Take a chance on THE BETTER SPY!

Goodreads has approved a giveaway for my novel in stories, The Better Spy!

Here are the exciting details:

The giveaway of five (5!) signed copies of The Better Spy starts at midnight on Thursday, August 20, and ends at midnight on Sunday, August 30.  Goodreads members (You have to be a Goodreads member, but it’s free to join.) in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia may enter to copies. Goodreads chooses the winners on a random basis.

Take a chance!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Better Spy by Phyllis Anne Duncan

The Better Spy

by Phyllis Anne Duncan

Giveaway ends August 30, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Take a Chance on MY NOBLE ENEMY!

Goodreads has approved a giveaway for my new novella (My Noble Enemy).

Here are the exciting details:

My Noble Enemy This giveaway of seven, count ’em, seven, signed copies will be open for entries at midnight on Saturday, August 15. The contest will end at midnight on Thursday, August 20. Goodreads members (You have to be a member, but it’s free to join.) in United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia can enter. After midnight on Saturday, August 15, click below to enter. Goodreads chooses the winners on a random basis.

Take a chance!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

My Noble My Noble Enemy by Phyllis Anne DuncanEnemy

by Phyllis Anne Duncan

Giveaway ends August 20, 2015. See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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In a few days both the novella, My Noble Enemy, and the novel in stories, The Better Spy, will be up for Giveaways on Goodreads. If you have a Goodreads account (it’s free), you can go to the site and enter to get a free copy.

I’ll be giving away six copies of My Noble Enemy and five copies of The Better Spy (all signed). These are separate contests, running for different time periods, so you’ll have to enter both!

Check back for more details.

It’s Over. Now What?

Whenever I had to plan an event at work, e.g., a three-day training session for a few thousand supervisors and managers, I always treated it as if these were people coming to my house. The food and accommodations had to be top-notch, the content of the training well worth coming for, and the opportunities for networking plentiful.

Needless to say, for me that meant weeks of obsessing over the minutia, loss of sleep, and constant fretting that it wouldn’t be good enough. Back then, I had a staff and usually a contractor working on the event. All I had to say was, “I want this,” and it happened. Boy, was I spoiled.

Last year, when I accepted the nomination to be the first vice president of the Virginia Writers Club, I knew one of my duties would be to plan and execute the annual one-day symposium, Navigating Your Writing Life. I’d attended three of those events, I’d put on symposia for thousands (see above), so this should be easy-peasy.

It should have been.

I took on the role of 1st VEEP in early November last year and started cogitating on the kind of symposium I wanted to put on. My vision was big, huge; then, by the end of December I was sick with the flu. As in hospitalized twice and down for the count for a solid two months, woozy and confused for another couple of weeks, and lacking energy to do much of anything through the middle of March.

Two and a half months of key planning time gone by the wayside. I was already way behind the power curve, but when I had a dozen volunteers sign up to be on the symposium planning committee, I felt much better about the loss of time. This was going to be the best symposium ever!

Because we were so spread around the Commonwealth, I opted to use telephone conferencing to hash over most of the details. Before every telcon, I’d email an agenda, a list of tasks from the previous telcon, and an update on accomplishments–pretty standard stuff for me. The government paid for a lot of good management training for me, and why not put it to use?

Long story short, by the third telcon, the committee had dwindled from a dozen to three, including myself.

In the ensuing months, I’ve reflected on this. A lot. Obsessively. I’ve been seeking some fault in my behavior that made people drop out. (I’m the child of an alcoholic; others like me will understand that in addition to trying to make everything right, we’re also right up front to take the blame for anything.)

I’m an organized, focused person who has high expectations of myself, first, and people who work with me. Work being the operative word. It’s very, very, very, very different with volunteers. Though I stuck to my guiding management principle, which is basically do unto others, etc., it doesn’t always work with volunteers. Likely I forgot that people have lives and obligations and not the same level of enthusiasm and drive (i.e., obsession) I have when given a task to accomplish.

What this meant was three of us, and a fourth who came in toward the end, had to do everything: contact and manage presenters (and OMG, writers are such divas, self included), arrange catering, put together a schedule, design and have printed a conference booklet, do name tags, do tent cards, do… You get the picture. It’s a lot of work for a one-day conference, and we got it done.

But things can and did slip through the cracks. At 1030 on the morning before the conference, I realized no one had done an evaluation form. No big deal, you say. Really big deal because feedback is crucial. I ginned one up in about a half-hour, stopped by Staples on my way to the hotel, and, voila!, evaluation forms. (I’ve yet to read the completed ones. I’m waiting for a good time to have my image of success dashed.)

And it all went off perfectly! I had seen or anticipated so many opportunities for failure, but the buzz around the venue was good and positive, people stopped me on their way out the door to tell me how much they’d learned, I’m getting emails and Facebook posts that make my heart swell with pride, and, oh joy, I get to do this again next year!

(Psst! I can’t wait.)

At least nobody found out about the snake who decided navigating its writing life was something it needed to attend, albeit briefly.

(Note to self: Next year, assign someone to snake duty.)


The_Better_Spy_Cover_for_KindlejpgJuly 28 hasn’t been a date I’ve associated with positive things since this day in 2003, when my only sibling, my brother, died at the age of 44. This year, instead of taking this date and marking it as the anniversary of something sad, I’ve decided to reclaim it.

As of today, July 28 will be the anniversary of the launch of the book which, among the four others published, I’m most proud.

The Better Spy is a novel in stories dealing with the aftermath of a single spy mission by U.N. covert operative Mai Fisher. It opens in more or less present day (2013) when a dying British soldier needs to get something off his chest before he gets to the great beyond. It’s a secret that changes everything about Mai’s life since that mission in the 1980s when she was under cover in the IRA.

I’m particularly proud of its experimental form. It begins in 2013 and works backwards to a often-mentioned event in the series of stories, the bombing of an IRA stronghold in 1986.

The Better Spy is available from Amazon as either a paperback or for your Kindle. You can search by the title, or click here to go to my Amazon Author Page, which lists all my works.

Also, check out a new interview with me at the Flash! Friday Microfiction page by clicking here. I talk a bit about The Better Spy, what inspires me, how I got into historical thrillers, and more. Comment on that page and you’ll be entered to win a free copy of The Better Spy and my recent novella, My Noble Enemy.

I’ll always think of my brother today, but from now on it’ll be a happy thought. He would approve.

Clearing the Cobwebs

When you have more than one computer, you run the chance of “losing” a file. Losing as in not remembering which computer you wrote it on. For me it was an 80,000-word-plus second draft of the 2012 NaNoWriMo rough draft. I was convinced it was on my laptop, and I even found a version of it, except I didn’t know it was a version. I thought it was the file I was looking for.

About four chapters of re-writing later, I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put a finger on it, so I plodded on. The nagging sensation I didn’t have the right version kept kept up to the point where I put everything aside because I wasn’t happy with the result.

I recently picked up on the “grown-up” coloring book fad and bought a couple of books and seventy-two art pencils. Hey, I do nothing in a low-key way. One book is called Balance: Angie’s Extreme Stress Menders, Volume 1 by Angie Grace. It’s a book of mandalas, uncolored, so you can, well, color them. I didn’t have extreme stress, only the mild stress of a re-write not going the way I expected and the last-minute details of planning and putting on a one-day writers symposium. Okay, that had begun to border on extreme stress.

I’m not in the least artistic, as in painting and drawing. Writing is my art. I was a big fan of paint-by-number when I was a kid. One such “masterpiece” hung in my apartment until I bought a house and started collecting art from people who knew what they were doing. When I was a flight instructor and had to draw airplanes on a blackboard to illustrate a fine point of aviation, my students invariably laughed at my renditions. I was a Bob Ross drop-out; no happy little trees in my muddy paintings.

Grown-up coloring books aren’t paint by number because you have to choose the colors and where you’re going to use them, so I figured this was going to be a disaster, but I’d taken art in college (wherein the professor suggested that perhaps I should become an art historian rather than an artist), so I knew the color wheel and color families. And I had seventy-two art pencils to choose from.

I found when working on what I called “Mandala 1” I didn’t think about much of anything except, “Is this the right color to use next to this one?” But here’s the result:

Mandala 1

Not bad, eh? Actually, I think it’s a bit chaotic and probably should call it “Chaos.” I certainly don’t think it has the calming effect Ms. Grace anticipated in her book.

A mandala in Oriental art is “a schematized representation of the cosmos.” In Jungian philosophy, a mandala symbolizes trying to reunify the self.

I was trying to do the latter, to reunify the proper draft of a novel with my self so I get on with the needed re-write. Mandala 1 didn’t quite do it. So, there was Mandala 2:

Mandala 2

Ah, much better, and toward the end of this one, I thought, “Look for the draft on the other computer.” Lo and behold, there it was, the file I wanted to re-write from. Self reunited.

Of course, indulging my “artistic” wants takes time from my work, which is writing. However, Mandala 2 cleared a great many cobwebs away and helped me focus the re-write approach. Trust me, before that I was like a Roomba blundering into a piece of furniture and backing up, only to blunder into a different piece. Now, I can do the re-write justice.

I’m sure there’ll eventually be a need for Mandala 3.

THE BETTER SPY – Release Date Announced!

The_Better_Spy_Cover_for_KindlejpgIt’s official! My newest collection of short stories about the globe-trotting U.N. spies Alexei Bukharin and Mai Fisher, The Better Spy, will be released as a paperback and an eBook on July 28, 2015!

You first met Mai and Alexei in Blood Vengeance, Spy Flash, and My Noble Enemy (a Spy Flash novella). The Better Spy isn’t exactly a continuation but, rather, another piece in the mosaic of these two characters’ lives.

What is it about?

“The defining mission of UN covert operative Mai Fisher’s career came in the mid-1980s when she went undercover in the IRA. It was a mission she barely survived, when a shipment of Semtex she intended to destroy before the IRA would distribute it to various cells exploded too soon. Nine people, including a man she’d come to love, died, and she carried the guilt for the rest of her career. Nearly three decades later, a dying soldier has a secret he wants to tell her, one that will change everything.”

You can pre-order The Better Spy starting today. Click HERE to pre-order. Enjoy!


Interview–Debut Romance Author Margaret Locke

MLHeader2Debut romance author Margaret Locke has a great novel out, A Man of Character. I’ve reviewed it, and you can click here to read the review or click on the “Book Review” tab above and select it from the drop-down menu. Below is a refreshing interview I conducted with Ms. Locke. Authors of any experience level can relate to her experience–and her joy at seeing her first novel in print.

PD: You’ve spoken in other interviews about your agent-querying marathon, so we won’t go into that here, but what was most appealing, artistically, about indie publishing for you?

LOCKE: I did want that brass ring, you’re right. I wanted it desperately, as “proof” I was good enough. But I realized the brass ring came with encumbrances that seemed more detrimental than beneficial, especially after I listened to other authors share their experiences. The idea of not controlling my publishing schedule, of not having final say over edits, over cover art, over the title of my book—I couldn’t imagine it. Many traditionally published authors also told me they have to do nearly all their own publicity. Not as much control, smaller royalties, and still having to do all the promo? Indie publishing suddenly sounded much more appealing.

I’m so happy I chose this path. I admit, I felt I’d failed, at first, in not securing an agent, and that publishing on my own was somehow lesser. I’ve come around on that idea 180 degrees. Now I relish being completely in charge of my own career—for better or worse—and the creative freedom that comes with that. If I want to write a series in which the first book is a light paranormal romantic comedy, the second a time-travel romance, the third a straight Regency tale, I can. And, uh, I have. It’s a joy to have such freedom.

PD: Regency is a popular setting for romance writers. What’s your strategy for making yours stand apart in a crowd? And, without using the words, “Fitzwilliam Darcy,” what appeals to you about that era as a setting?

LOCKE: Oh, gosh. I have to have a strategy? I do hope my sense of humor brands my books as mine. I’m also partial to quirky, flawed characters. But those things don’t mark me as special; most authors incorporate those these days. Most authors also write series in which characters are interlinked, so I’m not treading new ground there. However, I plan to take familiar tropes and spice them up a bit, do a few unexpected things, have fun with the genre and its expected conventions.

As for what appeals about the Regency—I wish I had an answer. I think that era is a period in time that feels at once familiar and distant. Familiar, because it’s not all that long ago, relatively speaking. Many people, I’m guessing, can more readily envision Regency England than, perhaps, ancient Greece or medieval Germany. And distant, because social structures and social mores have shifted over the last two hundred years. With the Regency, we get a society we can understand fairly easily, overlaid with the whole fantasy element, that romantic idea of Once Upon A Time, especially since the Regency period is known for its grand balls and dukes and barons—all elements familiar to most modern folk from fairy tales we heard growing up.

PD: Describe your writing process. What do you keep around you for inspiration?

LOCKE: My writing process is erratic and not what it needs to be. Random thoughts, plot points, character ideas, snippets of dialogue, hit me at the most inopportune times (just before drifting off to sleep, while out running errands), and I’m frustrated that I don’t capture more of those thoughts (although I am finally using the iPhone’s voice memo option!).

I wish I had a more structured schedule to which I adhered. I always plan on that, but life (and social media) get in the way. However, I’ve long known I work best in the morning, and I work best when I can have a two-hour (or more) time period in which I know I won’t be interrupted. When that happens, I can ensconce myself in the Writing Cave and write—sometimes with inspiring instrumental music playing in the background, other times in silence. When I’m in the zone, I don’t need anything around me for inspiration, because I’m so lost in my own alternate reality that I don’t notice my real life, anyway.

PD: You’ve indicated A MAN OF CHARACTER is book one in a series of five (or six?) What are your plans beyond that, or is that thinking too far ahead?

LOCKE: I don’t know exactly how many books will be in the Matters of Love series. I suppose I should nail that down, but every time I decide I’ve thought of all the characters and stories I want to include in that series, something else pops up, and I think, “Oh yeah, I could write a story about that!” I do have eight potential books loosely sketched out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if secondary characters from those novels demand their own stories. After that, we’ll see. I recently discovered some ideas I’d written down years ago, when I was in my 20s, and a few aren’t half-bad. Then there’s a whole flip-the-fairy-tales-on-their-heads set of ideas that I’ve loosely planned out. I could be writing for a very long time.

PD: What would you say to someone who doesn’t normally read romance to get them to try A Man of Character?

LOCKE: I’ll bake you cookies. I’ll massage your feet. I’ll clean your house for month. No, just kidding. (You wouldn’t want me as your housekeeper, anyway, given the state of my own house.)

I do claim AMOC is not a typical romance, and yet I don’t want people to think I’m trying to distance myself from the genre. Exactly the opposite. I love romance and would love to encourage people to give a well-written romance novel a shot. They’re so much more than the stereotypes. Is a relationship at the center of a romance? Sure. Is the Happily Ever After a requirement? Absolutely.

But romances are no more formulaic than any other genre fiction. (Can’t write a mystery without solving it, right?) Romances tell women’s stories (or gay/lesbian/transgender stories—there are subgenres for everyone). The hero is crucial, of course. You can’t have a decent romance without an enticing (albeit flawed) hero.

But it’s the heroine with whom we as readers most closely identify, I would argue. It’s she we want to see overcome a variety of obstacles, she we want to achieve self-satisfaction—within and outside of the central relationship. Romance (most of it, at least) provides that. Much romance is much more feminist than most people realize: a story in which the woman’s journey is central? In which her emotional and sexual satisfaction are legitimate, worthy, and expected goals? Yes, please.

I don’t know if that answers the question, so I asked my husband what he would say. (He read the whole book in one day.) His answer? “Tell them they might just enjoy the story and might learn that some of the things they thought about romance were wrong.”

Yup. What he said.

PD: What are some words of encouragement to would-be authors out there, in any genre?

If you want to write, write. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study the craft and learn the ins and outs of your intended genre. You should—if you plan to put your work out for public consumption, at least. But don’t let the Eeyores drag you down. Keep writing. Keep reading. Join a critique group. Find some beta readers. Go to conferences. Get to know authors on social media.

OK, well, those are all the things I did. I don’t know if they work for everyone else. I think the biggest thing is, write if you want to. It might take a while to find the right writing community for you, but keep seeking one out. Sabrina Jeffries told me, “Don’t write in a vacuum.” I 100% agree. Find your groove, and find your group, and don’t give up.

PD: Describe your book launch day, i.e., for those who’ve never experienced it; the emotions, good and bad. Was it everything you expected and hoped for? What will you do differently next time?

It was amazing and surreal, exhilarating and exhausting. There had been some build-up: the first time I saw my book’s listing on Amazon, the first time I held a copy in my hands. (Yes, I shrieked and hopped up and down both times.) But to know on launch day that my baby (warts and all) was out there for all to see—and potentially criticize—was terrifying and elating, at the same time.

If I had to do it all again, I would’ve done more promo prep before launch day. I probably should have contacted book bloggers. I could have created more visual memes. I might have had all the potential excerpts and quotes and promo posts already drafted. I didn’t. But I had fun anyway. And I’m doing some of those now, hoping that “better late than never” still applies.

Confession: I also don’t want to be strung out on chocolate on my next release day. It was such a whirlwind week, I’m not surprised I fell face-first back into the sugar. By actual release day, I was a mix of exhausted and over-sugarfied. Not really a good combo, on Launch Day or otherwise.

PD: You’re barely taking a break, in that your next book in the series comes out in the fall. Give a brief sketch of what it’s about, and dare we hope it involves Eliza and her duke?

LOCKE: The only reason the “break” is so short is that I have the second book already written. (Thank you, NaNoWriMo 2014!) It needs heavy editing, but the basic parts are there, so I think (I hope!) my late fall deadline is workable. And yes, it most definitely involves Eliza and her duke. In it, I introduce you to the Mattersley family—the family around which all my original story ideas were based, before Cat leapt into the picture. I hope y’all have fun reading about Eliza’s struggles to come to grips with what it actually means to live in a different era and to deal with a man who doesn’t necessarily agree that he’s her soulmate.

PD: In your “Acknowledgements” section, you included your writers group, Shenandoah Valley Writers. How are writers groups important, in general, and, specifically, how did yours help you?

LOCKE: How did it not? To be a part of a writing community, to put myself out there and call myself a writer, was one of the greatest feelings ever. I was doing this. And I was doing it publicly! To hear about others’ struggles, successes, strategies, systems…all have helped me grow in my own process. I’ve met amazing people and developed incredible friendships. We’ve gotten together in person. We’ve cheered each other on, helped each other up, told the world about each other.

In fact, it’s hard to remember life without all these writer people in it, and yet that was the case just, what, two years ago? Three at most. Surrounding myself with people who love what I love is amazing! (Even if it bores all my other friends to hear me talking writing all the time. Sorry, guys. I’m trying to find balance.) So thank you, Maggie. Thank you, Rebekah, Annika, Tamara, Foy, Taryn, Allison, Sydney, Morgan, Lindsey, Josette, Christy, Sara, and Audrey. (Eek! I’m sure I’ve forgotten people!) Thank you to the Flash Friday community. Thank you to the writer friends I’ve met online. Y’all are amazing. And you brought me to this place. I’m sure that if I were going this alone, I would not be published.

The first time I joined a critique group, I was terrified. The first time I put myself in the hot seat and let people critique my work, I thought I was going to throw up. And yet I could see how valuable it was to get multiple sets of eyes on my work, to hear from them what worked and what didn’t, whether or not I was on the right track, etc. So find a writing group, find beta readers, but also find a critique group. It might take a few tries to find a group of people with whom you click, with whom you feel safe, a group that has the same approach when it comes to critiquing (I value positive, uplifting interactions, even when giving suggestions for improvement). But it’s worth it.

PD: Finally, what would you like to say–anything at all–on becoming a published author?

It’s surreal and exciting and…surprisingly not all that different from my life before I was a published author. Am I part of the club yet? It doesn’t feel like it. I still wrestle with self-doubt, still wonder if I’m good enough, still fret over whether I’m doing it right (whatever it is: writing, editing, promo). Sadly, I haven’t made a bazillion dollars. I still have laundry to do and meals to cook. My kids still squabble. I still have to grocery shop and serve as Taxi Mom and deal with my own character faults.

Rats. I was kind of hoping once I was published, I’d hit glamour status. Nope. Now I’ve got the pressure to write the next book, and the fear it won’t be as good as the first.

I guess that’s all normal.

But what do I also have? The unbelievable, nearly indescribable feeling of accomplishment. I said for years I was going to write romance. I finally did. I really did it.

You visit Ms. Locke’s blog and sign up for her newsletter by clicking here. You can purchase A Man of Character on Amazon.com

Post-Workshop Let-Down

It doesn’t take long. A weekend, in fact. You spend five solid days and nights immersed in writing with other writers, and the workshop becomes a routine, something you wake up and look forward to each morning. Then, the week comes to an end, you pack the car, turn in your room key, eat the final meal with people who’ve become family, and go home to face the reality of day-to-day writing.

In the midst of a scene, you turn to ask one of your workshop-mates if something will work, and you realize you’re all alone now, in your writing cave, with only The Google for company. And, well, you miss hearing how great your writing is.

Let’s face it. You learn a lot in a workshop, mainly how other people perceive the words you’ve decided are golden and untouchable. When the emphasis is a positive experience, as it is at Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop, you definitely get the praise, but you also understand what you need to work on to improve your writing. You come away feeling good about yourself and your writing, no matter your level of experience. That daily dose of “I really liked how you…” becomes addictive, and you crave it once you’re home and don’t have anyone telling you how good you are.

And that’s a good thing, because as with anything, complacency will ruin your writing.


Post-workshop, you feel as if you’re writing in a vacuum without those voices saying, “What did you mean here?” You know, the questions you never ask yourself while you’re in creative mode. A workshop goes beyond beta readers or a critique group. Your betas and your critique group members become accustomed and somewhat inured to your style, your characters, your writing. A workshop puts fresh eyes on your work, scrutiny that can put a spotlight on weaknesses you’ve missed.

Now, it does require a leap of faith to put what you’ve sweated blood over in the hands of strangers for them to vivisect while you sit there unable to say a word. I make it sound like a nightmare, and it is daunting; however, you will be a better writer because of it.

But, in the week following the workshop, you can’t help but think, Wow, this time last week, we were going over my short story, or, Was it just a week ago we sat around the lounge and debated the worthiness of James Joyce (uh, no debate there). You miss the company of writers; you miss your family; you miss the challenges they offer you. You lament that you’ll have to wait a year to do this again.

Somehow, you’ll muddle through.

Book Launch!

MNE FCFlight Controller: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. We have lift-off! Lift off of Phyllis “Maggie” Duncan’s very first novella, MY NOBLE ENEMY! Ask yourself, what would you do if your best friend came to you and told you he was dying? You’d pretty much drop everything to care for him, even if it brings up old slights and opens old wounds. Most of all, you’d want the end to be peaceful.

MY NOBLE ENEMY is not my typical historical thriller. Rather, it’s a love story on many levels–what friends will do for each other, supporting a spouse even if you don’t agree with his or her actions, and a bit of young love in, of all places, the red-light district of Amsterdam. Yeah, you know I had to be a little salacious. If you pre-ordered a Kindle version of MY NOBLE ENEMY, it will arrive TODAY! And if you’d like your Kindle version “signed,” go to authorgraph.com, look the book up, and submit a request for a virtual autograph. If you’re looking for a paperback copy, you can order one from Amazon.com–oh, if you buy a paperback, you can bundle the Kindle version at a bargain price. I hope you enjoy MY NOBLE ENEMY.