Wednesday, April 5, 2017

New Sins and Late Nights

by Tj O'Connor

Nighttime belongs to mystery and intrigue—evil, too. I could say it belongs to love, but I write mysteries and thrillers, not romance novels. For me, I do my best thinking around midnight. I also do my best panicking and second-guessing. Don't we all? It’s not unusual for me to be lying there (or sitting at my computer writing), plotting out a scene or another book and wham—God, in the 7th Grade, I insulted that sweet redhead, Becky. What was I thinking! Then back to my murder plot and … crap! I’ll never retire, I’ll have to work until I die and … now, where did I leave that last body in Chapter 12... dammit, why isn't Pluto a real planet anymore? As the hours tick by, so does my split personality between story plots and lifelong regrets.

Raise your hand if you are with me on this–and don’t lie.

But something else happens after midnight, too—creativity. An unknown author once said, “3 AM is the hour of writers, painters, poets, musicians, silence seekers, overthinkers, and creative people…” I am clearly in the writers and overthinker columns. Of course, perhaps the best quote to describe me was by the hiphop group, the Initials, who wrote, “The Night Belongs to The Poet and The Madman.” Hmmmm, I’m no poet so … yup, madman. Nailed it.

Most of my novels were all given birth after midnight. New Sins for Old Scores was no exception.

I was lying awake one night a few years ago when I began writing New Sins for Old Scores, my latest paranormal mystery coming out in a couple months from Black Opal Books. A line came to me that sort of sums up the opening of the story and my permanent state of insomnia and creativity—of the lead character, Richard Jax, I wrote, “… 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.” Then, bam! A body—his body—blood, bullets, and bang-bang. The story unfolds.

The story follows the traditional mystery path to “the End” with a murder, finger-pointing, a few more bodies, deep dark secrets, twists and turns, the spirit of a long-dead OSS operative, and the capture of the bad guys. Well, perhaps the spirit of a long-dead OSS operative isn’t the traditional mystery path, but it can be  with me. At least for this book it was. Most of this story was written between the hours of 9 pm and 4 am. In fact, most of my nine novels were written during those hours.

And yes, alas, most of my life-long regrets and mistakes haunt me then, too.

A lot of good can happen after midnight for me. I’ve learned a ton about writing over the past five years or so—patience, the ability to take a gut-punch (think critics, publishers, and barroom friendships), and perseverance. Mostly, though, I’ve learned a lot about myself and many of those lessons came in the late hours when I can forget about my real life and focus on my imaginary one—killing people and stopping international crisis. Okay, okay, so over the years my real life and imaginary life gets a little blurry, but you get what I mean. Late at night I love to take in the night air and let my brain go crazy. It’s a battle to ignore the forgotten appointments, lists of to-do things, and life’s worries (although I still accumulate a Picasso of yellow sticky notes by 5 am each morning). Still, I’ve learned that my inner demons thrive after lights-out, so I always have my cellphone handy and my note-application ready for an endless list of characters, plot twists, and action sequences I want to write. The dread of it all is that I must—like most of you—work for a living. Alas, I have to wait until the next night before I can put fingers to keyboard and craft those ideas into my stories. It’s painful sometimes, but like a vampire, daylight isn't fun—work, bills, cooking, chasing the dogs, responsibilities …

Somehow, before the sun comes up each day, I catch 3-4 hours of sleep. That’s when I dream about my stories. Do you think I’m obsessed?  

The moral to all this is know thy self—learn about your strengths and weaknesses and what works best for you. Don’t read blogs and go to seminars and panels and try to mimic what other authors do and say. There is no secret code to success (lord don't I know)! Don’t fall into the trap of trying to fit yourself into a mold. Trust me, you’ll get stuck and have to fight your way out—or worse, you’ll be captive to seeking that infamous secret formula. No. I believe in using your love of the pen to learn about yourself—learn when the demons come out and when the voices in your head begin to make sense. Even if that’s after midnight.

Oh, and forget the tossing and turning about those bills and long lost friends and what-ifs. Those voices are just your ex-spouse or the IRS trying to make you crazy! Listen for the little whisper that starts after the lights go out and tells your characters what to do and say and where the story is going. And for God’s sake, pay attention!

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 Spring 2017 from Black Opal Books, and Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell. He recently finished his new thriller, The Consultant: Double Effect,and his amazing agent, Kimberley Cameron, is finding it a home. 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

 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

New Sins and Old Dogs.

by Tj O'Connor
 
Cancer should be spelled with an F. That’s the way I spell it—F---ing Cancer.

Cancer took my girl. Fast. Painfully. Heartlessly.

First it took her by surprise. Then it took her leg. Then it took her dignity. Then, it forced me to … f---ing cancer.
 
I have faced death all my life. We all have in one form or another. But these past couple years has been one heartache after another. Still, nothing prepared me for the loss of my girl, Maggie Mae. Nothing. In 2015, I lost both my mentor, Wally, and my companion, Mosby. One as much as the other—a Lab and a brilliant but crusty old spy—devastated me nearly the same. I’m not embarrassed to admit it. Wally was 92 and had lived his amazing life. Up until the very end—the hour—we shared laughs and talked and made sure there was peace and understanding between us. But with Mosby, it was hard to share anything but the loss. I wanted him to understand there was no choice. To understand that there was no greater love than to let go and save him from pain and despair. No greater sacrifice than accepting responsibility for the strange, heart-breaking kindness that is sometimes death. I hoped—prayed—he understand that I was not betraying him. Not merely moving on. I was saving him from the worst fate.

I try to tell myself that every day. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it kills me all over again. Pain doesn’t go away, it just simmers in the background waiting for an opportunity to burn you a little more.

Maggie is different. Painfully different. I can’t explain why—perhaps because she was my girl or perhaps it was because it was such a shock. Perhaps it was something else—she was forever in bandages for something. Always on meds for this or that. A twelve year struggle to cure the next thing. But she lived without complaint. Without demand. Always happy and loving. Until December when she came up lame in one leg. The vet told me she had arthritis, maybe a damaged ligament. No worries. Pain meds, therapy… maybe a little surgery if it didn’t heal quickly. All would be fine.

Wrong. Dead wrong.

Three weeks later, I knew something was very, very wrong and sought out a specialist. My girl wasn’t going to limp anymore or down pain pills any longer. Whatever the reason. Whatever the cost. She was going to be healed—and fast.

Oh dear God … twenty minutes after arriving, the end lay in my lap, panting and begging me for a chance—a few more weeks. A few more months ...  Osteosarcoma. F---ing cancer. Deep in her bone. So deep it was killing me, too.

The doc, an amazingly lady with class, skill, and compassion, operated that day and took her leg to save her life. Chemo was scheduled. More pain meds. But hope was in my grasp. Within three days she was hobbling around, playing a little, loving a lot—the smile back in her eyes after two months in hiding. Even after her first chemo treatment, she was on her feet and fighting back. Fighting for us. Fighting for life. She loved on Toby, or black Lab and the love of her life. She played with my granddaughter, walked and slept with me, and ate everything she could find. After all, dying be damned—she was a Lab.

Until the second week. Paralysis consumed her. It was back. She couldn’t walk, couldn’t sit, couldn’t have the dignity of controlling herself … her face exuded embarrassment when I carried her for days into the yard just to keep her from soiling herself. I didn’t know what was killing her faster—f---ing cancer or shame.

Humans should have such dignity.

I can barely write these words. The next ones especially. Pain rains and fingers tremble—the thoughts of those last moments. For those who don’t share my emotions over pets, you shouldn’t have them. For those that do, I can only image you’re sharing a little of my grief right now. You know the rest of the story. I couldn’t allow her any more pain, anymore shame, anymore cancer. And in my arms, both of us shaking … I let her go.

Damn me for what I had to do. Damn me. I only pray that if there is a heaven—and for souls like hers and my boy, Mosby, there has to be—that she and he are together and happy. They deserve it like no human I’ve ever known. Loyal. Loving. Compassionate.

This is not the fun, lighthearted post I wanted to write. But it is the post I had to write. It hasn’t healed me yet—I am struggling still. But it helps. Because sadly, I’m not always the adventurous, tough Harley guy people think of me too often—I’m an UFO (ugly fat old guy) who cries over lost dogs and isn’t ashamed to post that pain for the world to read.

But, the loss of one has one good fortune with the pain—room for another. Toby needs a companion—he morns for Mags every day. This house needs a girl—I do to. Not to replace you, Mags, but because you left such an emptiness behind.

So, to end this with a little hope … welcome Annie Rose. You’ve got big paws and a huge heart to fill. Be gentle with Toby and me—we’re still grieving. But he, like me, is coming around.

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 Spring 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, 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 fiancĂ© 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