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.

‘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

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 beg for stars.

Not stars, as in masses of incandescent gases. Stars as in Amazon and Goodreads reviews.

Recently I’ve heard from a few fellow authors who have asked me and other readers to post reviews to the Internet. It struck me that I should probably be doing that, rather than just raving to them privately. Also, it struck me that I should ask my readers to do the same.

So, if you’ve read Beware the Hawk and liked it* please consider heading on over to my Amazon and Goodreads pages and rating it. Or even write a review. Especially write a review. My editor and publisher** at Vagabondage Press would love that, and I would too.


*or even if you didn’t. As a journalist, I’m a fan of free speech. Even though some free speech makes me cry.
** or as I like to think of them, the “evil overladies.”

Announcement time: Stamford appearance and reading in Mystic.

It’s on the Internets, so I feel like it’s probably time to announce this here:

  • I will be the featured reader at the Stamford Town Center’s Barnes & Noble Poetry Night on Monday, August 13. The event starts at 8 p.m. There will be other readers before me and after me, but I will be reading and I will have books with me. Need more info? Here’s the announcement.

It feels weird to be announcing an appearance in Stamford, when I live so close, because I make “appearances” in Stamford fairly often. Some of my recent “appearances” include a) picking up a new battery at the Apple Store b) that time when I sleepily and mistakenly got off the train from NYC at the wrong stop and c) once when we met some cousins for dinner.

But it’s also really cool to be appearing in Stamford because that’s my old coverage area. (For the uninitiated, “coverage area” is  reporter-speak for “the town in which I used to cover board of education committee meetings.”) I used to spend a lot of time in Stamford. I even covered the work of local authors there, so it’s pretty cool to be headed there for a reading myself.

I totally have to thank my MFA colleague Nick Miele for setting this up for me. He’s a poet and he will also be reading.

  • Speaking of the MFA…. I will be reading on Thursday, July 19 in Mystic, at my MFA program’s  Alumni Day. I will post something separate about this, but the readings will run from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Chapel at Enders. I will be reading with David Fitzpatrick, Deb Henry and Annabelle Moseley. It’s auspicious company, to say the absolute least. I will blog more about this later in the week, because oh my god. All three of these colleagues have reached insane career heights in the last year and you need to know more about them.

Lastly, you all have three days to get name suggestions for my main character to me. Then the voting begins.

Scavenger Hunt winners: The battle for supremacy.

Remember yesterday, when I posted the scavenger hunt winners? I posted a list of all the people who participated, and the number of missions in which they participated. This list  (which shall from this point on be referred to “The Leaderboard,” to make it seem cooler than it really is) looked like this at 11:30 yesterday:

Ally :4

Mary-Jo :4

Alena :4

E.S. : 3

Heidi: 1

Tamela : 1

Linsey : 1

As you can see, there was a three-way tie between Ally, Mary-Jo and Alena. I issued this challenge to the three front-runners: If one of you pulls ahead of the pack in the next 24 hours by submitting just one more entry, you may have the tee shirt of your choice from my store.

Then some of the participants read the post and things got real.

Except that I didn’t know how real things had gotten because this morning, my iPhone decided that I didn’t need to be notified when something was tweeted to me. I came home from work to find that three participants had attempted to submit/submitted new material and that two of the three had declared themselves “in it to win it.” One of the three was talking smack like a wrestler standing in front of WWE ringside camera.

It was awesome. And I missed most of  it. So now, I would like to post a summary of the Scavenger Hunt Battle for Supremacy. Cue the American Gladiator theme music.

Last night  – I posted the winners.

Last night – Mary-Jo has trouble uploading a tattoo photo but leaves this intriguing comment on my Facebook page:

“Mary-Jo Bates I’m having issues uploading the tatt pic, but I was impressed by Danno’s translation of my mental image into my cross tatt. Woohoo! I cannot wait to put that on my precious books’ shelf :)”

If you ever get that photo uploaded, Moj, I want to see it.

Last night –  E.S. Cameron submits a pink hair photo. I update the blog and go to sleep.

Then I wake up and this happens:

8:10 a.m  – Ally posts a photo of her tattoo. 8:44 a.m. – Ally posts a Craigslist ad, which is safe for work.

8:45 a.m. – Ally ups the ante, posting another Craigslist ad, which is probably not safe for work.

9:10 a.m.  – Alena strikes back with a twofor. Declares self “in it to win it.”

10:57 a.m. – You should not say such things to Ally, who has somehow found an actual purple shamrock and who is backing that up with a purple drawing of a shamrock, just in case I didn’t think the shamrock was purple enough. Her tweet contains the word “dammit.”

10:57 a.m.  -Ally takes some time out to taunt Tamela for making excuses.

11:00 a.m.  – Ally visits my Facebook page and tells us about an injury she’s had:

For the scavenger hunt, a more detailed account of my Toronto Chinatown injury: I was 11 years old, and we were going to visit my great-grandmother in Toronto. The first day we were there I fell down a flight of stairs in her apartment complex and sprained my ankle. I was on crutches the rest of the trip, and somewhere my mom has a picture of me at the Chinatown arch with my crutches and Ace bandage.

9:40 p.m. – After what I perceive as a long silence, Ally begs to be let off haiku-writing.

10:32 p.m. – The haiku is submitted. The other contenders are pretty much dead silent at this point.

10:39 p.m.  – She tweets this for the seedy bar category, which isn’t strictly speaking, what I asked for, but which counts.

Let’s take a look at The Leaderboard now.

Ally :10

Mary-Jo :4

Alena :5

E.S. : 3

Heidi: 1

Tamela : 1

Linsey : 1

Ally is the clear and undisputed winner. She wins either the tee of her choice from my store or the iPhone case.

Thank you for playing, ladies. And winners, get those snail mail addresses in to me so I can send you your prizes!


This is just a quick post to say oh my god the book is out.

I realize that I said that when Beware the Hawk was released on Jan. 17 as an e-book. But I’m saying it again, because it’s out as a physical book right now. I just checked both Vagabondage Press’s site and Amazon and it’s listed as a paperback. So I guess that makes me a paperback writer.

More posts later.

Scavenger Hunt, Day Six: The haiku challenge.

Before I share today’s challenge, a bit of news: I heard from my editor yesterday afternoon, and she tells me that I’ll be getting the proof for the physical copy of Beware the Hawk very soon!

I’m curious to see what that will look like, since Beware the Hawk is less than 50 pages long. I’ve been reading several of literature’s greatest short books lately (The House on Mango Street, The Stranger, Heart of Darkness, Turn of the Screw) and all of them are pretty slim volumes, but Beware the Hawk is shorter than all of them. That’s going to be one narrow book spine.

Because of all that shortness, today’s challenge will celebrate brevity with the shortest form of all: the haiku.

Write me a haiku about a bird of prey.

You know what a haiku is, right? Of course you do. Three lines of poetry. Line one has five syllables, line two has seven syllables and line three has five syllables. I realize this isn’t really a hunt. In fact I was planning to have you search for a haiku about a bird of prey, but writing haiku is more fun. (Although if you’d rather search for one, be my guest, just credit the poet when you submit.)

Tweet the poem to me (@ann_oconnell) with the hashtag #bewarethehawk. Or post it to my author page on Facebook.

Speaking of which, I have some neat iPhone apps to share from yesterday’s challenge.

UPDATE: Erin Skelly Cameron submitted Instagram, which is a personal favorite of mine. It’s like Twitter, but with photos. Unfortunately, it’s only available for iPhone users now, and Erin owns a Droid.

Alena Dillon of The Time is Write submitted this neat app, Star Walk. It’s a sort of augmented stargazing app. You point your phone the sky and the constellations appear. You point it at an unidentified object and it tells you what you’re looking at. That’s right – UFOs are a thing of the past. Your iPhone will ID every object in the sky. I think I might want it.

Ally Arendt of WordVagabond submitted a link to an app for writers, FIG. FIG stands for Fiction Idea Generator, and it’s a plot generator that lives in your phone. It suggests plots, genre, period, narrative voice and appears to have several other generators included including an emotion generator. That’s pretty neat, too.

Normally I just sponge off the free iPhone apps and tolerate all the advertising that comes with them, but maybe I should shell out the five bucks for these two apps. Any other suggestions, folks?

I’m reading at the Watertown Library! (And not silent reading like when I used to do my homework there.)

Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce that I will be doing my very first reading in just a little less than two weeks at the Watertown Library in Watertown, Connecticut.

This reading, which will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday March 28, will be very special because Watertown is kind of my hometown.* Also special? My mother worked for the library when I was growing up. She worked at the Oakville branch of the library and did all the story hours there for years. So I spent most of my time there during grade school and middle school. I shelved books and did my homework and occasionally had to be told off for being too rowdy.

And that may be what happens again, because I’m hoping to draw a big crowd to the Watertown Library’s main branch on the evening of March 28.

Here’s the deal: Watertown Library included e-books in their collection on the first of March. Because my book is an e-book, I’m going to give a talk about my experience publishing an e-book and then do some reading. And then? We party. Responsibly, and in a literary fashion, of course. I have no idea where people go to party on a Wednesday night in Watertown these days. If I’m honest, I didn’t even know where to party in Watertown when I was living there. But no worries, we’ll figure something out.

Warning: Parents of young children, my book has language in it. Not language, but language. Also, it has situations in it, which cannot be bleeped out the way language can. I will do my best to read responsibly, but my book contains adult material and I don’t recommend bringing the kids to hear me read.

Hope to see you all there!

*Actually I’m from Oakville, which is a big neighborhood/”census-designated place” in Watertown, but to people who aren’t from there, it’s basically the same thing as being from Watertown.

Fabulous book news!

Last week I spoke to my editor at Vagabondage Press and she delivered some fabulous news: Beware the Hawk is coming to print on March 20!

This won’t come as a surprise to the people who follow my Facebook author page; they hear just about all my news just about as soon as it happens, thanks to my raging social media addiction and my possession of a smartphone. (Just another reason to “like” my author page, or stay the hell away from it.)

Beware The Hawk novellaI’m pretty excited. Beware the Hawk was planned as an e-book and an e-book only, so it’s exciting that a print edition is being released. Since it’s a novelette, it will be a pretty slim volume, but it will be fabulous to have it, to be able to do real book signings as well as virtual signings, to carry a bunch of books around in the trunk of my car so that I can peddle them.

Even better, it will be nice to have a copy of my book accessible to the folks who can’t read it on an e-reader, or who prefer not to. There are, actually, quite a few people who have approached me and said some variation of “I’d like to buy your book, but I don’t have an e-reader.” Well folks, save the date. On March 20, physical copies of Beware the Hawk will become available.

Another announcement: I will be doing my first actual event in my hometown, Watertown, Connecticut, at the Watertown Library. The date has changed from my original announcement. I will provide more information soon.