Writing about wanting to be Han Solo at The Mary Sue

Last week The Mary Sue published an essay that my friend and fellow VBP author Tamela Ritter wrote about our feelings for Han Solo. Neither one of us had a crush on him, exactly: I wanted to be him. Tammy wanted to be his best friend.

And the response has been amazing.

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Our feelings about Han were a little confusing when we were kids, because we both grew up at a time when “oh, girls just like Star Wars because they think Han/Luke/Lando is hot” because you know, girls are only supposed to like girl things and when we were growing up, Star Wars was considered a boy thing.

Anyhow, this was a piece we wrote together for an anthology, Golden Fleece Press’s The Fandom Universe… A Galaxy Far, Far, Away

Tammy emailed me in May to tell me submissions were due at the end of October, and I said, hey, that’s cool. We have six months to work on this. And then we forgot all about it until the end of October. (We ended up writing our essay in a weekend. It was the weekend of my brother’s birthday, in fact. I was making edits on my phone while my husband drove us to my brother’s house for a family party.)

Despite the rush, I was thrilled with the end product. I love writing with Tammy; she has a very poetic style, and when we work together, my prose becomes 20 percent more literary. The essay was accepted by Golden Fleece, but I really wanted to get it out there for as many people — women especially — to see as possible.

The Mary Sue had published one of my essays before, so I thought what the hell. Why not pitch it? The response has been incredible.

There have been so many shares, and so many comments from other women who wanted to be Han, or from women who wanted to be Luke, from guys who wanted to be Leia. There have been comments from kids of all genders who grew up with a crush on Han, or on Mon Mothma, or on Yoda, even. I’ve seen people in my own Facebook timeline sharing the article, not knowing that I was one of the writers. It’s been a little weird, seeing my own words quoted at me in my timeline – especially since wanting to be Han Solo (even if I didn’t really know that’s what I wanted at the time) was a central part of my childhood. Not a lot of people knew that I pretended to be a pilot in my childhood bedroom as a kid, and it’s odd to think that so many people have read that about me now.

But it’s also kind of amazing. If this is the only thing I’ve written that ever goes even a little bit viral, I’ll be happy with that.

Will I see the new movie? Probably not for a while. (It’s the holidays and I’d have to get a babysitter and being an adult is occasionally no fun when it comes to midnight film releases.) But I might watch all my VHS tapes of the old ones.

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Living from one deadline to the next, and why it’s time for me to start blogging again

A lot’s been going on lately and when I say “a lot,” I mean woah, I’ve had a lot of deadlines lately.

I’ve been quiet over here, mostly because I’ve been writing my words elsewhere. I used to write about pop culture here — now I pitch those ideas to The Mary Sue, The Establishment and whomever else will have me. I used to write about books here  — now I contribute to Book Riot.  I used to write my thoughts here, but now I don’t have as much time as I used to because I’m working a freelance copywriter.

Doing client work on a dank day.

A post shared by A.J. O'Connell (@annjoc) on

That’s a pretty interesting gig. I work from home and write for a living, about all sorts of things and for several different companies. In some ways, it’s a lot like being a reporter. In others, it’s very very different. That’s probably worth a blog post, because it took me a long time to develop the language I needed to describe the work I was doing.

The upshot of all of this is that my business has been growing, which has been excellent, but I’ve also had less time to write my own fiction, and even less time to blog here, so of course, it’s the blog that’s losing out.

Recently, though, my brain’s been feeling kind of full. Not full of essay material, or fiction, or anything useful. It’s just… full. And I think this might be because I haven’t had time to sit and think, or to journal, about the work I’m doing. I’ve been working, and researching, and writing and momming (that’s another story) but I haven’t taken any time to organize those thoughts. I’ve just been living from one deadline to the next.

I also heard in a podcast (I’ve been listening to lots of these lately) that many authors are turning their blogs into Now sections, or rather sections detailing what those writers are doing right now. Which sounds like journaling to me. And which also brings blogging back to its roots. The earliest blogs were journals.

I’m going to try that here. Journaling and talking about work always helps me to focus. I can’t always be driving myself to work, and sometimes I need to stop and sit and think in order to be productive, but I’m always forgetting that.

So hello again, blog. Let’s do this.

 

From today until Thanksgiving, ‘Final Statements’ is free on Amazon

finalstatementsHello everyone!

Thanksgiving is coming up in the U.S., and to celebrate, I’m offering my short story, Final Statements for free on Amazon, from today until Wednesday, the day when we will all be cooking, traveling, or frantically screaming that company is coming and why isn’t this house clean already.

Just go to the link for the free short story. (It is an e-book, so you will need a reader or an app to read it.)

After all, Thanksgiving is a family holiday, and Final Statements is a story about family. Maybe not a great family, but hey, let’s celebrate all families.

 

Scary author tasks: Asking for reviews

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“Excuse me, if you like me, can please you tell everyone how awesome I am? If not, you have my permission to punch me in the face.”

Asking a book blogger to review your novel is a little like approaching a stranger on the street and saying: “Excuse me, if you like me, can please you tell everyone how awesome I am? If not, you have my permission to punch me in the face.”

Okay. Maybe that’s a little melodramatic, but that’s what it feels like to me. And it’s that time again: book review request time.

Every couple of months, I sit down with a spreadsheet and a copy of the Book Reviewer Yellow Pages, take a deep breath, remind myself that it’s too early in the day to start drinking, and start writing emails.

When I put it like that, it  doesn’t sound that difficult, but it is. It’s one of my most demanding tasks as an author, both physically and emotionally.

Physically demanding, because I like to send out several requests in a day, but the requests can never be one mass request. That would be disrespectful.
Every blogger has her own review guidelines, and those review guidelines have to be respected. So if I’m sending out 12 emails to 12 bloggers, I’m typing an individualized email to each, trying to follow their instructors to the letter. (Sometimes bloggers will slip something crazy into their guidelines, like a math problem, or a random phrase, just to make sure authors are paying attention and following directions.) Then there are typos. I worry about typos, and when I fret about them, I create more of them, so each email takes a while.

Emotionally demanding, because basically, I’m spending a lot of time and effort to very politely ask a stranger to give me what could be a horrible review.
Asking people for opinions is a gamble. It’s hard to say “Here, I wrote this thing. Please, tell everyone on the Internet what you think of it.”
Part of the reason it’s so difficult is because I start writing the bad review I expect to get in my head as I’m writing my request to the reviewer. I have to be careful to not write disclaimers or apologizes for the work into the request. I also have to be careful to avoid false bravado.

It’s not my favorite task, but my fears are often unjustified. Many of the reviewers who have responded to my requests have been kind (the insane review guidelines are just so that they are not overwhelmed by authors who mass email them) and have given me wonderful reviews.

But here’s the thing: word of mouth is still the best way to sell a book that doesn’t have the publicity of say, Go Set A Watchman. And on the Internet, book blogs are word of mouth. So if you want to be read, requesting reviews from people with an audience in your genres, you must ask for reviews.

And sometimes, you will get punched in the face. (And remember, you gave that person permission to punch you in the face, so don’t complain about it!) But sometimes, the book blogger will turn around and tell everyone within earshot that you are awesome.

 photo credit: 40+117 Sucka Punch! via photopin (license)

That time a celebrity friended me on Facebook

Several years ago, a celebrity friended me on Facebook. I’m not saying who. In fact you probably won’t recognize his name if you scroll through my contacts, but, for some reason,after I wrote an article about someone he’d worked with, he started following me on Twitter. Then sent me a Facebook friend request. Then, I think, we forgot about each other.

Every once in a while, though, he posts something, and it is always so inconsistent with the other posts I see regularly that it shocks me out of my Facebook daze. It’ll be Throwback Thursday, and I’ll be looking at photos of my friends’ proms, and all of a sudden I’ll see a wedding picture from the ’90s with an Oscar nominee as one of the groomsmen. I will be reading someone’s rant about whatever is going on in the world to day, and then I’ll scroll down to find details about a new project this guy is working on with my high school self’s favorite band. And the front man of that band will have left comments on the status. It’s all a little surreal.

I don’t know if this guy realizes it, but his posts were a godsend last year, when I was home, dazed by the first year of motherhood, no sleep, worried about bills, fighting postpartum depression, upset about my physical appearance and sad about moving. Every time he posted a status, I got a little snapshot of a world much more exciting than mine was at the time. I don’t think it’s world I’d like to live in, but it made me feel better to see it, maybe because even as I was changing diapers and dealing with colic, and not writing nearly enough, I felt like I was a part of his world, just a little. It was like a little glitter from his glamorous world drifted out of the computer and onto me.  And also, seeing celebrity faces in my Facebook feed, right next to photos of a friend’s cat, jolted me out of my depression for a few minutes.

I know we’re told as kids that we shouldn’t strive to be cool, and that we should just be ourselves, but I didn’t want to be myself at that point, and dammit if his posts didn’t make me feel cool. And for whatever small reason, that helped me. Thank you, Hollywood celebrity guy, for friending me. You make my Facebook feed a fancier place, and you made a very hard year a little bit easier.

I signed books this weekend in the college bookstore where I once bought a lot of books.

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Alumni and faculty book signing at Trinity College.

And now from the department of Hey, Guess What I Forgot to Announce:
I was part of a book signing at Trinity College’s Reunion Weekend on Saturday. I loved it, but not gonna lie: it was also very strange. (I never thought I’d be signing books in the store I spent so much money in as an undergrad.)

I’m just posting one photo here, but the rest are over on my Facebook page.

I was there with A.J. Kohlhepp, Todd Coopee, Peter Swanson, Jennifer Prescott, Paul Sullivan, Paul Assaiante, and Lucy Ferriss, Trinity’s writer-in-residence. It was a good mix of veteran writers, new writers, fiction, nonfiction, YA, adult, New York Times best-sellers, self-published and indie writers. You should obviously check them all out.

My main character swears, and other confessions.

Cursing in fictionIt’s always a little awkward when relatives read my books. A couple of years ago, one of my in-laws bought copies of my books for everyone on that side of the family as Christmas gifts. It was a really wonderful gesture, and I was flattered. I was also terrified because oh my god, my in-laws —  lovely people I share a meal with maybe once a year when we are all dressed up and on best behavior — were going to read a sex scene I wrote. They were going to be exposed to my politics. They were going to read ALL the swears.

I’d been through this with my own family. In fact, I always feel compelled to warn my relatives about my fiction. When I’m writing, I try not to worry about what anyone thinks, because that would cripple the work itself. When I release my work to an editor, I’m ready for the public to read it. Once it’s out, I don’t care so much about what strangers think. But family? I care. Oh god, I care. Because I don’t want them to think that I am my characters.

Take swearing, for example. In life, I don’t swear all that much.
Which is not to say that I don’t swear at all. I do. But our child is learning to talk, so the big curse word in our house right now, when we stub a toe, or drop something, or get an unpleasant email, is “Benedict Cumberbatch.”

But when I’m writing? I swear a lot. Case in point: Beware the Hawk is 48 pages long. You can get through it in one sitting. But if you took a drink every time the main character says “fuck,” you’d be passed out by page 30. That’s just the kind of person that character is. She swears like a Big Lebowski cast member.

That’s who she is. But that’s not who I am.

You see this concern a lot in writing communities: often readers assume that works of fiction are about the author. There’s a little bit of truth in that. My political beliefs do inform my political thrillers. And all authors do put something of themselves into every character they create. But that doesn’t mean the protagonist is always a stand-in for the author. I’ve found that characters have to be built out, so that they make sense, fit into the framework of the story, and interact believably with the other characters.

I can actually think of one author who was writing a biographical novel. The main character was originally an author stand-in, and the novel wasn’t working. One day, the author realized that was because both the story and the protagonist had evolved. The character could no longer continue to parrot the choices the author had made.The character had to be allowed to do what the character would do, not what the author had done. After that, the story worked, but the character was no longer a substitute for the author.

This sort of transformation happens a lot, but readers don’t always know this. I’ve had people think that Beware the Hawk is about me (it’s not) and a even couple of readers think that it’s about them (guys, no.) So naturally I get freaked out when people I want to impress (my in-laws) read it.

Will I ever get over my in-laws reading my fiction? Probably not. Will I be okay with my son reading my books someday? Oh, Benedict Cumberbatch, he will, won’t he? Well, I’ll leap from that bridge when I come to it. Will any of this stop me from writing unlikeable heroines who cuss and fight and make bad choices? Nope. I was born to write fiction, and I believe in writing characters who are hot messes.

Looks like there’s nothing to do but write another chapter, and watch my language at the next family gathering.

 

photo credit: Fuck via photopin (license)