What I’m doing now: a month of revisions

I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but better late than never: Hey readers! At the end of November, I finally finished the first draft of the final book in the Resistance trilogy.

First draft of third book, Star Wars crawl edition.

A photo posted by A.J. O'Connell (@annjoc) on

It’s been a long time coming. The second book, The Eagle & The Arrow, was released just around the time I found out I was pregnant with my son. After that, I slowed down in the creativity department.

(I’d always assumed that pregnancy would be a time of quiet reflection and creativity for me. Yeah, no. It turns out that I, personally, cannot gestate a baby and a novel at the same time.)

Anyhow, now that the baby is no longer a baby, but a toddler, my third book is nearly finished. But it’s a draft, and my editor asked to see it by the end of this month. (Which is something I remembered at the end of last month.) So my big job this month is to revise that sucker, a set number of pages a time, through the month of February. I started this project February 2, and am more than halfway through with the revision. I’ve been doing it after work, and during nap times, and although sometimes it’s the very last thing I want to be doing after dinner, I’m amazed at how quickly this revision is moving along.

This is only the first step, though. I still need to read through the first and second books to make sure this book — written more than 10 years after Beware the Hawk was written and four years after the second one was written — makes sense. I’m dreading that part because I like reading my writing as much as most people like listening to recordings of their own voices.


This totally made my afternoon: Books & Insomnia’s review of Beware the Hawk

Just a quick post to tell everyone that Julie over at Books and Insomnia reviewed Beware the Hawk. It’s a really good review. I might have danced around the kitchen when I read it. Check it out. Then check out the rest of Julie’s blog. It’s a really great site, and she must read constantly, because there is always new content up over there.

Thank you, Julie! And have a good weekend, everyone. I definitely will.

Freelance & fiction & the third Resistance book, which is definitely being written.

Just a quick post today: I’m working on freelance projects and prepping the fourth chapter of DinoLand for its publication on Sunday (there will be be big doings in Chapter Four, for those who have been following along. I promise you blood, my friends.)

That’s right, freelance projects! I love teaching as an adjunct, but I’ve been wanting to get back into the freelance world for a while, and I’ve finally had the opportunity to do that. It’s part of my long-term goal: freelance as a writer and editor until my books start earning me money and I can live the life of a full-time author. Then I can just sit in my office, eating bonbons and killing characters all day like George R.R. Martin. george-r-r-martin-meme-generator-have-a-favorite-character-not-anymore-cce918

Speaking of George R.R. Martin, it’s taking me a long time, but I am actually working on the final book in the Resistance series. No really, I am. The last book has a title and a new protagonist and everything. I know that my books are under 100 pages (as opposed to Martin’s 3,000 pages) and you’d think I’d be done by now, but as it turns out I have a lot of loose ends to tie up and I’d like to do that well, so it’s taking longer than I’d like.

What I can tell you is that the new protagonist is male, which is new for me in this series, and that we will finally find out what happened to the mysterious package in Beware the Hawk.

Also, the readers’ survey – I have not forgotten my “What Are You Reading” survey, which still needs a bigger sample size. (A lot of people read literary fiction, and almost no one reads philosophy. Descartes would be disappointed in you guys.)

And that’s it for me. I will post more later. I’ve been working on two posts for several weeks, but work and the baby have gotten in the way. Eventually both posts will see the light of day. At least, I hope so.

How to make the best thing in the world: An avocado milkshake

avocado milkshake

This is my favorite thing ever, and I will show you how to make one.

I discovered avocado milkshakes back when I was living and working in Boston, when I first began to come up with the idea for Beware the Hawk. As you might guess from the book, I spent a lot of time in Boston’s Chinatown; I walked through it every day to get to work and to get home, it was right near the bus station, so whenever I went out of town, I came through Chinatown, and then there was my lunch half-hour, and where better to spend it than in the warren of restaurants up the street.

My favorite restaurant wasn’t actually a restaurant at all. It was a food court. I don’t mean a food court like you get in a mall. Rather it was this hot, greasy, second-story room with a lot of vendors and a couple of cafeteria tables crammed into it; I’d have never even known it was there if a friend hadn’t taken it upon himself to bring me up there. It wasn’t a good idea to look too closely at the floors or the tables, but the food was incredible. And even better was a tiny juice bar wedged into a corner of the room. They sold bubble tea, of course, but they also had this watermelon juice that tasted, as my friend put it, “like summer in a glass.” But then there was this other concoction; the avocado milkshake.

I made a face the first time I saw the light green drink.

“Just try it,” said the friend I was with, another recent Chinatown food court convert. I did, and then I abandoned the Watermelon juice for good. The delicate, creamy flavor was unlike anything I’d ever tried. It was the perfect, subtle mix of sweet and savory. For the year I worked in Boston, I ordered an avocado milkshake on every single hot day. But then I got a job in another state and never found an avocado milkshake again. And then the Chinatown food court closed and I despaired. I had my last avocado milkshake in 2001. Until last week, when the weather heated up and I discovered that we had half an avocado in the fridge.

Now it wasn’t that I didn’t try to make these shakes until now. Before I left Boston, I watched the juice man make my drink carefully. I tried to see what he was putting in the blender. I asked him but either he did not speak enough English to tell me, or he wasn’t interested in sharing. And then, when I was living in a city with no avocado milkshakes and a hot day rolled around, I tried to make one. I kept trying, sporadically, for 12 years. I ruined countless avocados and at least one blender.

But now? This is my summer drink. This is what I will make when I take a break from writing during the hot months. It’s back in my life, and I’m not letting it go.

So how do you make an avocado milkshake?

My avocado milkshake uses almond milk rather than cow’s milk. This is partially because I happened to have it, and partially because the calories in an avocado are high enough that I like to offset them with a relatively low-fat alternative to dairy. But even better, the nutty flavor of the almond milk goes very well with the creaminess of the avocado. You’ll see. Also, it’s vegan. (I’m not a vegan, but eating vegan things makes me feel like I’m high-fiving the planet. It’s the CT yuppie in me. I can’t help it.)

It turns out the secret ingredient is patience, which is always in short supply in my kitchen. It’s worth mentioning that I really had no knowledge of avocados at the beginning of this quest. My introduction to avocado milkshakes was also my introduction to avocados, so it was through this attempt to make a milkshake that I became acquainted with the maddening process of choosing a ripe avocado, or ripening an unripe avocado, and understanding the various ways in which they can go bad. So many of my attempts were ruined by unripe avocados and a desire for a milkshake right now.

That, my friends, can only end in tears.

So here’s the first step. Go to the store. Get these ingredients:

avocado milkshake, agave

Don’t make my mistake and get the agave. Apparently it’s terrible for you, goddammit.

Avocados, which are usually on sale this time of year. Get the softest ones you can.
Almond milk.
Some sort of sweetener. (I’m using agave nectar, but only because I didn’t read all the blog posts about how agave nectar is going to grab me by the liver and throttle me before I bought the bottle. You can use honey, maple syrup, Stevia, or good old-fashioned sugar.)

You will also need:
cold water
a blender

Step 2: Forget all about your avocado milkshake until tomorrow. This step is the one that defeated me for a decade. I know this is hard, but you must forget. That avocado needs to be really, really ripe.

Step 3: Is it tomorrow? Is the avocado ripe? Cut it in half. You will only need half an avocado per shake.

The pit will magically keep that other half from spoiling.

The pit will magically keep that other half from spoiling.

Step 4: Put a handful of ice cubes in the blender and crush them.

Step 5: Take the half without the pit, scoop out the tender, soft green stuff in the middle of the avocado and add it to the blender. Put the other half-avocado in a container and put it in the fridge. The pit will keep the avocado from turning brown immediately. It will keep for a day or two like that.

avocado milkshake

Step 6: Add a cup of Almond Milk, a cup of cold water and however much sweetener you want and blend. Once the mixture is well blended and the consistency of a milkshake, it’s ready.

avocado milkshake

It should look like what we affectionately call “Frog in a Blender.”

Step 7: Pour into glass and enjoy. Or you can drink it right from the blender. I’m not judging.

We have a winner! My protagnist has been named!

In a week, The Eagle & The Arrow will be released.  With review copies out already and with Amazon’s uncertain release dates, I cannot keep this secret any longer: the year-long naming contest has been ended and the nameless protagonist in Beware the Hawk has been named!

Who won? What’s the name already? Hold your horses, kids. First, let me dish out a little background:

About a year ago, when I first began to gather and organize my notes to write a sequel to Beware the Hawk, I realized that I had a story-telling problem. As I wrote on this blog at the time:

My book, Beware the Hawk, features an unnamed protagonist, because I really love not naming first-person narrators. Which works well sometimes but not always.  It worked well for the original novella, but what if the character were to appear in other stories? She won’t be able to get through another storyline unnamed. I’ve been calling her Pink in private, but that’s not a real name. You know, like Jane, or Bob, or Ponyboy.

I needed to start work on what would turn out to be but Pink was simply not going to get through a new story without a name. And so I called upon my readers last summer to give her one. The winner would get to name Pink and get a signed, free copy of the next installment of her book.

There were many very special entries (including Devon Sharktopus) but these were the three finalists, chosen by me because I liked all three:

Vanessa Pye, submitted by Daisy Abreu
Hendrikke Penelope Brackensfeld, submitted by Beth Callahan
Harleigh McManus, submitted by Karen Morrissey Covey

Then I asked readers to vote for their favorite names. And like Zarathusra, they spake thus:

The winner is…

Continue reading

Give it away, give it away, give it away now.

Beware The Hawk novellaWow. The Goodreads book giveaway is no joke.

Today I launched my very first giveaway with the site, the first of several giveaways of Beware the Hawk I’m doing to lead up to the release of The Eagle and the Arrow next month.

My giveaway has been for one morning and already it’s been requested by several people. I’ve been checking back every hour like the obsessive person that I am, and it’s been kind of a thrill to watch people participating. Some people have added my book to their shelves. Some people have requested the giveaway. This is totally worth all the research, hair-pulling and cursing at the Internet I did on Friday when I tried to set up this giveaway.

I decided to try a series of giveaways after being prompted by other writers, every how-to-be-an-author-in-2013 blog post ever written and Goodreads itself. It was something I avoided last year, when BTH came out, because at first BTH was an e-book only (you can only give away physical books over Goodreads) and later, despite the advice of publishing friends, I was wary of giving away anything.

You know what? I really wish I tried the giveaway earlier. It’s a way to reach readers who a) I don’t know and b) don’t live near me. Even if the winner doesn’t read the book, or doesn’t like it, I will have still connected with a lot of readers who would be otherwise unavailable to me.

I’m pretty excited about all these readers. In fact, I’m excited about the series of giveaways as well. I’ll be doing one this week, next week and the week after, and then I will do some with the new book as well.

In the meantime, I’m working on some other goodness and I hope to post about that soon.

Fung-What? My favorite bus service is shut down.

fung wah, beware the hawk

By wonder_j  via Wikimedia Commons

As the author of a novella that features their services, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least post briefly that the Fung-Wah has been ordered to take its fleet off the road. By the feds. Which might not be a bad plot element for a third novella.

According to my old employer The Boston Herald (actually, one of my former fellow editorial assistants penned the piece), the very last Fung-Wah bus left South Station last night.

Fung-Wah was told to take its buses off the roads Monday, but the company chartered other buses so that it could keep shuttling passengers between the Chinatowns of Boston and New York.

Which means that there were unmarked Fung-Wahs on the road, which made me wary of every bus I passed on my way to and from work yesterday. (Usually I’m all “Ooh, a charter bus! I bet there’s a touring rock star in there.” Last night I gave them all a wide berth.) But there was no need for worry. The MBTA shut the Fung-Wah party down last night.

(UPDATE: I’m told by someone who knows that it was actually MDOT that shut down the party.)

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I’m a little bummed. I used the Fung-Wah in Beware the Hawk because I felt that generations of readers from the Northeast would get the joke. On the other hand it’s nice not to worry when a Fung-Wah passes me a little too closely and a little too quickly on the highway.

A sequel update, and blogging for Geek Eccentric

It’s Superbowl Sunday and I have some fattening snacks to make, so I will keep this brief.

I got an email from my editor last night and the revisions to my Beware the Hawk sequel, The Eagle and the Arrow, are complete. The manuscript is headed to the copy editors now. This is exciting, because it means all the plot/character/setting/structure work is done and now all that remains is for people to correct my grammar.

Geek eccentric, geek girl

From the same photo session as the GE photo. I don’t know what the problem is. I think I look charming. It’s the communicator pin that makes me so. (See what I did there?)

Next, I am thrilled to announce that I am now also blogging over at Geek Eccentric, a site devoted to all things geekish. I joined the team there last week. My first post, which takes aim at the myth of the Fake Geek Girl and features an apparently horrendous photo of me (but how can a photo with Gandalf and a communicator badge even be horrendous? I don’t get it.) went up on Friday. Check it out.

I will be blogging about  – what else – geekiness and feminism. But no worries. I will still write about the plight of lady dwarves in Middle-Earth here, and indeed, I’m several weeks late in writing a post about dwarf women in The Hobbit. I’ll get on that. Promise.

So that’s it. I’m off to figure out what team I’m rooting for today, and to take a look at my Football for Dummies book so that I can remember what a down is. May the best team win.

Hanging out at Books and Boos.

Books and Boos, signing, Kristi Petersen Schoonover

Yay for book signing!


Just got back from my reading at Books & Boos.

It was great; I did a little reading, and little signing and there was food.

Books and Boos, indie bookstore

The owners.

Before the reading, we had a little symposium with owners Stacey Longo and Jason Harris, and there was much discussion of books and movies and chewing gum from the ’80s. It was a blast. Awesome surprise of the day: fellow VBP author Kristi Petersen Schoonover drove out to Colchester for a visit.

If you want to see all my photos of the event, check out my Facebook author page.

On another note, I can’t stress enough that if you live in the area of Middletown, Connecticut, you should definitely check out this bookstore. If you’re a horror fan, it’s right up your alley. If not, there are all sorts of books there – new and used.  Indie bookstores are increasingly rare, and it’s nice to find one with owners who care about local authors and who know their trade.

indie bookstore, books and boos, colchester, ct

Books and Boos in Colchester.


Reading on Enders Island.

Fairfield MFA

Reading today at Enders Island. If it looks like I’m on an altar, that’s because I am. Enders is a religious retreat, hence the cross and pulpit and stained glass. There’s also a relic in that church, but that’s another story entirely.

I’m back from my MFA program’s alumni day, which welcomes alums back to Enders Island for a meal and a hangout and allows us to attend a seminar and pretend that we’re still in school. Today I took a poetry seminar. I’m not a poet, but the teacher of the seminar I took is Baron Wormser, and he’s incredible, as you’d expect a poet laureate of Maine to be.  I’ve now taken two of his seminars, and just like the first seminar I took with him, this one – which explored argument in poetry – simultaneously inspired me and made my brain hurt.

The administration also very graciously allows us alumni authors to come back and read from our work during a special reading period, which is followed by a group book signing. I didn’t expect to be invited as a reader this residency, since I read last residency, but I was delighted to be invited back to the island to read alongside novelist Chris Belden and poet Colin Halloran.  Being a part of that line-up is no joke.

It’s also really cool for me for another reason: although I read primarily from Beware the Hawk, I was also able to read a taster from the upcoming book, The Eagle and the Arrow. One of the beautiful things about being part of the Fairfield MFA program is that it’s a safe place to share new work, and all three of us did that.

My husband was on camera duty for the reading, and I’m posting the fruits of his labors on my Facebook page. We had some technical difficulties with the lens, but he managed to get photos of the other readers as well. Feel free to visit, like the photos, comment, tag yourself and whatnot.