Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview P.A. O’Neil, an author of fantasy and horror.
1. What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve wanted to be a story teller since I was a child. In high school, I had the opportunity to take a Creative Writing class and I knew I was hooked, unfortunately, an experience in college turned me off not only writing but sharing any of my stories with others. Forty-years went by and when I had the time, I wrote a novel based off of a vivid dream. When I woke up, I knew I had to finish the story.
Mostly, I write because I need to give voice the characters in my head that haunt me until they being released on paper.
Actually, both of the above answers are correct, I just find the second one more intriguing.
2. What comes first, the plot or characters?
Unless given a prompt, it most often is the characters. One of my recent stories was written because one day I woke up knowing I had to write a story about “Moses Busbee.” I had no idea what that would be, just a nagging memory. When the opportunity came to write a science-fiction story, I used the opportunity to put Moses’s to rest by using him as the central character.
3. What time of the day do you usually write?
When my husband was working, I used the afternoon to write, but never on the weekends as that what his time. Now that he is retired, I write whenever I can because he considers everyday a weekend! Seriously though, it still is afternoon, just not as many hours anymore. I confess, I do miss it.
4. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
That would have to be inspiration for stories. I mentioned before how dreams were a major influence, but my dedication comes from my Muse. There are times when I have to, not just need to write. The story demands to be written and I chalk that up to my imagined Muse. She is a real task master with a mean spirit, no slacking here—yet there are times when she takes off for short holidays, sometimes up to three months. She returns ready to work, so I should too.
5. Do you research for your books?
Yes, research is necessary for the plausibility of the story. They say you should, “write about what you know,” well you’re not going to know it with some factual research. It doesn’t have to be deep, just enough that if someone familiar with the setting or activity would shake their head in agreement. Even fantasy needs to have something tangible for the reader to relate to.
6. How do you handle literary criticism?
Much better than I did several years ago. When I first started, I received a rejection letter from a submission editor who must’ve had a difficult day, because she really took it out on me. A simple, no thank you it’s not our type of story would’ve sufficed. It put me off writing anything for several weeks. I submitted the story elsewhere several times, each being rejected, so I retooled it, made it sharper, still nothing. Then I remember the first comment by the editor, “I don’t like the title.” So, I changed the title and it got picked up right away.
The lesson I have learned from this experience is professional writing is a small business and should be treated and respected as such. If my story is rejected, I consider it not a put-down of me, or my work, but not making a sale to that customer that day. I always return with a thank you note to the publisher for letting me know of their consideration and I wish them luck, thus leaving on a good note. Also, as evidenced in the above paragraph, if a story keeps being rejected, go back to what these rejections might have in common. It could just mean they were right all along.
7. How do you deal with emotional impact of a book (on yourself) as you are writing the story?
My novel, Finding Jane, has yet to be edited, so I can only speak to my collection of short stories, Witness Testimony and Other Tales. Some of the stories were based on firsthand experiences, some on imagined ones. There are a couple of stories that were heartbreaking to write, but these stories had to be told—not just for my sake, but for the sake of who they were written for.
An example of this was “Letters from Jenni.” I had read an in-depth article about using DNA to identify the perpetrators from years past in deaths of children from my area. In this article, there was a photo of one of the girls, the last ever known to be taken. It was a summer afternoon with children and mothers surrounding a kitchen table at lunch time. Everyone was laughing and smiling, but this girl, was staring at the camera as if she knew it would be of photo of so many lasts. I felt compelled to give voice to this child. That photo still haunts me today.
8. Describe your perfect book hero or heroine.
It’s probably silly, but Dr. John H. Watson, is my favorite hero. I envy his relationship with Sherlock Holmes and his dedication to that friendship. Holmes, by his own admission, was a hard person to live with, but it wasn’t faithfulness he was looking for in a friend and companion (he could’ve had that with a dog) but someone willing to be a brother, a sounding wall, a confessor, and at times a savior. The Watson portrayed in the movies is far from the man in the books. There is no way a military officer, a doctor, and a successful writer could be as incompetent as they made him out to be. Besides, a man of Holmes’s personality would most not likely want to attach himself to someone that incompetent.
9. What was your favorite part, and your least favorite part, of the publishing journey?
The least favorite part is finding the time to devote myself to writing whatever story that needs to be written. For health reasons, I don’t write in the evenings, so that window seems to be getting smaller and smaller each day.
The favorite part, it even beats seeing the story in print, is when I type End. It’s done, the demon has been released. Yes, I know there is still rewrites and edits to come but nothing beats the satisfaction of that first completion.
10. Where can readers learn more about you?