When everyone decided to read aloud.

trenchcoat party. Just a quick note: I had so much fun at the trench coat party at Made in Bridgeport last night. (Want more photos? Check my author page on Facebook.)

Despite the heat, people did actually arrive in trench coats (and my mother showed up, dressed like this photo of Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. QUALITY.)

There was even a party game in which a noir stereotype was taped to everyone’s back and people had to figure out who they were by asking each other yes or no questions.

I came up with the list of stereotypes, with the help of the folks on my Twitter feed, so I take full responsibility for this:


Sorry about this.

My favorite part of the evening came during the reading. It was a small crowd (thanks, heatwave!) so someone suggested that instead of me doing the reading, we should all take turns reading a paragraph from The Eagle & The Arrow.

Now, when I read, I get self-conscious. All sorts of things go through my head: Did I just skip a word? Does it work better with the skipped word than it does on the page? Did I mean to use the passive voice there? I wonder if I’m boring them. I wonder if my publisher would let me re-write that bit. Maybe I’ll just skip it. I can’t wait to get away from this stool/table/podium. I’m thirsty; I need water. No. I need wine. NO. I need whiskey. Is it ten minutes yet? Did my voice just crack?

Because I know I will do this, I choose short readings. But as a group? We went through the whole first chapter, (some of us using funny voices.) It might have been the first time I’ve ever heard someone else (10 other someones, actually) reading my work aloud, and it was amazing. I could hear my own story, being read to me. Suddenly, I was no longer self conscious, and, actually, a little emotional.

Anyways, it was a great event. I have a couple more scheduled this summer (one tomorrow in Mystic, CT and one I’m confirming for next month.) But none of them will match this one, unless the whole audience decides to pick up a copy of the book and read aloud with me.

It’s hard to rock a trench in a heatwave, but I’m doing it for fiction!

photo credit: i k o via photopin cc

photo credit: i k o via photopin cc

First, an apology to anyone who follows me on Twitter. I’m sorry for clogging your feed with #trenchcoatparty hashtags. I’m just irrationally excited for tonight’s event at Made in Bridgeport. Thanks to Robin Gilmore, owner of MIB, it’s the first book event I’ve ever had that wasn’t more or less just a reading and a signing.

It’s a 1940s noir-themed costume party, first and foremost (I know my book isn’t set in the ’40s, but hey, it’s noir.) I’m a sucker for costume parties. I’ve been torn between wearing a ’40s dress and hat and my trenchcoat/pseudo-fedora tonight. I still haven’t decided. It’s going to be tough to rock a trench on the hottest day of a heatwave, but I never was blessed with an abundance of good sense. And also, that’s why the good lord made air conditioning.

Anyhow, there’s also a mystery that needs solving (I have no idea what it is, but you have to look for clues in the MIB store window) and a game to be played, which involves different stereotypes from noir films (you know, like the dirty cop and the stool pigeon) and a cocktail party (I’ve got the wine downstairs, ready to go.)

This is at a store in the Bridgeport Arcade Mall, which is gorgeous, although finding it for the first time is like solving a mystery in itself. From the front you see a continuation of city block, but go through the right set of doors and you end up in this Victorian confection of a two story building with a beautiful glass dome on the top.

While we’re doing that, a concert’s going to be happening down the block at McLevy Green, part of Bridgeport’s Downtown Thursdays program. Tonight a band called Amy Lynn & The Gun Show is playing, which makes me sort of want to sneak out for a few minutes to see what they’re all about.

Here are the details if you want to come: 5-8 p.m. at Made in Bridgeport in the Arcade Mall. Wear a 1940s noir costume or a trenchcoat, and there will probably have to be a reading, but I will make it short. Promise. We’ve got mysteries to solve.

Trench Coat Party: It’s more than a reading/signing

The Eagle & The Arrow, book, A.J. O'Connell, Vagabondage, Battered Suitcase, Beware the Hawk

Like lots of authors, I’ve done a lot of readings and signings. Most events are pretty much the same, agenda-wise: People arrive, hobnob, the author reads, there’s a book sale/signing, and people leave.  It’s not a bad thing, but most are the same.

Well., bust out your fedora and magnifying glass, because thanks to a local shop owner, the next event I’m doing is going to shake up this format.

It’s a Trench Coat Party. To celebrate The Eagle & The Arrow, Made in Bridgeport, a local store, is throwing a party with costumes, a prize for best costume, a mystery to be solved and of course refreshments. This is on Thursday, July 18 from 5 to 8 p.m. The Facebook invite is here.

This party is the idea of Robin Gilmore, who owns Made in Bridgeport. Here’s her release:

From press release:

Help me kick off author A.J. O’Connell’s newest book, “The Eagle & the Arrow”, her second book. The author will do a reading and signing of this mystery, thriller here at Made In Bridgeport. Also pick up A.J’s first book, “Beware the Hawk” celebrate her work and bring some Q & A for the author about her stories, her roots and her writing experiences.
To add intrigue and suspense to the evening, create a vintage trench coat, gumshoe, spy, private dick look and if you are picked as most convincing P.I. (Private Investigator) you will win a gift certificate for $25 toward Made In Bridgeport Designed Jewelry. So join us in a cool setting with snacks, libations and party faire! Find your fedora, your fem fatale feathered boa, and definitely wear your tenacious trench for this event of vintage fun and fashionable flair.
In the meantime keep your eye out for Made In Bridgeport’s New Window Design ( Coming Soon) to showcase “A Month of Authors”. Pay attention to symbols and clues in the window and be the first to solve the “Mystery at the Arcade”.

I know that during a heat wave like the one we’re living through now, it’s hard to think about being in costume, especially a costume designed to keep people warm and dry, BUT keep an open mind, because you can also dress as a femme fatale, or any other classic noir stock character. Be creative!

Also, know that the party will take place during Bridgeport’s Downtown Thursdays, which also include live music on the McLevy Green and other activities. A lot will be going on that evening. Please join us; I’m so excited about this.

The white party.

There’s not been a lot of writing going on this weekend, but there has been a lot of shoveling.
I just got in from what was probably my 10th stint of shoveling in more than 24 hours, and I’m not going to lie: it was awesome.

I’ve mentioned before that I love shoveling. I realize that in some countries this is an acknowledged sign of extreme mental illness, but I don’t care. Shoveling can be a lot of fun if you have all day, which I do. It’s an excuse to play in the snow, basically. And because I’m pretty much my own child, I will accept any excuse to go out and play in the snow. It’s my own big white party.

It hasn’t been all snowmen and forts, though. We had some excitement last night when our heat went out because our new furnace’s intake was clogged with ice and snow. We were lucky; if it were the exhaust that would have been much worse. Thankfully, my husband noticed the problem in time, and we were able to clean the intake and the exhaust off by hanging out the bedroom window at 2 a.m. with a broom. Good times.

Below are some photos of the snow, because
A) everyone is posting photos and I don’t want to be left out,
B) I needed to learn how to build a photo gallery in WordPress, and
C) I just want to show off our snow like a big kid.

It’s true. I’m not proud.

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Needing a little Christmas.

20121223-091650.jpg20121223-091724I am happy to report that Gandalf is looking down on me from the top of our tree as I type this, surveying from his uncomfortable perch, a living room that’s so overdecorated, you’d never believe that two grown-ups who aren’t hosting even one holiday party live here.

20121223-091449Yeah. I kind of overdid Christmas this year.

20121223-091251Our house is more decorated than ever, the tree is so big that we had some problems fitting our furniture back into the living room, and carols have been playing more or less nonstop for the past two weeks.

I went nuts decking our halls, because we lost almost all our ornaments in the flood that came with Hurricane Sandy, but I went nuts on a budget, because I hate spending money unless I’m buying shoes.I made it work.

600051_10151136786859249_282079868_nInstead of buying decorations, I crafted like a bunch of preschoolers on go-go juice. I made a wreath and stockings and ornaments and cards and wrapped my husband’s presents using only aluminum foil, just because I could. Every night, there was a different project.

I stopped posting my creations to Instagram after someone commented on my apparent love of Christmas, but that didn’t stop me from making stuff. I needed to make stuff. Making stuff made me feel more sane, like I was rebuilding something, even if it meant that I ingested half a teaspoon of glitter in the process. And now, looking around our insanely festooned living room (it looks like a drag queen exploded in here) I think that my crafting binge may have helped.

I think I just needed the holiday. It’s been a bad couple of months in our area of the country, and so Christmas and a new year seem particularly welcome right about now.

So happy holidays to those who celebrate. Catch as much of the spirit, and the comfort, of the season as you can.card

Democrat for a Day

True story.

I enjoy being not being registered with any political party. I like to think of myself as a political free agent, always free to vote for the candidate I like best, rather than feeling bound by party loyalty. As a journalist, I feel like it’s responsible for me to remain unaffiliated.

But today, my civic duty as a voter trumps my desire to appear impartial as a journalist, and so for at least 48 hours, I am a Democrat.

An important local primary is happening today  in Bridgeport. Two powerful mayoral candidates – Mayor Bill Finch and challenger Mary Jane Foster – are vying for the D slot on the ballot in November. This primary may well decide the mayoral race. True, we also have Republicans and Independent candidates running for mayor, but the Dems are the dominant party in town, and I felt that to properly participate in this race, I had to vote in the primary.*

I don’t like being affiliated. I don’t always agree with the National Democratic Party. But this isn’t the national party we’re talking about here. For me, local politics is infinitely more important than the national variety. In local politics we’re closer to the government, we’re closer to the politicians and there are fewer of us voting. We’re also choosing entry-level politicians who may or may not go on to state or national office. That gives us more of a voice at the local level.

To use my voice effectively, I felt I had to register as a Dem.

I don’t know if that means that I’m going to remain a Dem until we move out of town. I’m thinking about it – it might make sense to vote in each primary. But I may return to unaffiliated bliss by the end of the week. I haven’t yet made my decision.


*I shant say for whom I voted, because as a journalist who sometimes covers Bridgeport, I think it’s important to keep that sort of thing to myself, particularly in a blog post that will remain on the Internet forever.

FEMA visit

Yesterday, the claims adjuster from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (we’ll just call it FEMA) came to the house. He was very nice, and like many of the people who’ve come through my neighborhood in the past few weeks (American Red Cross volunteers, distributors of FEMA information) he hailed from a faraway state.

He walked around our house, surveyed the damage and made notes on a tablet. The visit was strange for a lot of reasons. For one thing, our house is still a mess, but really, everything is back to normal. All the major appliances have already been replaced. All the garbage is gone. The house no longer smells like low tide. It’s stopped being a clean-up and started to be more of a renovation.

When the adjuster came by, I was sitting at the kitchen table, copy-editing and drinking tea.
After his tour of the premises, the adjuster stood in the kitchen and ran through his list of prescribed questions. The last one was this: “Do you feel you will have to relocate while your repairs are made?”
It was strange to be asked that, as I stood in my kitchen with my tea still steaming on the table and my dog sitting at my feet, when so many people are so much worse off than we are. My husband’s family is from Texas. They’re all okay, but they’ve sent us photos of the fires. Thousands of homes have been incinerated. And then there’s Vermont, where whole towns became rivers during Irene. And there are the people near us, whose homes washed into the Sound.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for any help we can get. The saltwater destroyed all the major appliances and most of the belongings we kept downstairs. Still, what we experienced was a hardship, not a disaster. I can’t imagine coming back to our home to find that everything – even the vehicles – has been destroyed. Or coming back to find that my first floor is coated in a chocolate fondant-like layer of river mud, or of discovering that the back half of my home has been sunk out at sea.

We’re lucky. We still have our home and each other and the furry critters. We still have a house for the FEMA adjuster to inspect.

Old photos.

We’ve been on a cleaning and drying spree after Hurricane Irene let part of the Atlantic ocean into our basement. Let there be no illusions about this work – the basement clean-up has been a long, long time in coming. Irene and her shenanigans merely forced our collective hand. If you want an idea of how we’ve been using our basement, you need look no further than Arlo Guthrie’s seminal work “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.”

If you remember, Alice and her husband Ray lived up in the bell tower with Fasha the dog, and left all their garbage in the church below.

"Havin' all that room, seein' as how they took out all the pews, they decided that they didn't have to take out their garbage for a long time."

You can almost make this simile into a mathematical equation:
If I = Alice, my husband = Ray, Esther = Fasha the dog, then the basement = the church, where the pews used to be, and there must be a LOT of garbage down there.

Going through it all is an interesting process. Often it’s been distressing  (we’re replacing a lot of appliances this week), sometimes depressing (for some reason, I was deeply saddened by the loss of my Christmas wrapping paper), and occasionally, felicitous. (Buh-bye, husband’s ginormous speakers that look like Stonehenge! Au revoir, unwanted furniture that we couldn’t get rid of because sometimes we need extra chairs! Peace out, box of random stuff that we were keeping for unknown reasons!)

Sometimes, this clean up is just interesting. I spent part of this morning, after dragging soggy crap up from the basement and before coming up to my (thankfully) dry office to start work, cleaning old photos. This was a great job, mostly because it was a less nasty alternative to cleaning out the food in the upturned chest freezer downstairs.

They were pictures of my husband’s family, mostly photos from the ’60s, and I had to separate them, dunk them in fresh water and lay them out quickly to dry. This felt like an amazing amount of responsibility because these are old photos that had been floating in saltwater. There are no negatives, at least not on this side of the Mississippi, and many of the people and places in the photographs are long gone. One false move with the tweezers or a thumbnail and someone could lose a face, or a head, or an aunt, sitting at the kitchen table.

We were lucky. We only lost a few. I laid the survivors out on newspaper on our kitchen table. I’ve never understood people who are willing to go into their burning homes to try and save their family photos, but this morning, as I stood, looking at the mosaic made up of all these people I’ve heard about, but have never met, I realized why. These are faces that will never be seen again. Some are deceased, some are just changed. My husband will never be a little boy again. That big turtle will never cross the dirt road in front of that house again. Those people will never again gather to sit on the back of that truck and smile.

And even if the people in the photographs remember sitting there, with those smiles and each other, there will be people like me, who weren’t at the party, but wanted to feel as though they were.

This is just the first batch. There are much older photos in the basement, photos of nameless turn-of-the-century girls with fishing nets and bathing costumes and  vaguely familiar facial features. I know they’re down there, but we haven’t found them in the debris. I’m not sure we’ll be able to save those, but I will try.

Storm Surge

We were going to stay. We might have been fine if we stayed.

But when the City of Bridgeport ordered a mandatory evacuation on Saturday afternoon to people in my neighborhood ahead of what was, at that point, Hurricane Irene, I decided that we weren’t going to take our chances with the storm. We packed our bags and headed to my family’s place.

We were back in less than 24 hours. The storm seemed like it had been over-hyped. We didn’t see any downed trees or accidents on the highways. Everything was great. Then we  turned onto our street. The Long Island Sound, which normally keeps to itself,  had come inland, about half a mile.

Usually, when you stand in this spot, you're looking down at the Long Island Sound, not wading in it.

Our whole neighborhood was under water. We parked the car several blocks away and started wading. I had visions of our living room furniture floating, or worse, of our house tilting in the saturated soil, and falling over, like so many trees shown on the news.  But when we stepped out of the water and onto the porch, we realized those fears were unfounded.

We shone our flashlights into  the basement. It was flooded almost to the top. Paint cans and other debris floated by. We couldn’t see it, but our washer and dryer and the big chest freezer had floated up and tipped over. It all seemed like a little too much right then. I’m not sure what pushed me over the edge. Maybe it was all that water, reflecting the light from my flashlight back up at me. Maybe it was watching a pitcher I’d used for drinking water floating by in the filth, but that’s when I began to panic.

And I realized something. Some people should not have a phone when they’re drunk. Some people should not have a phone when they’re hormonal. I should not have a phone when I’m panicking. Fueled by a rush of fight-or-flight adrenaline, I promptly called my mother and reported to Facebook that the house was under water. Sorry, Facebook friends. Things were not nearly as bad as I felt they were at the moment. You all did not need to read my fear-fueled updates.

Things didn’t end up being so horrendous. Two of our closest friends, whose own power was out, had us over, grilled us some hot dogs, and came back to our house with their pumps and a case of drinking water. Our neighbor let us use her electricity. I hope that someday we can be as much of a help to them as they were to us.

This is what it looked like before the drains were cleared.

This is the best part – it was our neighbors and friends who cleared our street of water. The gentleman who lives across the street from us waded out with a broom and began pushing away the debris on the closest storm drain and then clearing leaves, fallen branches and garbage from the drain with his hands. We heard bubbling from the center of the street. Several of us rushed out with rakes and sticks and poles and our hands and spent the next hour pulling leaves out of drains. You’d clear one and there’d be a sudden strong pull on your hand as the water began to fall from the street into the sewer below. And then, if you’d cleared the drain enough, a small whirlpool would appear. People came along and took cell phone videos of us, standing up to our thighs in floodwater, clearing drains. I’m sure we’re on YouTube somewhere. Within a few hours the street had drained completely. We would still have standing water if it weren’t for our neighbor’s idea.

This morning, I took a walk down to the small, usually nasty beach at the end of our street. I had to walk through some weird Lovecraftian muck to get there, but when I did, I was surprised. The beach was higher than usual. There was about a foot of new, clean sand. The water was still and shining and the sun was out. A beautiful beach after an awful storm is so cliché; the writer in me was sickened. But the Bridgeport resident who’s had enough of clouds and brackish water was happy to see it.

I once read an article which said that people don’t like to read positive, inspirational blog posts.  Well tough noogies. Here are some lessons I learned yesterday:

– There are no winners in an argument about whether or not you should evacuate your home.

– If you can pack for a mandatory evacuation, you can pack for anything.

– Mandatory evacuations are not actually mandatory.

– We are a nation of idiots with cameras in our cell phones.

– Good friends are the best resource ever.

– Knowing and being willing to help your neighbors is the smartest thing anyone can do.

– Teamwork can clear a flooded street a lot faster than Public Works can.


The shovel has returned.

I woke up with a plan this morning: Coffee, shoveling, novel, in that order.

My plans to shovel were thwarted the instant I got out the door. I loaned the snow shovel to one of the neighbors, who is from a warmer clime and who looked like he needed to dig out his car in order to go to work. He accepted the shovel and took off down the street with it. That was an hour or so ago. Possibly he’s digging out a friend. Maybe he’s just running around, yelling “Whee, I stole a shovel.” Whatever he’s doing with the shovel, I haven’t seen him in a while.

I’m a little irked about this, because I  enjoy shoveling. There are a lot of reasons to like it: It’s cheap exercise, I get to interact with the neighbors, I get to be outside and there’s the instant gratification of physical labor.

But those aren’t the reasons I like shoveling.

I like shoveling because I can shovel any way I want to. I can shovel in a diagonal line. I can shovel in a circle. I can shovel half the steps and then decide to stop and go inside. I can shovel my name into the snow in front of our house.

I never do any of those things, but I can.

Why? Because of my childhood, of course. Continue reading