Wednesday, January 4, 2017

It's Time for My New Sins ...

by Tj O'Connor

Temporary Cover Art
My sins are surfacing. They’re on the horizon, inching ever closer, and it’s time I dealt with them head-on. Like many a wild and crazy-guy, my sins come with scores to settle, too. There’s nothing better than a good battle of new sins and old scores. Nothing.

For the past two years or so, I’ve blogged about my characters, plots, and process surrounding my previous series, The Gumshore Ghost (a dreaded series name). Oliver Tucker and his pals hunted murderers, thieves, and gangsters. Tuck was a dead detective helping solve first his own, and then other murders along the way. Each of those stories had a historical subplot and a paranormal twist. And so does New Sins for Old Scores.

The difference in the story lines are unique—Tuck was written in the first person, and New Sins in the third. Tuck’s stories were very light-hearted mysteries whereas New Sins takes a little more serious storyline, still with good humor, but it’s closer to a traditional mystery. Lastly, and perhaps more noteable at least to me, it takes on a serious subplot—human trafficking—and overlays a historical real-life event to connect the past with the present. I truly believe history repeats itself. I also believe we are slow to learn its lessons.

New Sins for Old Scores makes us wonder if we’ve learned life’s most important lessons about the past, trust, and honor.

 In February 2016,  I had a brief discussion about my new novel. I’ll try not to rehash it here. It suffices to say that these new stories will also have murder with a paranormal twist, but in this case, the paranormal side will be the secondary character—Trick McCall, the spirit of a long dead, disgraced WWII Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative. Trick is the sidekick in these stories, not the primary hero as in Oliver Tucker’s Ghost Gumshoe series. And this series is a little more traditional—albeit with the paranormal twist—and not quite as light-hearted as Tuck’s stories, either—though Trick does tend to have a little fun at the expense of the bad guys.

 The novel is based on some real events—or more accurately, real historical events—which I took license with and molded into a modern murder mystery. The story follows a disgraced detective, Richard Jax, who must prove his own innocence in a multiple homicide and stop an international plot of human traffickers and murders.

The story begins …

Murder, like history, often repeats itself.

When it does, that kind of murder isn’t the byproduct of some psychotic break or an unintended emotional frenzy. That kind of murder is conscious and considered. It is deliberate.

History is full of that kind of murder.

Richard Jax was never a good student of history—but he knew murder well. He was more pragmatic than philosophical, and except for watching the History Channel and old movies, the past occupied little of his time. His time was reserved for murder and violence. Yet, history taught him a very important lesson—an axiom of parents with teenagers—that nothing good ever happens after midnight.

Jax wasn’t married and had no children. But it was after midnight and he was alone.

Later on, Richard Jax is ambushed while on a stakeout and lay bleeding out, alone and without backup. As his assailant approaches him for the final kill shot, he meets Trick McCall …

A voice exploded in his head. “Get up. Fight back. It’s not over. It can’t be—fight.”

Jax looked across the driveway. Someone lay on the gravel a dozen feet away. The figure stared wide-eyed back at him. Then, in strange, freeze-frame movements, the man stood. He looked around and brushed himself off. He gave Jax a nod and then picked something up off the ground and placed it on his head.

“Come on, Mac, fight. Don’t quit. You can’t.”

Jax tried to focus but knew he was already done.

“Come on, Ricky. You have to do this yourself. Until you do, I can’t help.”

Jax watched the man across the parking lot as the warmth pooled beneath his cheek. His vision blurred and he wasn’t sure what he saw was right—a cone of light engulfed the man—just him. Everything around the light was black and murky. The man was tall and lanky. He wore a hat—a fedora—and a dark, double-breasted suit. Behind him was a 1940s Plymouth with wide, squared fenders, and a dark green, four-door body.

Was he dead and heaven playing a film noir festival for his arrival?

“Shoot ‘em, Ricky. Shoot or he’ll kill you.”

Jax looked up at the silhouette standing over him. The warmth that flowed from him minutes ago now left him cold and spent.

The silhouette raised his gun for the final shot.

“No,” Jax grunted. “No…”

A deafening crack and a flash of light.

Silence.

“Miles Archer, Ricky,” the fedora-man said leaning over him. “Bogart’s partner was Miles Archer, ya know, in The Maltese Falcon. I saw it open at the Capitol Theatre in D.C. in ’42. You did good, Ricky—real good.”

Darkness.

Jax and Trick McCall have two things in common. They are both disgraced—Trick believed to be a murderous traitor who killed his own men for profit, and Jax a crooked cop who killed his partner and fiancé from jealousy. Together they have to set the records straight —even if those records began in 1942.

As with my previous novels, I intertwine history and the present, proving the opening line, Murder, like history, often repeats itself.  The paranormal twist allows me to move between past and present and explore the events that led to Trick’s death and his disgrace. It also allows me to link events from the ‘40s with modern day skullduggery. The outcome brings out all the character’s New Sins and helps them settle Old Scores.

I’m anxious to get on the road to talk about this story. It was fun writing and I think it’ll be fun talking about the plot and characters to fans. But mostly, I love just talking books with readers. This one opens up a new chapter in my own writing, another potential series that mixes my favorite topics—murder and history. In these stories, I get to play with my own sins and conjure up some old scores to settle, too.

We’ll talk again next month.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of New Sins for Old Scores, coming in March 2017 from Black Opal Books, and Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell. He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous works. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:

Web Site:  www.tjoconnor.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tjoconnor.author
Blog: http://tjoconnorbooks.blogspot.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7148441.T_J_O_Connor

 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Dying To Kill My Darlings ... kill 'em all.

Kill ’em! Kill ’em all! Die my darlings, die!

Phew, now that I got that out. Let me explain.

William Faulkner—you know, that slouch author—is famed for many things like his 1949 Nobel for Literature and The Sound and the Fury not least among them. He is also noted for giving perhaps the most sage advice authors can get—“In writing, you must all kill your darlings.” A truer statement has never been made. Oh, Bill, what a guy ... if only I'd listened to you sooner.
 
Lesson for new authors and writers—be careful loving your own characters and story too much. When you do, three things happen: first, you can’t see your own story flaws; second, your agent and editor will see them and it hurts to hear; and third—the most painful one—you must kill them. Kill the characters you don’t need. Kill the subplot that gets in the way. Kill the clever chapters and cool action scenes that were dynamite to write and fun to read but truly don’t matter to the story.

Yes. You must kill. Coldly, with extreme prejudice.

Can you tell I’m a mystery and thriller writer? Just talking about killing my characters and subplots makes me tingle all over. (Not really, but it’s fun to say.)

This past summer, I failed to take my own advice. Yes siree, I totally let my own perceptions and love of the characters get in the way of a better story—almost. If not for my agent, the lovely and magnanimous Kimberley Cameron, I would have blown it. She saw my flaws for what they were—and the knives came out!

Let me explain.

I recently completed my new thriller, Double Effect. I’d written the original version a couple years ago with my mentor, Wally. It was written as a murder mystery with a terrorism subplot. I loved the original story and so did Wally. Unfortunately, sitting for a couple years while writing my mystery series, the Gumshoe Ghost, ended up dating the story too far back and I had to rewrite it. As I did, my mentor suddenly passed away. It was crushing to me and literally on his deathbed, he gave his last counsel on my writing—finish Double Effect as a thriller and get the damn thing done!

Off I went and there was where the trouble began. Double Effect was originally the story of a Latino street gang caught up with a cell of terrorists plotting to attack the US. The gang and the cell were at cross purposes and it caused hell to pay. Oh, there were other facets—a vixen FBI agent stumbling around, a corrupt cop, a wayward gang leader with a blood lust, and even a cell of foreign government operatives with their own agenda. All of them were in conflict with the hero, a long forgotten government operative who returned home to witness his brother’s murder. Confused yet? You should be. My agent was. My editor was. Regrettably, and the reason for this blog … I wasn’t.

I think authors suffer from the same illness sometimes. We know our stories too well and even after edits on edits, we have the story so fixed in our heads that we forget the edits changed things. So, after two full edits and rewrites of my story, all the subplots were twisted together and I totally failed to see it. I knew the underlying story and it was clear to me. I knew the characters and how they thought and moved through the story. I got it. It was great!

Ah, no. It wasn’t. It had potential, but only after a good bloodletting.

When my agent told me that she liked the underlying story but couldn’t get connected to the subplots, I was taken aback—aghast! What? Kill my characters? Lessen the subplots? How could you even think such a thing? I tried to explain… and I found myself tied in knots. Gulp. I’d created Frankenstein the subplot! So many moving pieces and part mystery, part thriller, and 100 proof too dense. It was two novels, not one. I just hadn’t seen it. My brain knew the story and the characters too well. I was hostage to my own novel. Those characters held me. Controlled me. Refused to allow me to let them go.

Alas, there was only one thing to do. I found a new story-line editor—enter the amazing and gifted Terri—and within a couple weeks, she untangled my story and gave me my marching orders. Cut. Kill. Rewrite. Focus …

It was painful reading her ideas and changes. There would be blood. Lots of blood. An entire subplot would require surgical extraction—a beheading of grammatical proportions! It was going to be a long few weeks and sleepless nights. Crying and teeth gnashing. Oh the horrors! Of all the humanities!

Then, one night about three a.m. (I sleep very little when I’m working on a book), it struck me like a bullet … they were right. It was time to kill them … kill them all. Those little darlings of mine who had corrupted me and forced me to protect them.  By six that morning, I’d gone through my outline and hacked away at what I needed to do. I compared my slaughter to what my new editor wanted and it was damn close. Then, through the tears and whimperings of those characters I’d given life to, it began.

Now, for the past two weeks—weekends and late night hours until I am ready to drop—I’ve cut and slashed and killed off a chunk of Double Effect. As I continued, an amazing thing began to take place—clarity. I no longer had to justify this character or that one. I didn’t have to find a way to connect one subplot into the ending. It was painful. Bloody painful. It felt like I’d killed my best friends and had to disavow parts of my own life. But as the rewrite continues, I’m having fun with it … challenging myself at every chapter to see if something should go. I fear what I’ve become … a serial killer?

So, here’s the moral to the story for anyone who listens. Kill ’em. Kill ’em all. Step back from your own work for a few weeks before you read it again. Ask three questions for each character: does it matter if they aren’t there? What do they contribute to the ending and plot? What if I just got rid of them, what would happen? If you find yourself searching for the answers, kill ’em. And for those subplots you love so much, three more questions: How does this strengthen the ending? Does it move the story faster or slower? And of course, what if I just pulled it out—would the story notice? Again, if your heart isn’t palpitating on the answers … kill ’em.

So, for you finishing your book, sit the story down for a while. Come back in a few weeks and bring your courage. Kill ’em … kill ’em cold and fast. Kill those little darlings before they kill you.

We’ll talk again next month.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell—and New Sins for Old Scores, a new paranormal mystery coming in 2017! He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous series. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:
 
Web Site:  www.tjoconnor.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tjoconnor.author
Blog: http://tjoconnorbooks.blogspot.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7148441.T_J_O_Connor

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dying Is A Con ...


Taking Tuck and my books on the road is many things for me. It’s book signings, speaking gigs, being Master of Ceremonies for book events and charities … fairs, author panels … highways, hotels, airports … And of all things, it’s also one big con.

Conventions, not a scam, rip-off, or ex-resident of your local prison.

Having never discovered the magic formula hidden on the internet for building a fan base of huge proportions, I have taken the road far, far less travelled by. I don’t limit my book selling travels to writer conventions, book store signings, libraries, or other reader-magnet events. No, that would be simple and easy. Not me.  Oh, no. I do those things, of course, but I also tiptoe on the wild side. I found the fork in the road where the other authors turn right and head for the bookstores and I made a hard-left.

See, I don’t follow the leader very often. Well, hardly at all. In fact, I tend to not only march to my own drum but I don’t bring a drum. I don’t play well in other’s wake.

No, no really. It’s true. Stop laughing …

Three years ago when Dying to Know first launched, I took to the road in a dozen different paths. It was the quintessential tossing ideas against the wall to see what sticked … stuck … stayed there? And each year since, it’s been different. Each year, I experiment with new ideas. Some of them work. Others do not work. All of them have been fun to try.

One of the theories I had was to be places most other authors were not going to be.

Like, Monster-Mania.

You heard me. Monster-Mania Con, Hunt Valley, Maryland.

This cult-following convention has been around for decades. Its platform is as it sounds—the monster, ghoul, and slasher genre—an annual convention for the ghouls, dead-enders, goths, and horror-esque in all of us. There are film-makers; comic book aficionados; and artisans of gadgets, toys, memorabilia, macabre jewelry, and anything for those who want to live in Halloween-land year-round. And of all the fun are the hard-core fans who love cosplay—dressing in the costume of their favorite slasher, basher, killer, and chiller stars.


Many aren’t really in costume. But don’t tell them I said so.

Monster-Mania Con has been interesting to say the least. Over the past couple events here, I’ve met celebrities like Robert Englund of Freddie fame in Nightmare on Elm Street, Scott Wilson (Hershel) of the Walking Dead, Shannon Elizabeth, Kristy Swanson, and a list of others. Some, I couldn’t name a film or pick out of a lineup, but many, like Englund and Wilson, are powerhouse draws for this circuit and well worth the bucks to get in and get a photo with. I, not being a fanboy, buy them a drink or shake a hand and move on. Celebrity-sycophant is not on my resume.

I am sort of the odd-man out in the sea of ghouls and killers and roving vampires and werewolves. I’m the unknown-author of mysteries and thrillers. This year, the only novelist in the entire convention selling Ghost Gumshoe series (God I hate the moniker) about a dead detective solving murders with a paranormal twist. I also began promoting my newest paranormal mystery, New Sins for Old Scores, hitting the shelves in early 2017 from Black Opal Books. Not the best fit for a horror convention, but at least my protagonist is dead. And, trust me, this crowd is all about dead!

After three years, I’m one of the crew here. And oddly enough, it has worked. This year, I had several returning fans come to find me and buy my latest book with promises to sign on for the New Sins series. And I’ve found a few new fans and caught up with some old pals who haunt this place (pun intended) each year.

Truth be told, I don’t sell a ton of books—but I do sell many. I also get my bookmarks and business cards out there. I talk to tons of people and even make a few fans along the way, have some laughs, and shake my head a lot as I snap photos of the cosplayers.

The road less travelled has brought me to a lot of strange places—Monster-Mania among the oddest.

There’s my old pal, Capt. Mango … the radon-inspection contractor who is really a pirate and small-
budget film star as a killer-maniac. There’s Mike and Jenna, a talented two-some—Mike creates hand-made artisan toys and horror memorabilia and Jenna is a gifted photographer of cult-style photos. Mic and Mike, Donna, Terri, and Steve ... and Matt. There’s the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Father Evil, the killers from A Clockwork Orange, Freddie Krueger, ax-wielding maniacs, and cute kids dressed as stalker clowns and dragons. And others like Anna, Maggie, Kellie, Chris & Mary Ann, Katherine from Kingston with Justin—a few new friends of the hundreds I’ve made here.

Monster-Mania may not be on my slate next year as I juggle my travels and try to find new venues to seek fans and fame. But the experience and folks I’ve met has made it one of the memorable places Tuck and I have explored these past three years. It will also be one of my first favorites and the first place Tuck found returning fans seeking his adventures.

For me, finding the places few authors have discovered is part of my own path. My favorite places are at those where I speak or am on a panel—if I can speak and take stage, I can sell them my books. Except here at Monster-Mania—to truly connect, I have to wear Goth-garb, paint my eyes black, wear zombie contact lenses and elevator–shoes, and carry an ax. Oh, and a few chains and scalps hanging from my belt wouldn’t hurt either.

We’ll talk again next month.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell—and New Sins for Old Scores, a new paranormal mystery coming in 2017! He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous series. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:

Web Site:  www.tjoconnor.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tjoconnor.author
Blog: http://tjoconnorbooks.blogspot.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7148441.T_J_O_Connor

 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dying for the Affair

My hands are shaking. My breath tightens in my chest. My thoughts are swirling with images of the time we spent together. Now she’s gone—out of my reach and nothing but silence remains. The emptiness is back. Yet, deep down, I know it has never left. Not since early July. Not since I did it. Now, I have to live with the consequences of my actions.  Those last words haunt me—a cliché ending to months of love and affection that kept me up late into the night and demanded every ounce of my attention.

And with those words, those damnable words, it was over. Two words that ended my sneaking into the night, hiding from my family, seeking my lover’s embrace. A lover that made me smile and got my heart pounding and my blood sizzling through my veins. Two words and the entire affair was over.

Two words—The End.

I’m talking about writing my latest novel, of course. What the hell did you think I was talking about?

I won’t speak for other authors, but I think many of us suffer from this affliction—the pain and sorrow of ending a novel we’ve loved and toiled over that we gave our soul to for months. The affair starts with an idea. Perhaps our imagination wanders after a beautiful woman smiles or sends a heart-stopping text or funny cartoon. Could it be possible? Could she be the one? Can I kill her in the first chapter and make my readers feel my pain and loss for 400 pages? What if she were not a tantalizing vixen but a spy or master terrorist stalking me before ending the world in a vile, evil plan? Could it be? Do I have another novel here?

Ohhhhhh, I get warm and fuzzy all over just thinking about how these liaisons begin.

And so it begins—the first few flirts and stolen kisses. A page here, a chapter there. And before anyone knows it—not my kids or dogs for sure—it’s a raging torrent of keyboard and screen, characters and plots, guys and dames … all heading toward the inevitable, painful, ending—The End. We start it all so innocently. No expectations. No promises. But before we’ve reached page 50, it’s late nights and cold showers—stolen glances at the screen, whispers in the night and secret liaisons whenever we can steal away and be alone. We crave her attention. We need her connection. It’s all about her—the story—and until we reach the climax at the end, we cannot stop ourselves. It’s a drive. A journey. A destination.

And then, it ends. Nothing left but a good cry and memories. Oh, and edits. Hell yes, edits and edits and edits.

For me, every book has been my passion. Sometimes, I stray during the affair and begin to dabble with another—yes, it’s true. I two-story now and then. It’s an affliction. Yet, when I’m being honest with myself, I know it won’t ever work. I have to finish one before I can even get serious with another. I’m getting old, after all. It’s just how things are.

And therein lies the problem—finishing a book that has been a lover for months, perhaps even years of notes and daydreams and ideas. That makes it all the harder to let go. To end it. To say, “The End.”

This past summer, I ended my latest liaison with Double Effect—my first thriller I’ve finished in nearly six years after writing five mysteries. It was a bittersweet story that touched home in so many ways that I even blogged about it in June at http://tjoconnorbooks.blogspot.com/2016/06/dying-for-thrill.html. Little did I know then that ending this long-running love would bring on a new emotion—despair.

A warning to all wannabe authors like me—good enough is never good enough. Just when you end it all, kiss her goodbye, and hit “send,” the emptiness and despair can often grab you like a lover clinging to a second chance. It’s terrifying.  

As I discussed in my June blog, Double Effect is the story of Jonathan Hunter, a swashbuckling security consultant summoned home after decades overseas by his estranged brother. On his arrival, he witnesses his brother’s murder. That killing unleashes a series of events from small town prejudice to Hunter’s personal demons haunting him as he chases a killer and finds a terrorist plot to devastate an American city. It combines a murder mystery, a rogue Latino street gang, a Middle Eastern terror cell, and current-event international dangers all coming to roost in small town Winchester, Virginia.

 Unfortunately, Double Effect also consumed me because it was the last work my mentor, Wally F. and I worked on together. It was dear to both of us because it stole pieces of our past lives and allowed us to work together on an adventure that would never have been possible in real life.  Double Effect brought back memories of our own true, old adventures—sure, the story is much more daring and dangerous than my previous life—but we spent hours reminiscing. It also forced me to relive my loss when Wally died last year. Double Effect took me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and remembrances that cost me more sleep than any book in years.

Emotions and life experiences are powerful tools of a writer.

I’d written draft one of Double Effect several years ago, but, because I received a contract for Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell, I had to shelve it until there was time to reacquaint myself with the love of my life. And let me tell you, that rendezvous was everything I’d hoped. But then, as my passion for Double Effect was rekindled, I was befallen by my worst affliction—self-doubt. Was it good enough?

For months, I’d toiled lovingly over new plot twists, subplots, and character changes. Yet each time I finished a draft, my heart ached and my mind wandered for one last tryst—another edit, more changes, new characters. I was obsessed. You see, my problem was not the story. It wasn’t the characters, either. It was me. I was stuck in it-will-never-be-good-enough mode. Each time I thought I was done, I’d read it and say, “Wait, I can make this better. I can do this and that. I can …” Delay. More rewrites.  I lay awake nights replotting and second-guessing myself into oblivion. My demand for “one more change” all but guaranteed I’d never truly finish the book.

But, like ice cream sundaes and passion, it all came to an end in early July. I forced myself to finish one final edit, typed “The End,” and sent Double Effect to my agent—the amazing and lovely Kimberley Cameron.

It was one day before the loss hit me. Before the angst and torment began. She was gone. She’d left me. Double Effect was away and it would be too long before I would have her again. Had I been good to her? Had I taken the time and given her my best? Was she satisfied? Should I have spent just a little more time? Was I … Good enough?

Doubt. Second guessing … regret.

Now I wait each night by my computer—alone and hopeful that any day I’ll hear the ding of my email and she would return for more of me. Kimberley’s round of edits and redrafting—her own thoughts and suggestions to make this affair one to remember. And she—Double Effect—would be in my embrace once again. I would go to work caressing her plots and stroking her characters until, when the time was right, we would reach the end together—my novel and me. Just the two of us. Well, at least until I was ready to share her with all of you.

After all, this love of mine—this affair that steals me and controls my every waking hour—is but just another notch on my bookshelf. And sadly it is true, in time, Double Effect will be a past fling—a summer thing—and I’ll move on to yet another.

We’ll talk again next month.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell—and New Sins for Old Scores, a new paranormal mystery coming in 2017! He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous series. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:

Web Site:  www.tjoconnor.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tjoconnor.author
Blog: http://tjoconnorbooks.blogspot.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7148441.T_J_O_Connor

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dying for A Little Sanity ...


Oh, Dear God … when will it end? When will my television return to zombies and murder mysteries and documentaries about ancient astronauts and how the Martians built the pyramids? Sure, sure, all those things could still describe politics today—the zombies in Congress, the murder mysteries of the latest political attack ads, and the ancient astronauts who are pulling the strings of our so-called leadership. But I want to get away from all that. Facebook oozes with hate and contempt—all the political posting and bashing and in some cases, threats. Really? You’ll pull off my what with dull tweezers and electricity because I voted for who?

Come on, people, lighten up!

Even television news drives me insane with its macabre “journalists” telling me want to think about this candidate or that issue. The country is in a tailspin of anger and dissent and I want the noise to stop. Please, oh please, give us the silence that is normalcy. And if that’s impossible, hit me with an asteroid!

Now, in full disclosure, I love politics—I used to anyway. But these days, I’m neither Democrat nor Republican. I am in that strange, rare third-party—no, not the Independents—I’m in the Sane Party. I’ll support what is good for the country and what makes sense—no matter which side of the aisle it comes from. For sure, both sides think they have all the answers but instead of telling us those answers—or better yet, showing us—they spend all their time attacking each other. Unfortuntely, this rancor has caught up so many people that it drips from every other post on Facebook and the news.  

God, is there any sanity anywhere?

To answer that question, I went to the media for answers. I know, I know, that’s like asking Rocky if he has any brain damage “I don’t see none.” I did a random search of recent news events to see just how sane our world is today. Here’s what I found:
 

Story 1: Luke Aikins, an experienced skydiver with more than 18,000 jumps, leapt from an airplane without a parachute at 25,000 feet. It took slightly more than two minutes (I know, I watched this crazy guy) and he successfully landed in a huge net … and walked away! Holy crap on a peanut butter sandwich! First, what an insane thing to do. Second, what a stupid thing to do. And third, oh hell, there is no third.  

Story 2: Pokemon-Go —this knucklehead was chasing Polemon in that goofy cellphone game through the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, the other night. He chased some imaginary cartoon monster right into the side of a Baltimore police cruiser. The stunned cops were standing on the sidewalk watching it go down. Their body cameras picked up the event. Holy stupidity! Will the cellphone craze be renamed Pokemon Go to jail?


Story 3: Police Strippers. In Germany, a loud, raucus 50th birthday party full of ladies got out of hand, the police arrived to quiet things down. The ladies, a bit tipsy, thought the coppers were male strippers and things really got interesting. They begged and pleaded for photos and music for their disrobing… right. Luckily, the cops didn’t bring any of them to jail for the big pole dance finally.

Story 4: There’s no place like home: the 59-year-old lady in Wyoming who robbed a bank so she would get sent back to prison. She had just been released and hated being homeless, so she stuck up a bank, threw the money into the air outside it, and sat down waiting for the cops. No fuss. No muss. She will get her wish.

Story 5: My favorite. Asteroid 101955 Bennu will buzz BETWEEN the earth and moon in 2135. Because of its proximation in the gravity fields, it’s orbit may be altered just enough to have it slam into the earth later in the century. It’s only travelling at 63,000 miles per hour and is about a third of a mile in diameter—so it’s a bullet heading for us. Scientists say if it hits, it will cause “immense suffering and death.” Wow. I wonder if the election that year will be as entertaining as this year’s? What the national debt will be by then? Will Pokemon still have critters roaming the streets of Baltimore?

Guys without parachutes, Pokemon-Go-To Jail, stripper cops, jail-sick cons, and a killer asteroid. Maybe politics isn’t so crazy. Maybe all the ranker and stupidity is the new normal.

Oh, God, say it isn’t so!

We’ll talk again soon … if the asteroid isn’t early and if Pokemon doesn’t send me to jail.


Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell on the shelves and internet now. New Sins for Old Scores, a new paranormal mystery coming in 2017! He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous work. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:
Web Site:  www.tjoconnor.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tjoconnor.author
Blog: http://tjoconnorbooks.blogspot.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7148441.T_J_O_Connor

Friday, July 1, 2016

Dying ... Life Is Too Short

Today, just now, I sat down to write my monthly blogs—something I procrastinate on and then feverishly bang them out impromptu (it keeps me agile). I was panicked for a topic and tired from travelling around begging looking for fans. I was grasping for a blog idea. A good friend of mine suggested I write about just that—weekend travels for my books and the ups and downs along the way—how tiring and rewarding it is. So I plopped down at my keyboard—iced tea at my right, cat on my left, three dogs beneath my feet—and stared at the keyboard.

And then the news came in.

A heartbreaking story touched me of a local man killed in a tragic automobile accident not far from our home. Shag was a hard-working retail worker at our local Costco that everyone—and I mean everyone—adored for his good nature and kind words. Oddly, I only knew his first name—his nickname was Shag—and I’d just seen him yesterday evening on my way out. His last words to me were, “Be safe, now. Have a nice day.” Yes, sir. Right back at you.

Sadness didn’t have to fill me too far. I was still reeling from last Friday, June 24th, —my friend and mentor’s birthday. Wally F. would have been 93. He was one of the last OSS—Office of Strategic Services—men from World War II (http://tjoconnorbooks.blogspot.com/2015/08/dying-is-not-farewell.html). He was the retired Deputy Director of Communications at CIA. He was the Vice President and General Manager of a former consulting firm where we met. Is, was, will be forever, my best friend. I lost him August 16 of last year. But on Friday, I visited Arlington National Cemetery and had a few words with him. Afterwards, there was lunch at our favorite Greek Taverna where I tipped Retsina in his absence. For days before, and still today, his loss remains ever present. And hearing about Shag—whom I barely knew—strangely stilled me. It reminded me of the brevity of life and the looming mystery none of us can solve—when is it too late?

Life is just too short. Are we living it or waiting and watching it go by?

So, I cannot blog about life on the road or the toils and joys of being an author. I cannot complain about exhaustion and friendships and heartbreak and angst. I cannot blog about life as a writer where I get to do and say and write whatever I wish in the name of my stories. I cannot suggest that my dream coming true is in anyway a misgiving or burden. Even the down days—the terrible days—I cannot.

Searching my computer for the tragedy of Shag’s passing, the headlines turned my other cheek—Istanbul. Terrorists hit again and massacred dozens of innocents. Weeks ago it was Florida. Before that, Paris, California ... others—more and more and more. Unfortunately, I understand those headlines. I get that world. It has been part of my profession my entire life. Bad guys. Victims. Terrorism. Loss.

But vehicle accidents, heart attacks, and age? The end result is the same. None of us is getting out of here alive.

This blog isn’t about my horrible, crazy life as an author—I say that sarcastically with a touch of embarrassment that I would even consider blogging that today, even in jest, about this life I love so much. Not now.  

Life is just too short. We know where we’ve been—what brought us to this day—but we don’t know if tomorrow is there or not. Do we know where we’re going? Why we’re headed there? And with that uncertainty comes the biggest questions we should be asking every day we open our eyes—am I doing what I want? Am I who I want to be? Do I dare reach for what’s missing?

What if

Some thirty-seven years ago I ran like hell from a small town in Upstate New York seeking adventure and life away from a small farming community where the streets rolled up before dark. I chased life pretty hard and escaped many an adventure unscathed. My dream was to write and travel and swashbuckle. But for the better part of thirty years I skipped my writing dreams and focused on family and career—until a series of events changed my life. First, the company I was COO of was sold out from under me and left me standing alone and scared. The same year, my brother in law, Randy—a dear, close friend—unexpectantly died. In his wake I found myself teetering on the edge of my own medical crisis and wondered if I were next.

And then the questions starting colliding—No, I wasn’t who I wanted to be. No, I had things I damn well wanted to do. Tomorrow would wait. Today was infront of me—in my hand. Now.

I sat and wrote my second novel in fifteen years, and when it was done, wrote two more. My fourth, Dying to Know, was my first published book some 902 days ago and poof, I was an author. Since, I’ve published two more, have another coming out in 2017, and just finished my ninth novel of my career. All of that—every ounce of energy and drive and every word I wrote—came because of the one simple epiphany—life is too short. None of us is getting out of here alive. For me though, they’re going to have to carry me out, because I’m going to be worn out! I realized that I had to reach out and take what I’d chased all my life. There is no “later” or “maybe” or “hope.” There is only now. Only action. Only the realization that I didn’t want to get to the end of life—especially if it sneaked up and bit me in the …—with more regrets than smiles.

So, for friendly, gracious Shag whose life was so tragically stilled, and for Wally and Randy and all the others who have touched my life, I owe it to you all to not blog about poor me the tired, travelling author. I owe it to you to say, “My turn. I’m going to write more books. I’m going to find what’s missing and seize it. I’m going live now. I’m going to make sure that when I die—tonight or fifty years from now—I’m so worn out and ragged that hell won’t have any use for me. I will be answering for my life with “Been there, done that.” Regrets—Ummm, nope, sorry. But boy, do I have stories…

I may never write the great American novel or even a New York Times Best Seller. But I’m going to write a ton of books about life and adventure and fun. I’m going to chase my losses until they’re gains. I’ll ride my Harley until the wheels, or I, fall off from age and decay. I’ll find lost friends and rekindle the kinship, and for new ones, they will know me and I them. Most of all, I won’t take the safe route. I won’t be sheepish and polite and withdraw and let others blaze the trail. I won’t settle for second or third choice because it’s the “correct” or “nice” thing to do. I’m going to live life and suck it dry—ride, write, love, and adventure on. I’m going down in flames. When I die and the devil takes a look at what’s left, he’ll say, “Jesus, what was wrong with you?” And he’ll pass because along my way, I will have made others happy and glad to have known me. They’ll miss me and miss my good work and books and charity and above all, miss my lust for life. And they—and the devil—will envy my choices in life. Maybe somewhere along the way, someone will say, “I’m with him.”

But most of all, I’m going often to Arlington and brag to Wally about my latest adventure and try to one-up his life’s work—I never will of course. Somewhere, he’ll be laughing and shaking his finger and cautioning me about my limits. Even then, neither of us will know what they are.

So for all of you I say again—Life is too short. Dammit, go do something about it!

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell—and New Sins for Old Scores, a new paranormal mystery coming in 2017! He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous work. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:

Web Site:  www.tjoconnor.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tjoconnor.author
Blog: http://tjoconnorbooks.blogspot.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7148441.T_J_O_Connor

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Dying for a Thrill

Voilá. Poof. Presto Chango … I’m not a mystery writer—I’m a thriller writer. Well, I’m both really. The difference is a combination of nuance and delivery—at least to me it is—and after three edits and rewrites, I hope I delivered the right set of genre pieces-parts—now, if only my beta-readers agree my thriller is truly a thriller and not a twisted mystery, I’m half-way there. The second half will be my agent. And let me tell you, she’s the real judge … jury and executioner, too.

When I typed “The End” on my new novel, it was the nineth time. Of my nine novels, only four of them have been thrillers—and none of these have been published yet. Of the remaining five, all are mysteries and four are published (the fifth, New Sins for Old Scores, will be out in early 2017 from Black Opal Books). So, the last time I wrote a thriller was nearly seven years ago and the thought of rekindling this genre under my fingers was intimidating.

My decision to write this thriller after publishing four mysteries was not simple. Four years ago, when Dying to Know was first contracted with Midnight Ink for a series, I had penned two other novels I loved. One was a tradional, hardboiled mystery and the other a thriller. After completing three more mysteries after Dying to Know, I decided it was time for a change. About eighteen months ago, I sat at my favorite Greek taverna in McLean, Virginia—oddly enough called, The Greek Taverna, with my mentor, Wally F., and debated the path forward—the hardboiled mystery or my thriller. Both would require wholesale rewrites and essentially new plotlines because they were rooted in current events at that time. The battle raged between Wally and me for three weeks. That’s six lunches, three dinners, and countless telephone skirmishes. In that time, we’d agreed on a course, changed tact, argued, and re-agreed on which novel to write. Actually, we did that two or three times. His favorite was the thriller. Mine was the mystery—afterall, I’d just written four in a row and felt more comfortable with the genre. To write the thriller would require adjusting my mindset and recalibrating my brain. If I could. Yikes.

The stalemate continued. During the next six months, I worked on both at the same time. One week was the thriller, the next was the mystery. I felt bipolar and dyslexic all at the same time. Enough. It was time for a command decision. I would write what I wanted! There … take that …

And then the unthinkable. I lost Wally to age and a bad heart at 92. During an all-nighter in the hospital—he knew he wouldn’t last another day—and with high spirits, he confided many things in me. Most of which will never be repeated. He also left me with a last request—write the damn thriller!

Yes, sir. Just what I was thinking…

And so it began. The hardest part of writing this novel was un-writing the original draft. I loved the storyline and characters. But it was outdated and I’d learned so much about writing in the several years since I’d finished draft one. So I sat down and in about four months had totally rewritten the book. Then I read it. A very large problem jumped out at me. I had taken a pretty good thriller and turned it into a mediocre murder mystery.

Oops.

Seems that after writing four mysteries, my thought process and plot development cells were focused on just that—crafting another whodunit. Except I needed a whatsabouttohappen.

Right about now, you’re probably saying, “Huh?” Just like I did when I reached the ending—unless you’re a writer yourself. The difference between a thriller and a mystery is often a moving target, a shimmering line between genres that you cross carefully and leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way home.

You see, in essence, a mystery is cerebral … it’s an event—a murder in my case—in the beginning and a mind game of events on the reader’s chase to the suspect. You must use wit and reason to solve the crime. You already know the “what happened.” The story plays out for the reader to find out who and why, and bag the killer. It’s clues and characters and subliminal hits and red herrings. In the end, it’s “Gotcha.” A thriller is more suspense, action, and outcome. The reader often knows what the big-bang is at the end—or the possibilities of the big event—and often knows the good guys and the bad guys, too. Or most of them. In a thriller, it’s about the journey to that event—ups, downs, twists, turns, thrills, and spills until WHAM! The big finale … Oh sure, many thrillers are about murders or at least have murders involved. But its not in the whodunit, but more in the whydunit and whatsabouttohappen or not happen. (Can I copywrite those phrases?)

So in draft one of my “thriller,” I clearly abandoned my original plot and returned to whodunit. It was slow and methodical. There were clues and evidence and crime scenes and all manner of facts to fluster the reader. But there was no thriller. No suspense. Oh, a few shoot-em-ups and spills, but it lacked the thrust of the genre—whatsabouttohappen.

Hence, draft two and then three. Finally… more pizazz, less whodunits, and more whatsabouttohappen. The outcome—the pass/fail—will be decided this coming Sunday when my beta-reader group comes together over a fancy meal and lots of wine. They’ve all read my mysteries. Now—gulp—I’m waiting on their score. It’ll be a no-holds-barred critique of my novel where the only thing I’m guaranteed is the dinner tab.

So far, I’ve received a couple snippets from two of my betas. One said, “Do you know you write like Dashiell Hammett? And another said, “This is your best mystery …er… novel. I love who did it!” Based on these preambles, I may be doing draft four this summer.

So charge. Onto the rewrites. Bring on the critique. Let the dissection begin.

And yes, Wally F. I wrote the damn thriller. I promised … and yes, you’re in it—again.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, Dying to Tell—and New Sins for Old Scores, a new paranormal mystery coming in 2017 from Black Opal Books! He is currently working on a new thriller. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:

Web Site:  www.tjoconnor.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tjoconnor.author
Blog: http://tjoconnorbooks.blogspot.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7148441.T_J_O_Connor