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.

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