Cover Reveal, Pre-Order, and NaNoWriMo

A couple of weeks ago, I teased the cover of the upcoming sequel to Who Watches the Watchmen?, and now, it’s time to show the whole thing!

Hidden Agendas

HA Kindle Final

And here it is, the cover for Hidden Agendas!

Lots of secrecy and hiding implied there. I found the graphic of the hand and eyes on pixabay.com, where you can download and use public domain images for limited commercial use.

I’m no graphic artist, but I’m becoming more adept at using Canva to design covers for some of my smaller work. For my upcoming series of novels, A Perfect Hatred, I’ll be using professionals!

Pre-Order

Pretty cool, and even more exciting is it should be ready for pre-ordering for your Kindle by Monday, October 16, 2017.

As I explained in the previous post, this sequel details a significant change for The Directorate. I didn’t know it at the time I wrote it, but Hidden Agendas perfectly sets up the story I want to write for this year’s National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo

This year’s NaNoWriMo project has a working title of A Squalid Procession of Vain Fools.

I love it, right? But where does it come from, you ask?

I recently finished re-reading John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Toward the end of the book, the protagonist, Alec Leamas, is having a heated discussion with his former lover, who questions the ethics of spies. Taken back by her naiveté, Leamas says,

“What do you think spies are: priests, saints, and martyrs? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists, and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives.”

That second sentence stood out for me, and I decided it was a perfect working title.

What do you think?

NaNo Cover 2017And if I have a working title, I should have a working cover, right?

This cover holds a certain amount of symbolism as well. The final scene of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold takes place at the Berlin Wall in the 1960s. The public domain image I used for the cover is a portion of a photo of graffiti on the Wall before it came down.

I’m ready for November!

 

Sometimes You Get It Right

One question people often ask me when looking at my books’ subject matter is, “Were you a spy?”

Sometimes, I joke and reply, “If I were, I couldn’t tell you.” Most of the time I tell the truth. No, I’m not nor ever have been a spy. I merely write about them.

The reaction to that is usually, “Well, then, how do you know what to write about?” or “How do you know you’ve gotten it right?”

I don’t know that one hundred percent. What I do know is with a background as an historian, I’m a great researcher, and I work as hard as I possibly can to “get it right.”

What if I Don’t Get it Right?

That plagues me. I’ve written a novel about two spies who struggle to balance their personal lives with their work. That part is real. The mechanics of espionage is what I don’t have personal experience with beyond cheesy novels and B-movies. For myself, I like real world espionage, as found in John Le Carre or Alan Furst’s novels, over James Bond and Jason Bourne.

I’ve read nonfiction works on the history of espionage and tradecraft, the memoirs of Soviet defectors, and declassified reports of actual operations. I borrow from that for my fiction, but I keep it as authentic as I can. What helps is having acquaintances from a certain counterintelligence agency who’ll take a look at what I’ve written and tell me honestly what’s authentic and what’s not. Even then, I take some dramatic license.

Was I ready for a real spy to read A War of Deception?

Nope. Never. No way.

Almost Like a Covert Op

A couple of weeks ago, I was at an outdoor book festival in central Virginia, hawking books and making a couple of sales. At a break in the activity I look up and who should be standing there but one of those acquaintances mentioned above.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m buying one of your books,” was the reply.

I had to bite my lips to keep myself from talking the buyer out of it. Money was exchanged–man, I wish it could have been a dead drop.

“Would you like for me to sign it and make it out to you?” I asked.

“Make it out to [opposite gender name],” was the reply.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“A retired spy I think will like this.”

Once again, I reminded myself a sale is a sale and what said acquaintance does with a purchased book is no concern of mine. I wrote the transcription.

And said acquaintance’s departure was as quiet and unobtrusive as the arrival. I rather felt as if this had all been some version of a covert op, but, then, I do have an overactive imagination. Help, I’m a writer.

Then, it hit me.

Oh, s**t, a real spy was going to read my book about spies. Here comes a bad review, or at the least a list of what I got wrong. Because I’m me, I braced myself for the worst.

Validation

I’d put the incident completely out of mind, though yesterday when I noticed A War of Deception had a new review on Amazon, I had a momentary hesitation before I looked at it. Whew, it was posted by my niece.

Then, I got a message on my Facebook Author Page from said acquaintance who’d bought a copy. Here it is, I thought, the list of what I got wrong.

Instead, I read:

“This weekend I brought A War of Deception to my friend who retired from the Intelligence Community (where she actually DID espionage-related activities for many years). She just wrote to me saying that she couldn’t put the book down. High praise, indeed, for a thrilling tale.”

After about the fifth time I read it, I believed it. A real spy liked my book.

At first, I couldn’t describe what that meant to me. One, it meant my research skills are undiminished. Two, I’d done a good job of making the characters, whom I’ve worked on for decades, believable. Three, I got it right.

And not only was this a real (retired) spy, but it was a woman–just like one of my protagonists.

I got it right. And. That. Feels. Good.

Cover Tease

Just in time for the one year anniversary of when-it-all-changed-for-the-worst, I’m releasing the conclusion to a story I published earlier this year. Who Watches the Watchmen? is a novelette about people colluding to rig an election. (Timely, right?)

You can get Who Watches the Watchmen? for your Kindle by clicking here, or if you want a paperback, click here.

wwtw-front-cover

The cover for WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?

Who Watches the Watchmen? is a standalone, but other aspects of the story still rattled about in my brain. So, I wrote some more, a natural extension of the original story.

The Sequel

The second novelette is called Hidden Agendas, and those sneaky agendas are everywhere–from my fictional espionage agency The Directorate to the White House itself. Yes, ripped from the headlines, as they say, but fictionalized.

Here’s the back cover copy:

In this sequel to WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?, all good things must come to an end…and a new beginning.

For Mai Fisher, the political climate in the United States after the election of a conservative billionaire, who’s surrounded himself with deconstructionist, ultra-rightwing advisors, has become too uncertain. After the incident where her own assistant director betrayed information to a political campaign, she’s on edge, especially after learning he intended to “give” The Directorate to the new administration as its private intelligence service.

She comes to the reluctant conclusion The Directorate has to cut ties with the U.S. and move to a more neutral location. Then, she has to convince her husband and former partner it’s necessary to leave their home of twenty-five years behind and move to a new country.

Mai can’t resist, however, executing one final act of subterfuge before she leaves, a reminder to those alt-right advisors…she’ll be watching.

Cover Sneak Peek

Here’s a peek at part of the cover:

Cover Tease

Cover tease for HIDDEN AGENDAS

Want to see the full cover? Hidden Agendas will be released for your Kindle and as a paperback on November 1, 2017.

Old Friends are the Best

Like many people, I made relationships in college that have endured, even nearly fifty years later. There were three of us who were roommates for the 1971-1972 college year, and that one year has led to a lifetime of events where we three supported each other like sisters: marriages, divorces, childbirth, miscarriages, children with special needs, illnesses, the deaths of parents, siblings, and a spouse, and a child coming out as gay. We’ve always been there for each other with absolute, unconditional love.

When my first novel came out, my two friends were some of the first to get a copy of A War of Deception. I appreciated that, of course, but I never expected either to read it. One is a mystery fan, the other more for historical romance.

I spent a few days last week with those friends, and the first thing one said when I arrived was, “I loved your book. I didn’t think I would because I don’t read the spy genre, but once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. Why, I was going to bed at 6 p.m. so I could read it!”

She went on to explain that though she’d proofread my college term papers, she didn’t know I was such a storyteller.

My other friend echoed her comments and told me she was “hooked from the beginning and can’t put it down.”

Now, you say, they’re your friends; of course, they’d say that. Nope, these are the kind of friends who have told and will tell me when I’ve effed up and will mince no words. If they’d hated A War of Deception, they would have told me in no uncertain terms. And I would have accepted it because it would have originated in love.

I can’t describe what it means that friends of long-standing appreciate my literary efforts. That means more to me than any five-star review. It almost makes up for my father and brother not being here to celebrate this accomplishment.

I love all my friends made over the years, but old friends are the best.

Which of your lifelong friends can be brutally honest with you about your writing? Let me know in the comments.

Feedback is Good

I’m a participant in this year’s NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. This past week I got the result of my Challenge 1, Round 1 entry–10 out of 15 points. That puts me in a good position for Round 2. (The scores from Rounds 1 and 2 get added together, and the top five scores move on to the second challenge.)

Fantasy, A Food Truck, and A Water Fountain

That was my prompt for the Round 1 challenge, and I had to write a 1,000-word story incorporating that genre (fantasy), location (food truck), and object (water fountain).

After much angst about the fact I don’t really write fantasy, I came up with the story, “The Orcs’ Food Truck.”

Because I’m me, the story became dark fantasy. You can read it here.

Feedback

Part of this challenge is that every story submitted to the judges gets feedback–what the judges liked and didn’t like. In the past, I’ve had mixed feelings about this because the feedback from one judge often contradicted another’s, and I’d end up with no clue if the story were good or not.

This is what the judges had to say about “The Orcs’ Food Truck”:

(Note: My reactions are in [ ].)

What They Liked:

“Ah! A topical tale torn from the headlines, then! – ‘…after some recent elections in the human world, the old, human prejudices had sprung up again.'”

“Funny: ‘…because they’d bootlegged satellite television and become addicted to the Food Network.'”

“Absolutely gruesome interior scene!”

“It was fascinating how swiftly, and credibly, matters escalated. This is a good satire. [I didn’t intend it as satire, but oh well.] It has a  message and is well written with tongue in cheek. Behind this fantasy story lurks a darkness that quickly turns to horror. I especially like how the story skillfully sets up the plot for a surprise twist at the end.”

What They Thought Needed Work:

“Your title is too mundane for your tale.” [Well, you try coming up with a pithy title when you have forty-eight hours to write a coherent story.]

“While I know the translator [a character in the story] exhibited reluctance, it would also be good to have another creature foreshadow menace.” [Good point, but having multiple viewpoints in 1,000 words isn’t easy.]

“Because ‘stained’ [a word used to describe rainbow colors on the fairy wings] conotates a blemish, it would be better to have the fairy wings ‘glimmering in the grace of’ the sculpture’s rainbows.”

“Tell us more about the place where all this takes place. Give us some history of the environment where these characters live.” [Did that to an extent, but 1,000 words.]

“The plot is well thought out and leaves little room for improvement. However fantasy stories usually do not embrace the macabre and this one has plenty of gruesome horror. Should the writer want to shop this tale around as a fantasy, the story would have to lighten up and focus less on the dark side; otherwise it might fit better in the horror genre.” [Has he (or she) ever read/seen The Lord of the Ring/The Hobbit trilogies?]

My Reaction

I got good feedback, though some of the “needs work” comments were more complimentary than critical.

Again, you can read the story by clicking here. Let me know in the comments if you agree with the judges.

Old School Spies

As a teenager, I read John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Along with the TV show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., it intrigued me about the world of espionage, especially Cold War espionage.

I’m a child of the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis is not mere history to me. I lived it. I was glued to the television news. I had to bring a shoe box to school with a change of underwear, a bar of soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and some other odds and ends I don’t remember. We practiced “duck and cover” and trooping to the school’s musty basement, designated a fallout shelter. My father, in the Reserves by then, was told he’d likely be called up and deployed again to Berlin.

At the time I didn’t realize if a nuclear exchange had occurred, he would have died quickly. Not so much us. We lived two hours outside of Washington, D.C. We would have survived the initial blast, but radiation poisoning would have gotten us sooner or later.

I was ten and a half years old, thinking I wouldn’t make it to eleven.

Le Carre – The Master

Born David John Moore Cornwell, Le Carre was a pen name he used for writing spy novels while employed by Britain’s Security Service and Secret Intelligence Services. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, was his third novel, and its success allowed him to leave MI-6 and write full-time. His best-known character is the spy George Smiley, who has appeared in most of his works. He swears none of his work, especially “In From the Cold,” is based on things he experienced. Rather, he says, he was a keen observer of behavior and people.

His novels are dark and gritty, the settings dreary places I’d read about. My father had served in West Berlin and talked a bit about the situation there. I watched news reports about the Berlin Wall and about the daring escapes by people from the east to get to the west section of the city. Le Carre’s books were “real” to me.

And I loved them. They drew me into the world of intrigue and counterintelligence, not enough to want to be a spy, but enough to want to write stories like Le Carre’s and, later, Alan Furst’s.

Back to the Beginning

Le Carre’s newest release is A Legacy of Spies, a sequel of sorts to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. That intrigued me enough to plan on reading A Legacy of Spies, but I decided after almost fifty years, it was time to re-read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

Oh, the language! The way he describes people and places. He puts you there. In the opening scene, I was at Checkpoint Charlie waiting in the cold and dark for an asset to defect, my tension a direct result of Le Carre’s scene-setting, his subtle revelation of the characters’ emotions. Though you never “see” the main character in that scene, Karl, the defector, when he meets his fate, your heart is pounding.

And it’s a writing lesson, too, on how to engage a reader, how to infuse a scene with tension, and how to deliver the punch to the gut.

It’s old school espionage, not the gadget-ridden, high-action novels and movies of this century. It’s spy vs. spy, it’s pitting wits against other wits, it’s manipulation and extortion, it’s human not tech, and it’s absolutely thrilling.

Do you want to know why I write about spies? Read anything by John Le Carre.

—————

P. A. Duncan’s first novel, A War of Deception, is available now on Amazon. This week only, the Kindle version is 99 cents.

Book Trailers Galore!

When I was a kid and got a toy I’d wanted with the desperation of a child, I’d play with that toy exclusively for days. Okay, weeks. None of my other toys mattered. Of course, when the newness wore off, it got relegated to the toy bin with all the others.

I’m the same way with books in a series. If I like a series, I’ll read every book in the series and wait, impatiently for the next. It wasn’t until I wrote a series that I stopped being angry at authors for not writing fast enough.

This past week, my online author group, The Author Transformation Alliance, posted a challenge on doing a book trailer using a free program called Lumen5. I won’t go into all the specifics of how it works here; you can go look for yourself. It has a paid version and a free version, and the major difference between them is in the paid version, you don’t get an “ad” for Lumen5 in the closing credits and your video will be HD. And–big plus for me–it’s far less complicated than other video-making programs.

Before my novel came out, I’d purchased a couple of inexpensive book trailers from a vendor. They were great, but the ability to customize them was limited. Not so with Lumen5.

Bottom line. I not only did a book trailer for my debut novel, A War of Deception, I also made ones for each of my collections of short stories, my novella, and my novelette–six book trailers total. In two and a half days. (And, there’s one or two more, I think, to do.)

Yes, obsessive much.

But it’s another tool for an indie author. The money saved purchasing book trailers can now go toward buying a professional cover or paying my editor, etc.

Anyway, here’s one of my projects, the new book trailer for A War of Deception. I’d love to know what you think of it. Comment below. (And, yes, I caught the typo; it’ll get fixed.)

To view the trailers I made for my other books go to my Facebook Author Page.

So, How was Your Weekend?

A common question usually asked on a Monday morning, and the perfunctory answer is usually something along the lines of, “Great,” “Good,” “Fine,” or “didn’t do much; stayed in the house and chilled.”

I remember running this gauntlet Monday mornings at work. Truth be told, I live a reasonably uneventful life, and now that I work for myself at home, the weekend is like any other day. Why, I’ve been known to take a weekend in the middle of the standard work week.

This past weekend, however, was pretty darn special.

A Marketing I Go

For the past year, I’ve been stepping up my marketing of my written work using the guidance of The Write Services, LLC. I have a social media plan for each month with a specific, themed post for each day. (Mine go to Instagram, my Facebook Author Page, and Twitter. I’ll have links for each of my accounts, in case you want to follow, at the end of the post.)

This past Saturday (July 15) was National Give Something Away Day. I, and a lot of other authors, decided to give away a book. For the 15th and 16th (National Ice Cream Day), A War of Deception was free for Kindle.

Whenever you give anything away for free, there’s always a lot of interest. I was hoping for a modest boost into the top 100 of Free Kindle Books on the Espionage list. Actually, the top 100 would have been more than a modest boost. It would have been a moon launch.

Don’t Look!

I’m not one of those authors who checks on sales by the hour. If I did, I’d likely give up writing. In fact, I’ve avoided looking at the sales rank of any of my books. Midday on Saturday, however, I decided to take a look at how the giveaway of A War of Deception was doing.

Seventh in Espionage; 51st in thrillers; 125th in YA Thrillers. The latter, frankly, was a big surprise. There are no YA characters in my novel, unless you count the twenty-year-old college student.

To me, 7th was that moon launch. To see my book up there on the list with the Harlan Cobens, the Clive Cusslers, etc., was pretty exciting. Readers in search of a bargain downloaded 300 copies of my novel. I was content and pleased.

Excitement in Starbucks

On Sunday morning, I went to have breakfast at Starbucks and do a little #coffeeshopwriting. At about ten in the morning, I thought, “What the heck. I’ll go have a look and see if I’m still in the top 50.”

My gasp brought attention from a guy at a nearby table.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Would you do me a favor and look at something?” I asked, showing him my computer screen.

“Sure,” he said. “What?”

“The book at number two, would you read the title?”

He gave me that, okay-I’m-talking-to-a-nut expression, but he looked and said, “A War of Deception by P. A. Duncan.”

“That’s me. That’s my book,” I said.

“Wow. Cool. I’m sitting next to a best-selling author,” he said, and went back to his phone.

In My Wildest Dreams

When you decide to be a writer, when you have work published, that phrase “best-seller” or “best-selling author” nags at you. It’s what you want to be, but you know the state of publishing; it’s never likely to be your book or you.

Of course, I imagined this for myself, but I’m a realist. I don’t call it pessimism. Rather, it’s a lifetime of things not going the way I anticipated or wanted. It’s not a pity party; it’s life. I suppose that’s why I’m not a big fan of romance novels or rom-com movies: It doesn’t always happen that way in reality. So, I’m a realist. I have stories to tell, I tell them, they get published, and that’s enough for me.

But, always, in the recesses of my brain are the two words that drive every writer: What if?

I got a great answer to that question this past weekend. For forty-eight hours, my book was a best-seller (Yes, technically, it was free; I’m using dramatic license.), and I was a best-selling author.

I’ll take those forty-eight hours, much as I did the screen shot of my book at Number Two, and keep on writing.

Which all means, when you’re the one who has to do your marketing, do it.

###

Social Media Links:

Instagram: @paduncan1
Twitter: @unspywriter
Facebook Author Page: Phyllis A. Duncan, Author

An Interview with Moi!

Fellow author and Shenandoah Valley resident Allison K. Garcia interviewed me about A War of Deception and writing stuff on her blog. You can read it by clicking HERE.

Allison is also a debut novelist with her recently released Vivir El Dream. She’ll be featured in an upcoming issues of my newsletter “Secret Briefings.” Go to Contact the Author above to sign up.

Music Heals

“Musick hath charms to soothe a savage breast.”
The Mourning Bride, Act 1, Scene 1
William Congreve

For the past five weeks, as I’ve recovered from surgery and a nasty case of bronchitis (which hasn’t entirely faded), I’ve been the oft-misquoted being of the above quote–a savage beast. I’ve engaged in numerous online arguments, something I normally don’t do. I’ve snapped at baristas, strangers, family, and friends. I hate being sick, and I hate what being sick does to my mood. I’ve hated every word I’ve managed to write during this time. I’ve decided I’m a hack author who’ll never get more than three reviews.

Yeah, good thing I live alone, because living with me the past month would be a ginormous self-pity party.

Music

My social engagements have been limited in the past month as well. As an extrovert I do better when surrounded by people, but one of my early excursions after feeling halfway human again to a Starbucks for some #coffeeshopwriting resulted in people leaving the tables near me to sit somewhere else because of the coughing.

(No need to suggest home remedies or a visit to the doctor. The former don’t work, and I did the latter. This is a result of my usually well-controlled asthma, and there’s not much to be done but endure until it runs its course in five or six weeks.)

So, I hibernated. I didn’t even join my regular Google Hangout sessions because coughing. But one series of events I’ve always looked forward to since I moved to the Shenandoah Valley is the annual Heifetz Institute Summer Concert Series. (For more information on this incredible series, click here. If you ever needed a reason to visit the Valley, this should be at the top of your list.) How could I go, knowing the urge to cough comes on suddenly and lasts until I’ve coughed a lung up? (That’s called hyperbole used for dramatic effect.)

Music has always been important to me. I sing. I listen to many genres of music, depending on my mood: classical to soft rock to acid rock to opera to rap to… You get it. Music inspires me, calms me, excites me, thrills me, heals me. Music is always at my fingertips when I want it.

I skipped the opening Heifetz events but bought a ticket for “Stars of Tomorrow: PianoPalooza!” Piano performances are one of my favorite concerts. I looked forward to this, but my trepidation was there. Heifetz records all the performances. What if a coughing jag came on in the middle of the performance?

I picked a seat on the aisle so if it did, I could make a conspicuous escape.

Hath Charms

The first performance was a contemporary piece by Petr Wajsar for harpsichord, Harpsycho. The harpsichord is a beautiful instrument which produces amazing sounds, but this piece consisted of a lot of slamming of the keyboard, beating on the sides and bottom of the instrument.

I’m not a fan of contemporary classical aka “experimental” music. Sorry.

Next was a Brahms piece, Romance in F major, Opus 118 No. 5, a piano solo played with technical precision but with little passion.

“Musick” wasn’t soothing anything in me it seemed, and I kept expecting the tickle in my throat to manifest.

And then there was Stravinsky. Three movements from Petrushka: Danse russe (Russian Dance), Chez Petrouchka (Petrushka’s Room), and La semaine grasse (The Shrovetide Fair). Played by a Russian without the sheet music. When he closed his eyes and played with the controlled passion that’s very Russian, my spirit and my mood lifted with every chord.

As if that weren’t enough, next came Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-sharp minor by Liszt, played by four hands and with some wonderfully timed and performed comic mugging by the pianists.

I felt better than I had in weeks.

Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, M. 60 followed by his La Valse, M. 72 had me floating on air.

I had to clear my throat a couple of times, but no coughing.

To Soothe A Savage Breast

I was so uplifted after this concert, I had trouble getting to sleep, the chords still running through my head. I slept through the night. No coughing, and I’ve yet to cough today.

Music heals.

As I said to a friend at the end of the concert, “I so needed this.”

This morning, my writing looks and feels better to me. I’m not a hack. I’m an author. I’m a novelist working on the next novel. I’m writing, and it’s good because “musick hath charms to soothe a savage breast” of its coughing.

Must be endorphins or something. 🎼😎