Book Launch, a Bookversary, and NaNoWriMo

Hidden Agendas

Today, Hidden Agendas, the sequel to Who Watches the Watchmen?, launched. Yeah, it’s rather lost in the hoopla over National Novel Writing Month, but I wanted it out before the first anniversary of last year’s election.

These two novelettes aren’t exactly historical fiction but more current events or… How about “current political thrillers”? That works.

Both novelettes were certainly cathartic for me to write, and I hope they are for the readers, too.

If you’d like to take a look, go to my Amazon Author Page, and you’ll find them there.

Celebrating The Yellow Scarf

The Yellow Scarf was one of my first novellas, and Facebook just reminded me it came out two years ago.

This novella started out as a 5,000 – 6,000 word short story, which I workshopped at Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop. My fellow writers in the workshop and its instructor, Edgar-Nominated Laura Benedict, suggested that it needed more backstory, that perhaps it was too much of a story for a short story.

Armed with their suggestions, I added the backstory, beefed up a character, inserted the imagery of a yellow scarf throughout, and extended the story over the period of a year. The result? A novella based on real events in the Balkan Civil Wars. It’s a story I’m particularly proud of and am glad it’s out in the world.

To celebrate its second birthday, The Yellow Scarf will be on sale for 99 cents Friday only. Again, go to my Amazon Author page (link above) to have a look and buy a copy if you like.

It’s NaNoWriMo Time!

It’s the mad month of November where several hundred thousand people around the world write a 50,000-word novel rough draft in 30 days. Crazy, right? But we’re writers, so it’s expected.

I guess you could say the novelettes, Who Watches the Watchmen? and Hidden Agendas are prequels to this year’s project, A Squalid Procession of Vain Fools. Again, this will be a current events political thriller with some family angst mixed in, just to make it interesting.

This will be my 10th NaNoWriMo, and this year I’m a co-municipal liaison for the Shenandoah Valley region. My municipal liaison and I have lots of online and in-person events planned, and if you’re local to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, come join us. Check out our Facebook page, Shenandoah Valley Wrimos, for times and places.

I kicked us off last night right at midnight with an online write-in, and, boy, I was up way past my bed time! But it’s great fun with great writers.

I’ll also be occasionally posting about my project here, including some (unedited) excerpts, but if you follow me on Instagram (@paduncan1), you’ll see some NaNoWriMo-related graphics along with my other posts.

If you’ve never tried NaNoWriMo, give it a go. No pressure. Well, there is pressure: 50,000 words in 30 days, but for a type A personality like me, bring it on!

Evolution of a Novella – The Yellow Scarf

When you decide to write a novella, you sit down and write until you have between 7,500 and 40,000 words, depending on genre. However, since thriller/suspense isn’t listed among the genres where the length of novellas is specifically spelled out, I’ve opted to go with the length suggested for literary and romance fiction, 20,000 to 40,000 words.

TYS Print Cover CSFor my most recent novella, The Yellow Scarf, which debuts today, the history isn’t quite that simple. I never intended for it to be a novella at all.

The second part of the novella started out as a chapter in book one of a draft series called A Perfect Hatred, which is about domestic terrorism in the U.S. I intended that chapter to illustrate how my two covert operatives not only had to switch between missions but also had to deal with a mission interfering with the upcoming holidays.

In a subsequent edit/rewrite of the novel, that chapter got cut, and for some reason I didn’t ditch it completely. A couple of years later, I was searching for some short story material, and I opened the file, changed the ending, and ended up with a short story, originally titled “Justice for Ludmilla.” The story was around 5,000 words, and I was pretty pleased with it.

The short story was a snapshot of a couple of hours in Sarajevo in late fall 1993, at the height of the sniper activity in that city. The Serb Army was entrenched on the ridges surrounding the city, which had hosted the 1984 winter Olympics. Not only did they bombard the city with artillery, but snipers wreaked havoc. A battle of snipers ensued, with Bosnian Muslim civilian snipers and Serb Army snipers hunting each other amid the destruction. Even though both sides sniped at civilians, a preponderance of the sniper killings were Serb Army on civilians. Sarajevo’s main avenue became known as Sniper Alley. My story told of an investigation into a civilian’s death and the investigator’s desire to find the identity of the sniper.

I was so pleased with the story that I work-shopped it at my 2015 Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop genre fiction writing class. The consensus was that everyone liked the story, but they wanted to know more: why was the investigator there, why were there vague hints about something happening the year before, etc. In our one-on-one, the workshop instructor, Laura Benedict, said, “I think this is too powerful for a short story. Why don’t you turn it into a novella?”

In general, workshop instructors are much like agents or editors. They tell you trim, cut, be more concise. Rarely do they ever suggest that you add words or, heaven forbid, expand a short story into a novella. I was stunned by that, but I went home determined to see if I could do it. After all, the back-story to that short story was in my head, i.e., I knew who and what and why but hadn’t wanted to clutter the short story with it. A novella offered definite possibilities.

I put butt in chair and wrote. About 18,000 words later I had a draft novella. I did my usual thing and set it aside for a couple of weeks. When I did a revision I ended up adding a couple thousand words to get it to the 20,000 mark. I shipped it off to a couple of beta readers, who coincidentally had been in the workshop with me, and they gave me great feedback, which I incorporated.

I continued to polish and refine it until I thought I had a good draft, ready for publication. Still, I hired a professional editor to make a final review, and she, too, made some excellent suggestions. More polishing and refining, and today we have the debut of The Yellow Scarf!

If you’re not already intrigued, and I’m sure you are, here’s an excerpt from the back cover copy to intrigue you even more:

A year after being medevacked from the disintegrating Yugoslavia, U.N. spy Mai Fisher is back for a new mission: investigating sniper activity in Sarajevo. On a cold autumn morning she finds herself at the spot in Sniper Alley where, the day before, someone shot a young mother on her way to buy milk for her children. Pushing the limits of safety Mai searches for the sniper’s nest, hoping for a clue to the shooter’s identity. She feels the pull of justice, not just for this mother but also for what Mai lost the year before. Mai’s partner–and husband–Alexei Bukharin ponders whether the Balkans have given his wife a death wish. When Mai’s focus on her mission costs a life, her desire for justice is strengthened, but Alexei understands here in the Balkans sometimes vengeance is the only option.

The Yellow Scarf is available from Amazon as an ebook for your Kindle or Kindle app ($4.99 or free in Kindle Unlimited) or as a paperback ($6.99). If you buy the paperback, you can get the Kindle version for the Matchbook price of $1.99. What a deal! And just in time for your holiday shopping.

 

COVER REVEAL — The Yellow Scarf: A Spy Flash Novella

Despite all the studies otherwise, I rarely buy a book based on its cover art. The back cover blurb, plus a scan of several pages, is what sells me. I find many covers appear contrived or unrelated to the interior, that esthetics won out over a connection to the story.

As a result, my own covers have been minimalist. I prefer eye-catching, solid-color covers with simple, if any, graphics. I’m sure you’ll recognize these:

Blood Vengeance CS

MNE FC

Then, I attended the Hampton Roads Writers Conference back in September and got quite a few statistics about how covers sell a book. Even a writer friend said to me, “I’ve been meaning to speak to you about your covers.” [Eye roll]

Message received.

So, for my second novella, to be released on December 1, by the way, I decided to go non-minimalist. And here’s the cover reveal for the new novella, The Yellow Scarf, courtesy of selfpubbookcovers.com (Check them out; very reasonably priced.):

TYS Print Cover CS

When I saw this cover on the web site, I recalled the final line of the novella:

“The bar’s rear exit led him to the deserted street, where the cold air cleared the last of the liquor from his head.”

With the yellowish/sepia tones on the cover, I couldn’t have found a more perfect fit. Even the outfit the man on the cover is wearing is very reminiscent of the character in the novella he represents. When the proof arrived and I saw the cover on an actual book, I remembered how I felt when my first book came out more than a decade ago and I saw the cover the publisher had designed. It’s as if your story has come to life, is tangible. The image formerly only in your head is there for all the world to see.

I don’t know if this cover will make a difference in how many copies are sold, but, actually, I don’t care because I love it.

I guess we’ll find out on December 1.

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.

MY NOBLE ENEMY – Ready for Pre-Order!!

MNE FCMy Noble Enemy: A Spy Flash Novella is now available for pre-order for your Kindle or Kindle App. At just $3.99–what a deal! Plus, if you order the paperback (which is also a steal at $5.99), you can add the ebook for just $1.99!

Feel like you’re in an infomercial yet? So much for the marketing skills.

You can pre-order My Noble Enemy by clicking here, and on June 5, 2015, it will magically appear on your Kindle and be accessible on your Kindle App.

But if you’re a gotta-hold-the-book-in-my-hands reader, you can order the paperback now. Did I mention it’s a steal at $5.99? Order the paperback by clicking here.

Thanks for putting up with my attempt at positive marketing. It’s okay to laugh.

More Good (and Bad) Writerly News!

Two, count ’em, two stories of mine will be published soon: one in a fiction chapbook, the other in an anthology.

“Reset” is a completely made-up story (as in not based on something which happened to me even though one character bears a strong resemblance to my father) about a father and daughter who attempt to prove the validity of the one-shooter conclusion of the Warren Commission Report. It will appear in the inaugural edition of The Ink Ribbon Reader later this year. For more information on Ink Ribbon Press, the publisher, click here.

The other story is “Dreamtime,” winner of the Flash!Friday second annual flash fiction contest. It will be published in the anthology Skyline 2016, which will come out next spring, likely at a Virginia Festival of the Book event. My story, “Meeting the Enemy,” appeared in Skyline 2014. The Skyline anthologies are edited by author Olivia Stowe and published by Cyberworld Publishing.

So, that’s the good news.

The bad news–and that’s the writing life–my story, “The Lost Diaries of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany,” did not advance me to the third round of NYC Midnight’s 2015 Short Story Challenge. The judges liked the story, but one didn’t buy the voice in the story was a seven-year-old’s. I respectfully disagree, especially since I explained the child’s advanced vocabulary in the story itself, but, hey, can’t please ’em all. “Prince Leopold” will find a home, somewhere.

And more good news: A Spy Flash novella, “My Noble Enemy,” will be available soon for pre-order. Here’s a cover preview:

BookCoverPreview.do

 

“My Noble Enemy” goes against how most spy deaths are portrayed in movies and novels, and here’s the tagline:

“There are old spies and bold spies, but no old, bold spies because, if you believe all those blockbuster movies and bad novels, they go out in a blaze of gunfire. Or do they?”

“My Noble Enemy” will be available for your Kindle and as a slim paperback (117 pages), and I’m pretty excited about its upcoming release.

And the final good news–then, no more bragging, I promise–late summer will see the release of my novel in stories, The Better Spy. Here’s its cover preview:

TBS Cover

Pre-ordering for this should be turned on some time in July, and it will also be available for Kindle or as a paperback.

The Better Spy is in an experimental format, and not just as a novel in stories. It proceeds from “present day” (2013) to a seminal event in a character’s life in the mid-1980s. That puts a bit of a burden on the reader, but I’ve also put a date tag on every story to help with that.

Oh, and if the cover of The Better Spy seems a little familiar, it’s a companion cover to 2012’s Spy Flash:

Spy Flash Cover 2.do

 

Lots of things to look forward to for the summer. Oh, and either or both of these new works would make great beach reads!