Thriller Writer Tj O'Connor

Dying for the Affair

Aug 31, 2016

My hands are shaking. My breath tightens in my chest. My thoughts are swirling with images of the time we spent together. Now she’s gone—out of my reach and nothing but silence remains. The emptiness is back. Yet, deep down, I know it has never left. Not since early July. Not since I did it. Now, I have to live with the consequences of my actions.  Those last words haunt me—a cliché ending to months of love and affection that kept me up late into the night and demanded every ounce of my attention.

And with those words, those damnable words, it was over. Two words that ended my sneaking into the night, hiding from my family, seeking my lover’s embrace. A lover that made me smile and got my heart pounding and my blood sizzling through my veins. Two words and the entire affair was over.

Two words—The End.

I’m talking about writing my latest novel, of course. What the hell did you think I was talking about?

I won’t speak for other authors, but I think many of us suffer from this affliction—the pain and sorrow of ending a novel we’ve loved and toiled over that we gave our soul to for months. The affair starts with an idea. Perhaps our imagination wanders after a beautiful woman smiles or sends a heart-stopping text or funny cartoon. Could it be possible? Could she be the one? Can I kill her in the first chapter and make my readers feel my pain and loss for 400 pages? What if she were not a tantalizing vixen but a spy or master terrorist stalking me before ending the world in a vile, evil plan? Could it be? Do I have another novel here?

Ohhhhhh, I get warm and fuzzy all over just thinking about how these liaisons begin.

And so it begins—the first few flirts and stolen kisses. A page here, a chapter there. And before anyone knows it—not my kids or dogs for sure—it’s a raging torrent of keyboard and screen, characters and plots, guys and dames … all heading toward the inevitable, painful, ending—The End. We start it all so innocently. No expectations. No promises. But before we’ve reached page 50, it’s late nights and cold showers—stolen glances at the screen, whispers in the night and secret liaisons whenever we can steal away and be alone. We crave her attention. We need her connection. It’s all about her—the story—and until we reach the climax at the end, we cannot stop ourselves. It’s a drive. A journey. A destination.

And then, it ends. Nothing left but a good cry and memories. Oh, and edits. Hell yes, edits and edits and edits.

For me, every book has been my passion. Sometimes, I stray during the affair and begin to dabble with another—yes, it’s true. I two-story now and then. It’s an affliction. Yet, when I’m being honest with myself, I know it won’t ever work. I have to finish one before I can even get serious with another. I’m getting old, after all. It’s just how things are.

And therein lies the problem—finishing a book that has been a lover for months, perhaps even years of notes and daydreams and ideas. That makes it all the harder to let go. To end it. To say, “The End.”

This past summer, I ended my latest liaison with Double Effect—my first thriller I’ve finished in nearly six years after writing five mysteries. It was a bittersweet story that touched home in so many ways that I even blogged about it in June at Little did I know then that ending this long-running love would bring on a new emotion—despair.

A warning to all wannabe authors like me—good enough is never good enough. Just when you end it all, kiss her goodbye, and hit “send,” the emptiness and despair can often grab you like a lover clinging to a second chance. It’s terrifying.  

As I discussed in my June blog, Double Effect is the story of Jonathan Hunter, a swashbuckling security consultant summoned home after decades overseas by his estranged brother. On his arrival, he witnesses his brother’s murder. That killing unleashes a series of events from small town prejudice to Hunter’s personal demons haunting him as he chases a killer and finds a terrorist plot to devastate an American city. It combines a murder mystery, a rogue Latino street gang, a Middle Eastern terror cell, and current-event international dangers all coming to roost in small town Winchester, Virginia.

 Unfortunately, Double Effect also consumed me because it was the last work my mentor, Wally F. and I worked on together. It was dear to both of us because it stole pieces of our past lives and allowed us to work together on an adventure that would never have been possible in real life.  Double Effect brought back memories of our own true, old adventures—sure, the story is much more daring and dangerous than my previous life—but we spent hours reminiscing. It also forced me to relive my loss when Wally died last year. Double Effect took me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and remembrances that cost me more sleep than any book in years.

Emotions and life experiences are powerful tools of a writer.

I’d written draft one of Double Effect several years ago, but, because I received a contract for Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell, I had to shelve it until there was time to reacquaint myself with the love of my life. And let me tell you, that rendezvous was everything I’d hoped. But then, as my passion for Double Effect was rekindled, I was befallen by my worst affliction—self-doubt. Was it good enough?

For months, I’d toiled lovingly over new plot twists, subplots, and character changes. Yet each time I finished a draft, my heart ached and my mind wandered for one last tryst—another edit, more changes, new characters. I was obsessed. You see, my problem was not the story. It wasn’t the characters, either. It was me. I was stuck in it-will-never-be-good-enough mode. Each time I thought I was done, I’d read it and say, “Wait, I can make this better. I can do this and that. I can …” Delay. More rewrites.  I lay awake nights replotting and second-guessing myself into oblivion. My demand for “one more change” all but guaranteed I’d never truly finish the book.

But, like ice cream sundaes and passion, it all came to an end in early July. I forced myself to finish one final edit, typed “The End,” and sent Double Effect to my agent—the amazing and lovely Kimberley Cameron.

It was one day before the loss hit me. Before the angst and torment began. She was gone. She’d left me. Double Effect was away and it would be too long before I would have her again. Had I been good to her? Had I taken the time and given her my best? Was she satisfied? Should I have spent just a little more time? Was I … Good enough?

Doubt. Second guessing … regret.

Now I wait each night by my computer—alone and hopeful that any day I’ll hear the ding of my email and she would return for more of me. Kimberley’s round of edits and redrafting—her own thoughts and suggestions to make this affair one to remember. And she—Double Effect—would be in my embrace once again. I would go to work caressing her plots and stroking her characters until, when the time was right, we would reach the end together—my novel and me. Just the two of us. Well, at least until I was ready to share her with all of you.

After all, this love of mine—this affair that steals me and controls my every waking hour—is but just another notch on my bookshelf. And sadly it is true, in time, Double Effect will be a past fling—a summer thing—and I’ll move on to yet another.

We’ll talk again next month.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell—and New Sins for Old Scores, a new paranormal mystery coming in 2017! He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous series. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

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I first fell in love with writing while in grade school and over the years continued to dabble with characters and stories whenever life allowed. Lately, I've focused my energy on pursuing this dream—interrupted only by life as a security consultant and the demands of two Labrador retrievers.

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