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

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Dying for the Little Things

Every author is driven by different things. Each of us shares one or two common ones—love of books and creating stories. A few are driven by money and reward—good luck with that. Me, I’m driven by something inside that haunts me in my sleep and near every waking moment. I’m not quite sure what it is sometimes. Maybe it’s the solitude of writing and creating. Maybe it’s that my characters are my best friends. Maybe it’s brain damage from my earlier days chasing adventures.

But for me, writing began when I was a very young child—the fifth grade—and the biggest encouragement came from my grandparents, Oscar and Irene. They bought me books, coaxed me to read and write more and more, and were some of my biggest cheerleaders on simple things like being the high school newspaper editor and writing short stories for class. When I disappeared for years into the military to chase adventures, my grandmother remained steadfastly in my corner and always reminded me of my first love—to be an author. It took years for me to settle down and begin that journey with deliberation and not as some fanciful pipedream.  But all the way, I could hear my grandparents pushing me on until the years—and they—had gone by before I knew it.

Age has taken its toll on me one day at a time—and oh hell, I ain’t that old! My swashbuckling days are in the past with great memories and lost friends. No more hot surveillance through the streets of Athens and Istanbul. No homicide interrogations or drug deals. I can’t go days without sleep on operations looking for Abu Nidal or 17 November. No more protecting world leaders or celebrities. Crime scenes have been replaced by desk tops and keyboards. My steadfast partner replaced by two Labradors and a Mastiff. Fast cars and cool guns are replaced by, well, fast motorcycles and cool guns—okay some things never change.

I miss those days being an adventurer and pseudo-tough guy (that definition is very loose, mind you). In my earlier days, it took a lot to control me or keep me in line. I’ve always kept my emotions and weaknesses protected. It took a lot to break through the outer shell and get inside. I always kept my feelings and real persona hidden because of a business most only read about in books or see on the six o’clock news.

Not anymore. Age and green eyes felled me. 

Rail waiting for Papa to finish writing...
 My youngest grandchild—oops, sorry Jack, you just joined us—second youngest grandchild—Rail, is not deterred by my gruff exterior or locked doors of solitude. She demands one thing and one thing only—my utmost attention. To fail to deliver places me in peril—a stolen keyboard or mouse, missing car keys, books removed from my shelves and less-than-neatly piled in the middle of my floor. This tiny little child sitting in the middle of my desk blocking my monitor and saying, “Papa, you and me, Papa. You and me.”

How could the toughest of men not melt to that?

Since moving in with us—her mom and dad are building a new house—Rail has installed herself as my constant companion, editor, supervisor, and chief-assistant. My other five kids—all adults and most married with kids of their own—cannot believe that this hardcore, workaholic, blustering rock has been felled by a three year old.

Neither can I.

Now mind you, I’ve chased terrorists and criminals, spent sleepless days-on-end running operations in foreign countries during wartime, and had my share of nail-biting moments and terrifying misadventures (bad guys and divorce lawyers included). But never in my days have I ever felt so helpless and not in control as when I hear the words, “Papa, you and me, let’s … play ball, watch Doc, make breakfast, play hide and seek, watch Doc, watch Ponies, play Barbies, make popcorn, watch Doc, hide from mommy, watch Doc, read another story …”

Teaching Papa to cook...
When did I become a little girl’s teddy bear? When did this metamorphosis occur and what happened to the real me—you know, the gruff, solitary, biker-dude? Is there a peapod growing in my basement? An unreported alien abduction?

Nope. Just green eyes. And every time I think of it, I remember Oscar and Irene.

When my kids were young, I spent most of my time on the road—often times, not even in the same country. Later on, in their teenage years, I worked a billion hours a week and travelled constantly. Stress, exhaustion, and career were bad combinations and I dare say I missed some of the best years of my life. Thankfully, they’ve grown into very successful people on their own. Now, they are experiencing those same things and it makes it hard to have family close all the time. Understand, I have six wonderful grandchildren spread from Virginia to Japan. They all have a different, but personal bond with me. Jack, of course, joined the family last week and I've yet to introduce myself. No worries, Jack, you're part of the crew. With all six, the one bond I value the most is that bond that binds all of them together - regardless of me - as cousins. I know, I know, I'm too young for all this. Tell me about it!


Despite her rank as second to youngest, young Rail moreso benefits from location. She’s with me every day and night and never far away. If Papa is working, he must stop. If Papa is writing, he must move over and let her sit on the desk and instruct him on prose and grammar and Doc McStuffins. If Papa is cooking dinner, move her stool up and let her show me how to stir and spill and drop eggs and create a mushroom cloud of flour.

Why is it, Papa, that you can’t work, write, cook, and clean and still have time for hide and seek and Doc? Hmmmm? What the hell, Papa? What’s wrong? Are you tired?

Never too tired. Yes, Oscar and Irene, I hear you whispering in my ear.

And she loves books too—something from me in her DNA that couldn’t have come from my blood. We read everywhere and she loves to sit on my desk while I write—normally in the middle of my desk, on front of the monitor, holding my keyboard. And she knows my novels on the bookshelf and likes to look at them often. Once, she carried one around for an hour and kept telling me, “Papa you did this.” Yes, sweetie, I did. Maybe you will one day, too.

I have no doubts. Do you hear me Irene?

One only has to look at the young biker chick to know who wears the leathers in this household. Last year, my Harley scared her to death. A month ago, she began asking for a ride, but there’s no way I can do that yet. Instead, I told her she had to be old enough to take the noise, had to be able to sit on the bike safely, and had to be able to wear the gear. 

Last night, she had enough of my solemn mood and writing. I didn’t have time for hide and seek and wasn’t up for another episode of Doc. Instead, she grabbed my hand, dragged me to the garage, and insisted I begin her training as my biker chick and backseat companion. Sure, the leather jacket weighs more than she does. The gloves are elbow length and the glasses can’t find a hold. But the helmet ... that has possibilities! 
 
So this once toughguy and world traveler extraordinaire has been tamed. It took youth and green eyes to laugh in this old guy’s face and command my obedience, playtime, stories, and of course, Doc. Soon, it’ll be, “Papa, take me on the Harley.” Yes, ma’am—get your helmet, kid, let’s ride.

My grandparents were my biggest fans even before I’d published a book. They knew it would happen. In being there for me, I learned a lot about how to be one—a writer and a grandparent—even in my very, very young Papa-age. If I can do nothing else for these youngs ones—all of them—I’ll show them that whatever they want in life, whatever dreams they have, they can have them.

I did.

Now, other dreams—those new ones I hope I’m not too old to chase (naw)—better look out. I’m ready to go—adventure, new novels, life’s missing pieces, and yup, many Harley travels.

Someday—soon I hope—my rear Harley seat will have a passenger for those new stories. It’s empty now and just waiting for those green eyes. Until then, I’ll just write my adventures and wait …

Thank you Irene and Oscar for showing me the way. I’ll pass it all along.

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 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

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Dying To Be A Character


What a month. Holy crap on a peanut butter sandwich what a month. I’ve had more ups and downs and twists and turns than in my novels. But when you write those twists and turns, you can control them, right? Well, no, my characters control all that. But they let me have a say. Sometimes. In real life, you’re at the mercy of life itself. At times I thought my world was on fire—new book almost finished, a new book deal, I didn’t crash my Harley into that tractor-trailer … and, well, other things words can’t explain. But then there were the lows—lost contracts in the mail, speaking when I shouldn’t (big surprise, right?), dreadful communications … misunderstandings. And more … too much work and not enough hours. Loss. Lost chances. Days without focus. Nights without sleep.

What’s next, an IRS audit? Identity theft? Will I lose a billion dollar lotto ticket?

Gulp. Okay, I’ll suck it up. I was not careful what I wished for and I’m getting some of it. The books, the edits, the travel, sleeplessness, the toils of contracts, editors, and predators! Bring it on! I’m tough. I can handle it … and for the most part, I love it! And for those challenges I cannot overcome, no fear … I have a solution.

I’m going to become my characters. Yep, I’m stepping into the pages of my books and assuming a new identity.

Why not? They live a more exciting life than me—at least, these days. They’re immune to the realities of life. They swashbuckle and chase bad guys. They’re witty and smooth and adventurous. They survive the pitfalls in life and go on to a bigger, better sequel.Damn, I’d like a little of that!

Truth be told, I’ve been a lucky guy most of my life. I’ve done most of what my characters have. Perhaps not as smooth or as cool, but been there, done that. Now, I’m just a UFO (old, fat, ugly guy) banging away on the keyboard chasing my life’s dreams and wishing for some years and memories back. So, eh, I shouldn’t complain, right?

But what if we could actually become our characters? What if we could write our own life, our own stories, and our own ending? How cool would that be? I was thinking about that all night when I should have been sleeping. Instead, I was jotting email notes to myself about my new thriller and pining for do-overs on my recent screw-ups. I took a good look at my recent characters and came up with some thoughts …

Oliver “Tuck” Tucker (The Gumshoe Ghost Mystery series)—Tuck is a homicide detective extraordinaire—he’s a sarcastic, fun-loving cop who chases bad guys with a history of crime. Tuck’s favorite things are: Angel, his wife; Hercule, his Black Lab; and Bear Braddock, his curmudgeon former partner. His weaknesses are his sarcasm, and, oh yeah, he’s dead. Tuck is already so much of me and I don’t want to be a dead detective, so I guess I’m stuck with writing about him and not stealing any more of his life, er, death. Eh, could be worse.

Richard Jax or Patrick “Trick” McCall (New Sins for Old Scores)—Jax is a lucky-to-be-alive BCI agent trying to clear his name after his partner and ex-fiancĂ© are murdered. He’s a little onery at times, down-on-his-luck, and grousing about the spirit of a World War II OSS man, Captain Trick McCall, haunting his case. Now, Trick is my kinda guy—sarcastic, fun-loving, a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants adventurer, and all around smooth operator. He chases bad guys, his lost life, adventure, and dames … all at once. And not necessarily in that order. Yup, my kinda guy!

Jonathan Hunter (Double Effect – my soon to be completed thriller)—Hunter is a border-line wreckless CIA consultant with too many one-liners and a complicated sense of right and wrong. He’s called home after 20-years by his estranged brother and arrives in time to witness his murder. He’s on the trail of Salvadorian gangsters and a Middle East terror cell plotting the demise of the US! Hunter is tormented by many things, not the least is a dead brother—his only family, his recently lost career, lost loves, and a lost future. He is confronted by a beautiful and alluring widow, a hateful and jealous deputy sheriff who would kill Hunter for the widow, and a team of FBI agents all with their own agendas; especially the sultry lead Fed—Victoria Bacarro—who can’t get enough of him—in or out of handcuffs (insert snicker here). So Hunter’s a good candidate for me to daydream about. Except he gets the crap kicked out of him a lot. And shot. Hopefully you’ll read about him in the next year, but life for him is complicated and dangerous and painful. Still, he’s my number one character to become for a lot of reasons. The biggest is his sidekick, Oscar LaRue, who is based on my mentor, Wally F. I lost Wally last summer at age 92 (you can read about him in one of my earlier blogs). The relationship and dynamic of these two characters is soooooo the two of us over the years. Writing these parts brought back great memories. I think I’ll keep them around for a couple books—even if they don’t sell.

In the end, my books are really about me reliving life lost to age and reason. My characters and I share more than just the keyboard and pages—we share life. They are me and I am them. Some of them like the adventurous, risk-taking, cool characters. The sniveling, cowardly, killers and weirdos, not so much me. Sure, sure, some of you will disagree (thanks a lot, Greg).

Earlier I said … what if we could actually become our characters … write our own life, our own stories, … our own endings? How cool would that be? The truth is, we can do that. I do it all the time. Anyone can and you don’t have to be a writer or a spy or a federal agent or even a dead detective. You only have to do it. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I wanted to be a detective, a government agent, and swashbuckler and have adventures. I did all that. I’m still doing it. Sure, sure, I have bad days and weeks and even years. But life is something I can control … most of the time.

And yes, there are those things I wish I could just jump off my world onto another and have something I truly, deeply want. That’s not always possible. It’s not always right or fair. Mostly, it’s not always simple. So, in those cases—and there aren’t many—I simply write about them. I live through my stories, my characters, and my plots. I live those lost wishes vicariously through them. It ain’t perfect, but it’s better than nothing. And I don’t get beat up, shot, or dead—win win.

So the next time you sit back and wish—be careful what you wish for. And if you can’t be careful—just do it.

We’ll again chat 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, will be out in late 2016-early 2017! 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Dying for Marlton

Oh, to be a real author … No, I haven’t lost my mind (much) or forgotten that I am an author of tiny repute and small fanbase. I’m talking about the real world of being an author vs. what I thought it would be. Some of it surprises and scares me. Other parts of this life are exactly what I’d envisioned. All in all, I’ll take it—I love it—and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Even without the riches piling at my feet or the private jets and limos and movie deals. Sure, all that would be great. But let’s face it, there is life beyond that—and a good thing, too, because I don’t see any of that anytime soon.

So many times I’ve sat and looked at the bundles of money I spend pursuing my dream to be a successful author. Thus far, that success has eluded me—at least the business-success. And every time I think that perhaps I should dump all that money into my retirement or an investment and abandon this life of storytelling, something happens to remind me that success isn’t about royalties or fanfare or applause. Last week, I was hit with a couple years worth of sobering proof that my writing is about so much more than material things. Last week, I was hit with a day like I haven’t had in all the time I’ve been writing.

 Marlton, New Jersey—thank you.

Who knew how to measure success as an author? There’s no “Author’s Life for Dummies” but there should be. Nobody told me I’d be my own publicist, marketer, sales rep, and seller-in-chief. No one said I had to blog my brains out and hunt down the next audience all by my lonesome. Where’s the army of publicists and marketers and sales folks? What? I’m unknown and on my own? Where was this in the brochure???? So if I’m doing all this and not making much money, then how do I know it’s all worth while?

Easy—Marlton, New Jersey.

I say all the time that writing is not a team sport. And damn, it’s not. But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have a brilliant, supportive agent who is in my corner and I often wonder why. I found an amazing publicist who also supports me and is trying her every trick to boost my presence in the markets. And I have a few fans—far fewer than I’d hoped at this point, but they are there. And then there was Marlton. A small community east of Philadephia in a beautiful part of New Jersey I never knew existed.

This past week I was invited to speak to more than 320 Middle Schoolers, High Schoolers, and some faculty and followed it up with a great book signing at the local Barnes and Noble. I arrived to Cherokee High School and was greeted by the local police officer assigned to the school who knew me by name and said, “I saw you on all the posters and newsletters.” Students stopped and said hi, teachers waved and greeted me when I toured the building. Then, later in the day, I walked up to the front doors of Marlton Middle School. Handmade signs from the students hailed me. Signs and posters in the hallways welcomed me. And as the students filed into the library for my talks, they knew my name. Some waved, others were already asking questions.

For a guy without many fans, I was a celebrity in Marlton. And who better to be fans than students? Who can you still reach with words and good will and support? Who is worth urging on and encouraging? They were. They are. All of them.

These past couple years, I’ve met dozens of folks and gained a few fans along the slow, uphill slog to finding readers. But in Marlton, they were there for the taking, ready for me and eager to hear about life as an author. And afterward, as part of my day that set up by Janice Urban—Librarian Extraordinare—I went to the local Barnes and Noble for a signing. Many of the students arrived at the bookstore and other students from other schools were there, too. It was an unbelievable day.

All in all, I sold a bunch of books and had a 14-hour day that was one of the best I’ve had in a very, very long time. Why? No, not because of the sales or because I came away with a dozen or more fans. It’s because of the kids—the students—who were the best audience I’ve ever had. They asked great questions, they were interested, and they churned in their seats to ask more questions and tell me things about their favorite books. And in the end, I realized that reaching these students was a purpose all by itself for a new author. If you can get just a few to be readers and just a few more to be fans, then success is within reach.

During the day, I remember being a high schooler wishing to be an author. If I’d had the opportunity just one day to speak with just one author—one struggling, new author—and hear what life was like and what writing was truly about, well, that day would have been the best in my life. It never happened to me. But in Marlton, I cannot tell you (you’d never believe me anyway) how many students came up to speak with me after my talk and said just that—that talking with me was a huge thing for them. Some wanted to be writers. All wanted to just be readers and read everything they could. So many just wanted to hear from someone—other than their teachers and parents—who cared enough to share a little life with them.

Their wall posters and greetings said it all.
 

But you know the biggest personal thrill I received? It was at Barnes and Noble when a half-dozen students came in with their parents to see me and buy my books. Oh, it wasn’t because they bought my books. It was because they cared enough about books and writing to travel across town and come talk to me a little more after school. There were photographs and little chats, handshakes, and some stories about where my stories come from. There were more questions and them telling me of their favorite book—not mine but one day maybe—and how much they loved the bookstore and how many books they bought. So many of these kids told me that they cannot wait to go to the bookstore each week and check out all the books.

Wait, what? Can’t wait to go to a bookstore and check out the books? Hello, America, there is hope for our country yet. Forget the video games. Forget the T.V. and forget the internet. Kids still cannot wait to get to a bookstore and meet a struggling, unknown author like me.

And that, sports fans, is exactly what being an author is all about for me. It’s the author’s life I craved and didn’t even know until last week—meeting young readers who “can’t wait to get to the bookstore and check out the books.” It’s their love of stories. It’s the kids. The students. The families and teachers who believe that books are the key to our world—as I do.

And before I made the four hour drive home, I got oen last huge surprise. During the school talks, I gave the students a little quiz: What was the most important thing in the world they could all do—equally among themselves of different ages, races, backgrounds, genders, and so on—to be successful. Each group—four of them throughout the day all got it—read. And in Barnes and Noble, late in the evening as I was about to leave, one student from Marlton Middle School came up to me with Dad and told me she was in one of my talks. She turned to her dad and said, “And being a reader will make me successful. I love to read.”

Thank you Marlton Middle School. Thank you Cherokee High School. Thank you Janice Urban. Thank you Lisa Bakanas and Lisa Kapenstein. The fate of our world is with those students. And so far, they’re passing with flying colors.

We’ll again chat 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, available in bookstores and e-books from Midnight Ink. He is currently working on a traditional mystery and 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
 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Dying to Tell - Launch!

Launch! Friday, January 8th, Dying to Tell launches into the bookstores. Tuck is on his third murder case with a paranormal twist—it’s the dead of winter in Winchester while reclusive dead bankers, suave executives, sneaky accountants, exotic archaeologists, and the ghosts of World War II Cairo—figuratively and in truth—run amuck. The bodies are piling up.
 
Nothing out of the norm for Oliver “Tuck” Tucker—dead detective extraordinaire.
 
But anyone following Tuck’s cases already knows. Those who don’t are about to. Perhaps what you don’t know is what goes into the next twelve months as I try to acquaint new readers and meet fans on my quest to build an audience. Oh, the miles, the podiums, the conventions and book stores, the hotel rooms, the … oh, hell, I love it all!
 
In the world of writing, I have found that the easy part is just that, writing. Oh, it’s a long, lonely process that you either love or hate but a few just “like.” It’s more work than anyone who hasn’t done it could even imagine. It’s writing, editing, rewriting—deleting your favorite chapter or supporting character because you must. It’s stealing time from family and friends and your dogs (sorry, Toby, I have no choice). And, as I’ve told writing groups and in guest appearances, the most rewarding part is when you get to “The End.” I truly believe that most people who set out to write a novel never get that far. And that is a shame. You don’t know what you’re missing—like, the real work. The real work isn’t writing the book, it’s everything thereafter. The work is editing, rewriting, editing, editing, editing. It’s finding an agent (if that is the direction you take), and it’s working with a publisher, then more editing and editing and editing. Then, it’s blogging and marketing and marketing and marketing.
 
Are you seeing the picture here? Being a writer is just that. You write. Being an author is being a writer with the added bliss of publishing, more editing, and marketing and seeking an audience. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
 
Each of us—authors that is—have our own ways of doing this. Writing is not a team sport—until you get an agent and a publisher. Each of us seeks an audience in different ways, often using the same tools and ideas, but perhaps in different ways. Let me show you what I have planned for 2016 to try to continue to build an audience for Tuck and his pals.
  
Now-End of Year: 2016 Blog-A-Thon. Every month, I write two blogs—or at least post two blogs. One is here for Inkspot with my pals from Midnight Ink. The other is through my website at www.tjoconnor.com. Blogging is a requirement of this life, something I’m not too fond of. I work a billion hours a week for my real job—the one that pays the bills at least—and all my free time is writing. To then sit and bang out two blogs every month is time I truly don’t have. And frankly, I am one who doesn’t think readers really care much about what I have to say—other than in my books. So I always feel like, “Who cares what I think?” Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps not. 
 
Coming Soon: Bitten By Books: The great book review site www.bittenbybooks.com. I’ll be doing a book launch event, giveaways, and blogging. Date to follow!
 
January 23: Winchester Book Gallery, Winchester, VA: Next, I’ll be at my favorite indie book store! Winchester Book Gallery at 2 pm until 4 pm. Christine—who sponsors me at many of my events—and I are hoping we don’t get snowed out again like last year. There will be my daughter Jean’s famous crime scene cupcakes and books and some giveaways. Come one, come all. Bring a friend. Bring ten friends. Bring money …
 
February 12-14: Farpoint convention for all types of “imaginative fiction” like imaginative fiction – Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, SuperHeroes. The convention is at North Baltimore, Maryland. There will be some celebrities there (yes, I’ll be there but don’t qualify as a celebrity) including Hugo and Nebula Award winning author, Davide Gerrold, and Firefly and Arrow actor Sean Maher. I’ll be signing books and begging, excuse me, seeking new fans! 
 
February 26: Marlton Middle School and High School, Marlton, New Jersey. What a day and night planned! I’ve got the entire day talking to middle and high schoolers including a “lunch and learn” session, some class sessions, a wonderful “Tea with Tj” (wow, they named a tea after me!) and a signing. Then, the amazing folks have set me up to go to … 
 
Barns & Nobel, Marlton, New Jersey! It’s on to the local bookstore from 6 pm to 8 pm for a book signing and to meet new fans and talk books. 
 

March 10: I’ll be at the Army Navy Club, Arlington, Virginia doing a talk on writing and books. This will be a fun event talking to club members and guests followed by a signing.
 
April 29: Malice Domestic Writers Conference, Bethesda Maryland: My favorite writers convention. Panels, book signings, meeting fans, and most of all, spending time with all my author and publishing pals! Cannot wait!
 
May 21: Millbrook Book Festival, Millbrook, NY: My favorite out-of-state book festival by far. Fans, panels, author pals galore!
 
August 13: Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival, Suffolk, VA: My FAV Virginia book event by far!!!!! Panels and fans and of course, hanging with all my author pals again.  

Wait … are these events just to party with fellow writers? Pretty much, yep …

That’s my first half of the year … more to follow and fill in later,
 
So, mystery fans and fellow writers and authors, how’s your year looking? The events above are just the start—I haven’t even begun sorting out other requests I’ve received for guest speaking and book events. Last year, I spent nearly every other weekend on the road except for two months of the year. My goal is to do that again. I met some amazing folks and sold a bunch of books. Some of my newest, dearest friends were made on my travels. I’m hoping to see them all this year.

As for the rest of my travels, stay tuned. I’ll be posting about those events and telling a few stories of my adventures. At least, those that are able to be put into print.

We’ll chat again next month …

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell, available in bookstores and e-books from Midnight Ink. He is currently working on a traditional mystery and 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