An Interview with Author A.J. O’Connell

By Jason Harris

 

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A.J. O’Connell

 

Q: Your newest book The Eagle & The Arrow is a sequel to Beware the Hawk. What are they about?

A: Beware the Hawk followed a couple of spectacularly bad days in the life of a young woman who was a courier for a secret organization called The Resistance.

The Eagle & The Arrow takes place about six months afterward, and features the young woman’s boss, a bureaucrat named Helen, who is tasked with cleaning up the mess created in the first book while keeping her decaying agency a secret and keeping her own career afloat.

Q: Did you always envision Beware the Hawk to be part of a trilogy of novellas?

A: I didn’t. Originally, my publisher contacted me about Beware the Hawk, because Vagabondage Press was putting together a series of novellas, and my editor remembered Beware the Hawk from a writers’ group we were both members of in 2003. It was only after Beware the Hawk was released that we decided to go ahead and make the book into a trilogy.

Q: Is the third one planned out already?

A: Well, no. I have some notes and outlines put together, but I haven’t figured out every step of the story.

Q: When did you start the series?

BewareTheHawkCoverArt A: I wrote the first draft of Beware the Hawk 10 years ago, although I dreamed up the premise earlier. At the time I was a 25-year-old journalist, in my first writing group ever. When I didn’t have to cover a Tuesday night school board meeting for work, I went to writing group meetings in a local Barnes & Noble. Eventually, I needed some work to share with the group, so I started writing Beware the Hawk down.

Q: Will the series go beyond the three novellas?

A: I don’t know. Right now, the plan is to stick to a trilogy. I’d like the three books to form a neat little unit of storytelling. But you never know – I might revisit some of the characters with stories or books devoted to their character arcs later.

Q: What was the inspiration for the two books?

A: I started thinking up Beware the Hawk in 1999 and 2000. At the time, I was working in Boston and regularly visited friends who lived in New York and Connecticut at the time. I did a lot of traveling by public transit and I had a lot of time to think on those trips. It occurred to me that anyone on the bus could be carrying anything. This was before Sept. 11, and security wasn’t so tight, so I’d spend bus trips thinking about the sort of things a person could get away with.

The Eagle & The Arrow was inspired by recent events as much as by the original novella. I’m intrigued by the phenomenon of WikiLeaks as much as I am horrified by prison camps like Guantanamo Bay. I thought that, when the time came to write the second book, it would be appropriate to look at the first book in terms of terrorism, because although the word “terrorism” never occurred to me when I was writing Beware the Hawk, that’s what it’s about.

Q: When did you start writing?

A: I’ve been writing since childhood. My mother tells a story about me as a toddler, playing with my toys and trying to explain what a plot was, but I don’t remember that. I do remember writing my EagleAndArrowFinalCoverRGB96dpifirst novel as a freshman in high school. It was awful, but the hours I spent on it were the happiest of my day, and I used to read chapters to my friends over the phone. The fact that they put up with this proves that they were true friends.

Q: Has your occupation as a journalist helped with writing your books or writing fiction in general?

A: Now that I don’t work at a daily, yes, I think my experience helped me. As a reporter you learn to economize your language, and that can only strengthen writing. When I was writing for work every day, however, journalism took away from my fiction. I was too exhausted at the end of a day of writing to write anything creative.

Q: What newspaper do you work at and what have you done there and what do you do there currently?

A: I haven’t worked for a paper for a while, although I freelance when I can and both write and edit for a website. I worked for the Hour Newspapers in Norwalk from 2001 to 2010. I was education reporter, mostly, covering schools in several communities, but I also covered municipal business in Stamford, and I worked for a year or so covering entertainment for the features section. That was fun.

Q: You’re a teacher? What do you teach, where and how long have you taught?

A: I’m an adjunct at Norwalk Community College. I’ve taught journalism there since 2008. I advise the student newspaper, and developed our digital journalism course, which I also teach.

Q: You are an editor at the online magazine, Geek Eccentric. When did you start there and what drew you to the magazine?

A: I started at Geek Eccentric this past spring, after being recruited by John Hattaway, our publisher. John went to grad school with me at the Fairfield University MFA program and knew that I was into science fiction, fantasy and comics, so he asked me to join.

I was drawn to the site because it was a chance to continue work I enjoyed. When I worked for the Hour’s features section, I loved writing about entertainment. Geek Eccentric offered me a chance to write news and opinion blog posts about entertainment that appeal to me, so naturally I jumped at it.

Q: Do you have a writing routine?

A: When I’m not teaching, I try to write at least 500 words a day in the morning. I set writing goals weekly with another writer so that we have some accountability. We send each other our goals for the next week on the weekend, and then check in at the end of the week to see if we’ve made progress. It helps.

Q: You belong to the New England Horror Writers (NEHW) and Sisters in Crime. Do you belong to any other writing organizations? What drew you to these organizations?

A: This might sound odd, but my mother, who used to be a librarian (and who loves her a mystery) is the reason I joined Sisters in Crime. She picked up a pamphlet at an event and then made sure I couldn’t miss it. And of course a conversation I had with you and Stacey [Longo] are the reason I joined the NEHW.

Q: What has been one of the best experiences/conversations since becoming a published author?

A: Running into people who have read my book. On the street. While I was lugging groceries from the car to the house. That was pretty amazing; I felt like a celebrity. Also, hearing from people I don’t know on the Internet that they loved my book.

Q: Any advice for writers who are about to be published? Or just advice to writers in general?

A: Yes, and this is advice I have to take myself sometimes: Make the time to sit down and write. Don’t worry about what you’ll write or if it will be any good or not, just sit down and write as often as you can.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A: Margaret Atwood, John Steinbeck, Virgina Woolf, Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene are some of my favorite literary authors, but I also love Terry Pratchett, George R.R. Martin, Frank Herbert and J.R.R. Tolkien. Despite his elvish poetry, I’ve loved Tolkien since I read The Hobbit in the fourth grade.

Q: What are some of your favorite books?

A: Oh, this could turn into a Top 50 list. Let me see if I can pick out a few. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a favorite of mine. So is The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Graham Greene’s The Quiet American is another favorite. So is the original Dune, and Silence of the Lambs, both of which I’ve read over and over. Right now, however, I am most excited about A Song of Ice and Fire. I read all the books this spring, and George R.R. Martin cannot get The Winds of Winter published quickly enough. There’s an author who knows how to build suspense.

Thanks to A.J. for taking the time to do this interview for Jason Harris Promotions. You can find out more about her on her website here. You can purchase signed copies of her books at Books and Boos or through its website here.

2 comments on “An Interview with Author A.J. O’Connell

  1. Pingback: This interview made me feel like a real, live author again. | The Garret

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