Do you know of a great book reviewer? I want to know.

Eagle & The ArrowThis is a crowd-sourcing kind of post. I want you guys to tell me where to send my book.

Yesterday I started sending review copies of The Eagle & The Arrow to a few fantastic book reviewers with whom I have relationships, and also to an elite group of super-readers. (I like to call them The Resistance. Because why not.)

But now it’s time to open things up and start sending review e-copies of my book to reviewers I don’t know. So I thought I’d open this up here: Do you know of, or really like a book review site to which I should be sending The Eagle & The Arrow? Or are you a book reviewer (for this effort, I’m looking for people who write reviews for either book review sites, blogs or publications)? 

Let me know. Leave a comment with the name of the site or shoot me an email or tweet me or Facebook message me and tell me where you think I should send my review copies. Or fill out this form (I’m all about options):

You send me a recommendation and I will send an e-book galley to that site. I will write them a note and mention you by name and tell them that you loved them so much that you recommended them to me.

So tell me, who should I be emailing? I want to know.

My galley proof is here, and I have a lot of feelings about it.

The proof of my new book, The Eagle and the Arrow, arrived on Monday, causing me so much agitation I couldn’t write for the rest of the day, so I took a bunch of photos that looked like this and posted them on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo 34

Shamelessness: Just one of the reasons you should follow me on social media.

Here’s the thing, though; excited as I am when a galley (a proof, galley or galley proof is a preliminary version of a book) arrives on my doorstep, I’m also filled with dread. Why? Because when the galley proof arrives, that means I have to sit down and read the whole thing.

I know that probably sounds weird. But now, a month before the book itself is released is the absolute worst time for me to sit down and read it, because at this point in the process, I am always convinced that whatever it is I’m publishing – in this case, my book – is the most horrendous thing I’ve ever written.

 I ride a roller coaster of self-consiousness when I’m writing and publishing. it goes a little something like this:

  1. When I first write something, minutes after my fingers have lifted from the keyboard, I’m convinced that I’m a genius.
  2. When I look at it again, I regain my sanity and revise.
  3. When I revise again, after my writers’ group has seen it, I’m once again convinced that I’m brilliant.
  4. Then I submit it somewhere, and am certain that it’s the worst thing I, or anyone else, has ever written.
  5. If it’s accepted, I believe I’m a genius again.
  6. If it’s rejected, I also believe I’m a genius, but that no one appreciates me and that somehow makes me more awesome and when I die an old hermit, someone will discover my manuscripts under hundreds of tins of cat food and realize I was a genius and then people will teach graduate courses about my work.
  7. When the publisher and I start work on rewrites, I regain my sanity for a while.
  8. But when the rewrites are done, the copy editors have done their thing, and it’s time for me to read the galley proof before it’s finalized and sent out to reviewers, I hit my biggest low since Step 4 and I believe that this book is the crappiest crap to ever have been written in English or any other language.
  9. I also go through a mini version of this whenever I stand up to read from my work to a group of people.
The Eagle & The Arrow, book, A.J. O'Connell, Vagabondage, Battered Suitcase, Beware the Hawk

It’s here!

Why do I do this? I don’t know. At this point in the process, several sets of eyes have been over it and the book is certainly better than it was back when I thought I was a genius.

Maybe it’s because the reviewers will be the next people who read this and OH MY GOD THEY MIGHT HATE IT. Maybe it’s because after the reviewers read it, everyone else will be able to read it and OH MY GOD THEY MIGHT HATE IT.

Although the insanity doesn’t last long; last year, when my first book came out, a couple of weeks after the release, after I forced myself to look at my reviews on Amazon, and then I was fine. I’m hoping that’s what happens this time, too.

And so my first reaction, after the galley arrives is to be very excited about it and then to carry it around in my purse but not read it for a day or so. And then when I try to read it that thing happens where I read the same page three times but no words actually get from the page to my brain.

Luckily I have my husband, who reads the whole galley first, points out errors, and then, somehow it’s easier for me to read it.

The thing that makes me feel extra divaish about all this is that I’ve only published short stories and novellas. I can sit down and read my books in a few hours. I can’t imagine what it would be like to publish a full-length novel and have to sit down and read through the whole proof by the end of the week.

Someday, though, I intend to find out.

First look at the cover of my new book.

The cover art for The Eagle & The Arrow is here!

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

It’s here!

What I love about this cover is that although it’s visually similar to the cover of Beware the Hawk, I think it communicates the atmosphere of the second book beautifully. The Eagle & The Arrow continues the story started in Beware the Hawk, but features a new protagonist, a fresh set of dangers and a much different setting. As you can probably tell from the cover, these characters aren’t living in safehouses and fighting in bars. If the characters in the last book were pawns, these new characters are the chessmasters.

I’m very excited; this cover art represents a lot of work on the part of Vagabondage Press‘s art director, Maggie Ward,  and on the part of my editor, N. Apythia Morges.  I think Maggie put something like eight or nine possible covers, (including one we all loved, which couldn’t be used because the art we wanted was suddenly unavailable.)

I was very lucky to be allowed input into my cover. From what I understand, authors often don’t get a say; the cover is the responsibility of the the publishing house’s graphic arts department. I’m thrilled that I was allowed to make requests; I really, really loved the cover of Beware The Hawk, so much so, that I wanted the cover of the sequel to look consistent. Maggie obliged and here we are.

If you want a closer look at the cover, or to comment on it, visit my Facebook page. There is a photo album there for my book covers.

I do hope you like the cover as much as I do; you’ll be seeing a lot of it in the coming months as I start to ramp up promotion of the book, which comes out in June. I can’t wait, myself.

Fake blood & fro-yo: this is what happens when I try to self-publish.

denying the sea, ebook

Like House of Cards promo art, but with a mollusk.

So this evening was my husband’s night out with the boys, and as usual, when he left the house looked normal and I was full of project ideas.

When he came home, there was sand and fake blood all over the bathroom, the house was a disaster, and I was holed up in my office with a carton of fro-yo. For art.

It’s a testament to either my husband’s character or to my insanity that he didn’t bat an eye. In fact, he didn’t even ask why the bathroom looked like Quentin Tarantino had just filmed a scene there. He’s that used to this kind of thing.

But you might want to know, so I’ll tell you.
I recently got the bright idea to self-publish two already-published stories with Amazon’s Kindle Direct. The stories are not doing me any good just sitting around in my computer, so why not?

Apparently, however, you need to have a cover for such things. Since I probably won’t make enough money off these stories to cover the cost of a graphic artist, I thought I’d try to come up with a cover myself.

One of the stories is about a killer sea god. (Thus the fake blood and sea shells.) The other story is about a creepy lady who conveniently has an ice cream addiction. (Thus the half a carton of frozen yogurt I consumed.)

The result of my photo shoot? A bathroom that looks like a triple homicide was committed in it, a blown diet and a few okayish photos (but not of the fro-yo, because I ate most of that.) I think the photo in this post is probably the best. It doesn’t show how my fingers are now dyed the color of Mikhail Gorbachev’s birthmark.

I will keep you posted on the progress of the short stories, but at the moment, I’m not sure when they will  be coming out. This is mostly because of the cover art. Despite the fact that the bathtub might now be permanently pink, I still think I need better photos.

Might it be a good idea to hire an artist? It might. But only if that artist is willing to work for fro-yo.

‘Good Things’: An interview with author Nick Knittel

good things, nick knittel, New Rivers pressI expected someone older when I met Nick Knittel. It was 2009 and Knittel was part of my second-ever workshop at Fairfield University’s low-residency MFA program. He’d submitted a story about two little boys who’d lost their mother. Because the story featured a compassionate father, that’s kind of who I expected when I checked in on Enders Island.

Instead I met a young man, just out of undergrad, who could write a mean piece of short fiction.

Two years later, Knittel won our MFA program’s inaugural book prize (judged by poet Charles Simic) for “Good Things,” a collection of deep, quiet short stories. The book was released by New Rivers Press in October 2012. Now that first story I read – the one about the grieving little boys – is available for all to read, along with nine others.

This past Monday, Nick and I caught up to g-chat about “Good Things,” writing and what it’s like to publish for the first time.

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.

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

Fact and fiction.

Nick Knittel, Good Things, New Rivers Press

Nick Knittel

AJ: Nick, I know you from spending about 50 days over the course of two years on an island with you and 100 other writers, but my readers don’t know you… yet. Can you tell them a little bit about yourself, like where you’re from, what you like to write and the name of your book?

Nick: Of course!
Well, I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I lived for most of my life.
Most of my work is based on memories or experiences from my own life, which has resulted in a strange Frankenstein-kind of fusion of fact and fiction, something that I particularly enjoy, but can be kind of hard to write, since it becomes a weird way of exposing yourself as a writer to your audience.

AJ: The work in your book, “Good Things” is really interesting; most of the stories are quiet and deep, sort of Jhumpa Lahiri-ish, but I guess I never would have thought that a lot of them come from your own life. You use so many different kinds of narrators; the work never comes across as autobiographical at all. Can you give me an example of a story that fuses fact and fiction?

Nick: I would hate to say exactly which portions of the stories are directly related to me, but I’ve found that no matter how hard I try, some part of me ends up in the finished product.

AJ: That’s fair.

Nick: Right, and I think you would agree that it’s a trait many writers share. It’s almost impossible to separate one from the other in some cases. But I’ve found that the genesis for a lot of stories come from something that I’ve experienced; a moment with someone, or a phrase that was used, or a quick image that I remember from a kid, it all factors in one way or another. Many of the stories in “Good Things” stemmed from specific images that I had from high school and early college.

AJ: Okay, so you were the first winner of our MFA program’s book prize and Charles Simic judged that prize. One of his comments, I seem to remember, was that you seemed so young to be able to write stories like this. And I know you probably get this a lot, but that was my first impression when I met you at the MFA too. How do you manage to inhabit the wide range of characters you create? How do you get into their heads?

Nick: Funny story.
When I first gave my parents a preliminary copy of the book, my mother pulled me aside after she had read it and asked (very sincerely) “Is everything okay? Are you alright?”

AJ: Wow.

Nick: I thought it was funny at the time, but I’ve noticed that people have also done the same thing when I’ve brought up the book to family and old friends, people who might not have been familiar with the stories.
Because honestly, I’ve had a fine life. Normal parents, normal upbringing, suburbia and everything that entails, but like you mentioned, the stories and people I’m interested in are a little different.

AJ: Would you be able you sum up in a few words, the sort of story, character or struggle that attracts you?

Nick: A lot of the characters in “Good Things” are a little bit broken, a little bit sad, but even though they may be alcoholics or whatever on the outside, there’s a sadness inside that seems universal to me. Everybody wants to feel needed, everybody wants to feel loved, and often those urges are what drive people to do the things they do, whether good or bad.
I think that everybody believes they are capable of being a “good” person, but the struggle to get there can be long and hard, and that’s what interests me the most.

AJ: Was it your idea to name the collection “Good Things?”

Nick: Yes, it was my idea.
One of the main stories is entitled “Good Things” and I felt the struggle of the main character seemed to sum up the general quiet mood of the collection of stories, and also a little bit of its darkness.

The short form.

AJ: Everything I’ve ever read of yours has been short fiction. What about the short form appeals to you?

Nick: I guess I’ve always been really worried that I’ve overstayed a welcome.

AJ: Really?

Nick: Haha, a little bit!
I find that usually when I’m writing, I get a little concerned if I don’t have an exit plan. The story may last, 10, 20, or 30 pages, but I always have an idea for when I can make my escape.

AJ: That’s wise.

Nick: But that being said, there are many stories that don’t benefit from the short form. Sometimes you need to expand and keep creating.

AJ: Have you ever wanted to try a longer piece of work?

Nick: Yes, I’ve actually started something new that doesn’t seem like it can be contained in such a small number of pages. I know you have some experience with novels and novellas, but this is brand new territory for me, and absolutely nerve-wracking.

AJ: You can still have an exit plan for a novel! John Irving can’t even start writing until he knows how it’s going to end. But I digress.

Nick: Oh of course, but I have no idea what my ending is.
Not that I usually have a cut-and-dry exact moment for my stories, but I don’t even have a feeling for this, which is really weird.

Next section: Working with a student press and being published

I’ll be at Books & Boos on Saturday, and I’m only reading the scary parts.

Reading, books and boos, beware the hawk

The Books and Boos ghost.

If you live in Connecticut and love to be frightened, you should probably take a drive up to Books & Boos in Colchester, a brand new bookstore, located in an old yellow house at a crossroads. The house is old enough to look as if it could be haunted, which would be appropriate, because the bookstore’s logo is a ghost and its stock-in-trade is horror.

I’m going to be there, reading the scariest parts of my book at 12 p.m. this Saturday.

Not that I write horror, but lucky for me and other local authors, Books & Boos supports and showcases the work of authors from across New England. A display in the front of the store is packed with local authors.  When I was there I saw a book about building outhouses, a children’s book, graphic novels and Bad Apple, a book by fellow VBP author Kristi Petersen Schoonover.

Also, something that tickled my geek streak? When I toured Books and Boos with co-owner Stacey Longo last month, I walked past a glass case containing pillows shaped like blood spatters and old-school Scully and Mulder X-Files action figures.

Beware the Hawk and I are in bloody good company. Come visit in Colchester. The fun starts at 12 p.m. I’ll make it as scary as possible.beware the hawk banner

The sequel! (Because guess what? There’s going to be a sequel.)

Beware The Hawk novella

I am so excited to announce that there will be a sequel to Beware the Hawk!

I signed the contract with my publisher, Vagabondage Press, on Sunday and have been working this week on the first round of edits and revisions. I’m super-excited to share this news, and plan to be posting this spring about the process of getting ready for a release.

I’ve been hanging onto this news for a few days. In fact I announced it on my Facebook Page on Sunday, but for various reasons, I didn’t feel like I could post it here until now.

The fact that I found out Sunday morning doesn’t change the fact that I’ve been bubbling over with this news all week. I still can’t quite believe that I published one book. To be on the brink of publishing a second book is beyond my hopes.*

What can I tell you about this new book? Well, not much. The working title is The Eagle and the Arrow. The release date is looking like June. I’ve been working on the first draft of this piece since last March or February, but although it seems like I’ve spent an age on it, it’s still novella-length.

At the moment that’s all I can say, but as I continue to work with my editor over the next few months, I will be able to release more tidbits.

Also, I haven’t forgotten the winner of the naming contest. The protagonist of the last book now has a name, of course. The namer will find out who he/she is when the book is released this summer, and will get a copy of the new book as a prize.

Stay tuned for more. I am so excited to share this journey with you all.

*Literally. My ambition as a kid was always to write a book. I really never thought beyond that first publication. So maybe announcing it on the date of the supposed end of time is appropriate.

January appearance in Colchester, Conn. and other bookish news.

Hello folks. Just a brief post to make a couple of announcements:

First off, I will be appearing in January at Books and Boos, a brand spanking new bookstore in Colchester, Conn. I will be talking more about the appearance as it approaches, but here are the basics – I will be reading on Saturday, Jan. 19 from 12 to 2 p.m. They will also be carrying Beware the Hawk, in case you happen to be in the area when I’m not there.

I will be the second VBP author to be reading there; on Saturday, Dec. 8, Kristi Petersen Schoonover will be there to read from her book, Bad Apple.

In other news, I’ve finished the very first draft of the sequel to Beware the Hawk! This is only the first step in a chain of drafts. I still have a lot of work to do before I can even hand it to my editor, and I can’t guarantee that she will accept it, but if she does, you can bet that the story will go through a lot of changes before it makes it out into the world.

So the big news here is that the draft exists, which is huge for me, because one of my writing fears is that I will fail to imagine a full plot. Now that the plot is in place, I’m free to go back into the story and refine what I have.

That’s it. I hope you’ve all been enjoying the long holiday weekend.

Reading, discussion and signing at the Fairfield Bookstore tonight!

I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you all that tonight, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m., I will be at the Fairfield University Bookstore (that’s the former Borders) in downtown Fairfield to talk about, read from and sign copies of my book, Beware the Hawk.

I hope you come to see me.

I’m on the The Fairfield Writer’s Blog today!

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Alex McNab, a novelist and journalist who writes for the Fairfield Writer’s Blog, to talk about revision and drink caffeinated beverages. McNab began reading The Garret a year and a half ago when I began revising my novel, and – since he’s revising his own novel – he was interested in knowing more about my process.

His post about our chat went up this morning. I am so excited about it, and I hope you check it out.

We talked about re-typing work, when to look at notes from writing workshop during the revision process, strengthening prose, and returning to written work after a long time.

I should disclaim here: This is just my process of revision, and it’s an ever-evolving mishmash of ideas and tips I’ve picked up from members of writing groups, books I’ve read and professors I’ve had.