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.

The Eagle & The Arrow comes out next Tuesday (this year’s launch is waaay different than last year’s.)

Deep breaths. I’m gearing up for The Eagle & The Arrow‘s release next Tuesday.

The build-up to The Eagle & The Arrow’s release date has been so different from last year’s release of Beware the Hawk. I guess that makes sense. I had some time to prepare this year. I knew what worked well last time and what didn’t work so well.

Last year I promoted intensely on this blog and within my MFA community. I emailed a lot of reviewers who didn’t respond to me. I concentrated on a blog tour. There are worse things than doing a book tour in one’s pajamas, but I got the feeling that I was playing it too safe with Beware the Hawk.

This year, I decided to get out of my comfort zone a little. I tried some things I didn’t do last year. In some cases it’s meant reaching out to people and asking them for something. In some cases it’s meant putting money into promo. And in some it’s meant opening myself up for what could be a metric buttload of criticism. At this stage in the game, it’s hard to know what’s working and what’s not, but I am pretty certain that these items are going onto A.J.’s Standard Book Promotion Plan from now on:

  • I reached out on Goodreads by giving away copies of Beware the Hawk. That turned out to be incredible because bonus: a lot of people added my book. I’ve gotten pretty good at international postage in the past three weeks. I’ve sent copies to Serbia, Canada and Bulgaria. Next week, I plan to give away some copies of the Eagle & The Arrow.
  • I asked two authors I know and respect for blurbs for this book. I don’t like bugging people for blurbs but these blurbs helped a lot – I can use them on my promo materials and it’s always awesome when someone you respect writes something nice about your book, especially during a point in the publication process when I tend to doubt myself.
  • I’ve planned a book release party for the end of June, and sent invites to all the people I think might be interested, or who were supportive of the last book. (Ahem – if you’re interested send me a note or comment and I will send you details.) I also sent it out to local media. (Not the media I used to work for – other media that does not know me.) Can’t hurt.
  • I sent out books to reviewers I’ve worked with before and then asked for new reviewers who might be interested in doing reviews to contact me. I got a few answers and met one really cool new reviewer.
  • Lastly, I sent advance reader copies of my e-book to a small group of readers who were supportive of Beware the Hawk. These people were really good to me and my first book, so I figured it was only fair for them to get the first look at the sequel.

This book promo plan is obviously still in process. I want to try some new things. I’ve gotten a couple of interesting suggestions from friends. I belong to two author groups (Sisters in Crime & The New England Horror Writers) and I want to get more active with them. I want to go to Thrillerfest. I want to book some readings at places I have not read before. (I’m also open to any crazy suggestions anyone has for me.)

Mostly, I just want to meet readers. I had some success with that last year and it’s like a drug to meet someone who is excited about your work.

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

The first review of The Eagle & The Arrow has been posted!

The book itself won’t be released until June 11, but the first review for The Eagle & The Arrow has been posted, and I am thrilled.

Please check out So, I Read This Book Today and give the review a read.

So, I Read This Book Today is a brand new book review site run by Leiah Cooper, a lover of books and a fellow knitter. (She also makes quilts. She’s a woman of many talents.)

Her review of The Eagle & The Arrow made my day. Here’s one part of the review that made me squeal and do a happy dance in my office:

If your interests are the smart, the funny, the snide and the thoughtful, don’t miss this little book. It is a true gem of Modern Americana with a twisted mindset that has me looking forward to going back and reading the first book, as well as look forward to anything Ms. O’Connell writes next.

I cannot convey you how happy this makes me.

This is the part of the blog where I admit to being a gigantic coward when it comes to reading my reviews. I’m always nervous when I send out the review copies, but I’m much more nervous when a reviewer emails a link to me and tells me that his or her review is live. The first time I read any review of my work, I look at it through my fingers, while holding my breath, like a kid at a horror movie.

This is why I set my five bad reviews goal this summer. That way, when I get a bad review, I won’t be quite so disappointed, because yes, I will be getting a bad review, but I will also be achieving a goal.

Thankfully, I’m not on my way to that goal quite yet. This review was so good, and so thoughtful that it made my day. You can check it out the whole review here.

If you want to see more from Leiah, check out the sidebar. I am adding her site to my Links section.

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.

Headed up to Hartford for Colin McEnroe’s radio show.

It’s almost time to depart Bridgeport for Hartford, Conn. in order to appear on Colin McEnroe’s radio show at 1 p.m.

index cards, author appearance, Colin McEnroe

Honestly, I can barely read these.

As I wrote Friday, I will be appearing with three other authors to talk about the future of the novel. (Is it dying? Is it being cheapened by popular fiction?)

If you want to listen and you’re in CT, the radio station is 90.5 FM. If you don’t live in CT, you can listen to the live show here. The live show is a call-in ((860) 275-7266) and starts at 1 p.m. A rerun of the show airs at 8 p.m. or you can listen to the podcast here.

I will publish all these links to all my social media shortly.

At the moment, I’m sitting here with my second coffee. The mad dash to finish up my index cards is upon me. I’m scrawling the names of authors, works they’ve published and years of publication. I’ve got a couple of quotes, the name of a series, and for some reason, the definition of “bowdlerize.” I can’t read half the cards I’ve written. There are arrows from one random word to another. Items are circled for reasons that now escape me.

All this is pretty standard, actually. I write up index cards like this for almost every appearance I do, but I never use them. I read from the top one sometimes, but then I completely forget about them. It doesn’t matter. It’s like taking notes in class; the act of writing down the notes helps me remember what I wrote. And anyway, I always feel better having them with me.

Anyhow I have to get moving. Come, listen to me, Brian Slattery, Chandra Prasad and Lucy Ferriss talk to McEnroe at 1 p.m. Call in. Tweet to me. Join our chat about the novel.

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.

The Irish poetry that rescued me from radio hell… and then vanished.

hags with the bags, dublin

photo credit: infomatique via photopin cc

Yesterday I was driving through radio hell. You know radio hell. It’s that strange piece of highway that separates one region’s radio stations from another’s. I was headed into New York and had left Connecticut’s frequencies behind me, and I was trying to find anything to listen to that wasn’t a duet by Fun. or a baseball game. Then I heard a woman’s voice speaking in Irish.

I don’t speak Irish. The last words of Gaelic in my family died with my grandmother, and I suspect those were swears (when I was a little girl I begged her to teach me and she always changed the subject.) But I know Irish when I hear it, so I kept listening.

Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, poetryIt was a radio show about women Irish poets and the divine feminine, and I’d come in on the program half-way through, and was listening to the voice of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill as she turned the tables on the men who objectified women with a lovely poem called “Nude.” I listened to her work, and the work of others whose names I didn’t quite catch, although I heard the name, and possibly the voice, of Medbh McGuckian and a younger poet also named Nuala, but I was checking my directions and didn’t get her family name.

Medbh McGuckian, poetryThe show ended and I reached my destination at the same time. I didn’t think to check the station, I just leaped out of the car. Big mistake. Because when I came home hours later, I remembered the show and I wanted to listen to the beginning of it, but I could not find it on the Internet. I don’t have call letters. I don’t have the number on the dial. I have nothing but what I think is the title: “Women Irish Poets and the Divine Feminine.” That’s probably not even it. It’s the Brigadoon of radio shows; when I turned the car on later, the station was broadcasting in Spanish. It just wasn’t there.

I’m generations away from Ireland on both sides of my family; my great grandparents came to the U.S. one hundred years ago and my grandparents married French Canadians and Italians, and so we have all kinds of different blood in the family.

Despite that, the radio show and that poetry were so familiar to me; I couldn’t understand the language, but I could understand the sentiments and attitude, and most of the subject matter. I know that particular brand of Catholicism and also, that brand of paganism that lives (denied) in even the most devout Irish Catholic. Mostly though, I recognized the tone of the women; romance and passion and poetry mixed with a kind of spare, practical, matter-of-factness that I remember hearing in the voices of my grandmother and her cousins, and that I often hear in my mother’s voice.

So this is where I beg for help. I’m going to keep searching for this phantom radio show, but if you know what I’m talking about, if you know the station or heard the show, please, please, please leave a comment and tell me where I can find it! I’m desperate to hear the parts I missed and read the poetry for myself (but in English.)

‘From These Ashes’: an interview with author Tamela Ritter

From These Ashes I met Tamela Ritter about 10 years ago, in a writing group called Pencils! which met in a Barnes & Noble in Connecticut. We were allowed to bring five pages and read them aloud. The first thing I ever heard Ritter read was a scene featuring an injured young man, with no memory of his identity but a unexplained knowledge of how to survive in the wilderness.

I listened intently to the story as the young man patched up his injuries with only a tee shirt and river water purified in beer cans and then… Ritter’s five pages were up and I wanted more.

More is here! It took a decade, but Ritter’s first novel, From These Ashes, was published by Battered Suitcase Press in March. It features the boy without a memory — Tim — his sister Naomi, and their struggle to find a home, themselves and each other in the American northwest.

It’s a marvelous book, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve been wanting it to be published for 10 years. It’s got everything: a coming of age story, family drama, Native American culture, cults and beautiful language. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

On Tuesday I sat down to a g-chat interview with the author herself to talk about the book, her life as a writer and what being a newly published author is like.

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

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.

About the Book

A.J.: So, Tamela, you’ve just published your first novel, “From These Ashes.” What has your first month as a published author been like?

Tamela: Sort of crazy. Two weeks ago today I was constantly going to Amazon and looking for myself just to make sure the book stayed there and it wasn’t a dream. Since then it’s just been so many levels of awesome, terrifying and surreal.

A.J.: So you’re not still constantly checking Amazon now? Because I wouldn’t judge you if you were.

Tamela: I’ve curbed the instinct and now it’s only a daily thing, not an hourly thing. It doesn’t change much there after a while, yeah?

A.J.: Well, the reviews will be coming in now. That’s something that changes for a while.

Tamela: That’s exciting. I love seeing what people’s reactions are, what resonates with them, what sticks. It’s always so different and random. People have been nice to it so far, both there, on Goodreads and in my life. It’s good to hear, and will help beef me up for when people who aren’t related to me read it. 🙂

A.J.: So before we go any further we should probably talk about your book itself. Can you tell me in 25 words or less what your book is about?

Tamela: A brother and sister’s journey to find themselves and each other. Shit, that’s only 11… hold on… A brother and sister and their journeys of discovery as they search for each other and a place to belong. Or something…

A.J.: Great!

Tamela: I liked what you said in your review about a sister who can’t speak and a brother who can’t remember. I will be stealing that from now on, fyi. 🙂

A.J.: That’s cool with me!

Tamela: Do you ever read reviews and wonder where these people were when you were trying to come up with the summary of your story?

A.J.: All the damn time.

A.J.: Your story starts in this very interesting place, with a teenage Naomi – that’s the sister – writing her story in a cult recovery center. And you find out in the opening chapter that she and her brother Tim are Native American and that Native American-ness is a big part of the plot. Why did you choose to incorporate those two elements: cults and American Indians?

Tamela: Haha, I just answered this question in the only other interview I’ve ever done. Now here I am already repeating myself. Lets see if I can jazz it up for you.

Neither of these elements were going to be a part of the story if you can believe that. I never in a million years thought I’d be writing about Native Americans because for so long, my own status as one has been something that I knew was true about me, but never knew what it meant to be Indian. I am Cherokee on my mother’s side. My mother comes from a very troubled family and I believe that she attributes some of this to “being Indian” so all I know about it is from my grandmother, Naomi. But, like I said, troubled family, so we didn’t spend a lot of time with her, but what I remember is how proud she was of her heritage, how tightly she held onto it and also it seemed to me that she held my brother Tim up and loved him just a little bit more special because of all of us, he looked the most Indian.

So, when it came time to explain why my character Tim was so special, it just came to me that he should be Indian. It all came from there.

A.J.: You know, I always knew that your brother Tim was the reason why the brother in the story was named Tim, but I didn’t know where the name Naomi came from.

Tamela: And the cult was a bit like that too… actually the cult was entirely the fault (or credit) of NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month]. I needed a crisis, a conflict and I had this guy (Larry) and I didn’t know what to do with him as there was no way I was going to make my story about evil step-fathers. And it just came to me and for me, they both tie together because for me both are about finding a place to belong.

A.J.: I want to ask a little more about the Indian aspect of the novel. Did you do a lot of research into tribes and reservation life?

Tamela: I did do a lot of research… but I also did a lot of living around reservations, having friends in reservations and absorbing as much as I could with no other reason besides that people fascinate me.

A.J.: When did the story in “From These Ashes” first occur to you, and how?

Tamela: At first it was bits and pieces, stories I wanted to tell, like about my brother’s death, writing exercises that got away from me, and then I started to notice that all the stories had the same protagonist and they all sort of looked like my brother in my mind. It was right around this time that I first heard about NaNoWriMo the first time and I thought, ‘What a perfect excuse to make something of this.’

A.J.: That was in 2003?

Tamela: 2004

A.J.: I read it back then, and I remember it being a great novel. But it was a little different. How has the novel grown since 2004? What’s changed?

Tamela: Man, sometimes, like when I read through it after I’d made the first round of edits with my editor everything seems different than it was, but other times I look at it and see hardly any changes. Well, except the first chapter. The first chapter had always been a mess and stayed that way for a long time. I just didn’t have any ways to fix it back then, didn’t have the skills required, but when that came in place (many, many years and attempts later), everything else were such easy fixes it felt it had always been that way.

A.J.: It’s a story that goes to some dark places. Did it always?

Tamela: Um… yeah. Dark places are sadly sort of my thing. I mean, like everything else, I didn’t set out to tell a story that would rip out my heart as I wrote it. I never set out to tell those stories, they just sort of happen to my fiction.

Man, makes me sound like I had no plans whatsoever… which I guess is sort of true. Still…

A.J.: You’ve got a lot of complicated characters in this book; not all of them are great people but all of them are sympathetic. Who was the most difficult to write?

Tamela: Hmmm, tough one. I guess the hardest and the one I was most terrified of not getting right was Virginia, the mother. For a very long time she was just “the villain” and I did very little to flesh out how or why. Then I overcompensated and tried to give her a shit ton of back story (which was why my first chapter was always such a mess). It wasn’t until we get to The Way and I started exploring other aspects of her, that I started to see how I could flesh her out without having to give her whole life story. I just had to keep remembering, no one’s the villain in the story of their own life. And just like her children, she was searching for something too.

Next section: About the Author