Author Archives: A.J. McCarthy

When in Rome…

 

Twenty-seven years ago, Steve and I did a whirlwind tour of several countries of Europe in a little rented Fiat Uno over a period of 19 days. It was enough to give us a taste of several countries, but not a lot of time to do an in-depth exploration. Now, we’ve celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and two weeks ago, we decided to do it up in style. We booked a week-long vacation in Rome.

The first day of travel was long, involving three flights from Quebec City to Montreal to Toronto to Rome, touching down at 9:45 a.m. at Leonardo Di Vinci airport. But, it was worth the effort.

We checked into our hotel and immediately set out to explore some of the neighborhood and grab some lunch (pizza and calzone, of course). After a short siesta at the hotel, we decided to go for a little walk. We eventually found ourselves in the heart of Ancient Rome. Putting aside any serious exploration because of a scheduled tour the next morning, we walked to the top of the Museo del Palazzo Venizia. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera for our ‘little’ walk. The view was wonderful.

We made our way back, showered, changed, and went in search of a good Italian restaurant – not hard to find. We dined on bruschetta, cheese, pasta, and wine. Oh, my goodness.

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Today, we hit the road (or rather, the Metro) early and went to join a tour group for a visit to perhaps one of the best known structures on the planet -The Colosseum. It was a fascinating tour, followed by an equally fascinating visit to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.  It was hard to imagine that we were walking on the same paths as people 2000 years earlier. As we were visiting the ruins of an ancient palace, we were treated to the sound of Bruce Springsteen preparing for a concert tonight at the Circus Maximus, the first and biggest arena created in the 6th century BC. Talk about a mix of the old and the new!

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This afternoon, wandering around on our own, we happened upon the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen, containing the remains of people from all corners of the world, including Percy Shelley and John Keats, the famous English poets and writers.

Now, we are once again preparing to go out and indulge in two of the things which Italian have definitely mastered, food and wine. As Carly Simon would say, ‘Nobody does it better’.

In a few days, I plan to be back again with a few more pictures. We have only started. You can check it out at my blog site www.ajackmccarthy.com.

 

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What’s in a name?

A little more than a decade ago, I wrote my first novel. I had no idea if I was going to be able to finish it, or if it would ever end up in print. It turned out I enjoyed writing enough to finish the manuscript, and I went the route of self-publishing. Now, many years later, I am re-editing and publishing it piece-by-piece on my website (www.ajackmccarthy.com)as a blovel (no, this word is not in the dictionary).

I continued to write, and last year I published another novel, Betrayal, with Indigo Sea Press. Another book, another experience.

I certainly don’t consider myself a seasoned writer, but I think the subject of my discussion today may have been experienced by the large majority of writers.

When I wrote my first novel, in my innocence and ignorance, I decided it would be fun to create some of my characters using names and personalities of people I know. After all, it was likely no one would ever read it. But, people did read it, and many of those who knew me were able to pick out the significance of the names and the characters. Some people even went so far as to imagine significance when, in fact, there was none.

I learned my lesson. The second time around, I was extremely careful when naming my characters, and I went to great pains to make sure they didn’t closely resemble anyone I knew. That didn’t stop people from looking for connections. When they couldn’t find them among the characters, they looked for them among the places. Since Betrayal was set in my hometown and the surrounding area, they tried to guess whose house I was describing or where the cabin was situated. It was amusing to see people looking for clues which didn’t exist.

As I said, I’m fairly sure this is a common occurrence among writers.

Something which I am now experiencing are people asking to be a character in my next novel (don’t worry, Kenny and Tim, I won’t mention any names). Sometimes, they even would like to have specific roles. Perhaps, this is not so common. Maybe I simply have friends who want to be implicated. If they are looking to be famous, or infamous, whatever the case may be, they should perhaps try something different. I’m not likely to be the conduit for their fame. Besides, I like them just the way they are.

Sorry to disappoint, guys, but I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. It could lead to too many complications, and it restricts what my characters can do or not do. I don’t want to be tiptoeing around, trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings.

However, I’m curious to know, among the writers out there, if you use or avoid the use of names and characteristics of people you know.  Do you have any stories to share? Do you have a few friends like mine?

*******

A.J. McCarthy is the author of Betrayal, published by Indigo Sea Press.

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Change

I woke up this morning to a fine layer of snow blanketing our cars. Throughout the day, we saw occasional flurries. Yes, we live in Quebec, but seriously…it’s the 16th of May!

This led me to think about climate change, which then led me to think about changes in general (It’s funny how things snowball, isn’t it? – pun intended).

As my husband and I are in the throes of planning our 25th wedding anniversary celebration, I’ve recently had some opportunities to sift through some of the memorabilia which has accumulated over the years.

Trying to recall songs which were sung at our wedding reminded me of my brother who sang them, and who has since been lost to us. Remembering the planning of the event reminded me of my mother, who helped me, and who has also passed on. Remembering the building of our home reminded me of a father-in-law who took such an interest in the process, and has since passed away.

But, mostly it’s the pictures. All the pictures which chronicle our lives together also reflect the changes. Of course, there are the obvious physical changes – hair that’s a different color, body shapes which aren’t quite the same – but it’s the changes in the fabric of our lives which are the most significant. We have friends who have been with us since those early years, and there are new ones which we have acquired. Our extended families have expanded with the creation of little ones who are now creating little ones of their own.

Of course, our own children have had the biggest impact on our lives. From the moment they were born they became an integral part of our hearts and souls, our entire reason for being. The years have passed in a flash. They’ve gone from being precious little bundles to lovely young women. I thought about all the stages of their lives and how they affected us as parents. Our daughters shaped the way we lived our lives and firmly cemented our values.

Other changes are evident in our conversations with our contemporaries, which often include discussions of our health issues. Twenty-five years ago, we would have been talking about our social plans not our retirement plans.

While some may complain about the ‘negative’ changes in their lives, I remind myself that we’re lucky to have something to complain about, whether it be the climate, the aches and pains, or the gray hair. It’s not just a celebration of twenty-five years of marriage, but a celebration of twenty-five years of change, all of which brought us to where we are today.

From my point of view, I wouldn’t change a thing.

*****

A.J. McCarthy is the author of Betrayal, a suspense thriller, published by Indigo Sea Press

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The Spirit is Alive and Well

There are times when I look around me and wonder what the world is coming to. People are either too busy or too wrapped up in themselves to take the time to think of the needs of others. We are all guilty of self-indulgence to a certain degree and it’s perfectly acceptable. After all, if you don’t take care of yourself how can you take care of others?

Rarely, but at times, you will find the other extreme – people who only know how to give to others and are incapable of putting themselves first. This is very commendable, but probably not a healthy way to exist.

However, I am fortunate to live in a small community with a strong sense of volunteerism. As a matter of fact, our calendar is filled with volunteer activities this spring and summer. My husband works as the chief of the volunteer fire department, which is made up of twenty-five individuals. I can say that he gives a minimum of 10 hours a week to the department, and that’s during a slow week.

This year our fire department is hosting ‘The Shaved Head Challenge’ to raise money for childhood leukemia, so Steve is particularly busy getting ready for that activity which takes place on June 11th. This will be his 5th year having his head shaved, but his first taking the lead as the host.

In order to get the ball rolling, a couple of weekends ago, we organized a fundraising breakfast at the community center, and he has scheduled a car wash for another weekend.

I was fairly sure that the breakfast would be a success financially, but I was a bit worried about the helping hands. The Friday night before the event, we met to get the hall ready and to do some of the basic preparations. Around ten of us showed up and I started to become more concerned. How were we going to be able to serve breakfast to a couple of hundred people if we were only a few hands?

Sunday morning, we scrambled around the house, filled the trunk of the car with more supplies, and drove to the community center. When I walked in the kitchen and saw a sea of navy blue uniforms my heart soared with pride. They had all turned up in force.

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The event was a success, both financially, and from the viewpoint of a community united to support a good cause. What really gave me hope was the sight of the next generation working alongside the present one, helping in any way they could. I believe that when a child grows up in a household that gives of their time, they will understand the importance of volunteering and giving.

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The week after ‘The Shaved Head Challenge’ I will be participating in the Relay for Life, another fundraiser for cancer, now in our ninth year of participation.

We are definitely not alone in our endeavors. We are surrounded by people who have grown up in the community and don’t know any other way to live. And we are welcoming newcomers who are eager to join us. It gives me hope for what the world is coming to.

*** A.J. McCarthy is the author of Betrayal published by Indigo Sea Press

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Erin go bragh

On this eve of St. Patrick’s Day, many of our family, friends and acquaintances, whether of Irish descent or not, are thinking about how they will commemorate the occasion. The best part about St. Patrick`s Day is that everyone is welcome, no matter who you are or where you came from.

Here, north of Quebec City, we have a great little contingent of Irish descendants, most particularly in a little town aptly named Shannon. This past weekend I attended the 50th anniversary edition of the Shannon Irish Show, a show I’ve enjoyed all of my life. The enormous homegrown talent of residents, past and present, was once again on display.

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It amazes me how there can be so many talented people born and raised in such a small community.  Whether they’re singers, musicians, or dancers – or any combination of the above – they’re clearly blessed. And those of us with no musical talent in the least are blessed to be able to watch and enjoy their performances.

Having married into an Irish family from Shannon, most of my in-laws were up on stage or working behind the scenes to help bring the show to life. This year, I was particularly proud of my 85-year-old mother-in-law, center stage, returning to join a group of singers with whom she had been active over much of the 50 year history of the show. Her three daughters were on stage with her along with a dozen or so other singers and musicians. In other acts, I had a niece who sang beautifully, others who danced, a nephew doing a skit, and some cousins who had the audience on their feet, cheering and clapping. What a wonderful heritage!

The next day, we celebrated my mother-in-law’s recent birthday with another party, which of course included more Irish singing, and appropriately enough, the first song was entitled ‘At McCarthy’s Party’, a big favorite.

I haven’t been to Ireland yet (notice the ‘yet’), but I know that the Irish are warm and welcoming people with a talent and a love for music. How do I know this? Because I see proof of it so often in my everyday life. The traditions and the love of their heritage continues to be passed down through the generations.

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So, on that note…May the road rise to meet you, and a Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all.

***

A.J. McCarthy is the author of Betrayal, published by Indigo Sea Press.

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Sometimes you have to let go

I had to give up a child this week. Not literally, of course. But, I had invested a certain amount of time and effort into a project and I had loved it in my own way.

It began months ago when I was struck with a wonderful (I thought) idea for another novel. I was already working on a manuscript when I had this epiphany. The new idea took up residence in my mind and stayed there until I finally set aside one novel and started working on another one. I was excited about it. I was convinced it was ‘the one”.

Months passed (because, after all, I have a full-time job) and I started stumbling. I still thought it was a good idea, I still believed in the premise, but I was having trouble getting my thoughts organized and onto paper. I knew the beginning and I knew the end, but everything in between kept jumping around. The first week of January, I decided the story was falling flat and I had to find a way to jazz it up, so I outlined it again with some major changes.

As soon as I started to go with the new outline I developed a bad taste in my mouth. It didn’t feel right. It went against the idea which had excited me in the first place. I dropped Plan B and returned to Plan A.

Several weeks later, I had to sit myself down and have a good stern talk with myself.

Me: Ugh! What am I going to do? I’m getting nowhere with this.

The more logical me:  Sucks, doesn’t it?

Me:  But, it was such a good idea! How come I can’t make it work anymore?

The more logical me: Do you think if you keep hammering away at it the story will get better?

Me: I thought so – at first – but now even I’m bored writing it. And if I’m bored, what about the people who have to read it?

The more logical me: Exactly. I think you’re starting to get it.

Me (in a whiny voice): But, I’ve spent so much time on it already. I really liked the premise. Do I have to just throw it aside? Do you know how hard it is to do that?

The more logical me:  Sure. But, sometimes you just have to know when to let go. Do you really want to keep working on something that’s become tedious and boring?  Think back to when you started writing. Think about what you liked about it. Wasn’t it fun?  Wasn’t it something you enjoyed doing? Are you getting any pleasure out of this exercise now?

Me (hanging my head in shame): You’re right. I wrote myself into a rut.

The more logical me: So what are you going to do about it?

Me (straightening my shoulders): I’m going to set it aside and come up with a better idea.

As soon as the decision was made, I felt better. In short order, I worked up another idea and started a new novel.  And, guess what? I wrote more in one day than I have in the past six weeks. Even better, I loved every minute of it!

***  A.J. McCarthy is the author of Betrayal, a suspense thriller published by Indigo Sea Press.

 

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Back to Reality

 

It’s mid-January already. I look at the calendar in wonder. How did we get here so fast? After at least a month of preparation for Christmas, we finally get to celebrate the big day (the celebration actually goes on for several days) and then we’re supposed to start a new year. But, I turn around, we’re already two weeks in, and I hardly noticed.

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Of course, I had a special reason to be distracted. On New Year’s Day we went to British Columbia to visit our oldest daughter and have some special family time. The weather was beautiful, the scenery was spectacular (as you can see by the pictures), and the family time was much needed. From the winter wonderland of Whistler, to the balmy beaches of Tofino, to the beauty of the City of Victoria, we took advantage of our time together. Unfortunately, the return trip home was obligatory. Work was waiting for us on Monday morning.

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But, the beginning of a new year deserves a few moments to reflect on what we want to accomplish before the next Christmas rush is upon us. Apart from the usual (lose ten pounds, clean my car on a regular basis, reorganize every closet in the house – all of which are probably impossible, or at the very least, unrealistic) I have set a goal to complete my current novel. Whether it will ever leave the confines of my computer or not is another matter, but at least it will be completed. If I can come up with an idea for another one, all the better. In my view, both of these goals are attainable, but I have to be more disciplined.

I often read articles or blogs about making time to write and the best way to do it. For me it’s less a question of time, and more a question of frame of mind.

I can’t write when I’m distracted. When we were in Whistler, my daughter gave me a sightseeing pass with which I could go up the mountain by gondola, meander around, take in the sights, and come back down (I’m not much of a skier). We all thought it would be a great idea for me to take my computer with me so I could find inspiration on top of the mountain in the fresh air and sunshine. I happily went, carrying my backpack with me, armed with a laptop and a camera. The camera is the only device which was used. I was so distracted by the view, the fresh air, and the sunshine, I couldn’t write a word.

Secondly, I can’t write if I’m worrying about something. How often in a day or a week do we, as busy adults and parents, not have worries or concerns? Not very often.

So, I guess my true goal should be to vanquish all distractions, worries and concerns so I can accomplish my ultimate goal of completing my novel this year. And when next January rolls around, I’ll probably be hitting the ‘repeat’ button.

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A.J. McCarthy is the author of ‘Betrayal’, a suspense thriller published by Indigo Sea Press.

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A taste of a work-in-progress

Since Betrayal was published, many people have asked me if I’m working on another novel. Each time, my response was the same: ‘I’m always working on another novel’. Nine times out of ten, they reacted with surprise, as if once was enough. But, for those of us who write, once is never enough.

Many of these same people asked if I’m writing a sequel, or if it’s the same style of story as ‘Betrayal’. My answer was always no.

So, in order to prove that I am writing another novel, and it’s not a sequel, I decided to provide a small excerpt from what is very definitely a work-in-progress. It’s the first draft of a half-written manuscript, and it will have to endure a multitude of editings before I’m satisfied with it. But, here it is…just a taste of ‘Letters from Nowhere’. (Actually, this is Chapter 3)

             I remembered the mysterious letter only after the kids were in bed, my chores were done, and I was getting ready to crawl under the covers for the night. With all the usual evening drama it had completely slipped my mind. I rushed downstairs to root through my bag and pull out the forgotten mail. I hastily shoved the regular bills and papers into a drawer, and I grabbed the mysterious envelope to take upstairs with me to read in bed. Something this special deserved a comfortable environment to give it full honors.

            On my way past Ethan’s bedroom I was summoned for a last-minute attempt at prolonging bedtime. Much to his disappointment, I didn’t fall for it. A few minutes later I was happily ensconced in my bed covered with a plump duvet.

            I was eager to see the contents, but hesitant to rip open the authentic-looking envelope. I wanted to preserve the look of the yellowed paper and the faded cursive writing. But I knew to discover who had sent it to me it had to be opened.

            Gently, I slid my finger under the seal and pried it open with minimal damage to the envelope. When I looked inside I was delighted to see the letter was also written on paper that had been made to look very old. Whoever was behind this knew how to peak my curiosity.

            As I unfolded the letter I could have sworn there were several particles of dust that fell onto my duvet. I was tempted to look at the bottom of the page to discover who had sent it to me, but decided I would delay the pleasure and see if I could guess by the contents of the letter.

My dearest,

            I imagine you are surprised to hear from me. I am almost as surprised to find myself writing this letter to you. In my thoughts I have written it a thousand times, each time wondering if it would be good enough for you; if you would be able to understand the way I feel. Would the words be clear enough? Would my feelings show through?

            I have never fancied myself as a writer of love letters, but I know I can always learn. If it is the only way I can communicate with you, then so be it. Hopefully, in the future, you will come to appreciate me in different ways, and you will see I am someone worth getting to know and perhaps love.

            I could probably fill many pages with words about your beauty, both inside and out, but I know your head won’t be turned by such behaviour. You have heard it too many times before from too many men.

            Instead, I will try to help you, in any way that I can. You will come to appreciate me more that way. You don’t think you need help. You’re a very strong, independent woman, but everyone needs a friend. And, for now at least, that is what I will be to you, a friend.

            So, my dearest friend, I wish you a good night and sweet dreams.

 

            I stared at the letter in disbelief for several minutes. It was unsigned and I had no clue who had written it to me. It was also kind of creepy. Some strange man was writing me love letters. It sounded like we may have already met. I looked around the room, at the darkened corners, and the door of the closet that stood ajar.

             Actually, this was beyond creepy.

            I reread the letter, and told myself I had to calm down. The second time around, I decided it was actually very generic. No names were mentioned at any point; not mine, not his, not the names of these imaginary men who were constantly telling me how beautiful I am.

            Therefore, it was obviously a prank. This guy was sending out letters to many women, trying to freak us all out. He had succeeded with me, but only temporarily, and it would surely end there. I would be extra cautious in my movements to and from the house, but I refused to let myself be driven crazy by this lunatic.

            I finally drifted off to sleep after two tours of the house to make sure everything was locked up tight, and several hours of tossing and turning.

 

***

A.J. McCarthy is the author of ‘Betrayal’ a romantic suspense thriller published by Indigo Sea Press.

 

 

 

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Seriously?

I admit I spend a certain amount of time every day scrolling through social media sites, some days more than others. While I scroll I see countless pictures/videos of cats, dogs and various other creatures. I see occasional personal or family pictures, some helpful recipes or craft tricks, and way too many political updates or satires.

Every once in a while I will come across something which makes me shake my head in wonder or disgust. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of time some people have on their hands and how they like to waste it. The latest useless controversy is the Starbucks saga. The huge coffee chain has removed their snowflakes and snowmen from their coffee cups! It’s been heralded as a disgrace and decidedly anti-Christmas.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I live in Quebec. I spend almost half my year with snowflakes and snowmen and every other imaginable snow thing on earth. I understand the terrible loss everyone is feeling by not having such beautiful manifestations of winter on their morning coffee cup.

But seriously?

Do we have nothing else to do? If it hadn’t made the rounds of Facebook, Twitter and whatnot, I wouldn’t have noticed the lack of winter decorations on cardboard cups. And what do snowflakes have to do with Christmas anyway?  I have a suspicion snow existed somewhere on the planet before Christianity did. I also know people celebrate Christmas in countries which have never been touched by snow. One has nothing to do with the other.

Do you honestly think the people of Paris are worrying about what’s on Starbucks cups? Would you be able to sit beside a woman who just lost her child to cancer and try to convince her of the importance of such a debate?

I’m also sure the homeless person on the street would be happy to drink a hot cup of coffee from any kind of cup. So, if that Starbucks container disgusts you so much, fill it up, and hand it to someone who will appreciate it.

***

A.J. McCarthy is the author of ‘Betrayal’, a suspense thriller published by Indigo Sea Press.

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How do I end it all?

I have discovered the biggest challenge I have as a writer is how to end a story. I always admire other authors who can end a novel perfectly, sliding in to home base gracefully with a rousing cheer from the crowd. Meanwhile, I have the impression that as I’m racing from third base I start to stumble over my feet and fall flat on my face as I hit home. I then hop up as quickly as I can, dust myself off, and look around furtively to see how many people noticed.

I spend a lot of time trying to rewrite that fateful run.

The problem is not limited to novels. It can also include blogs. In the past, I even worried about how to end e-mails. At least, I have finally come up with a fail-safe method for those. The reliable ‘Have a nice day/evening/weekend’ is always well-received, often prompting the same ending when the e-mail is answered.

The problem with endings is that they can easily sound awkward. It’s like being at a party and not being sure how to make your exit.

First of all, it’s about timing. You don’t want to leave too early, because then you’ll be branded a party-pooper and a disappointment. On the other hand, you don’t want to be the last to depart, because the hosts will be rolling their eyes behind your back and wondering how to get you to shut up and leave. I have spent countless evenings trying to convince my spouse it’s time to go. But, I digress.

Secondly, it’s about how to say your goodbyes. Is a simple ‘Thanks, that was fun.’ sufficient? Should you put more feeling into it, with a hug and an exuberant ‘It was wonderful!’? Of course, it often depends on how well you know your hosts and, in some cases, how much alcohol has been consumed during the evening. You may not have any choice when it comes to the level of exuberance. But, again, I digress.

My point is, in my opinion, the ending of a piece of writing has the highest potential for awkwardness and I tip my hat to those who have mastered it. After all, it is when you and your reader go your separate ways and you want to leave them with a good impression.

So…um… I guess that’s it. Anyway, have a nice day (evening/weekend).

****A.J. McCarthy is the author of Betrayal being released in July 2015 by Second Wind Publishing.

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