Writing research, or this week’s list of reasons the NSA is watching me.


Behold, the dreaded spife!

Last week I posted a list of the items I researched while working on my latest thriller for The Resistance Cycle. This week, I continued to make slow progress on the manuscript, but once again, I needed to know certain … things. For example, can those lettuce knives you see on late night infomercials kill or maim someone?

Here’s this week’s list of questionable internet searches:

So, about those lettuce knives.
According to wisegeek, lettuce knives can deliver “deliver a nasty nick, although it certainly can’t cause mortal damage.” Boo to that.  And there are some hilarious five-star reviews of a plastic knife on Amazon, billing it as a great first knife for a child. Good-bye, possible plot device!

Okay, but can you really hurt someone with a plastic knife? And don’t give me “you can hurt anyone with anything if you really apply yourself.” I’m looking for a lethal plastic knife.
Yes. After reading many pages of Google results, I now know that apparently you can, if you file a plastic knife down. Or if you 3-D print a dangerous knife. But you really need to a) be up a creek and need protection of any kind to do this, b) really want a plastic knife, c) be a destructive, yet crafty sociopath. (Just imagine the Pinterest board.)

Fine. I need this to be easy for my protagonist. What are some dangerous office supplies?
And that’s when I ended up on the Bloomberg’s How to Weaponize Office Supplies infographic and lost 10 minutes of writing time laughing.

Okay, but seriously, guys.
Scissors, idiot, says the Internet. But this is not really what my character needs, so I’m not satisfied with this. Looks like it’s time for a field trip. If you need me this weekend I will wandering around Staples, taking notes.

The spife photo is by XenoL-Type at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

When everyone decided to read aloud.

trenchcoat party. Just a quick note: I had so much fun at the trench coat party at Made in Bridgeport last night. (Want more photos? Check my author page on Facebook.)

Despite the heat, people did actually arrive in trench coats (and my mother showed up, dressed like this photo of Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. QUALITY.)

There was even a party game in which a noir stereotype was taped to everyone’s back and people had to figure out who they were by asking each other yes or no questions.

I came up with the list of stereotypes, with the help of the folks on my Twitter feed, so I take full responsibility for this:


Sorry about this.

My favorite part of the evening came during the reading. It was a small crowd (thanks, heatwave!) so someone suggested that instead of me doing the reading, we should all take turns reading a paragraph from The Eagle & The Arrow.

Now, when I read, I get self-conscious. All sorts of things go through my head: Did I just skip a word? Does it work better with the skipped word than it does on the page? Did I mean to use the passive voice there? I wonder if I’m boring them. I wonder if my publisher would let me re-write that bit. Maybe I’ll just skip it. I can’t wait to get away from this stool/table/podium. I’m thirsty; I need water. No. I need wine. NO. I need whiskey. Is it ten minutes yet? Did my voice just crack?

Because I know I will do this, I choose short readings. But as a group? We went through the whole first chapter, (some of us using funny voices.) It might have been the first time I’ve ever heard someone else (10 other someones, actually) reading my work aloud, and it was amazing. I could hear my own story, being read to me. Suddenly, I was no longer self conscious, and, actually, a little emotional.

Anyways, it was a great event. I have a couple more scheduled this summer (one tomorrow in Mystic, CT and one I’m confirming for next month.) But none of them will match this one, unless the whole audience decides to pick up a copy of the book and read aloud with me.

Trench Coat Party: It’s more than a reading/signing

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

Like lots of authors, I’ve done a lot of readings and signings. Most events are pretty much the same, agenda-wise: People arrive, hobnob, the author reads, there’s a book sale/signing, and people leave.  It’s not a bad thing, but most are the same.

Well., bust out your fedora and magnifying glass, because thanks to a local shop owner, the next event I’m doing is going to shake up this format.

It’s a Trench Coat Party. To celebrate The Eagle & The Arrow, Made in Bridgeport, a local store, is throwing a party with costumes, a prize for best costume, a mystery to be solved and of course refreshments. This is on Thursday, July 18 from 5 to 8 p.m. The Facebook invite is here.

This party is the idea of Robin Gilmore, who owns Made in Bridgeport. Here’s her release:

From press release:

Help me kick off author A.J. O’Connell’s newest book, “The Eagle & the Arrow”, her second book. The author will do a reading and signing of this mystery, thriller here at Made In Bridgeport. Also pick up A.J’s first book, “Beware the Hawk” celebrate her work and bring some Q & A for the author about her stories, her roots and her writing experiences.
To add intrigue and suspense to the evening, create a vintage trench coat, gumshoe, spy, private dick look and if you are picked as most convincing P.I. (Private Investigator) you will win a gift certificate for $25 toward Made In Bridgeport Designed Jewelry. So join us in a cool setting with snacks, libations and party faire! Find your fedora, your fem fatale feathered boa, and definitely wear your tenacious trench for this event of vintage fun and fashionable flair.
In the meantime keep your eye out for Made In Bridgeport’s New Window Design ( Coming Soon) to showcase “A Month of Authors”. Pay attention to symbols and clues in the window and be the first to solve the “Mystery at the Arcade”.

I know that during a heat wave like the one we’re living through now, it’s hard to think about being in costume, especially a costume designed to keep people warm and dry, BUT keep an open mind, because you can also dress as a femme fatale, or any other classic noir stock character. Be creative!

Also, know that the party will take place during Bridgeport’s Downtown Thursdays, which also include live music on the McLevy Green and other activities. A lot will be going on that evening. Please join us; I’m so excited about this.

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.

In which I bite the bullet and say what my upcoming book is about.

I often deliberately forget that I am having a novella published (in e-book form) in January.

The book is called “Beware the Hawk,” and it’s being published by Vagabondage Press and I really am very excited, but you’d never know it because over the Christmas holiday, I didn’t talk about it unless someone else brought it up. (Publishers, if you’re reading this, I am aware that this is not a viable marketing strategy.)

I think part of the reason that I push the book from my mind is this: people ask me what it’s about and – like Eminem in the opening scenes of 8 Mile – I choke.

I stammer something like “It’s about a girl, and spies. It’s funny. Well, I think it’s funny.” This is hardly the enthused, informative pitch I was taught in grad school to make. “What is it about” is a perfectly reasonable question; I’m the author and ought to know. But the question trips me up, maybe because I rarely think of a piece of my fiction as something that other people will read. For the most part, I doubt that the figments of my imagination will actually leave my hard drive and move out into the world.

I do have a couple of projects that are my golden children. If any of my work is published, I tell myself, it will be these privileged novels. I groom and prep them for publication. I submit them to my writers’ groups. I prepare myself to let them go.

“Beware the Hawk” was not one of these. I began writing “Beware the Hawk” when I was 23, worked on it with my very first writers’ group, and then – five pages from the end – abandoned the project when I was 25. I left it unfinished until this year. I was caught off guard by its acceptance this fall. To bring it back to the children metaphor: I expected it to grow up to be a drug dealer, but it’s surprised me by going to med school on scholarship.

Also there’s this – the characters and plot have been marinating in my brain for a decade. I’ve unconsciously built unmentioned back stories for each character. Like my houseplants, I neglected them, and they grew. The idea of summing up all of these thoughts and associations is daunting.

But not is not the time for such timidity. Now I must plot-summarize as if the devil himself were at my heels. The publishers tell me that the book will be out in the next three to four weeks, either on the 17th or on the 24th, and if I’m going to market it at all, I should learn how to describe it. The publishers have categorized it as a spy-satire, but I’ll need to be armed with a summary as I do the virtual book tour. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of ways to describe the contents of my novella.

“Beware the Hawk” is about:

i. …a young pink-haired Brooklynite who is a courier for a secret anti-government group, called the Resistance. She’s sent up to Boston to pick something up one night in winter, and everything goes wrong from the moment she steps off the Fung-Wah bus.

ii. …a young woman who desires to live outside society and its rules and who learns that this is not possible (particularly if one is fond of life in the city.)

iii. …making choices young and having to live with them.

iv. …failure.

v. …50 (virtual) pages long.

vi. …a girl, her iPhone, an inept co-worker, a hot mechanic and a leg injury.

Put all those together and that’s what it’s about, although I feel like a lot is still left out. Which is funny, since the book is only a 50ish page novella. No wonder J.K. Rowling unveiled her Pottermore website this year. Seven books and eight films and she still feels like she hasn’t adequately described the contents of her Harry Potter universe to us. Not that I’m going to be unveiling any “Beware the Hawk” web portals anytime soon.

I will however, be sharing the cover art with you. I got a peek at it tonight and I’m excited. The publishers will be sending the image to me just as soon as it’s finalized.