Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Pro-File: Jack O'Connell

From Bluejack:

Jack O'Connell is known for dark, mysterious crime novels. "Imagine Kafka writing The Maltese Falcon," says James Ellroy.

O'Connell appears to be something of a genre bender. Although his novels have been firmly classified as mystery, and are thus not listed in ISFDB, critics name influences from Bruce Sterling to Philip K. Dick to J.G. Ballard. O'Connell himself seems to look to crime novelists first -- Thompson, Goodis, and Willeford -- but says "I'm not shy about stealing anything that rings my bell. I've yet to meet a form that didn't look ripe for pilfering." Now that's a crime novelist!

One interviewer notes with trepidation that O'Connell is known to be "moody, reclusive, suspicious, litigious, and mercurial."

One thing is clear: Jack O'Connell is a massively talented, enormously creative writer. His work is a true pleasure to read, even when it is incomprehensible.

Jack O'Connell:

Tell us about your current novel.

As my last book came out in – Jaysus! – 1999, it’d be a stretch to use the adjective “current” in reference to it. So we must be talking about the work in progress. Which brings us to question 2.

Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

I think, hope, I’m about two or three weeks away from finishing the book that has tried to kill me innumerable times over these last five years. It is my problem child, a story with severe ADHD that refuses to be corralled in one genre no matter how many times I offer it a carrot or beat it with a stick. Well, hell, Ed, how long have you been listening to me whine about this monster. As to subject matter, as I wrote Jim Sallis an embarrassingly long time ago, it’s about: pharmacists, coma, bikers, stem cells, comic books, salamanders, and circus freaks. True story: a photographer pal of mine – who loves to contrast my career with that of Robert Parker – said to me three years ago, “You know what your books need? A nymphomaniac nurse.” I shook my head and left his studio. Then woke up at 3 that morning and thought, “Maybe he’s right.” So she’s in there, too.

What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Still can’t think of writing in terms of career… But when you hit that moment – and it seems to grow rarer with age – when you’ve been at the desk for hours, for weeks, for months, spinning the story, and suddenly the world falls away and you slip into the fiction, into its world, you slide into that timeless and – forgive me – effortless zone where it’s all firing and you feel for a moment that you’re a transcriber.

Also: I have to say it’s been a kick to meet a few of my writing idols. And, beyond this, to have found all of them, truly, to be kind, gracious, accessible, generous, human, funny, and often wise.

What is the greatest DISpleasure?

When you review the pages you made while in that zone I just mentioned and you find them unreadable dreck.

If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

These days, I’m not being facetious when I advise larger type. You have to aim small when dealing with multinational congloms and I think larger type is a realistic agenda. (I could play the old riff about hiring accountants and marketing folks to account and market, rather than, say, acquire. But that’s just not going to happen.)

Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

Well, you know, I’ve been lighting candles and killing chickens for Gil Brewer for some time now. And I’d love to see somebody republish Ev Skehan’s A Bullet for Georgie. (Hard Case, you guys listening?) And though he’s far from forgotten – and the book isn’t a mystery from what I hear –what about Marc Behm’s infamous female vampire novel?

Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

A fine memory that seems less real with each receding year. I’d had the classic Bad Day – full of lost keys, bounced checks, angry phone calls, parking place fist fights, midnight oil expended on the job site. I think there were locust and boils in there somewhere, too. It was days before 25 December, and, at 7 p.m., as I finally left the day-gig with my co-worker wife, she reminded me that we still needed to buy one last Christmas gift. This seemed a perfect end to the day and we headed for the mall, stopping at home to let out the mutt. As I opened my back door, I noticed, in the darkness of the kitchen, the flashing red light on the wall phone. Hit the playback and heard a message to call a New York #. When my agent answered, I told him who it was and said that I hoped I wasn’t calling too late. He said: “Not at all,” took the perfect dramatic pause, then barked, “Congratulations, you’ve sold a novel.” Of course, we did not make it to the mall that night. We made it to a favorite restaurant and, over a bottle of wine, spent the evening casting all the characters in the book for the movie that, inevitably, would be adapted from the book.


Blogger mtmorgan said...

I am enjoying this *series* immensely. How about one with Terrill Lankford and maybe Daniel Woodrell? The more the merrier.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Tribe said...

Jack O'Connell is a fantastically brilliant writer...he's another underrated genius in the crime fiction world. Always looking forward to his fiction...about time that something new may be coming down the pipe.

5:41 PM  

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