Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Push yourself. That's something no one can do for you." - Anonymous

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Today Vincent O'Neil is back to tell us how he came to write his latest novel, Interlands. He did it by stretching himself...
VINCENT O"NEIL:   A horror novel first inspired me to try my hand at writing. When I read Stephen King’s The Shining as a teenager, I was so impressed that I decided to see if I could pen something that other people might enjoy. My first book came from that inspiration, and yet decades later I had not yet written a horror novel.

I deeply enjoy scary stories, so I decided to give it a try. Having read Poe, Shelley, Stoker, Lovecraft, King, and many others, I already had a good base in the macabre. Raised in New England and living there now, I have personal knowledge of a region absolutely loaded with supernatural legendry. Researching the folklore of the northeast led me to another first, in that I decided to base the story in Providence, Rhode Island. This was a departure for me, because the towns in my previous works were all made up.

At that point I recognized how much the new novel was moving into areas I hadn’t explored before. After acknowledging that, I decided to do one more thing I’d been meaning to do, and make my main character a woman.

All of my books have had female characters in them, many of them playing key roles, but until now my protagonists have all been male. Having decided to stretch my writing in both genre and location, it seemed appropriate to add one more challenge and cast a different gender in the starring role. Oddly enough, the toughest part of doing that was the decision to go ahead and try.

I discovered something important while building the story of Angie Morse, a grad student combing the New England woods for a lost stone obelisk. When writing stories of supernatural horror and creating protagonists of a different gender, the same admonition applies: Don’t overdo it.

Here’s what I mean: Describing the scratching sounds in the wall of the silent library is far more frightening than simply having the Thing leap out and attack. And focusing on the presentation of a main character who is relatable and engaging is far more productive than layering the role with thoughts, discussions, and actions that allegedly represent the character’s gender.

Creating a protagonist who is complex and interesting makes it simple to then weave indications of gender into the story, and this in turn lets the character behave naturally.
Instead of leaning on stereotypes, this approach allowed me to turn Angie loose on her quest and let her demonstrate what she was all about. Mentally tough but abundantly human, highly driven (some would say obsessed) but shrewdly calculating, she’s willing to take some chances in order to accomplish something beyond the norm. 

Stretching herself in order to possibly achieve something both transcendent and valuable. Now why does that sound so familiar?

ROSEMARY: More good advice from good pal, Vincent O'Neil. If you're lucky enough to be going to the New England Crimebake this fall, check out his workshop on self-publishing and thank him in person. If you're not going, please visit his website at 


  1. Thank you for the interesting glimpse into the process of creating your characters and writing your book. And now I’ve got another book for my ever-growing to-be-read mountain . . . .

  2. So interesting Vinnie--goood for you! I love the quote about listening to the scratching noises in the silent library...

    Look forward to seeing you at Crimebake!

  3. Good morning everyone! I had a lot of fun writing INTERLANDS, but it really was a very different experience for me and so far the reviews have been quite good. And yes, there ARE scratching sounds in the wall of the empty library somewhere in the book. :)

  4. Yup, scratching sounds. My skin is already crawling. Congratulations on the new book, Vinny! Looking forward to seeing you at Crime Bake.

  5. This sounds wonderful. Vinny, you always push yourself...and wouldn't people be delighted and surprised to know your back story?? Love racing about this..I'm a big SK fan, too.

    See you at Crime BAke!

  6. What's really cool about discussing this here on Jungle Red is the many different books and short stories the Jungle Red authors have penned, and the ways they've stretched themselves as writers as well.

    For anyone unfamiliar with the New England Crimebake, it is a sensational mystery convention held in November in beautiful Dedham, Massachusetts every year. Excellent panels, brilliant authors (published and not-yet-published) and marvelous New England scenery.

    Here's the link, and FYI it's a limited-attendance convention that always sells out well ahead of time.

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  8. I love the idea of pushing yourself. So often we get into the rut of doing - or writing - the same thing, so much more fun to shake things up. One of the nicest compliments I ever got about my writing when was Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen told me that it was as if I'd written four standalones instead of four books in a series.

  9. Hi Vinnie,

    I admired THE SHINING when I read it, too. The tunnel scene scared the snot out of me! I tried writing horror once. A short story. It was fun, actually. A great exercise for writing descriptively from the senses. Like you say -- it's the scratching sounds that get you every time. :-)

    I write in multiple POV, male and female. I agree with your assessment: write from the heart of the character and the gender aspect takes care of itself.

    Crimebake sounds like a blast. Sometimes I wish I didn't live on the west coast. Someday...

  10. Ro -- I LOVE that comment about four stand-alones instead of four books in a series!

    Lisa -- I just re-read The Shining after many years, and the tunnel sequence is SO CREEPY.

  11. Just saw this. WOWO! Speaking of THE SHINING, King's written a sequel called DOCTOR SLEEP, out September.

  12. Thanks, Vinnie, for the reminder that we all need to stretch ourselves, whether it's a new genre or a new book in a familiar one.

    I remember worrying about writing in a male viewpoint in my first novel, but found to my surprise that it was very comfortable with it from the first. I've often wondered if women writers are more at ease with writing from a male viewpoint than male writers from a woman's viewpoint, because women are hard-wired to pick up emotional and behavioral cues. But there are many male writers who do it extremely well and I suspect you are one of them:-)

  13. Hi Vincent,

    Your book sounds so good! Chilling.

    And I love Stephen King. His books have moved me in many ways, and his writing in general has given me a lot of motivation.

    I push myself too. A lot. I'm afraid sometimes it's in the wrong direction. Or a backwards circle. But reading this post -- thank you, Ro -- is a good visceral reminder.

    I would love to be at Crimebake. I probably won't make it this year but sure I will the future, because I must move back home!

  14. Thanks to everyone for dropping by!