Author interview: A.J. O’Connell

AJOConnellI’ve just finished, rather reluctantly, the second episode of A.J.O’Connell’s trilogy of novellas (available as paper or eBook), which began with Beware the Hawk. The Eagle & the Arrow continues from where our last cliffhanger ended. But the point of view in this installment is that of Helen Roberts, director of the Resistance, the secret government agency that our nameless heroine from the first book appears to work for. I say ‘appears to work for’ because nothing in this book can be taken for granted.

A,J’s voice here is pitch perfect, so far as I know, because I’ve never actually met the director of such an agency. But I was convinced by the crisp dialogue and the slightly world-weary but ever vigilant Helen who is landed with babysitting a former agent gone rogue and a slew of double-dealing colleagues that kept me guessing as I read. There is a problem with this book. We have to wait, now, for part three, which I hope won’t take long to write, because I have to know what happens next! And since A.J’s writing is becoming more polished as she writes each successive book, I think I’m justified in expecting a new one quite soon.

With this in mind, I had a few questions for her when I met her recently at Made in Bridgeport, a funky little shop in the eponymous town, where I’m sure agents of the Resistance have assignations on a regular basis.

1.So – when is the next book coming out?
I don’t know; I’m hoping for sometime in 2014, although I predict that this one will take a little longer to write because I now have to resolve the story I started in book one and the one I started in book two. At the moment, I’m working on another project, but I’ve sketched out some ideas for book three, and I’m choosing my new protagonist. (Currently I’m torn between two new voices.) [So frustrating! GC]

 180693542.      This is your second novella. What made you decide to write in this form? And is there a novel in your future?

I definitely never set out to write a novella; I just tend to write short, and at the time I wrote the first draft of Beware The Hawk, I was working as a reporter and because of that, I wrote very short.

Additionally, I was working on the project for a writers group that only shared five pages at a time, out loud, every two weeks. Because of my schedule, I was really only writing five pages at a time, right before the meetings and because I was reading them aloud, basically performing them, I always ended my five pages with a cliffhanger, like it was a radio play.

At the time, I believed that the manuscript was much longer than it actually was. I remember being surprised to discover that I only had 35 pages of the first draft. I always thought I’d lengthen the draft, but that changed when my editor contacted me about the manuscript for a series of e-novellas her publishing house was putting out.

As for a novel, yes! There is definitely a novel in my future. Lord knows, there are many, many novels in my past. I’ve been writing longer manuscripts since high school; my hard drive is full of them. Currently I’m finishing a second draft of a novel that I began working as part of a project for grad school. It’s very different from the two books I have out now, which is something I love.

3.      Your first book (Beware the Hawk) is set in Boston, and this one has DC as its background. Any reason why you chose these locations specifically?

I chose Boston because I used to work at a newspaper there. I was just out of school and had no car, and I spent a lot of time walking around the city and traveling on public transportation. I got to know the city pretty well. Chinatown in particular fascinated me. There was the sense that you could find all sorts of adventures there, if you know where to look for it.

Washington D.C. came to me as a natural setting because of the plot of The Eagle & The Arrow, but the problem with that was that I don’t know D.C. nearly as well as I knew Boston. I ended up asking a few friends who live in and near D.C. to read through the manuscript and tell me where I got the city wrong and how to correct it.

4.      Love your female protagonists. Are they modeled on anyone, either real or fictional?

Thank you! It’s a mixture, really. The first protagonist in the first draft of Beware the Hawk (written 10 years ago) was a young me, but when I retooled the draft in 2011, I changed some of that. I work as adjunct faculty in a local college and I incorporated several of the traits I see in my students into her and also made up some traits to bring her up to date.

My second protagonist, Helen, is more or less invented, but there are traces of at least two or three career women I know and admire in her. And, I recently realized that, subconsciously, I gave Helen my aunt’s apartment. Maybe because when I was small my aunt was the only women I knew who was single and had a career and her own apartment, and I was always drawn to that. There was a kind of power in her lifestyle and her apartment was a symbol of that power to me.

5.      Could you tell us a bit about how you found your way into this kind of writing style?

If you mean the thrillerish style, I blame that first writers’ group, the one that had me reading five pages at a time every two weeks! And also, I blame Michael Crichton because I remember reading Jurassic Park as a kid, and staying up long into the night and wondering “How is he doing this? I really don’t want to read about anyone getting eaten by a dinosaur, but why can’t I stop reading?”

Honestly, these books are a departure from my natural writing style, which is a bit slower in pace, but I like writing them because it’s a challenge to figure out how to break a short book into short segments that will (I hope) keep people turning  the pages.

6.      Lastly, Thanks for my Authorgraph.:)  How did you come across this way of ‘signing’ e-books, and is it complicated for authors to do? Click here to see it: Authorgraph from A.J. O’Connell for Beware The Hawk

You are quite welcome! I heard about Authorgraph last year, when Beware the Hawk was only out as an e-book. Instead of signing books, I was mailing signed Post-Its to anyone who asked for one so people could stick the notes to their e-readers while they read my book, and thus, have a signed copy. Another author saw this and sent me the link to Authorgraph. It was very easy: I just signed in using my Twitter account, uploaded my signature, and added my books. If a request comes in, I can sign a book from my smartphone and the signed flysheet will get sent directly to the readers’ Kindles, although I believe readers have to create an account to access those. It would be ideal if readers didn’t need a login and if there was an associated app, but I’m hopeful that will change soon. Honestly, the biggest hurdle is getting readers to try it.

It’s the Look…

Those of you who read me regularly will know by now that Lisa Winkler of Cycling Grandma is the editor who included me in her anthology of women writers, Tangerine Tango. Her recent post about a blog game called the Look Challenge, caught my attention. Read on and you’ll see why…

Gratitude: The “Look” Challenge, Hurricane Sandy

It’s National Novel Writing Month, a 30-day, 50,000 word, novel-writing challenge.

I’m not participating but Tangerine Tango contributor Dawn Landau is.  Not only is she writing with abandon dawn to dusk, she tagged me in the blog game called the  “Look Challenge.”  Bloggers, who are writing beyond their blogs have a chance to offer a sneak peek of their work.

The rules require that you search your writing for the word “look” and share a few lines. Dawn suggested I provide excerpts from the book.

Here’s what I found:

From Gabi Coatsworth’s essay about her memories shrimping with her father:

“I used to wonder sometimes if the sea would ever come back again. I would look out of my bedroom window, under the eaves of Granny and Grandpa’s house, and sometimes the sea would be right up, covering the pebble beach, and at other times I couldn’t see it at all, it was so far away. All I could see was sand, stretching away to the end of the world. It felt a bit scary, but there is one wonderful thing about sand like that. In the summer, after we’d had supper, my father would take us out shrimping before bedtime.

We’d walk down the drive toward the main road in front of the house. Holding hands in a straggling chain, we would cross the road after repeating the incantation: “Look right, look left, look right again. If all clear, quick march.” This last was, I suspect, my mother’s variation on “cross the road”. She had been in the army, after all.”

From Chris Rosen’s experience in her first hot air balloon:

“Miss Bean, our two-year-old shelter dog, started barking furiously on the deck while I was finishing making the pesto. Looking out towards the mountains, I saw why. A beautiful hot air balloon was floating over the valley and heading towards us! If it wasn’t for our trees, they might have landed on our hill.

I remembered our hot air balloon ride…”

And from Patti Winker’s  memory about clotheslines:

“Most might find it hard to feel nostalgic about any kind of laundry, let alone having to lug heavy baskets outside to dry on lines. Line drying the wash is hard work and not often reliable. Mom watched the sky, constantly on the lookout for ominous dark clouds Read the rest here.

Maybe you’d like to join in? Here’s the idea:

The Look Challenge

Search your manuscript for the word “look” and copy the surrounding paragraphs into a post to let other bloggers read. Then you tag five blogger/authors.

You only have to provide some of your own writing, not for the others (but “Thank you,Lisa”).

So I’m tagging five other writing bloggers:

A. J. O’Connell

Carrie Nyman

Tricia Tierney

Linda Howard Urbach

Alex McNab