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.

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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

I shouldn’t have spent so many years avoiding ‘Pride & Prejudice.’

Pride & Prejudice

Dim the lights, add a few red Solo cups full of Milwaukee’s Best and this is just like a college dance.

A long, long time ago, I stole my mom’s VHS tapes of PBS’s Pride & Prejudice miniseries and took them to college with me. My friends and I spent two nights watching it in the common room of our freshman dorm. I don’t think we got through all six hours, but we got far enough through it for a lot of deep sighs and a couple of “Tell her/him how you feel, you fool”s. I’d already watched it with my mother and spent a lot of time watching, (and rewatching,) the scene in which Elizabeth tells off a hot and bothered Mr. Darcy, but I never read the novel.

After reading pages and pages of praise for Austen in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own last month I couldn’t help myself; I downloaded it.

I finished Pride & Prejudice last night, and I get it! I understand Bridget Jones and the cult of Austen. I have seen the light!

It makes so much sense; Elizabeth Bennet is a relatable character. She and her sisters are still at large in the world. They have more freedom, but they’re still around, and they do pretty much the same things they’ve always done; they sit around their rooms and overanalyze their boyfriends, they visit relatives and they go to dances. (One of my friends pointed this out too; in a lot of ways, being at a college dance is like being at a ball. The same dynamic is still there, just with louder music and a lot of cheap beer and dancing that would shock every Bennet sister but Lydia.)

Mostly though, it was refreshing to read an old book and hear a voice that sounded like mine. I’ll bet that’s what the Austen cult is really all about. We don’t get a lot of points of view in period fiction like the viewpoint of Elizabeth Bennet. In contemporary fiction, like Dumas’s The Count of Montecristo, women are used as prizes or props or played for laughs. A woman’s quest for a husband is treated as comic relief. A woman’s quest for anything else is criminal.The words that Dumas puts into their mouths don’t sound like anything I’ve ever said or heard my friends say.

No wonder women have been drawn to Austen’s novel since she published it in 1813. In Pride & Prejudice, she treats the quest for a husband with dignity (and proves to the readers that grand dramas can happen in sitting rooms and ballrooms and on walks as well as on the high seas or the catacombs of Rome.) It’s a relief to catch female voices from the past that don’t sound strained or fake. Even the most unlikable women are three-dimensional and relatable. I can think of at least two Mrs. Bennets that I know in real life, a host of Lydias and  a few Marys. I might even know a Lady Catherine.

I really wish I’d read the book when I was in college, but the cult of Austen put me off.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I did try, once, to read it. I was in the fifth grade and full of myself, because I was reading Jules Verne instead of Sweet Valley High, and I thought I was special because my religion teacher had complimented me when he saw Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea on the corner of my desk. After I finished that, I was hungry for more praise, so I pulled Pride and Prejudice out of the school library and took it home to show my mom, who knew what I was doing. She tried to explain to me that even though I was an above average reader and might be able to understand the vocabulary, I probably wouldn’t understand the nuances of the story. And she was right. The famous first sentence – It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife – was completely lost on a 10-year-old. After a day of trying to understand the Bennets and the Bingleys and why one rich old-timey English family would feel discriminated against by another old-timey rich English family, I gave up and quietly returned the book to the library.)

I wish I’d read it after my friends and I watched the miniseries in our dorm lounge. I doubt it would have made me more of an Elizabeth and less of a Lydia. It probably would have given me false hope, and I probably would have spent hours combing over my college campus for a Mr. Darcy who wasn’t there, but it might have made me an English major, and even if didn’t, I would have gained a new favorite book.

Happy New Year: Goals and resolutions for 2013

It’s that time! Time wear sparkly shirts and drink sparkly drinks and hope that 2013 is going to be a sparkly year (but not in a Twilight way.)

Last year’s decision to make goals rather than resolutions (and blogging about them monthly) worked so well for me that I’m planning to do it all over again and bore you all to tears with my goals for 2013. It was actually the accountability of putting the goals online that was so helpful to me. I said I was going to do these things and I had to deliver, whether anyone was actually reading the blog posts or not.

Here are my goals for 2013:

novel, oconnell

I really need to finish this draft.

My novel: It was supposed to be out to agents by this time, according to my 2012 resolutions. Well, that didn’t happen. This year I’m resolving to spend the first hour of every weekday working on it until it’s done, no matter what other projects come along.

Marketing: I’m terrible at marketing. I should not admit it, but it’s true. I hate putting myself forward; it goes against everything that was drummed into me as a little girl in Catholic school. So this year, I am also spending an hour of each weekday working on marketing projects, including the upkeep of this blog, my social networks, reading up on marketing and emails to bookstores and libraries and reviewers. This doesn’t mean I’m going to become an unbearable spammer. It just means I need to put myself out there more and to new audiences.

Making a marketing plan for my new book: If I have a written plan, it will be harder to go wrong.

Publishing: My goal last year was to send out three pieces. I did, and I got rejected. My goal this year will be to publish three things that are not my upcoming book.

Reading: Last year, I planned to read 12 novels in a year. This goal sparked a reading binge the likes of which I haven’t experienced since high school. I met my goal in May and kept on reading. As of yesterday, I read 33 books – novels, collections and nonfiction – in 2012. For 2013, I would like to read that number of books again, and not limit the goal to novels. I also want to include at least one Jane Austen novel and at least one Charles Dickens book.

Conferences: I already attend a retreat and a conference on the semi-regular. This year, I want to find one new writing conference to go to. I need to up my networking.

UPDATE FROM NEW YEARS DAY –  I thought of this one in the middle of the festivities last night:
Grants: I’d also like to apply for at least three fellowships or grants this year.

This year I’m planning to incorporate a few personal goals in with the writing goals, including the classic New Years rez…

Weight: I feel most comfortable when I weigh within a certain five-pound range, and I am always two pounds away from that five pound range, because when I’m that close to my goal weight, I feel like I can eat whatever and not work out and generally slack off. For 2012, I would like to get within that range and stay there. Right now I’m two pounds outside the upper end of it.

resolutions 2013

While I’m among the living, I don’t get to be a Late Great O’Connell.

Punctuality: I’ve never been an incredibly punctual person. In fact, I’ve built my lateness into my personality. I was born late, my family has refered to itself as the Late Great O’Connells, therefore, I’ve let myself accept that I will always be late to everything. In fact, if I didn’t have a driver, I probably would have been late to my own wedding. Well that’s got to end. Recently, two incidents made me think that it’s time to change my lateness issues: 1) We were horrifyingly late to Christmas dinner and 2) I was late for a writing event and missed an important marketing opportunity. This lateness has got to stop. I’ve done all sorts of things to keep myself from being late, including setting the clock in my car forward five minutes, which does nothing except make me panic and drive like a maniac, then do the mental math and subtract five minutes. So I’m going to make it a point to be on time, starting today. I’m setting the car clock back to the regular time. Every time I’m late, a dollar is going into a mason jar, and at the end of the year, some worthy charity is getting a donation.

My big-picture goal
Last year I also picked two big-picture issues that had been bothering me to mull over and research, and I was supposed to write about them in essay form. I mulled them over but didn’t write about them; I found that I wasn’t ready to share my findings about my own anxiety or my feelings about religion. But thinking about these issues did help me, and so I’m planning to examine an issue this year as well. I think it’s time I started solidifying my political positions. I mean, I know what I believe, but I’m not always well-informed and there are certain issues I avoid altogether. But this year, I think it’s important for me to look at all the political issues I can, and make up my mind. Part of this is so that I can argue with ease at parties, but I don’t like feeling fuzzy about certain issues, so part of this is to help me understand my own feelings.

Well, that’s it. Now I’m off to put on something with sequins. Happy New Year, readers! Good luck with your own resolutions!

Reading on Enders Island.

Fairfield MFA

Reading today at Enders Island. If it looks like I’m on an altar, that’s because I am. Enders is a religious retreat, hence the cross and pulpit and stained glass. There’s also a relic in that church, but that’s another story entirely.

I’m back from my MFA program’s alumni day, which welcomes alums back to Enders Island for a meal and a hangout and allows us to attend a seminar and pretend that we’re still in school. Today I took a poetry seminar. I’m not a poet, but the teacher of the seminar I took is Baron Wormser, and he’s incredible, as you’d expect a poet laureate of Maine to be.  I’ve now taken two of his seminars, and just like the first seminar I took with him, this one – which explored argument in poetry – simultaneously inspired me and made my brain hurt.

The administration also very graciously allows us alumni authors to come back and read from our work during a special reading period, which is followed by a group book signing. I didn’t expect to be invited as a reader this residency, since I read last residency, but I was delighted to be invited back to the island to read alongside novelist Chris Belden and poet Colin Halloran.  Being a part of that line-up is no joke.

It’s also really cool for me for another reason: although I read primarily from Beware the Hawk, I was also able to read a taster from the upcoming book, The Eagle and the Arrow. One of the beautiful things about being part of the Fairfield MFA program is that it’s a safe place to share new work, and all three of us did that.

My husband was on camera duty for the reading, and I’m posting the fruits of his labors on my Facebook page. We had some technical difficulties with the lens, but he managed to get photos of the other readers as well. Feel free to visit, like the photos, comment, tag yourself and whatnot.

Spry is Live! (some favorites from the first issue of a new online journal.)

SpryA few months ago, I published an interview here with Erin Corriveau and Linsey Jayne, founders of Spry, a new literary journal that revels in the short form.

Well, my friends, Spry* is live.

Because Spry is about short powerful pieces, let me recommend three small pieces that pack a big punch: The Wake by Allie Marini Batts, a short piece which related personal disaster to natural disaster,  Genesis by Elizabeth Cooley, which imagines Western Civilization’s God as a creative child, and Reflections on my Parents’ Past, a surreal short story by Kate Alexander-Kirk, which furs the line between family member and beast.

These aren’t the only awesome pieces, of course, but they are some of my favorites. Please go to Sprylit.com and pick out your own faves.

*I’m proud to say that my MFA program is well represented in this issue. Erin and Linsey are as I’ve mentioned fellow Fairfield University MFA alums, but there are others involved. Classmate Cisco Covino is responsible for the ‘zine’s graphic design. Elizabeth Hilts and Barbara Wannamaker submitted essays which were accepted (and Spry only accepts blind submissions), and former faculty member and author Porochista Khakpour was featured in an interview.

December: 2012 goals.

Well. This is it. The final check-in with my 2012 goals, which is delayed because I’ve been kinda lax these past few months.  But still this is a big deal for me, because this is one of the few years in which I’ve held myself accountable for the resolutions I made at the start of the year, and actually, I’ve made progress. Care to see how I’ve done? Read on. Can’t be bothered?* Below is my favorite Epic Rap Battle of History. Enjoy.

Now. Of the five concrete goals I set for myself in 2012, I accomplished three:

Make at least $20 off a piece of fiction. My book came out in January. By March I had accomplished this. I am not rich. I doubt if I’ve broken even on my expenses with this book, but I have made more than $20 and that’s a record for me.

Send out at least three short stories. Done. I’ve sent out three short stories and some chapters from my novel. I have more rejection letters for my office door because of this,  but I also have more finished work to send out.

Read one two novels a month in 2012. I set out to read 12 novels this year, because although I love to read, I tend not to do the things I enjoy and instead fret about things I don’t enjoy at all. The only time I read anything is when I had to, and then I did it in a state of stress. That’s counter-productive for someone whose job is to read and write. So I thought 12 novels would be a good way to make reading a habit again. I started out by re-reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a sort of holiday gift to myself last year and then I began to pick other books to read, starting with the shortest in my bookcase: The House on Mango Street, Heart of Darkness, Turn of the Screw and The Stranger.  By the time I finished those, l was binge-reading, like I used to read when I was a kid. The 12-novel goal turned into a 24-novel goal, and I am currently on novels 30 and 31.

So it’s been a great reading year. I’ve moved from very short novels and novellas to very long ones: Anna Karenina and The Count of Monte Cristo. I’ve read work that I’ve been wanting to read for years, and authors I know who published their first books recently. It’s been a great year, and I have to give some of the credit for this goal to Goodreads’s reading challenge, which helped me keep track of all my books.

Nest year’s reading goal will be however many books I’ve read in 2012, including one piece by Charles Dickens that’s neither A Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist. Any suggestions?

I did not accomplish two goals: I didn’t finish the second draft of my novel or send it to agents, mostly because I was working on another manuscript for half of 2012. That manuscript I did finish and send out.  I didn’t know at the time I set my goals that the manuscript was in my future, so I don’t feel too badly about not finishing my novel. That said, it’s time to get back to work on it.

I also chose to work on two conflicts that have been giving me difficulties for a long time: My feelings about faith and my issues with anxiety. I worked on both, on and off, throughout the year and although neither is by any means resolved (and may never be) I do feel like I have a much clearer idea about faith now.

The idea was that I was going to write an essay about whichever issue I came closest to resolving, and I still might try to do that. But the problem I face, ironically, has to do with the other issue: anxiety. I’m not sure I want people to know how I feel about faith and religion. I have people in my life who are both very religious and who aren’t religious at all, and I enjoy not coming down on one side or the other. For now, it might just be enough for me to know how I feel and what I believe.

And that’s it. I will be putting together a new list of goals for next year. I’m wondering if I should include more personal goals and not just writing goals this time. I don’t want to have a huge list of goals, but I also have some things I’d like to do that are not writing-related. Thoughts?

*Dear people who can’t be bothered and for whom I am posting distractions,  if you are truly out there, why have you been clicking on these posts all year?