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!
My 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.
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:
“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:
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:
Lots of things to look forward to for the summer. Oh, and either or both of these new works would make great beach reads!
The stories collected under Spy Flash 2 have graciously arranged themselves as a novel in stories involving two key events in the careers of Mai Fisher and Alexei Bukharin, covert operatives for the United Nations Intelligence Directorate. The novel in stories will be ready for publication in early 2014.
For those not familiar with the term, “novel in stories,” let me try to help. Each story can stand alone, but, collected, they have a complete story arc involving the same characters and events. They can span a short amount of time or, as in this case, a period of years.
A novel in stories is slightly different from “linked short stories,” which are also stand-alone and use characters from one story in another story, but linked short stories do not have a story arc. They are separate and distinct, even unrelated, other than the appearance of a character from a previous story. My previous books, Blood Vengeance and Spy Flash, could be considered collections of linked stories.
Examples of novels in stories include Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout or A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan or What the Zhang Boys Know by Clifford Garstang.
Of course, since the stories decided they formed enough of an over-reaching arc to be called a novel, they needed a title snappier than “Spy Flash 2.” After much deliberation and debate, I’m pleased to announce that title, taken from a three-part story in the collection:
THE BETTER SPY
Yes, I rather like that myself. Check back periodically for updates and other announcements. Comments and suggestions I gratefully accept.
And here’s a little bonus, a draft cover:
Today marks one year since our fearless leader Rochelle Wisoff-Fields took over the reins of Friday Fictioneers from our intrepid founder Madison Woods, and it’s true. Time flies when you’re having fun. Rochelle has worked tirelessly at making Friday Fictioneers the “go-to” flash fiction site, and her success is marked by the fact that we “charter members” keep going strong while we add new participants every week. Three cheers for Rochelle!
National Novel Writing Month is just a week away, and I’m all set with character sketches, plot outlines, and plenty of enthusiasm thanks to an online workshop put on by my other writers group, Shenandoah Valley Writers. We called the workshop “Finish That Novel!” but we based it on The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris. The book had some good points and not-so-good points, but the exercises were certainly useful to me in that I realized I needed some back story to make this novel more understandable.
This year’s NaNoWriMo project is Book Two of a series on the attacks of 9/11. The series is called Meeting the Enemy. Book One, drafted after last year’s NaNoWriMo, is Terror; Book Two is Retribution; Book Three is Rendition.
I’m also working on a sequel to my collection of espionage short stories, Spy Flash. Spy Flash II will also be short stories, but they collectively form what’s called a novel in stories. I hope to have that ready to go after the first of the year.
So, I may be going to my last writing workshop of my year of conferencing/workshopping this coming Saturday (“Ending it All” at WriterHouse in Charlottesville), but the writing work continues.
This week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt, taken by our fearless leader herself, was a bit of a challenge to the challenge I posed for myself. I’d decided that for the spooky month of October, all my Friday Fictioneers stories would have an edge of the paranormal. This week’s still-life had me scratching my head, wondering how on earth… Then, I remembered the title of a 1982 movie, and off I went from there. My story, “Noisy Ghost,” isn’t quite as scary as that movie, but I hope it’s a little chilling.
As usual, if you don’t see the link on the story title in the paragraph above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, and select the story from the drop-down list.
When you cultivate a group of writer friends and ask them to read and critique stories and manuscripts, an important obligation as a good writer friend is to reciprocate. So, when one writer friend who gave me excellent feedback on my work in progress asked me to do the same for hers, I jumped at the chance. I’d seen the first two chapters of her WIP in my last two workshops at Tinker Mountain and had been eager to read more.
I was so eager, in fact, when I picked up the MS yesterday morning, I didn’t put it down all day–which is why Monday’s post is happening on Tuesday. But it’s great when something lives up to your expectations. When my friend’s book gets published–and it will–this will be my first experience with the evolution of someone’s work other than my own, and it’s a humbling experience. Humbling, in that I felt honored she asked me to read it, that she values my opinion.
Here’s the thing. She doesn’t expect sycophantic raving about how good it is. (Trust me, though, it is that good.) She wants a writer’s eye and honest criticism, which she’ll get from me. Again, I got that from her, and I’ll return it in kind. And I’ll get a little thrill when I buy my copy, knowing I helped in some small way. So looking forward to that.
And new topic. I’ve been working on the next set of stories for Spy Flash 2. (In case you didn’t know it, last year I published a collection of my espionage short stories, Spy Flash. To read all about it, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Published Works tab, then click on Spy Flash from the drop-down list. You can click through to purchase it from Amazon.com, and, oh, by the way, if you buy the paperback, you can download the Kindle version for free. Commercial over.) One thing which has stood out for me is the way odd words unconsciously work their way into a story.
One story had an inordinate use of the word “just” and not the adjective, as in a “just cause,” but the adverb, as in “at this moment” or “in the immediate past.” Okay, one or two usages, maybe, but I found this usage in a couple of sentences per paragraph. I don’t remember typing them; it was as if they “just” appeared. Of course, that’s not the case. The word popped into my head–quite a few times, apparently–and I wrote it. In most cases, there was no need to substitute a better word; deleting “just” made the sentence stronger.
A few weeks ago, I had the same thing happen with the word “always.” Ack! Where are these crutch words coming from?
I suspect because I do a lot of “pressure writing,” i.e., meeting deadlines and word count goals I’ve mostly set for myself, they filter in, and I let that happen because subconsciously I know they’ll come out in the wash, or edit. What surprises me, though, is how often they show up.
And now I’ll bring this back around to the original topic. This is why having a group of writers who’ll critique you with honesty is important. They won’t let you get away with “just” and “always” or whatever crutch word creeps into your work. If you don’t have a group, find one or create one. Social media are great for this. Part of the joy of writer conferences is meeting and networking with many different types of writers from all over. Social media allow you to form critique groups without having to be face-to-face, and, even then, there’s FaceTime and Skype.
Don’t fear the critique. Embrace it. And watch out for those crutch words.
I got the first feedback from a beta reader for the novel I’m been finalizing. Apparently, I hit on all cylinders with this novel, at least with her. She’s a writer as well, and I respect her opinion, so I’m a pretty happy camper. One out of four means I’m batting .250. Respectable, but let’s hope my batting average improves.
I’ve mentioned that my head has been so deep into that particular novel’s rewrites and revisions that I’ve been having issues doing much of anything else the past couple of weeks. Then, last night I dreamed about my two spies–yes, writers dream of their characters; it’s another thing which makes us special. I woke this morning with the inclination to work on a new piece featuring them. I’m stoked! I’ve got Pandora tuned to the Metallica channel, and I’m reading to rock some Spy Flash!
First, though, is today’s Friday Fictioneers story, “Necessary Sacrifices.” Maybe it was the Metallica, but when I saw the photo prompt, which is beyond creepy to me, I had to dip a toe in the supernatural/horror pool.
As usual, if you don’t see the link in the story title above, scroll to the top of this page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.
A busy writing week, this week. On Tuesday evening, I finished a year-long rewrite of my magnum opus, A Perfect Hatred. A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about heading in a new direction with it, but that was really an add-on to the changes I had already decided on some time before. To learn more about what will be a four-book series, click here, or click on the Works in Progress tab above.
I’ve been writing this series since June 1997, and what started out as about 300 pages of disconnected scenes, and after almost as much research as for a master’s thesis, became four, very complex novels, though they do not stand alone. The plan is to begin publishing them next year, culminating in book four appearing in the month of the twentieth anniversary of the historical event that inspired the series.
I also identified four writing contests I want to participate in, and the first one had a due date of next Tuesday, so I began working on a brand-new piece for that. This first contest is to celebrate the fifth anniversary of a great writing space in Charlottesville, VA, called WriterHouse (click here for more information about this wonderful place). Because it’s the fifth, or emerald, anniversary, the contest submissions have to revolve somehow around “emerald.” That was quite a challenge, and I learned far more about that particular gem stone than I ever thought I would, but I came up with something I really like.
Then, I had my usual Monday writing blog post, my usual Wednesday political blog post, plus this, good old Friday Fictioneers. But to go is Friday! Flash, another flash fiction weekly exercise I participate in. Oh, and I forgot to mention, the Rory’s Story Cubes Challenge is back on, so I’m working on the continuation of Spy Flash 2.
Today’s Friday Fictioneers offering, “Post-Modern Ossuary,” is based on a photo of an incredible building in Barcelona, Spain. Even if you don’t read my story, read the one by our Friday Fictioneers maven, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, to get the history behind both a remarkable photo and a fascinating building.
As usual, if you don’t see the link on the story’s title above, scroll to the top of this page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.
Today, I could have played a major April Fools joke on the rest of you by “announcing” that I’d just been offered a six-figure advance and a multiple-book contract from one of the “Big Six.” I could have, but I won’t because it’s likely the joke would be on me. So, no advance, no book contract; just constant editing and revising and hoping.
I get frustrated at times with the lack of new material I’m producing. I retired to have more time to write, and I have written more and more constantly than before I retired; but it seems at times that I do more re-writing than writing.
No difference, you say. Writing is writing. True, but I miss the mad rush of researching and drafting that comes with a whole new project. Granted, I participate in National Novel Writing Month every November, which means I have created five, original manuscripts in five years.
The first one was a semi-autobiographical piece, which, after re-reading it, I realized was 200+ pages of self-indulgent whining. It has, however, been a good source of short stories.
The second one I have edited, revised, and re-written to the point where it’s as ready as it will ever be for pitching to possible agents.
For the third one, I took a risk and killed off one of my characters, a bold move that turned out fairly well. It also helped me face the loss of my long-term relationship and address the emotions that involved; however, the character wasn’t ready to die and told me so. The good news is, I’m meshing this manuscript with another one I developed shortly after the events of September 11, 2001. So, all is not lost.
The fourth one is one that I really enjoyed writing. It’s the closest thing to a sci-fi novel I’ve ever written–a story about a dire future after the Tea Party takes over the government. Dark and political, it was a rough draft I was very proud of, and, in fact, the first 5,000 words I submitted for critique in last year’s Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop. The reception it received was awesome. (It helps that the workshop instructor, Pinckney Benedict, is a fan of dystopian fiction.) Then, I re-read Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale, for a book club and went, “Oops.” It had been two decades almost since I first read The Handmaid’s Tale, but apparently I channeled Atwood when I wrote my manuscript. (Channeling Atwood could be a good thing.) However, since it got such good feedback, it’s definitely something to work on.
The fifth one, last year, was a completely different work for me, a straight-up literary fiction novel that intersects an event in a small town during World War II with an event in the same town in present day. The protagonist is a successful romance writer married to a not-so-successful novelist, and all is just lovely until they find the bones of a baby in the wall of a room they’re renovating. I always put a NaNoWriMo draft aside for six months before I start revising, so next month is when I’ll pull it out and start polishing it.
So, what am I whining about? Well, after an amazing amount of creativity in the late 1990s and early 2000s wherein I dashed out six novel-length manuscripts featuring my two favorite spies, Mai Fisher and Alexei Bukharin, as they work for the fictional United Nations Intelligence Directorate, I haven’t produced a new novel featuring them since 2002. Yes, I’ve been revising and re-writing all those original manuscripts, but I’ve missed creating a new adventure for them. I have been writing short stories featuring them (Spy Flash, published in December 2012), but aside from that, Mai and Alexei walked away from a mission in 2001; and we’ve heard nothing from them since.
You’ve written all you can about them, you might say. No, I feel they have a lot of adventures in them, and I’ve made notes about those adventures. Merely, focusing on improving my craft and establishing a bit of a name for myself as a flash fiction writer has become my immediate focus.
That’s why I need that multiple-book contract, publishers. I’ve always been well-motivated by deadlines, so take a chance. Tell me you want three books, four, or five, and I’ll get right on them.
Don’t forget, this is National Poetry Month. Take a break from fantasy or cozy mysteries and read a poet you’ve never read before.