An evening in the open air in Torrington.

Mainstreet1Last night I was at Torrington’s Main Street Marketplace. I was lucky enough to be in the Library’s tent as part of the Torrington Author Expo with Stamfordite Rich Arruzza, who writes the Sparky’s Adventures children’s series.

Arruzzo in full Sparky regalia.

Spotted Rick.

You’ve really got to hand it to Arruzza; he was dressed head to toe in white with black spots, just like his dog, Sparky.

 

Warner, Torrington

The sign for Torrington’s Warner Theater.

I really want to thank the Torrington Library for allowing me to do this. It was a beautiful evening and a great time. I met an aspiring video game creator, talked to several other writers and had a wonderful conversation about books and literature with a couple who love books so much that they’re getting territorial about the remaining bookshelf space in their home. (This is something my husband and I can relate to.)

I only have a few photos up here. For more, head to my Facebook Author Page.

For those who live in Litchfield County in Connecticut and who want to go: The Marketplace is a weekly event held by Torrington, CT. The town shuts down Main Street every Thursday from 5-9 p.m. in the summer and brings in vendors and entertainment. It’s pretty incredible. I grew up near Torrington and its downtown is looking way better than I remember.

Author Tamela J. Ritter gives me my very own g-chat interview.

I’ve been doing g-chat interviews for slightly more than a year now. Thus far, I’ve interviewed lit mag editors, bloggers and other authors. I like using g-chat as a chat format. It takes a little longer than a phone conversation, but it’s easier to reproduce as a document online. Also, it’s pretty hard to misquote someone in a g-chat script.

Well, last week one of the authors I interviewed a few months ago  – my friend Tamela J. Ritter - turned the tables on me by giving me my very own g-chat interview. It was a lot of fun to be on the recieving end of the questions this time.

She’s posted the completed interview here, on her blog. Check it out.

The first review of The Eagle & The Arrow has been posted!

The book itself won’t be released until June 11, but the first review for The Eagle & The Arrow has been posted, and I am thrilled.

Please check out So, I Read This Book Today and give the review a read.

So, I Read This Book Today is a brand new book review site run by Leiah Cooper, a lover of books and a fellow knitter. (She also makes quilts. She’s a woman of many talents.)

Her review of The Eagle & The Arrow made my day. Here’s one part of the review that made me squeal and do a happy dance in my office:

If your interests are the smart, the funny, the snide and the thoughtful, don’t miss this little book. It is a true gem of Modern Americana with a twisted mindset that has me looking forward to going back and reading the first book, as well as look forward to anything Ms. O’Connell writes next.

I cannot convey you how happy this makes me.

This is the part of the blog where I admit to being a gigantic coward when it comes to reading my reviews. I’m always nervous when I send out the review copies, but I’m much more nervous when a reviewer emails a link to me and tells me that his or her review is live. The first time I read any review of my work, I look at it through my fingers, while holding my breath, like a kid at a horror movie.

This is why I set my five bad reviews goal this summer. That way, when I get a bad review, I won’t be quite so disappointed, because yes, I will be getting a bad review, but I will also be achieving a goal.

Thankfully, I’m not on my way to that goal quite yet. This review was so good, and so thoughtful that it made my day. You can check it out the whole review here.

If you want to see more from Leiah, check out the sidebar. I am adding her site to my Links section.

I could get used to radio.

WNPR, Colin McEnroe

Just after we got off the air.

Wow. That was fun. I’m just back from Hartford, and wanted to update the blog quickly and let you know how the show went.

First of all, the Colin McEnroe Show was a lot of fun. Colin, Lucy, Brian and Chandra had a lot to say about the state of the novel. The hour went by more quickly than I thought it would.

I really enjoyed the discussion. We heard “crap” used as an adverb in a clip, someone called in from Rwanda to talk about why e-books are such a gift to her, Lucy told us that the novel is called a novel, because it was a new art form and novel means “new” (which I guess I knew but never thought much about) and Game of Thrones was discussed. Repeatedly.

If you missed it, you can hear it online and see photos: click here for the show’s web page.

Oh, and I didn’t use my index cards at all. I had them out and I shuffled them on the desk in front of me, but I didn’t use them.

But then, I knew I wouldn’t.

 

Headed up to Hartford for Colin McEnroe’s radio show.

It’s almost time to depart Bridgeport for Hartford, Conn. in order to appear on Colin McEnroe’s radio show at 1 p.m.

index cards, author appearance, Colin McEnroe

Honestly, I can barely read these.

As I wrote Friday, I will be appearing with three other authors to talk about the future of the novel. (Is it dying? Is it being cheapened by popular fiction?)

If you want to listen and you’re in CT, the radio station is 90.5 FM. If you don’t live in CT, you can listen to the live show here. The live show is a call-in ((860) 275-7266) and starts at 1 p.m. A rerun of the show airs at 8 p.m. or you can listen to the podcast here.

I will publish all these links to all my social media shortly.

At the moment, I’m sitting here with my second coffee. The mad dash to finish up my index cards is upon me. I’m scrawling the names of authors, works they’ve published and years of publication. I’ve got a couple of quotes, the name of a series, and for some reason, the definition of “bowdlerize.” I can’t read half the cards I’ve written. There are arrows from one random word to another. Items are circled for reasons that now escape me.

All this is pretty standard, actually. I write up index cards like this for almost every appearance I do, but I never use them. I read from the top one sometimes, but then I completely forget about them. It doesn’t matter. It’s like taking notes in class; the act of writing down the notes helps me remember what I wrote. And anyway, I always feel better having them with me.

Anyhow I have to get moving. Come, listen to me, Brian Slattery, Chandra Prasad and Lucy Ferriss talk to McEnroe at 1 p.m. Call in. Tweet to me. Join our chat about the novel.

So excited: I will be on WNPR’s Colin McEnroe Show Monday.

Guys. GUYS. I’m going to be on WNPR on Monday. On the Colin McEnroe show On the radio.

I will be on the air with three other CT authors: Chandra Prasad, Brian Slattery and Lucy Ferriss.

We will be talking about the future of the novel with McEnroe, who is himself an author, at 1 p.m. on Monday, and folks, it’s a call-in show. This is the number: (860) 275-7266.  Call in. Ask lots of questions. The show airs on WPNR-FM 90.5 in Connecticut, but if you don’t live here, that’s okay, you can listen live (or listen to the file later) by going here.

UPDATE: If you miss the 1 p.m. show, a rerun will air at 8 p.m. Thanks to Betsy from WNPR for letting me know.

I’m going to be honest; I’m a little nervous to be on a panel with these authors. They’re all extremely accomplished. But I’m also excited; I can’t wait to talk with them about writing in general and the novel in particular.

For those of you who are not from Connecticut, Colin McEnroe is kind of a big deal. He was on AM radio when I was growing up and he must have been on at a time when I was home from in school, because his was one of the voices I heard daily.

I could go on and on, but I will make a long story short: in 2009, McEnroe moved to WNPR, which is one of CT’s NPR affiliates. He’s got a show that runs from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays, and that’s the one I will be on Monday. He’s great to listen to; he’s a wit and he’s smart as hell and opinionated as a radio host ought to be. I once read a piece that described him as “The Hunter Thompson of Connecticut Journalism.” I don’t know if that’s really the case, but I aim to find out.

So guys, listen, call in. Tweet about it. It’s going to be fantastic.

‘From These Ashes': an interview with author Tamela Ritter

From These Ashes I met Tamela Ritter about 10 years ago, in a writing group called Pencils! which met in a Barnes & Noble in Connecticut. We were allowed to bring five pages and read them aloud. The first thing I ever heard Ritter read was a scene featuring an injured young man, with no memory of his identity but a unexplained knowledge of how to survive in the wilderness.

I listened intently to the story as the young man patched up his injuries with only a tee shirt and river water purified in beer cans and then… Ritter’s five pages were up and I wanted more.

More is here! It took a decade, but Ritter’s first novel, From These Ashes, was published by Battered Suitcase Press in March. It features the boy without a memory — Tim — his sister Naomi, and their struggle to find a home, themselves and each other in the American northwest.

It’s a marvelous book, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve been wanting it to be published for 10 years. It’s got everything: a coming of age story, family drama, Native American culture, cults and beautiful language. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

On Tuesday I sat down to a g-chat interview with the author herself to talk about the book, her life as a writer and what being a newly published author is like.

This is a two-part interview. When you get to the end, click the appropriate link to go to page two.

Editor’s note: The following interview was conducted over the internet and has been edited. Typos have been corrected, and for the sake of clarity, some sections of the interview have been moved around.

About the Book

A.J.: So, Tamela, you’ve just published your first novel, “From These Ashes.” What has your first month as a published author been like?

Tamela: Sort of crazy. Two weeks ago today I was constantly going to Amazon and looking for myself just to make sure the book stayed there and it wasn’t a dream. Since then it’s just been so many levels of awesome, terrifying and surreal.

A.J.: So you’re not still constantly checking Amazon now? Because I wouldn’t judge you if you were.

Tamela: I’ve curbed the instinct and now it’s only a daily thing, not an hourly thing. It doesn’t change much there after a while, yeah?

A.J.: Well, the reviews will be coming in now. That’s something that changes for a while.

Tamela: That’s exciting. I love seeing what people’s reactions are, what resonates with them, what sticks. It’s always so different and random. People have been nice to it so far, both there, on Goodreads and in my life. It’s good to hear, and will help beef me up for when people who aren’t related to me read it. :)

A.J.: So before we go any further we should probably talk about your book itself. Can you tell me in 25 words or less what your book is about?

Tamela: A brother and sister’s journey to find themselves and each other. Shit, that’s only 11… hold on… A brother and sister and their journeys of discovery as they search for each other and a place to belong. Or something…

A.J.: Great!

Tamela: I liked what you said in your review about a sister who can’t speak and a brother who can’t remember. I will be stealing that from now on, fyi. :)

A.J.: That’s cool with me!

Tamela: Do you ever read reviews and wonder where these people were when you were trying to come up with the summary of your story?

A.J.: All the damn time.

A.J.: Your story starts in this very interesting place, with a teenage Naomi – that’s the sister – writing her story in a cult recovery center. And you find out in the opening chapter that she and her brother Tim are Native American and that Native American-ness is a big part of the plot. Why did you choose to incorporate those two elements: cults and American Indians?

Tamela: Haha, I just answered this question in the only other interview I’ve ever done. Now here I am already repeating myself. Lets see if I can jazz it up for you.

Neither of these elements were going to be a part of the story if you can believe that. I never in a million years thought I’d be writing about Native Americans because for so long, my own status as one has been something that I knew was true about me, but never knew what it meant to be Indian. I am Cherokee on my mother’s side. My mother comes from a very troubled family and I believe that she attributes some of this to “being Indian” so all I know about it is from my grandmother, Naomi. But, like I said, troubled family, so we didn’t spend a lot of time with her, but what I remember is how proud she was of her heritage, how tightly she held onto it and also it seemed to me that she held my brother Tim up and loved him just a little bit more special because of all of us, he looked the most Indian.

So, when it came time to explain why my character Tim was so special, it just came to me that he should be Indian. It all came from there.

A.J.: You know, I always knew that your brother Tim was the reason why the brother in the story was named Tim, but I didn’t know where the name Naomi came from.

Tamela: And the cult was a bit like that too… actually the cult was entirely the fault (or credit) of NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month]. I needed a crisis, a conflict and I had this guy (Larry) and I didn’t know what to do with him as there was no way I was going to make my story about evil step-fathers. And it just came to me and for me, they both tie together because for me both are about finding a place to belong.

A.J.: I want to ask a little more about the Indian aspect of the novel. Did you do a lot of research into tribes and reservation life?

Tamela: I did do a lot of research… but I also did a lot of living around reservations, having friends in reservations and absorbing as much as I could with no other reason besides that people fascinate me.

A.J.: When did the story in “From These Ashes” first occur to you, and how?

Tamela: At first it was bits and pieces, stories I wanted to tell, like about my brother’s death, writing exercises that got away from me, and then I started to notice that all the stories had the same protagonist and they all sort of looked like my brother in my mind. It was right around this time that I first heard about NaNoWriMo the first time and I thought, ‘What a perfect excuse to make something of this.’

A.J.: That was in 2003?

Tamela: 2004

A.J.: I read it back then, and I remember it being a great novel. But it was a little different. How has the novel grown since 2004? What’s changed?

Tamela: Man, sometimes, like when I read through it after I’d made the first round of edits with my editor everything seems different than it was, but other times I look at it and see hardly any changes. Well, except the first chapter. The first chapter had always been a mess and stayed that way for a long time. I just didn’t have any ways to fix it back then, didn’t have the skills required, but when that came in place (many, many years and attempts later), everything else were such easy fixes it felt it had always been that way.

A.J.: It’s a story that goes to some dark places. Did it always?

Tamela: Um… yeah. Dark places are sadly sort of my thing. I mean, like everything else, I didn’t set out to tell a story that would rip out my heart as I wrote it. I never set out to tell those stories, they just sort of happen to my fiction.

Man, makes me sound like I had no plans whatsoever… which I guess is sort of true. Still…

A.J.: You’ve got a lot of complicated characters in this book; not all of them are great people but all of them are sympathetic. Who was the most difficult to write?

Tamela: Hmmm, tough one. I guess the hardest and the one I was most terrified of not getting right was Virginia, the mother. For a very long time she was just “the villain” and I did very little to flesh out how or why. Then I overcompensated and tried to give her a shit ton of back story (which was why my first chapter was always such a mess). It wasn’t until we get to The Way and I started exploring other aspects of her, that I started to see how I could flesh her out without having to give her whole life story. I just had to keep remembering, no one’s the villain in the story of their own life. And just like her children, she was searching for something too.

Next section: About the Author

Tamela Ritter’s ‘From These Ashes’ is released today!

Tamela J. Ritter, From These Ashes, Battered SuitcaseI am so excited. My friend Tamela Ritter’s novel, “From These Ashes” was released today!

I will be writing about this more in the future, but I asked her for a quote about her first release so I could post about it, and here’s what she said:

“Having a hard time wrapping my mind around it, but if Amazon says it, it must be true: Today is the day this story and its characters FINALLY live in the world, not just my mind!”

Those characters live in my mind too, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them again. I first read the novel 10 years ago, when it was differently titled and we were in a writers’ group together.

I loved the novel; it’s a coming of age story, told in flashback from the point of view of a Native American teenager who is living in a cult recovery center. She and her brother had been traveling the U.S. in search of a home, and then… something happens.

I cannot wait to read it again. If you love Sherman Alexie, Native American tales, the American West (her writing always reads to me like a love letter to the land), or if you just love a good story, check it out.

I’ll post more about it later. Just as soon as I’ve got my copy.

Tweed holds a stink, and other lessons from AWP

Richard Russo, Jennifer Haigh, AWP, Boston.

The best picture I got? A blurry shot of Richard Russo, pouring water for Jennifer Haigh.

I spent Wednesday through Sunday at a writing conference in Boston, and I have what you could probably call an AWP hangover. I am moving around my office slowly, shifting piles of literary journals from place to place, drinking a lot of water and trying hard not to take a nap on the keyboard.

Because I spent three days frantically tweeting the conference, I was planning to write a big post about AWP and the helpful writing things I learned there, but I can’t even. What I can do is give you this list, however, of the things I learned this weekend that may or may not be helpful:

  1. Tweed holds a stink. Launder that vintage jacket, gentlemen. It’s not going to get any less nasty without the help of a dry cleaner.
  2. Take some time to learn how the camera in your new device works before stepping into any convention center. People like photos that aren’t blurry.
  3. Socially awkward writers like to make observations about how socially awkward other writers are. But not in person; on the internet.
  4. Speaking of which, the easiest way to make friends at AWP is via Twitter.
  5. Also, Twitter was the easiest way for me to take notes. (I can read my tweets, which is more than I can say for the notes in my notebook.)
  6. Someone needs to make writer paper dolls, featuring buns, turtlenecks, peaked caps, pencil skirts, Neil Gaiman hair and tweed with cartoon stink lines coming off of it.
  7. If you leave postcards, journals or any other promo materials on a cafe table at AWP, a janitor will come by five minutes later and very politely tip your stuff into the trash.
  8. Ben Percy’s description of literary fiction as a genre* should be inscribed on something in stone.
  9. If you hear Ben Percy’s voice, you’ll understand that everything he says sounds as if it actually is inscribed in stone.
  10. I came out of AWP with a lot of brand new heroes (Jennifer Haigh, Michelle Legro, Sarah Einstein) but Julianna Baggott is my spirit animal. And not just because she led a raid on the men’s bathroom.
  11. OMG. You need a Tumblr.
  12. Take #11 with a grain of salt; someone from Tumblr was on the panel that told me that.
  13. Very few people at AWP want to hear you read from your book. They are much more worried about their own books.
  14. The bigger the author, the more people want to unburden themselves emotionally during those last five minutes of Q&A.
  15. Wine+book fair = event planner genius.
  16. Getting trapped in a panel > getting locked out of one.

*Ben Percy’s definition of literary fiction went something like this: “You may as well call literary fiction its own genre in which a bunch of pretty sentences drink tea and look out a window at boiling clouds until someone has an epiphany.” That’s not it exactly. I hurt myself laughing and couldn’t get the whole quote.