Here I am, an indie author begging again.
I have a newsletter where you can learn more about what inspires me, get excerpts of my upcoming works, and learn a thing or two about the world of espionage. I won’t fill your inbox with countless emails; it comes out twice a month–and you can always opt out once you sign up.
To sign up for SECRET BRIEFINGS, click here.
Oh, and if you sign up for SECRET BRIEFINGS between now and the end of the year, I’ll send you a free paperback copy of a short story. You can choose from one of four:
“Spymaster” – The heads of two intelligence organizations clash in a mini-Cold War.
“Blood Cover” – Mai Fisher talks a doctor into marrying a man she doesn’t love so Mai can have access to his secrets.
“Best Served Cold” – Computer guru Nathan Hempstead loses his son in an horrific manner, but his hot anger becomes cold revenge.
“Brave New World” – A U.S. president wants help fixing an election, but Mai Fisher refuses, something she may come to regret.
In addition to my Facebook Author Page, I’ve also started a new Facebook Group called “Readers Who Love Real Spies with Real Lives.” If you join, we’ll talk about books and movies in the genre, with an emphasis on those with strong, female protagonists.
There’ll be posts to stimulate conversation and some fun things, too, like “What Would Your KGB Code Name?”
It’s free and fun, and you can join on the group page itself.
CELEBRATING MY NANOWRIMO WIN
This year I won my tenth NaNoWriMo and what better way to celebrate than to put some of my books on sale.
From November 28 through November 30, you can get the ebook of Blood Vengeance and The Better Spy for 99 cents.
From November 28 through November 29, the ebook of Spy Flash II will be 99 cents.
Any of these three books are a great introduction to my canon of works about “real spies with real lives.” Definitely money well spent.
You can buy them by clicking here.
Okay, done begging. For now. 😉
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!
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!
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.
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?
And 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!
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.
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.
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?)
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 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:
Want to see the full cover? Hidden Agendas will be released for your Kindle and as a paperback on November 1, 2017.
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.
As Dr. Frankenstein cried when lightning brought his creation to life, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”
On the stroke of midnight, May 26, 2017, A War of Deception began downloading to those who had pre-ordered it for their Kindles. And I’m giddy with excitement. And nerves because the launch day has only just begun.
First, a lunch with several of my writer peeps, then pick up the cake for the book launch. Get home, change, go to Black Swan Books in Staunton to set-up, and hope that people, you know, show up.
A War of Deception began as a 2010 NaNoWriMo project. I had been retired from federal service for a year but hadn’t done much writing, the whole reason for my retirement. I was determined to have a viable rough draft of a manuscript, one worth rewriting and prepping for an agent search, at the end of that thirty days. The result was The Game, a story about a Russian mole in the FBI.
I put it aside for several months, as I do all my NaNoWriMo projects, and picked it back up in 2011. Boy, did it need work. That was rewrite number one.
Next, I sent it to some beta readers, who had comments, lots of comments. Rewrite number two.
Third, it went to a critique group, who also had comments and suggestions. Rewrite number three.
I queried a couple of agents and small presses and got feedback like, “You entitled a chapter, ‘Threshold. It should have been The Threshold.'”
I hired a professional editor, who found the holes I knew were there but couldn’t see, and along came the fourth and final rewrite.
At this point I decided to forego the agent/small press thing. I’d followed all the steps a traditional publisher would do, and so decided I would publish the novel, now entitled A War of Deception (based on a line of dialogue), under my own imprint.
Still, there was having it professionally proof-read, proving once and for all I’m the world’s worst typist, sending Author Review Copies (ARC) out for blurbs, and beginning the formatting process.
In between all these steps was purchasing a professionally designed cover, deciding on fonts, writing the back cover copy, creating a full cover (front, back, spine).
The formatting process was as easy as it could be using a Word template. (I’m likely too old to learn InDesign.) However, my OCD tendencies raged because I didn’t want widows or orphans at the end of lines and paragraphs, and on facing left and right pages, I wanted the last line on each page to be as closely aligned as possible. Try doing that on 407 pages of copy. And making sure every chapter started on an odd page, sometimes requiring inserting a page break, which often threw the entire file’s alignment off.
The formatting experience was good, in that I now have experience at doing this sort of thing, and that will enable to me to communicate well with the professional formatter I hire for my next book. It’s a been-there, done-that thing that I don’t want to repeat for the sake of my sanity.
Then, there was selecting a launch date, finding a venue for the book launch, and marketing. Lots and lots of marketing, something I have no experience with whatsoever. So, I did what I’m good at: I hired a professional to show me how it’s done.
In the midst of all this activity of the past six months, I had a serious health issue. Nothing life-threatening but certainly life-altering and fixable with surgery. I explained to my doctor that the book was going to come first, that this was something I had worked for almost my entire life, and I was going to experience it and enjoy it before surgery. He agreed that though the procedure was necessary, it wasn’t urgent. Still it cast a pall over what is undeniably one of the happiest times of my life.
And here we are.
Look for yourself.
For me, a momentous day. My first novel, dedicated to my father, who told me I could do whatever I aspired to do and to not let anyone stop me, and who I miss every day of my life.
Here it is, Dad. Thanks.
If you want one…
Kindle version: http://bit.ly/AWoDKindle
On May 26, 2017, one of my life-long writing goals will come to pass: My first novel will be launched.
A War of Deception is a story about fathers and sons, the past and the present, and retribution and revenge, encompassed in recent history.
The idea for the novel came to me in the early 2000s, but I didn’t sit down and start to write it until 2010. The manuscript has been edited, rewritten, critiqued, rewritten, workshopped, rewritten, proofread countless times, and professionally edited over the past seven years, and I’m proud of the result.
A copy for your Kindle is available for pre-order now. Click HERE to pre-order, and your copy will download to your Kindle on May 26. A paperback version will be available for purchase on Amazon.com by May 26.
To celebrate the novel’s release, I’ve rebranded my collections of short stories published since 2012. To have a look at the new covers–and some with new, reduced prices–go to my Amazon Author Page in a few days to see the new covers.
I hope you share my excitement at this milestone in my life. I’m giddy and thrilled and giddy and… You get the picture.