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)

Beware the Hawk 3, or, my collection of crappy first pages.

It’s probably time for an update on my Beware The Hawk series.

It’s an update I’ve put off, because I am having some trouble with the last book.

It’s not that I’m not writing it. I am. I started writing months ago.

The problem is, I haven’t gotten very far, because for about six months, all I could write was the first page. I’m not even kidding: Every time I sat down to write, I looked at Page One, hated it, and wrote a new beginning.

I now have a collection of crappy first pages. They’re everywhere: in my journals, on my old laptop, on my new laptop, on my phone. I think I even dictated one to myself in the car. If the public were hungry for an anthology of bad first pages, I’d be booking readings right now.

Please allow me to share my very favorite crappy sentence from my very favorite crappy first page:

“I’m going to find that thing. I don’t know what it was. I don’t know what happened to it.”

That thing. Is it the plot? The narrative voice? The author’s train of thought? We may never know, because I have no memory of writing this line. It’s like that time I sleep-wrote half a page during NaNoWriMO.

Anyway, I am happy to report that, in the last two months, I finally managed to move beyond the collection of bad first pages, and am now creating something that looks like a story. It is slow going, because despite the fact that I write 100-page thrillers, I have some loose ends to tie up and some mysteries to solve and I want to do it well. (I can’t imagine what this same task must be like for George R. R. Martin, who writes 1,000-page monsters and juggles 31 point-of-view characters.)

I can tell you a few things about it so far:
– My working title for this project is Songbird.
– There is a new point-of-view character.
– I am trying for 500 words a day on this bad boy.

I cannot promise they will be good words, but I can promise that words will be written. And for those of you who have been asking, I can also promise semi-regular updates here.

Got questions about Songbird? Get at me.

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.

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.

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.