Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Visit the Naval Academy with Kathleen Toomey Jabs

Okay readers - time to polish those brass buttons and spit shine those shoes until we can see our reflections.  We're going to be celebrating Navy week here at the blog (cue marching band).  Yes, this week I have the pleasure of hosting not one but two Naval officers!

And of course, they're also talented writers.  Celebrating the recent release of her first novel, BLACK WINGS, please welcome to the blog Kathleen Toomey Jabs!

DAB:  Tell us about the time when you first realized you wanted to be a published author.

KTJ:   In the late 1980's, I was enrolled in a Naval Academy creative writing course taught by Molly Tinsley (co-founder of FuzePublishing, ).  I absolutely loved the course, and one of the short stories I wrote in that class, "Lifeguard" won a contest and was published in a literary journal.  I was ecstatic and I was hooked.  When I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1988, I owed the Navy five years of service so I put my dream on hold for a while, but I never lost it.

DAB:  What prompted BLACK WINGS' premise?

KTJ:   I entered the Naval Academy in 1984, the eighth class to accept women.  I had no idea what I was getting into or what military life entailed.  For a long time, I didn't write about the military or set my stories in military settings, but once I started, I kept going.  I loved exploring the world of girl/women trying to navigate their way through the military training as they chased different dreams.

I worked on a series of short stories centered on women at the US Naval Academy for almost two years before I started on BLACK WINGS.  After so many drafts, I'd finally found the voice for Bridget Donovan, the main character in BLACK WINGS, but I didn't have the whole conflict.  One day I had a vision of a female pilot crashing into the sea.  I also had the line, "Audrey Richards always wanted to fly," come to me.  I needed to understand what had happened to Audrey and why she had crashed and it kept going back to her time at the Academy.  I was also fascinated by the whole aviation world.

The title, BLACK WINGS is both a reference to a physical object and a metaphor.  In the Navy, people who are warfare qualified, such as aviators, wear a device on the pockets of their uniforms.  In shorthand, the aviator device is referred to as "wings."  Throughout the novel Audrey is confronted with sets of black wings, which are meant to scare her away from flying.

DAB:  How long did it take to craft BLACK WINGS?  Describe that experience for our audience.

KTJ:   The entire process of writing, rewriting, sending out, revising, and finally, publication took 10 years!  I started with a short story and a character, Bridget Donovan.  After about two years, I enrolled at George Mason University in the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program because I wanted deadlines, structure and feedback.  BLACK WINGS was my thesis (although it wasn't called BLACK WINGS back then and that early version is structured much differently).  I revised my thesis for another two years then sent it off to an agent who had contacted me after a short story had been published.  The agent was encouraging, suggested I rename it BLACK WINGS and asked for a few more revisions.  I felt like I was flying!

I made some edits, he sent it off and it was quickly rejected by five publishers.  The agent suggested more tightening, which I did, then he lost interest.  I was devastated.  I started shopping around for another agent.  I made more revisions, but I couldn't get any serious or sustained interest.

After a year or so of rejection as well as outright silence, I put the novel (literally) in a drawer.  It stayed there for 2 years.  I felt like Edgar Allen Poe's character in "The Telltale Heart" - instead of a beating heart, I had a failed dream, knocking at my conscience.

One day I reconnected with Molly Tinsley, my former Naval Academy professor, on Facebook.  She had a new book out, which I quickly ordered.  As we were catching up, I mentioned my failed novel and she offered to read it and give me an honest assessment.  She loved the characters and wanted to publish it with Fuze.  The stipulation was:  more edits, a tightening of prose.  I signed up for it all.  I was working full-time so I had to do most of my editing and revising on weekends.  That took about two years.  The Fuze team was incredibly helpful throughout the process.  BLACK WINGS was published in December 2011, almost ten years to the day I started.

DAB:  You've probably heard the saying "write what you know".  Besides writing mysteries, do you read a lot of the mystery genre as well, or is there another genre you prefer?

KTJ:   I do love mysteries and read a lot of them, but I also love literary fiction, particularly layered stories and historical fiction.  I'm fascinated by time and the influence of the past on the present.

DAB:  Do you have a daily writing regimen, and if so, please tell us about it.

KTJ:   When I was working on BLACK WINGS, I set a limit of 1000 words a day.  I didn't do anything else until I hit my limit.

DAB:  There's the eternal debate whether to outline or not.  What typically works best for you?

KTJ:   I outlined AFTER I had completed my first draft so I could see what subplots were where and how they might need to be tightened or deleted in future versions.  I also used it to figure out where I needed more attention.  I hate writing the first draft, but I've learned I just need to start writing because I will end up revising everything anyway.

DAB:  Is there a character in BLACK WINGS with whom you closely identify?

KTJ:   I'm closest to Bridget and some of Bridget's early adventures or mishaps during plebe summer at the Naval Academy are drawn from my real life experiences.  Bridget is not a particularly squared away plebe when she arrives at the Academy and neither was I, but Bridget is also different from me.  I'm not as brave or as mouthy as she is!  Through her experiences I was able to do and say things I wished I had.  It was incredibly freeing.

DAB:  What is it like for you when you receive fan correspondence?

KTJ:   Fan correspondence is really gratifying - after so many years working on BLACK WINGS it's a true joy to know it's out in the world.

DAB:  What's next on your writing horizon?

KTJ:   I am jotting notes and thinking up ideas for another adventure for Bridget!

DAB:  Thank you so much for stopping by the blog.  Please take a moment and give us a blurb on BLACK WINGS.

KTJ:   Thank you for having me on the blog!  It's an honor to be here.

"We'll start with the easy questions first," Wilkinson said.  He knelt beside her and taped a red wire probe to her right forearm.  "We have to establish a base line."  He placed green wires on her left arm and looped them into a pad on her fingertip attached to the lie detector machine.  She avoided looking at the wires and studied the faint blue-green streaks of her veins.  A trickle of sweat leaked down her back.  She tapped the armrest with her right finger, and the wires began to shake.

And there you have it, dear readers - straight from the Captain's mouth.  BLACK WINGS sounds like my kind of story, and I look forward to reading it this weekend.  Pick up a copy at the links below:

Amazon paperback

Fuze Publishing paperback

Amazon Kindle

Barnes&Noble Nook

LT Bridget Donovan suspects the worst when her former Naval Academy roommate, Audrey Richards, perishes in a botched take-off from an aircraft carrier.  The Navy says it's an accident, but facts don't add up.  Could it be suicide, or murder?  Donovan's unofficial investigation into what really happened, both during their past Academy days and in Richards' final hours, forces her to examine the concepts of honor, justice and the role of loyalty in pursuit of those ideals.

Kathleen Toomey Jabs' Bio:
Kathleen Toomey Jabs is a 1988 graduate of the United States Naval Academy.  She served on active duty for six years and is currently a Captain in the Navy Reserve.  She holds an MA from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University.  Her stories have been published in a number of literary journals and received several prizes, including selection in the National Public Radio Selected Shorts program.  She lives with her husband and two children in Virginia.

Contact Kathleen via:

Follow her blog tour with Tribute Books


  1. Kathleen,

    I just read the prologue of Black Wings on Amazon. I'm hooked! Best of luck with the book.

    1. Thank you, Gary - take 3 and I hope this works to publish! I really appreciate you taking the time to read the opening and for visiting D A. Cheers, Kathleen

  2. D A, thanks for featuring Kathleen today!

    1. Thanks to you also, Nicole, for organizing and allowing me to host with an amazing woman and author!

    2. D A and Nicole, I really appreciate both of you and the opportunity to be on the blog tour and on the D A site. Thank you, Kathleen

  3. Nice job, sailor! I'll check out your novel--the synopis sounds very intriguing! Being a former Marine, I always enjoy seeing one of our water-taxi drivers succeed!

    Seriously, I wish you the very best, and I'll put Black Wings on my "to read soon" list.

  4. Hi Gordon, thanks for the note! And for your service. I appreciate all the kind words. Semper fi, Kathleen