rigorous evaluation process to earn that title.


What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?  This book actually started by mistake, because I was working on another novel, but I was a recent widow with a baby. I really struggled with finding time to write without distraction. It felt like I’d barely get started, and my son would wake up, or need a fresh diaper…and of course I was also dealing (and still am…it never really stops, it just changes) with the grief of losing my husband, and trying to heal. So the short pieces, the flash fiction, the micro-essays…I started writing them as a sort of catharsis, as a way to heal, but also because here was something I could finish. I mean, I took a lot of time going back to edit them, get the wording tighter, and all that – but the idea, the heart of the thing, could be captured during a nap. And then I just started really enjoying the process, and how writing really short pieces forces you to cut out everything unnecessary. The title happened because they were all really taking on the texture of dreams. The dictionary definition of phantasmagoria is “a series of brief, dreamlike images,” and I really wanted to capture the nature of dreams, how everything makes sense within the context of the dream, but when you wake up it makes no sense at all, or how there’s such a sense of urgency…because you can’t find the cheesecloth, or how a dream can bring such a powerful sense of someone’s presence that you’re still struggling to hold on to it after you wake up.


What did you enjoy most about writing this book? It was a really fun challenge to strip down everything to the bare bones. A few times I thought, “Oh, I’ll make this one a little longer.” But then it just wasn’t working. Inevitably, once I cut it down, it just had more impact, more power.   They always tell you in writers’ workshops to cut out the excess, make the writing sharper…this was like that on steroids. There are a few fairy tale retellings in the book, and those were especially fun. I loved fairy tales as a child, but even then some of the decisions made by the characters really bothered me. So here they choose differently. Also, working with Traci, the illustrator, was a constant joy. She’s such a brilliant artist, and just a lovely person to work with. I would send her several pieces at a time, and then wait in suspense to see what she would come up with. I very seldom gave her any sort of guideline about what I thought a particular image should be…it was just so fun to see her unique take on the text of what I had sent her. Sometimes it was like she’d read my mind, and other times I would look at it and think, “Wow, I never thought of it that way, but it’s perfect.” And now all the pieces feel inseparable from her illustrations.


Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from? I blame Shakespeare, really, and my aunt. When my sister and I were quite young, our aunt gave us a beautiful edition of Midsummer Night’s Dream, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham. In the beginning I was definitely more enthralled by the illustrations than anything else, but that eventually led to wanting to know more about the story. Working my way through the actual text was tricky at eight years old, but eventually I got my hands on a copy of Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare, and started reading through those and following up with the plays themselves once I already had a grasp of the basic story. I also started writing some highly theatrical stories of my own. And of course Shakespeare led to other authors. My aunt (the same one) is a Professor of English Literature, and she fed my addiction from the beginning. She always had book recommendations for me, and was curious about what I’d been reading, and in spite of being infinitely more well-read than I was she never talked down to me. Once, as a teenager, I ended up in the hospital with a dangerously low white blood cell count, which meant visitors had to be very careful, and couldn’t bring me flowers. My aunt and uncle brought me a book bouquet.


What inspires you?  I’m very inspired by the beauty of the natural world, and I’m fortunate enough to live an absolutely gorgeous place. I pretty much step out of my door into paradise. I’ve found that movement releases my creativity, and I get inspired when I’m out walking or working in my garden, so I have to have pen and paper handy at all times. I’m also a dancer, and I get some of my best ideas driving home after rehearsals and end up pulling off on the side of the road to jot things down. The actual act of writing is such a stationary thing, and I feel like that combination helps balance me…the physicality of dance, of losing myself in the movement and the music, informs my writing, and the quiet introspection of the writing process makes me a better dancer.


What do you like to read in your free time? A charitable person might call my library eclectic. I always find myself returning to the classics, but I have a growing number of contemporary authors whose work I collect, and I love fantasy. My fiction bookshelf is arranged alphabetically, so Lloyd Alexander’s myth-inspired fantasies are sandwiched between Louisa M. Alcott and Jane Austen, John Campbell’s fabulous historical fiction is keeping company with the Brontes and Capote, Wilkie Collins and Suzanne Collins are having a good laugh about sharing a last name, Intisar Khanani’s Sunbolt Chronicles are wedged in by Kipling, and on the bottom shelf Heidi thinks Dracula should keep his hands to himself and they’re both jealous of Tolkien for taking so much shelf space. In the non-fiction realm, I love history, biography, and memoir especially. My first two novels were WWII-era historical fiction, so that era is especially well-represented.


What do your plans for future projects include? Every time I finish a project and start looking for the next thing, I end up starting several projects at once, and then there’s a bit of a race to see which one comes out ahead. At this point, I have the beginnings of two novels, as well as a memoir of sorts. It’s a bit too early to give details, but I’m rather fond of all three of them and curious to see which one takes the lead.



indieBRAG 2017 Cover Contest

An awesome Cover Contest being hosted by indieBRAG.  Don’t miss out – voting begins July 1 and ends July 28, 2017.


Select your favorite cover by clicking here.


More About indieBRAG and BRAGMedallion: is owned and operated by indieBRAG, LLC, a privately held organization that has brought together a large group of readers, both individuals and members of book clubs, located throughout the United States and in ten other countries around the globe. The word “indie” refers to self-published books, while B.R.A.G. is an acronym for Book Readers Appreciation Group. The name “indieBRAG” and the B.R.A.G. logos are trademarks of indieBRAG, LLC. The B.R.A.G. Medallion is a certification trademark owned and controlled by indieBRAG, LLC.

Our mission is to discover talented self-published authors and help them give their work the attention and recognition it deserves. Our primary focus is fiction across a wide range of genres; however, we selectively consider non-fiction books as well.

Interview of Elaine Russell, author of Across the Mekong River

An author of several books, three with Indie Brag Medallions.  An author for over 20 years, Ms. Russell draws from her travels weaving both culture and fiction together.  

1. What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

After learning about the harsh plight of the Hmong refugees who fled Laos after the Vietnam War and the difficulties they endured in adapting to life in the U.S., I wanted to tell their story. So few Americans know about the history of Laos and its role in the Vietnam War. Many don’t understand why so many Southeast Asians resettled in America. There are many excellent non-fiction books on the Hmong in America, but I hoped a fictional story might reach a wider audience. I wanted to write a story that would inspire more compassion and understanding for the challenges the Hmong and other Vietnam War refugees have endured. I felt the story was best told through the different voices of the older parents and their young daughter, as each faced unique experiences, which invoked very different emotional reactions. There is also a broader, universal truth in the story that extends to all refugees and immigrants coming to our great country. I hope I have achieved my goals. It is rewarding to hear from readers who say they never knew about this episode in history and now feel great empathy for what these refugees have endured.

2. What do you think most characterizes your writing?

I find myself writing most of my stories in first person narrative. It helps me to truly put myself in the position of my characters so I can understand their emotions, motivations, and hopes. I need to feel very close to their hearts and minds. I hope the readers will as well.

3. What was the hardest part of writing this book?

It took me a very long time to complete this novel, almost ten years on and off. I had to keep pushing myself to dig deeper and fill in the missing pieces until the book was truly ready to publish. I spent over six month working with an excellent editor to finalize the story, which was great but exhausting.

4. What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I loved doing the research, which involved reading many resources and meeting dozens of wonderful Hmong, Mien, and Lao-Americans. I am so grateful to the people who shared their families’ experiences with me, which were often quite heartbreaking. They wanted so much for their stories to be told, and I was honored to do this. While my book is fiction, it is based on the true events of many different people.

5. How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?

I became interested in Hmong refugees when a number of Hmong children attended my young son’s elementary school in Sacramento years ago. About the same time, the Sacramento Bee published a series of articles on their resettlement in Sacramento. This was followed by my book group reading Ann Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, a nonfiction book on Hmong beliefs in conflict with the Western medical system. And as if by serendipity, a young Hmong woman came to work in my husband’s office. She shared her story with me and introduced me to many of her friends. I traveled to Laos a few years later and became interested in the problem of unexploded cluster bombs left in the ground from U.S. bombing during the war. The bombs are still killing and maiming people all these years later. I volunteered with the U.S.-based nonprofit Legacies of War, which works to get more funding for bomb clearance. Through this work I met many Hmong and Lao refugees.

Tens of thousands of Hmong, Mein, and Lao, one third of the population of Laos, were forced to flee the country after it fell to a communist government following the end of the Vietnam War. Many ended up resettling in the U.S. after years in Thai refugee camps in dreadful conditions. Although I was a young woman during the Vietnam War, I knew virtually nothing about what had happened in Laos. I wrote several academic articles on this history and the wars aftermath during my work with Legacies of War.

6. Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

I feel this story chose me rather than the other way around. I was a history major in college and have always had a keen interest in the way the past shapes our current world. I would call Across the Mekong River historical fiction (although some of the story takes place in more recent times). I am currently writing an adult novel that is also historical fiction set in 1901, but with a much lighter story. I also have written a children’s middle grade, mystery series, a young adult novel, and a middle grade nonfiction picture book on Thailand. I follow my heart in my writing what interests me, rather than selecting a particular genre. I love incorporating the history and culture of other countries in my stories.

7. Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I always loved reading from a young age. My mother took my sister and me to the library every week to pick out books. At about ten years old, I decided I wanted to be a writer (that is when I first read Little Women and wanted to be Jo). I would write funny short stories about my dog and my family. Perhaps it came from being a very shy child and spending a lot of time alone.

8. How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing full time for over 20 years, ever since I was able to ease out of my day job (environmental and energy analyst) a few years after I had my son. In earlier years I wrote boring reports for work and dabbled in writing fiction.

9. What inspires you?

I take inspiration from nature, being in a quiet relaxing place where I can think and create. My husband and I are very fortunate to own a condo in Kauai, where we spend part of the year. It is my writer’s retreat. I do my best writing there without interruptions. The beauty of the ocean and landscape and the warm air sets my mind free.

10. What do you like to read in your free time?

I read mainly fiction – contemporary, literary, historical, and occasionally mysteries. Some recent favorites: All the Light We Cannot See, A Gentleman in Moscow, Girl Waits with Gun, and News of the World. Novels must be well written or I can’t get through them, not even with a clever plot. I also enjoy nonfiction at times. I read Up From Slavery and All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay this past fall.

11. What projects are you working on at the present?

I am currently writing a historical novel set in 1901 Denver, Colorado, with the women’s suffrage movement as the backdrop. It is based in part on my great-grandmother who was one of the early women doctors in Denver. I loved doing the research and learning about the events of the era, and how people behaved and dressed, their interests, etc. In the course of my research in Denver, I got to hold and read an original letter from Susan B. Anthony!

I am in the final editing stages and hope to have the book out in the next year or so.

12. What do your plans for future projects include?

For the last year I’ve been studying French to fulfill a lifelong desire to speak the language. The speaking part is still difficult for me, but I’m able to read and write a lot better. I want to write a novel set in French Colonial Laos. In order to research this period of time, I will need to read a number of books written in French. I love a challenge!

13. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I wanted to write from the time I was young. English and writing were always my best subjects in school and writing clearly was one of my strengths in various jobs for my earlier career. I didn’t have the time, money, or dedication to really start writing until later in life. Now I wish I had been able to write earlier as I’m truly passionate about it.

14. How do you find or make time to write?

Finding time to write is always a challenge. At home I have to balance activities promoting my books and writing versus spending time with family and friends, studying French, and volunteering with several non-profit groups. Escaping to Kauai is the best guarantee that I’ll settle down and really work consistently.

15. What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?

I’m not sure I have an answer for this one…

16. What book would you like to write but haven’t or can’t yet?
I have so many ideas for books, but I’m not sure how I’ll get to them all. I take it one book at a time. I have one novel in particular I’d like to write that is inspired by my husband’s family history, but I’m hesitant to write it while all the relatives are still around. We’ll see…


Click here to visit Ms. Russell’s author page.

Interview with Laurel Bragstad, Author of “In the Comfort of Shadows”

A B.R.A.G. Medallion winner for her book, In the Comfort of Shadows, Ms. Laurel Bragstad shared some of her goals, history, and writing secrets.  A writer of contemporary and historical romance.


What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?  

One of my intentions was to write a book that would interest women readers who are between 50-75 years old and present ideas related to dealing with haunting memories. My main goals were to deal with real-life issues of loss and regret, to honor my parents’ memories, and to honor my dad’s long-forgotten cousin by including some of his WW2 diaries. I feel like I achieved these very well.


What do you think most characterizes your writing?

I try to create realistic dialog and logical situations between characters. People have also told me that my book was a “quick read” – not because the writing was simple, but because they became involved with the characters.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?  

I used excerpts from the WW2 diaries of my dad’s cousin. I met my dad’s cousin and acquired the diaries after he died. However, the diary entries were in small pocket notebooks; entries were not in chronological order, and some of the writing had faded over the years. So, first I had to use a magnifying glass to read the diaries as I typed them all out and put them in order. Next, I checked the dates and facts that were recorded in the diary pages just to be sure things like dates of certain battles and names of places were accurate for the entries I used verbatim. Since the author of the diaries is also one of the main characters (Emmett) and a family member, I also wanted to be sure I stayed true to his voice and memory.


What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I liked overlapping the stories of two main characters, Ann and Emmett, together. The characters are in the same family but a generation apart, yet connected by different threads of the same sad memories. I enjoyed developing their relationship, tying ends together, and bridging the generational gap.


How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?

My main character, Ann, is adopted. I am not adopted but my mother died when I was four and a half. I always felt a sense of loss—even though my dad remarried a wonderful, loving woman. My dad refused my questions about my biological mother and that saddened me over the years. Years later, as my father struggled against the cancer that would eventually take his life, I fantasized about someone who could and would answer all my questions. And when I met my dad’s elderly cousin, the “black sheep of the family,” he seemed to be the perfect choice for a character who knew the family secrets that Ann wanted to exploit.


Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?  If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

This was my first book. Since I spend way too much time writing or revising curriculum (instructions, exams, nonfiction text-type stuff) for my college courses – writing fiction is a wonderful and welcome change of pace.


Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

Two things: First, whenever I had a question about anything as a child, my dad always said, “Look it up and you won’t forget” instead of answering my question. Second, I like a good mystery – that’s probably related to the first item here regarding asking questions and finding answers. Like storytelling, I see life in general as an ongoing journey for answers, something like problem solving mixed together with wishin’ and hopin’.


How long have you been writing?

I suppose I started in my twenties even though I was only writing bits and pieces just for me. My book took ten years to finish because of life interruptions of one sort or another. That’s an example of how I don’t write constantly.
What inspires you?  

I always find inspiration in my garden, where I constantly marvel at how each plant has its own personality. Some only bloom in shade, but does that mean they have dark personalities? Some only thrive in full sun or with lots of attention, but does that mean they are needy? Some flowers are stunning, too beautiful for words. Other plants actually stink, have sharp thorns, or cause allergic reactions if touched. Some provide sustenance for birds, bees, and other critters that scatter their seeds or pollen and insure the plant’s next generation. Some flowers last a long time after being cut and put in a vase while others seem to wilt at the sight of scissors. I can go on about these garden characters. But you probably get the idea.


What do you like to read in your free time?
Historical fiction, science-based nonfiction, stories with believable characters in logical but complicated situations.


What projects are you working on at the present?
I started a second novel, but I think I’ve written myself in to a corner with it. I need to work one character into and out of a situation… somehow.


What do your plans for future projects include?

Make more time for my own writing!


When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Not sure I can put a date on that. Seems to me the thought of writing was always there.


How do you find or make time to write?

This is always a problem for me. I teach a college course, I also have an online college course, I have two grandsons I love to spend time with, a garden in summer, and usually some kind of craft project going during the winter. But I try to snatch writing time here and there.


What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?

Did you make the characters in your book older because you didn’t want to write about sex?

I suppose younger readers don’t want to think about how sex works between “older people,” and older people want to keep those secrets to themselves. So in that regard, I’m glad no one has asked.


What book would you like to write but haven’t or can’t yet?

To Kill a Mockingbird.  J  A forever relevant story with timeless social impact.


Click here to purchase her book, In the Comfort of Shadows.



Author Interview with Michelle Eastman, The Legend of Dust Bunnies, A Fairy’s Tail


A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Charla has chosen to interview Michelle Eastman who is the author of, The Legend of Dust Bunnies, a Fairy’s Tail, 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 Legend of Dust Bunnies, A Fairy’s Tail, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


To know more, visit Michelle’s social media/websites at:

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
The goal for publishing my first book, The Legend of Dust Bunnies, a Fairy’s Tail, was to create a picture book for my son. Initially, I had no intention of publishing it for others to read. I just wanted him to have something special from me. Thankfully, the story became much bigger than that, and I am delighted with the way things turned out. Collaborating with illustrator Kevin Richter was a wonderful experience, and that experience led to book number two, Dust Fairy Tales: Absolutely Aggie.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?
What most characterizes my writing is rewriting. I always begin with a legal pad and pen, and a messy, disjointed series of drafts. I cross things out, switch things around, and highlight pieces I like. When I feel I have most of the story fleshed out, I type the first draft on my PC. Then, it begins again. I write and rewrite over and over until I think it is ready to for others to critique.

What was the hardest part of writing this book? 
Oddly enough, the hardest part of writing both of my books was creating the synopsis for the back of the book. I find it very difficult to sum up the entire story in two to three sentences.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
One of the things I enjoyed most about writing both books was creating the dedication page. It means a lot to me to be able to acknowledge the people I love who encourage my writing journey. Being able to acknowledge my son in both books was fantastic.

How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
The idea for magical dust bunnies came to me in college when we were asked to write our own picture books for a children’s literature class. The two books I’ve subsequently written borrow from the original idea, but there is very little of that original story in either book.
The theme both of my books touches on is the desire kids feel to fit in or belong. Both books explore the struggle kids can experience with peer relations, as well as the joy that comes with embracing your own individuality.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
Picture books are a passion of mine. I love to read old favorites and discover new titles. I consider it an honor to be a picture book author.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
I have written and pursued creative arts throughout my life. Picture books have always held a special place in my heart. As a mom, reading to my son every night is a special tradition we still share (even though he’s now eleven).

How long have you been writing?
I have enjoyed writing since early elementary school, but I did not pursue publishing my writing until 2013. After researching agents and publishers, and submitting a few queries, I decided to explore independent publishing. For me, indie publishing turned out to be a great fit. Throughout my journey, I’ve connected with many indie and traditionally published authors, and I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge about the publishing business. At some point, I may pursue traditional publishing, but for now, I am happy with the flexibility and creative control I enjoy as an indie.

What inspires you? 
Reading all of the wonderful contemporary picture books as well as discovering, and rediscovering, old classics inspires me. As a mom, educator, and author, I am also inspired to have an impact in my community. When I learned that nearly 2/3 of children living in poverty do not own books, I decided to make a difference. I created the literacy initiative, Picture Book Pass it On, to get books to children of incarcerated parents. Since 2014, we’ve collected more than 800 books for kids in need. You can learn more about it at

What do you like to read in your free time?
With an active eleven year-old, I don’t have a lot of free time. In my spare moments, I like to read short stories and historical fiction. I love accessing titles from my public library via Overdrive. It really comes in handy while waiting in the stands during long swim team practices.

What projects are you working on at the present?
I am working on an idea for a new picture book series, as well as a Dust Fairy Christmas Tale.

What do your plans for future projects include?
In the future, I see myself writing juvenile historical fiction. It’s a genre I loved reading as a child, and I am excited about all of the possibilities.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I have written stories and poems since childhood. Becoming an author has been a life-long dream. I feel fortunate to have made that dream into a reality.

How do you find or make time to write?
I am not as disciplined as I should be. I tend to be more of a binge writer. Once an idea is in my head, I write incessantly until it is complete. Once I am committed to publishing a story, I do not work on other ideas. I may jot other ideas down for later, but I am not good at multi-tasking writing projects.
What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Well, kids ask some pretty intriguing questions. They may have covered most of them. One of the aspects of being a published author I like best is traveling to schools and libraries and speaking with children. I always wish that Kevin, the illustrator of my books, could be with me to answer questions. His art work is amazing, and kids are always interested in his process. Unfortunately, Kevin is in the UK, and I am in Iowa. So, the logistics don’t lend themselves well to joint author visits.