A couple of weeks ago I was tagged in a Facebook post by my West Coast writer-friend Cyndee Mady: “The 2016 Reading Challenge” (she is referring to our graduate school days at Goddard College, where we got our MFAs but also spent hours and hours in our respective positions on The Pitkin Review, the MFACW program’s literary journal):
Ever notice that when you start feeling sorry for yourself because you haven’t accomplished very much in life, the universe reminds you it isn’t true?
This recently happened to me.
From 2003-2009, I founded and moderated Pencils! Writing Workshop inNorwalk,CT.The group not only resulted in lasting friendships and relationships (it’s how I met Nathan, but I know of a few other couples who met in Pencils! and are going strong today), it launched a few writing careers or brought existing ones to new heights.
I was having one of those days when I wasn’t feeling great about my accomplishments when I purchased early Pencils! member A.J. O’Connell’s recently-released novel Beware the Hawk. I remembered A.J. would often bring pages of the novel to group, and after so many years I was dying to read it in its final form.
She’d gotten feedback from Pencils! on those early drafts; then she’d gone on to pursue her MFA from Fairfield University, where she continued to make improvements. After she graduated, she submitted the work to Vagabondage Press Books, which accepted it; as with any publishing house, the manuscript probably went through a couple more rounds of editing and improvement before it was published in both print and e-book formats. A.J. had invested years in herself and her work, and it had paid off.
So imagine my surprise when I purchased Beware the Hawk and read her dedication: For Pencils, my first writing group.
It was an amazing thing to see; Pencils! had been there in the beginning, but it had really been A.J. who had spent so much of her time and energy on making Beware the Hawk what it had become. Still, would Beware the Hawk be on the shelves today if there hadn’t been a Pencils! for her to go to? Would it have been started and never finished, or finished and just in some drawer somewhere?
A few days later, I found another early Pencils! member, Tamela J. Ritter, had written a review of A.J.’s book on Goodreads. Tamela’s early ventures with Pencils! included her novel-in-progress From the Ashes, which is being published in the coming year.
I’m extremely proud of both of them, and I’m reminded my doing that one small thing—founding a writer’s group—affected someone’s life in ways it may not have been had I not founded the group at all.
I suppose if I never do another thing, I’ve done enough. I brought two people together who are good friends to this day, and both of them have their books on shelves.
I’ll remember that the next time I’m feeling sorry for myself.
Tamela has given me permission to reprint her review of A.J.’s Beware the Hawk here. This originally appeared on Goodreads and on Tamela J. Ritter’s website here: http://tamela-j.livejournal.com/14898.html on February 11, 2012.
You can purchase Beware the Hawk just about anywhere; it’s in print and in all e-book formats. For convenience, here’s the link to the Vagabondage Press Books listing, which contains links for purchase:
Tamela J. Ritter’s review of A.J. O’Connell’s Beware the Hawk
It’s pulp fiction. Real pulp fiction, though, not like the movie. John Travolta is not in this book. Sorry.
That’s how A.J. O’Connell describes her new novella “Beware the Hawk” on her website. I’m not suggesting I’m an expert of the genre as I can honestly say that I have read very few (if any) pulp fiction novels (wait, does Elmore Leonard count?) I’m just saying, even I know there are a few things that are absolutely essential:
Feisty Dames (check) The protagonist of the story (who, lol, I didn’t realize until writing this up, is nameless and when I figure out how O’Connell managed to do that so effortlessly I will gladly share it with you) is nothing if not feisty. Jaded, yes, but not so much so that she’s unreachable and isn’t constantly surprised and dismayed. You can feel shocked by her predicaments, because you sense that she is too, no matter how above it all she tries to portray herself.
Clandestine Meetings (check) Protagonist and her Boston contact, Leo have a number of meetings in a seedy bar where things get more confused the more they’re explained.
Code Words (check) The title alone tells you this is true and yet it avoids being gimmicky.
Someone Overusing the Term “Sweetheart” (check) Sooooo many sweethearts! But, hey, a pulp fiction book that takes place in Boston where it’s not sweetheart, but “sweet-haht” isbegging for this overuse.
If, like me, you are unfamiliar with the genre, I highly suggest you start here. It’s a short, well written read that will have you wishing it was so much longer. Not in an unfinished way, but in a “I want to hang out with these characters for many, many more pages” way.
In addition to the subtle way that she avoids naming the main character and still makes us feel as if we know her almost intimately, the writer in me also admires and wants to know how O’Connell finds the exact perfect way with descriptions so that they not only tell us the physicality of a thing, but also a bit about the character who notices them without weighing us down with too many facts. It’s a gift that’s for sure.
Here are a few of my non-spoilery favorites that, thanks to Kindle being in every aspect of my life I can easily highlight on my reader and then cut and paste on my Kindle App for my PC (annotated and everything!!). ♥
It started as a tramp stamp but kind of took over. One of my roommates calls it a tramp stampede.
O’Connell, A.J. (2012-01-14). Beware The Hawk (Kindle Locations 334-335). Vagabondage Press LLC. Kindle Edition.
I turned my head to see three skinny girls wearing black tank tops and khakis. Danny picked all of them up in one gigantic hug and then dropped them. They fell on their feet, three Siamese cats, styled by Abercrombie & Fitch.
O’Connell, A.J. (2012-01-14). Beware The Hawk (Kindle Locations 355-356). Vagabondage Press LLC. Kindle Edition.
It’s taking everything in me not to share every single example and every single witty sentence (of which there are many) that I have highlighted here. But I don’t have the time (or copyright) for that. :)) Plus, you should probably read it for yourself and highlight your own favorites.