Interview with Richard O'Brien - Author of the Literary Fiction & Love Story Little Flower of Luzon.
Richard O'Brien lives in Havertown, PA. In 2012, he completed his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. When Richard was eleven years old his father brought home a beat-up old manual typewriter and put it in the room he shared with hie older brother. Richard's brother never used the typewriter, but he did…and he has been writing ever since.
Richard O'Brien's stories have appeared in Aphelion, Sex and Murder Magazine, ParABnormal, Dark Moon Digest Presents: Ghosts, and others. His poems have appeared in Falling Star, New Plains Review, Loch Raven Review, The Houston Literary Review, and others.
Interview with Author Richard O'Brien
|Author Richard O'Brien|
Richard O'Brien: Recently, I completed my MFA in Creative Writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University. It was a great experience. My concentration was poetry, but the entire experience has helped my writing.
I began writing stories when I was eleven years old. In my old neighborhood, before the time of video games and computers, my friends and I concocted ongoing stories when we played outside. I guess this is true of most children. I wrote stories in middle school and by the time I was in high school I tried my hand at writing a science fiction novel which is now lost. Along the way I wrote poetry too. I believe that writers should never limit themselves.
In the late 1990s I also began writing screenplays. Three of my screenplays did well in various competitions like Zoetrope and The Chesterfield Writers Project. I never sold any of my screenplays, but I have had some interest over the years. Every experience, I believe, is a learning one. I'm also Irish. So, I guess storytelling is in the blood.
Who are your favorite writers, your favorite book, and who or what are your writing influences?
I love this question. Some of my favorite writers include Thomas Pynchon, Hemingway, Faulkner, Willa Cather, Emily Bronte, John Updike, Salman Rushdie, Cynthia Ozick, J.D. Salinger, Dostoevsky, Jonathan Carroll, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Right now I'm reading 'Girl in Translation,' a wonderful novel by Jean Kwok. If I had to pick a favorite book I think I would implode...or explode, whatever. But if I was marooned on an island I guess I would want Gravity's Rainbow with me, along with Don Quixote, Paradise Lost, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Collected Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca...It would be a heavy steamer trunk that would inevitably sink before I reached the beach, but I would swim out and retrieve every last book.
When I got serious about writing novels I would have to say that Wuthering Heights and The Sun Also Rises were instrumental in that decision. There were many others as well; too many to name here. And it is still going on...Every now and again I read a novel and I am in awe. This past year it was The Great House by Nicole Krauss and her other novel The History of Love. They were just perfect. Junot Diaz's The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao also did it for me a few years aback. Just outstanding.
"Years ago I bought a pen that I cannot live without."
Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a writing routine?
My writing routine is simple. I am not superstitious or obsessive-compulsive. Or maybe I am since I am a writer. I write every first draft in long-hand. Years ago I bought a pen that I cannot live without. It's nothing fancy, but it's fat and comfortable and it suits me. I liken it to a divining rod, drawing down through me whatever it is out there that we writers call inspiration or what have you. I like writing on college-ruled legal pads. I love the sound my pen makes on the page. Later, I'll transpose that draft onto the computer, editing as I go. The second draft never looks like the first. Then it's printing and going through said draft with my trusty pen, over and over again until I am satisfied.
It sounds strange, but I am not a big fan of formal outlines. I let my stories and characters take me where they want to go. In a sense, I'm more of an organic writer that way. I do keep notes, however. It is important for me to know where I think my characters and my stories are headed, but I think it's detrimental to a story to encapsulate it or to make storytelling too formulaic.
What do you find easiest about writing? What the hardest?
I am not sure there is a hard part to writing, not the physical act. Like any creative craft, writing takes time. Annie Dillard once said something about what a person needs to write. To paraphrase her, a writer needs to love sentences. That's how it begins.
For me, I was very young when I became enchanted by the sound of words, and the cadence of sentences. I have a twelve-year-old son whose strong points in school are math and science and music. He struggled with Language Arts (or English Class as we used to call it), but the advice I gave him was this: if you think of a word as a musical note, then a sentence is a passage. Paragraphs, with their own sound comprised of words and sentences may be a measure. He got it. But it really hit home for him when I told him that sentences in good writing should mirror the way we breathe. Some are short breaths. Others are a little bit longer. And then there are those breaths as we all know but often are not consciously aware of that are even longer still.
The hardest part for me where writing is concerned is reading my work aloud. I'm not particularly fond of my own voice, but then I've been told I do all-right at public readings when I've been afforded that opportunity. Reading my work aloud is important; even if I don't like the sound of my voice. It has to be done; otherwise, I never know if it's any good.
"I want to be a writer," I told him.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I was maybe thirteen years old when I made up my mind. I was scribbling away in a notebook, composing a story one spring afternoon, when I a friend came to visit. He saw me through the screen door of my parents' home. "What are you doing?" he asked. "Writing," I told him. "For what?" he asked, unable to comprehend why I would be doing such a thing in the middle of summer. "I want to be a writer," I told him.
Richard, please tell us a little about your novel 'Little Flower of Luzon'.
'Little Flower of Luzon' is a story of separation and alienation. The narrator, Felix Hart, falls in love with a Filipina teen named Malaya Cortazar. Malaya's nickname is Memeng. Felix and Memeng's backgrounds are as culturally diverse as they come. Their struggle against the odds is an old story, but the outcome is older still.
|Click to Read an Excerpt|
What inspired you to write the book?
I don't want to give too much away, but I wrote this book because I am fascinated by how different cultures assimilate. Something else that was on my mind was the family as a unit, what defines a family, how some families simply endure one another as the years go by, how siblings get older but never really change as far as the pecking order is concerned, and how all families suffer some level of dysfunction.
Another aspect that plays into this novel is the perception we had in America in the days following 9/11. Namely, the sheer paranoia created by those in power. If there was a downside to the air of suspicion that permeated our society in those early days, and I know there were several downsides, it was the license that otherwise prejudiced people took.
Part of the backdrop for this novel is northern and central New Jersey. The pace of life maintained in these areas can be excruciating. You lump together countless cultures in an area more heavily populated per capita than anywhere else on the planet and there's bound to be friction. And yet every day people fall in love, people all out of love, hearts are broken, people are born, people die, the great tragi-comic cycle of the human condition endures.
"I don't think writers should get hung up on which genre their story may or may not fit."
Who do you see as your target audience and where can we buy the book?
'Little Flower of Luzon' is a novel. For lack of a better term, I market it as literary fiction. It is also a love story. Although I don't think writers should get hung up on which genre their story may or may not fit. At present, my book is available at Amazon.com in trade paperback and for Kindle.
How would you describe the success of your book so far?
Slow-going. That's how I would describe it. Although, I did a free Kindle edition promotion a few weeks back and the response was incredible. I am pleased with that. If one in ten people who took advantage of the promotion convince at least one friend to purchase my book and they tell two people, etc, then I'll be happy.
How long did it take it to write the book?
It took me from start to finish it took a little less than three years to complete 'Little Flower of Luzon'. I was in the middle of pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing and my concentration was poetry. So, there were brief periods when I had to shelve the novel. In the end, I received my MFA and I finished writing 'Little Flower of Luzon'.
Please, tell us where you self-published the book.
I came reasonably close to representation a few times with literary agents. One even said that if she saw my book in a bookstore she would definitely buy it. But she couldn’t represent me. So, I started thinking about places like Lightning Source and others. I chose CreateSpace in the end.
How smooth went the self-publishing process? Any issues? What are things to look for when self-publishing a book?
Since CreateSpace is owned by Amazon now so I figured it was a no-brainer. And CreateSpace also has a publisher program if you have your own imprint. So I created my own imprint, Green Merryl Press, and my long-term plan is to help other writers like me get into print, and get their books into brick and mortar bookstores which is an indie author's biggest hurdle.
Did you hire an editor and/or Cover Designer for your book?
I didn't hire an editor. However, I think it's important for a writer to consider doing so if he or she doesn't have access to unbiased, critical readers in their life (i.e. not family members, not friends). As for the cover, I created it myself. I don't know the young model on the cover, but I did pay to use the photograph. I think she's beautiful, and the shot with her looking out the window, before I even put together the cover, made me wonder what she was thinking. I found the photograph alluring as well as somewhat sinister; as if she knew something the photographer and subsequent viewers did not.
"[...] then do it, the self-publishing thing."
Can you give some tips for other Indie Authors regarding the writing and self-publishing process?
Just write. Don't get hung up on publishing. If you feel strongly enough about your work then do it, the self-publishing thing. I read a quote from Junot Diaz the other day: "The only difference between a published and unpublished writer is a tolerance for imperfection." I think that takes a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to say. The only difference? Seriously? Anyway, I think there are plenty great writers out there who never get the chance to see their work in print. The key is to keep writing, to keep reading, to keep learning, and above all to keep trying.
Are you working on another book project? Can you tell us a little about it?
I am working on a novel that will take place here in Delaware County. A scholar contends with the onset of dementia and attempts to repair his relationship with his estranged daughter as he works to procure a fabled unpublished manuscript by a dead writer. The story will move back and forth between WWI and the present day.
Are you planning to move forward as an Indie Author or are you looking forward to have one of your next books to be traditionally published?
I have made up my mind that when the novel I am working on now is complete, and I am happy with it, I will pursue representation through a literary agent to have my next book traditionally published.
"I don't think print books will ever go away."
Where do you see the book market in 5 or 10 years? Will there be only eBooks and will book stores disappear like record stores disappeared?
People ask me this all the time. I don't think print books will ever go away. Some worldwide calamity may take away electricity and the internet, but not books. We read by candlelight once; we can read by candlelight again. Doom and gloom aside, I think there will be a balance. And no, I don't believe book stores will ever go away.
Do you write full-time or do you have a day job?
I had a day job. Past tense. So, I guess right now, at least this week, I am a publicly funded full-time writer.
How can readers connect with you?
I can be found on Facebook, on Twitter and at my blog. Please drop by and let me know your thoughts on my book. Thanks.
[See Links below].
Thank you very much for the Interview, Richard.
About the Book Little Flower of Luzon
Felix becomes consumed by Memeng who is half his age.
As he courts the young Filipina, Felix encounters several obstacles, including his overbearing mother, his pop-psychology-spouting older brother, and his meddlesome ex-girlfriend.
Memeng and Felix are sure of the connection they share, but their bond is threatened when they discover her late mother's family secret.
Links to the Author and the Book
Link to Richard O'Brien's Website
Link to Little Flower of Luzon's Facebook Page
Connect with Richard O'Brien on Twitter: @obrienwriter
Link to the eBook Little Flower of Luzon on Amazon with Excerpt