Home » Guest Bloggers
Category Archives: Guest Bloggers
In many ways, The Cavalier Spy should have been an easy book to write. After all, it is the sequel to the first book in the Yankee Doodle Spies series, The Patriot Spy, so many of the characters, themes and settings were in place when I began the book. But ironically, that made the book all the more difficult. Why? Because I wanted The Cavalier Spy to stand on its own. I wanted readers who had not read the first book in the series to enjoy The Cavalier Spy as much as those who did read The Patriot Spy. I had no idea how hard that would be. And starting out, I had no idea how I would do it. But then I began to write and the story took over, as it often does.
The story has three general settings. I think that helped. In fact, the settings are essential to the building of the tale. This is, after all, a historical novel and I am trying to portray history through fiction. And history is about places, as well as people. The first setting is New York. The second is the area around the Hackensack Valley of New Jersey. The third setting is “western Jersey,” the area along the Delaware River. During the time of the American Revolution New Jersey was often referred to as “the Jerseys.” The Jerseys were east and west Jersey. East Jersey is that part of the state that borders New York and the North (Hudson) River. West Jersey is the portion that borders Philadelphia and the Delaware River.
Since the first setting was the same as that of The Patriot Spy, and as I began to draw out the plot, I used the setting to refer back to events that unfolded in it. I did not plan this. It just came to me as I wrote. An example is when the protagonist, Jeremiah Creed and his men are sent behind British lines he decides to go by the post house in Yorkville. There he “re-recruits” young Thomas Jefferies to the cause. I use those scenes to flash back to how they originally met, and the events that drew them together. As Creed drives deeper into British occupied New York, people he encounters and venues provide opportunities to briefly let the reader in on what happened in book one. Another challenge for the writer is to do this without making things tedious for those who read the first book. The trick is to keep the flashback short. Usually a couple of sentences. The trick is to do this without tying up the story too much and break the flow. As the story progresses to the other two settings, the need and opportunity to do this fades away. Soon the story is standing on its own legs and the reader is caught up on what happened.
Another interesting challenge I faced was telling the tale of how my protagonist arrived in America. In The Patriot Spy I hinted that he was an immigrant. In The Cavalier Spy, I show it. But how to get there without distracting too much from the main plot, Washington’s desperate attempt to avoid defeat and his use of intelligence to aid those efforts. The idea came to me suddenly. I would have Washington and his fictional “Senior Intelligence Advisor” conduct what is essentially a “subject interview” of Creed. They confront him on his mysterious past and want to “vet” him. He decides to tell all in a “confession” to his commander in chief. Don’t worry. He doesn’t really tell all. Some things have to be saved for future books. But we do get a several chapter flashback out of it. And I had a lot of fun writing it.
By time I got to the Hackensack Valley setting, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I was able to create a fictional village and spin some interesting characters in and out of it. But in doing it, I reveal an interesting and little noted fact about the American war for Independence. It was a complex struggle and a local one. New Jersey raised some impressive Loyalist troops for the King and one of those regiments plays a role. The Hackensack Valley had a significant Dutch populace. After all, East Jersey was part of the Dutch colony (along with New York) of New Amsterdam. This provided me some rich characters to develop. It is in this setting that I bring the strange case of “Mister X” into the story. Weaving a controversial historic figure into the plot was intriguing to me, the writer. I hope it is for the reader as well.
The last setting is West Jersey. This is the iconic “times that try men’s souls.” The new nation’s hopes are all but dashed. Washington escapes the British but is now ignominiously holed up on the far bank of the Delaware River and his army has evaporated. To have any hope of saving his army and the cause, Washington must send Jeremiah Creed back into the bosom of the enemy. A key ingredient, almost a character, in this setting is, believe it or not, Mother Nature. A cold winter is gripping the Delaware Valley and it has a role in everything. The characters (and their horses) are affected. The Continental Army is affected. And most importantly, the British Army is affected. The despair that unfolds in the first two settings culminates in desperation. And this desperation sets in on both the fictional and historical characters. Washington is desperate to save his Army and the Revolution. Creed is desperate to do his duty. And the British are desperate not to lose what they have achieved. But desperation breeds valor and resourcefulness. But it can also breed mistakes. And ultimately, the fortunes of men and of nations, can turn on mistakes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
S.W. O’Connell is the author of the Yankee Doodle Spies series of action and espionage novels set during the American Revolutionary War. The author is a retired Army officer with over twenty years of experience in a variety of intelligence-related assignments around the world. He is long time student of history and lover of the historical novel genre. So it was no surprise that he turned to that genre when he decided to write back in 2009. He lives in Virginia.
Title: The Cavalier Spy
Author: S. W. O’Connell
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Purchase link: http://www.twilighttimesbooks.com/TheCavalierSpy_ch1.html
About the Book:
1776: His army clinging to New York by a thread, a desperate General George Washington sends Lieutenant Jeremiah Creed behind British lines once more. But even the audacity of Creed and his band of spies cannot stop the British juggernaut from driving the Americans from New York, and chasing them across New Jersey in a blitzkrieg fashion. Realizing the imminent loss of one of the new nation’s most important states to the enemy, Washington sends Creed into the war-torn Hackensack Valley. His mission: recruit and train a gang of rogues to work behind British lines.
However, his mission takes a strange twist when the British high command plots to kidnap a senior American officer and a mysterious young woman comes between Creed and his plans. The British drive Washington’s army across the Delaware. The new nation faces its darkest moment. But Washington plans a surprise return led by young Creed, who must strike into hostile land so that Washington can rally his army for an audacious gamble that could win, or lose, the war.
“More than a great spy story… it is about leadership and courage in the face of adversity…The Cavalier Spy is the story of America’s first army and the few… those officers and soldiers who gave their all to a cause that was seemingly lost…”
~ Les Brownlee, former Acting Secretary of the Army and retired Army Colonel
“Secret meetings, skirmishes and scorching battles… The Cavalier Spy takes the reader through America’s darkest times and greatest triumphs thanks to its powerful array of fictional and historical characters… this book shows that courage, leadership and audacity are the key elements in war…”
~ F. William Smullen, Director of National Security Studies at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and Author of Ways and Means for Managing UP
By Tom Stacey
In my relatively short career as a self-published author, I have found the learning curve a steep one. For anybody who is considering self-publishing — or somebody who has already self-published and wants some solidarity — here is a list of the key lessons I have learned so far.
The internet is a funny place, and since you want to publish and promote your book to people other than your immediate family, you’ll be spending a lot of time on there. Sure, some people might not like your book, some people might even hate it, but what will surprise you is the amount of good feedback you can get. Everything from helpful critiques, offers for review exchanges, book recommendations, free promotion — the self-publishing industry is stronger than it ever has been and that is evident in the depth of the community’s kindness. Be active on social media like twitter and goodreads and promote others as they promote you. My favourite moment so far is when I was touched by a bit of hubris and decided to google my book. I found it on somebody’s list of their top five favourite books. That’s the kind of thing that drives you.
There is a lot of work required
Everyone who wants to be writer imagines a world where they can sit in a wood-walled office with an open fire and write, perhaps with quill and ink, perhaps with a tumbler of good scotch within reach. Alas, the modern self-published writer cannot just be a writer. You have to be an editor, a formatting expert, someone who understands the software your using to the nth degree, and most importantly, a marketeer. It’s no good writing the next Lord of the Rings if nobody is going to read it. You have to sell yourself, and that is difficult stuff. In short, as a self-published author, you’re going to be doing all of the things that a traditionally published author has done for them. If you tie that in with a day job and (potentially) friends, family, general fitness, etc, it actually leaves you very little time to do the thing you want to do: write. Good thing you can always sacrifice sleep! Of course, if you want to pay people money to do these things for you, then that’s great and will hopefully be very effective, but for those more budget conscious among you, you better start reading up on marketing techniques.
The importance of cover art
The saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is absolute nonsense. Sure, you shouldn’t make assumptions, but if you break the saying down into its literal sense, you have to remember that a book is a product, a piece of entertainment. ‘But this is literature!’ I hear some of you cry. ‘It’s art, nothing so grubby as a microwaved meal.’ Unfortunately, I’m afraid that’s not true. A book is something that people will exchange money for, consume, and then ultimately discard or store. Therefore it has to be good: well-written and, above all, presentable. That’s how you get your foot in the proverbial door of somebody’s attention. That’s why cover art is all-important. The amount of self-published books I see with awful covers upsets me. It’s sad to think that great content could be hidden by pedestrian cover art. Cover art is the hook. It catches the reader’s eye and makes them pick your work up. I said previously that you might need to wear many hats as a self-published author, but leave something as subjective as artwork and design to the professionals. I paid money for my cover art, and I’m so glad I did. People love it and I have had many compliments — it looks great in print too, almost indistinguishable from anything you would find in a quality bookstore. If you’re great at drawing, then fine, but I am not, and for a one off price I managed to get a custom drawn piece of artwork that does my book justice. Know your strengths and funnel your funds where you are weakest, but do not try and save on cover art.
If anybody is interested, here is the website of the illustrator I used: www.mrcanifu.com.
Also, here is a great article on cover design and why it is important to get it right: http://www.creativindie.com/8-cover-design-secrets-publishers-use-to-manipulate-readers-into-buying-books/
You will find errors in your work — get over it!
I have almost lost count of the amount of times I have read Exile (it’s a good thing it’s so great!). In writing, editing, editing again, editing some more and so on, I have probably read it cover to cover about twenty times. I can tell you what happens in chapter seventeen and what Beccorban’s response is when Riella asks him about his past. I can recite whole passages of text and describe the great coastal city of Kressel almost word for word. But still I find mistakes. Okay, not mistakes, rather things I would do differently. I like to think that in my constant editing I have eliminated 99.9% of grammatical and spelling errors in my work (you can never be 100%), but in recent re-reads, I have spotted sentences that I don’t like or would phrase differently. I’ve come to accept that this is perfectly normal. As a writer you evolve. I am not the same writer now as I was when I started penning Exile and hopefully I’ve improved. There is a saying that no work of art is ever finished, simply abandoned. This holds true to writing, and there comes a point when you have to let go and lock the text so it can go to print. Of course you can make revisions at a later date, but usually not for free (unless it’s an ebook). I’ve gotten over that, and also realised that the things I see as mistakes will not be viewed as mistakes by my readers. They are reading my work for the first time, learning from fresh who I am as a writer. Hopefully when they come to read the next one, they will recognise my work, but see that it is a step up.
You will make mistakes in general so don’t be afraid to ask for help
It seems like an overly simply statement but you will. Whether it’s in formatting for an ebook, in paying money to a shady company for ‘marketing,’ there are things you will do now on your first time out that you will never do again. I came moments away from approving the proof of my cover design with a glaring spelling error in the blurb. I had a proof copy printed and realised that I had made a new moon become a full moon in the space of two days. Luckily I changed it before it went to print. These things happen and will happen, especially when you are the only person checking things. Get a trusted friend to read your work and edit as many times as you can. Another really good trick is to wait until you are happy with your story, then lock it away for about two months. Work on other stuff and then come back to it and read it fresh. You’ll be amazed what a new perspective you gain. That’s how I managed to cut down Exile into a more acceptable size.
My experience with self-publishing has been a good one so far, and it is by no means unique. I hope this has gone some way to giving any potential self-publishers a ‘heads up.’ Thanks for reading!
Tom Stacey is an English author of the fantasy novel, Exile. Tom was born in Essex, England, and has lived there his whole life. He began writing at school, often taking responsibility for penning the class plays, or writing sketches with his friends. While attending university to read history, Tom developed his writing by creating several short stories, some of which would later become to basis for his debut novel, Exile.
Tom self-published Exile in summer 2014 and is currently working on the sequel as well as another unrelated novel. He earns a living as a video producer in London in the day and writes at night, a bit like a really underwhelming superhero.
For More Information
By Meryl Ain
It has been 50 years since The Beatles first visited the United States, but their music is as alive as ever. Although the Beatles stopped performing as a group in 1970, and John Lennon and George Harrison have passed, their music is today enjoyed by both those who saw them perform, and their children and their grandchildren.
The power of music to evoke memories is great, and one of the most moving of the Beatles’ songs is Let It Be, Paul McCartney’s tribute to his mother, Mary, who died from an embolism when he was 15. After his mother came to him in a dream during a difficult time in his life, he wrote the song to share her advice with the world. Each time the song is performed, played or heard, it keeps alive the memory of his mother: “And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be…”
Not everyone can write and perform a song, but when my mother died after a brief illness, I wondered how I could pay tribute to her – in my own way. So I decided to ask others how they carry on the values and legacies of their loved ones. I enlisted my husband, Stewart, and my brother, Arthur, to join me in researching and writing The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last.
The book shows how others have harnessed their grief, transforming it into meaningful action and living legacies. The Living Memories Project describes through interviews, anecdotes, essays, poems and photographs, the many ways that 32 individuals – celebrities and others – keep alive the memories of loved ones. Some are huge projects; some are small ones.
For example singer/songwriter Jen Chapin, the daughter of the late folk rock icon Harry Chapin, tells how she keeps her father’s memory alive through his music and his commitment to social justice.
“I have so many ways of communing with him and I know he is proud of me. I have an ongoing dialogue with him and read his speeches about social justice and they are so much today—what he wrote about and sang about—they are so current and I feel so connected. I have ongoing dialogue through my own work. So in a way I am privileged he was a public person and, almost every time I perform, someone comes up and speaks of him and remembers him.…”
Others in our book have established foundations, endowed scholarships, relied on favorite sayings, created works of art, made recipes, or simply looked at photographs. The point is that there is no such thing as closure; those we love are in our hearts and minds forever. Carrying on their work or doing something positive in their memory not only serves as a fitting tribute, but also is a powerful healer.
The research and writing of The Living Memories Project has been therapeutic and cathartic for me and for my coauthors. We hope that it will help others by showing readers how to find comfort and meaning through honoring the memory, values, and legacy of their loved ones.
About the Author:
Meryl Ain holds a BA from QueensCollege, a MA from ColumbiaUniversityTeachers College, and an Ed.D. from HofstraUniversity. She began her career in education as a social studies teacher before she became an administrator. She is also a freelance writer specializing in issues related to education, families, parenting, and children and has contributed to Huffington Post, Newsday, the New York Jewish Week and The New York Times. She embarked on The Living Memories Project after she lost both her father and mother within a year-and-a-half. She and her husband Stewart live on Long Island and have three sons, three daughters-in-law and three grandchildren.
For More Information
- Visit The Living Memories Website.
- Connect with The Living Memories Project on Facebook and Twitter.
- The Living Memories Project is available on Amazon.
- Order the book from Little Miami Publishing.