Name David Joseph O’Brien
Age 40 (who said that?)
Where are you from?
Dun Laoghaire, just south of Dublin, Ireland
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
I studied Enviornmental biology in University College Dublin, then went on for a PhD in Zoology there, studying deer biology. I moved to Spain for 4 years, teaching English, then to Boston for 7 years, teaching Biology and back to Spain 3 years ago, teaching science and English. I married a Spanish girl who I met in Dublin while she was studying there. We have a 3 year old called Maia.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I just got diagnosed with psoriasis after 20 years of having it…;-) no, my real news is I just published my first novel with Tirgearr Publishing, It’s called Leaving the Pack.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I began when I was in my middle teens. I started writing poems and then wrote a few stories. I am not sure really why I started, other than I’d been given writing materials that were pretty cool and I thought I’d use them. I used to write all my poems in green ink. I still prefer that but I write in anything now, though for poetry I don’t like to type straight into the keyboard like I do with novels. I wrote poems that were ballads, telling a story, then went into prose. After a while I got to the stage that I had to write, had to put down the ideas or they’d stay in my head. That hasn’t changed. The ideas a bigger sometimes and they take longer to write down, though!
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Good question. I, perhaps like others, for some reason separate poetry and other writing. I had my first poem published in a journal called Voices back in Ireland (my memory had fooled me into thinking the journal had another name, Cadenza, but I recently found the journal on my bedroom bookshelf back home!) and I have had a few articles published (and paid for) but I didn’t really consider myself a writer ever. It’s something I never trained for, while I did straightaway consider myself a scientist as soon as I had my degree, and a teacher as soon as I gave my first class. There’s something about saying you’re a writer that makes people look for proof: what did you write and where can I read it, that makes me a bit shy about saying it.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I got an idea and I wrote a novella and people I showed it to said it was a good idea and I expanded it. It happened over years and the details are blurred to me now. there were many version, though, I know that because I still have them on my computer. The first was written on a 286. Yes a 2 not 3 86. Many readers will not understand that that is, of course.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
my doctoral thesis advisor told me that I write like I am speaking. It was a problem writing my thesis! And still a problem when I write, though not so much. It’s like me telling a story, and I know I am long winded about things (I get told that by my loved ones!) but when i write it, I can later cut it (and boy I have to cut it a lot) but something of the storyteller stays I hope. I’m not sure if that equates to a style, but it’s what happens when I put pen to paper.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
It took a long time to think of this one. Others have been easier. I started off with Wulfen, but that was just too similar to Strieber’s Wolfen, which was part of my inspiration for the idea. Then I called it Silver Nights for a few years and eventually after expanding to a real novel and rewriting it a few times, I saw that the basic story was about the hero leaving what he called the pack, after so many years running with them. The Silver Nights name I kept to call the trilogy after coming up with the ideas for two sequels while I was editing Leaving the Pack. In my head they are still called Wulfen 1, 2 and 3!
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Werewolves are just people, and people are all different. We may fear those who look or act differently to us, but only irrationally. There have been too many cases of the different being discriminated against, and we won’t be able to live all 9 billion of us together over the next century, very well unless we eradicate stupid labels and invented differences that divide us into little groups or big groups that can bully the little groups. It’s all nonsense and if we don’t think like a single group we will only have more trouble that we are going to anyway because of the population bottleneck that faces us.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
Well, starting from the premise that it’s a book about a race of werewolves…. a lot! These werewolves don’t do things that are impossible. They are strong, they are fast, they are aggressive and can do things most of us can’t. But free-runners can do things most of us can’t. A mother can lift a car to save a child trapped beneath it. Anyone who trains can do amazing feats, but the werewolves are just able to do it without training. The physiology is potentially possible, too. That a man and woman fall in love with secrets about themselves held back, and much doubt and delay about telling the partner those hidden facts, I think it’s very realistic.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
No. It’s all invented. I stuck some names of my family on the characters, just to give the sense that these are anybody, everyday people who walk among the rest of us, unnoticed. But the characters don’t have any personality traits in common with their namesakes.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
My life? That’s a big thing! Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel, and Collapse, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, James Lovelock’s Gaia, EO Wilson’s The Diversity of Life, Malcolm Gladwell’s books on statistics, too, and The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram.
Books like that have made me think of where I fit into the world, have shaped my thinking. They have also shaped my writing – I always try to put a little bit of science in my novels that will help make readers aware of the plight of the world, more knowledgeable or excited about the world.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
If I could bring back Kurt Vonegut, I’d pick his brain all day. He was a genius and seemed to live the kind of life of a writer that wrote what he wanted and lived the way he wanted. I’d like to find out from him how you combine that with a modern Western life. I know he’d probably just laugh, though, or slap me on the back of the head.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’m not reading much at the moment because I am trying to finish a novella and 2 novels, but I am plodding through a trilogy by Philip Mann called A Land Fit for Heroes and I just finished listening on Mp3 (which I do la lot of) to Millennium People by JG Ballard and have started Nemesis by Philip Roth.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
To be honest, I haven’t been looking much. I am looking forward to finally reading The Count of Monte Cristo this summer. It’s been sitting on my shelf for 12 years… I don’t actively seek new authors because I am only 40 and haven’t gotten through the older and deader writers’ works. I’ve read a few recent shifter novels that were very interesting. I didn’t take not of their names, though.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I am one-third the way through a sequel to Leaving the Pack, which I hope to finish by Christmas. I am two-thirds though the first draft of a novel set in Scotland, which is mainly a romance novel, but has a lot of biology. I aim to have the first draft done this summer. I hope to publish a contemporary romance novel with Tirgearr Publishing later this year, which is at the editing-slash-rewriting stage now, and I just submitted a novella to Tirgearr as well. I have three other books I am still searching for homes for. I have three or four more books started but they’re on the back burner for now.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My college friends. I met them 20 years ago and I’d love to be able to live next door to them every day.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Now more than ever before. I finally found a place for my first novel, two decades after it was written. I have gotten better over the years and I think that after another 20 years I might be able to give up teaching and be a full-time writer for the 5 years before my old age pension kicks in!
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I was reminded of a line by my wife the other day that was never eliminated during all the rewrites and which she hated when she read an earlier draft years ago. Perhaps I should have changed that, as it is a life that shows how juvenile I was when I started writing it. But apart from that, if I started it now, it would be written better the first time and not require so many extensions and rewrites. But that’s like saying you’d live your first relationships differently if you could do them again, when you had to learn from the mistakes you made as a teenager so that you eventually become a person worth going out with and marrying. Nobody starts off perfect.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? In stationary, strangely. I was given a little notebook by my dad when I was fourteen, and I sat down on my bedroom floor, leaning against my bed in the sun and wrote a poem called An Innocent Child. I had written two poems before – both in primary school, the first of which I can still recite all eight lines of, and the second of which was much better but is lost because it was ripped out of the school copybook I’d started writing in by my older brother, who was looking for a new one and decided my poem was not important. 4 years after I lost that poem, I wrote the third and forth and kept on going, using up the little notebooks and then with a larger notepad, starting to write some simple stories. One of them became the seed for Leaving the Pack.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Sure. Here’s an excerpt:
Paul promptly caught another taxi home to get ready, eager to reunite with the gang, as Susan had called them. They weren’t really a gang, but that was how they appeared to outsiders and how it was easiest to explain to them. Paul and his companions thought of themselves as a pack.
The pack had no name, nor did it need one. Few people knew they existed, which was how they wanted it to be, how it had to be. It seemed to Paul that the pack had always run together and he hoped that they would for years to come. It would not be exactly as it now was, if but the pack itself could continue to exist, then he would be happy. The members, though they had never changed before, could not remain the same indefinitely. All would leave when their time came—his own nearing now—and others would replace them.
If they had to disband the pack, he would be responsible. He was the one chosen to control them, to make sure that their energies were channeled into acceptable activities. It usually went very well. They met every full moon and for three days they roamed the city and its suburbs, seeking women and thrills, drinking heavily and generally disrupting the lives of the inhabitants in an effort to expend the energy that surged through them all night. Only in daylight did they rest, the sun seeming to drain them of strength.
Discarding his soiled clothes, he began to shave the thick stubble which had grown on his face since the previous evening. His beard was heavy, reaching up to just underneath the top of his high cheekbones. He used an open razor, sliding the blade over his jaw and throat confidently. As he watched the skin pressed by the sharp steel, he mused that tonight, once more, he would walk a knife edge when he stepped out under the full moon. As the sun descended on these days, so his blood rose, taking him high above normality and creating a vacuum on either side, into which his fall seemed eagerly awaited. He rode along the ridge of blackness, galloping on a sword blade with the void on either side, its weight drawing him down, its depths calling to him, willing him into its unseen softness, its unimaginable seduction. But he disregarded its voice, ignored the ease with which he could sink, slip over the side into its luxurious violence.
Every night it was like that, staying just back from the brink. Often, he had brought himself to that verge in order to test his own ability to refuse that urge, to remind himself of its existence, its position, and the need to tread carefully when circumstances took him, sometimes almost uncontrollably, towards that precipice, so he would never be caught unawares by the temptation. He had leaned over many times, looked deep into the maw of that emptiness, and sometimes it was all he was able to do to drag himself back out against the force of its velvet gravity, to deny the smooth-voiced assertion that he belonged within its depths. So far, he had succeeded, had not succumbed to its suave argument.
Though violence frequently reared its head, the pack rarely broke the law in any serious way. They always ensured there was no interaction with the police – the police asked awkward questions.
As he strode along the darkening streets, his thoughts slipped back to Susan. He had been as entranced as he knew she had. He’d never before felt like he did then, sitting and conversing with her. She was beautiful and challenging. He had never felt a need to go out of his way to impress someone before, but he had used everything he knew to enrapture that girl. A part of him knew that he could, at any time after the dance, have asked her to get her jacket and she would have brought him home, but that would have been cheating. He could have done that with anyone. However, he sensed that if he had met her three days earlier, the same would not apply. Even then, she had done her best to level the playing field, to deny him the advantage he had over her. She was extremely strong-willed and exuded an inner strength he had encountered in few people. He felt she was a person who would stick to her principles in the face of anything opposing them, and that drew him to her.
Another part of him had known immediately that she was not to be like the others. He had wanted to talk to her so that he could be sure and would be truthful that morning when he told her he would be back. He’d seen, somehow, that he would never want to say goodbye, or ever tire of this beautiful creature, who felt, smelled and tasted so good. He could love her for life.
That thought, however, brought with it more baggage than he cared to deal with right now. In the middle of the very time his life was postponed, when all of his existence was condensed into these appetites and experiences, he was now confronted with something which could completely change the course of his normal life and signal the end of this periodic suspension in its present form, the only form he knew, and lead to a distillation of a different kind, one he wasn’t sure he would like the taste of. Unfortunately, he didn’t think he could simply defer his thoughts until after the sun sank next evening.
The gloaming was marching as he approached the sea. He could smell the brine of low tide on the estuary wafting in on the humid air. Above, the jet-streaks in the sky were dull grey in the twilight and the moon would rise clear over the water. A distant howl carried over the concrete to him. It quickened his pulse and made him smile excitedly. How could he contemplate life without that sound, without that tremor, that extra heartbeat which made the world spin a little slower and the detail of instants so much clearer? But his previous train of thought brought him to the same destination: he had been pondering this for some time. He knew, had known all along, that the pack was not an end but a means, and the meaning would not last for him, for anyone, forever. He had been waiting for just this kind of event to happen. Nevertheless, despite his expectation, his anticipation even, he had been taken by surprise. He’d just never imagined that after so many nights, moons, years of roaming, he would have been so utterly overwhelmed by emotion.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Cutting out excess words! I write too much, make my sentences too long, use the present continuous excessively (that’s an Irish way of phrasing things, I think) and so have to cut lots, but I only really see how much I have to cut when I print out a copy after thinking I’ve cut lots already. But I hate cutting words!
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Hemmingway has always been my favorite, though I read all his books years ago and I wish I’d time to go back to them, but there aren’t enough years in a lifetime to repeat many books. I also love Vonegut and Steinbeck, and luckily I haven’t finished all of theirs yet!
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
No. I have traveled a bit during my life and my books are generally set in places I’ve been, or in imaginary places. I am writing a long novel set in the Caribbean, and I hope I’ll have the time and money to go back there to do some more “research” soon!
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
EJR digital art. We had a few attempts before getting to the final cover, but I really like it.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Probably extending it from a novella to a novel trying to figure out what the hell happened in the story, until I came up with a good subplot that in the end made the main plot much more satisfying. Also rewriting it so that what I had first written half as flashback became a straight from start to finish plot was a pain. I did it on the advice of an editor of another publishing house that eventually declined the book, but it made it better and I thank that person for the input.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned that I had an ability to write an interesting story that had a beginning middle and end and I was probably better at writing novels than short stories. I also learned that notes are important to remind you of things but if you can’t hold the whole book in your head at once you’re not going to have an easy time as a novel writer.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Never stop writing because you don’t think you’re as good as those you’d love to emulate. Don’t give up because you’re not getting books accepted, but also don’t go straight out at self-publish until you really are ready and your book has been through
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I am giving 10% of anything I ever earn from this book for it’s entire lifetime to WWF the World Wildlife Fund. I plan to do the same with all my books, though I might vary the charity. For example the sequel to Leaving the Pack will have some royalties donated to Survival International, a charity that helps tribal people maintain their way of life in the face of governments that would have them change to be more western and sedentary. I think these charities are important because they are trying to preserve what in the end we will discover are most important about the planet for our continued prosperity on it.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read? No. I remember having Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvelous Medicine to me in primary school and going to the library as a young child, but which book was first? The Little Grey Men stands out a a book I loved around then, and of course I ate my way through all of Dahl’s children’s books and the Chronicles of Narnia pretty quickly.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I love just being out in the natural world, watching wildlife. In Ireland my hobby is deer hunting. I still hunt when I am home in season, but in Spain I just take my camera out and try to get snaps and video of roe deer and other wildlife. It takes the same skills, but it’s not quite as exciting, and I miss the venison. I like mountain biking and I cycle everywhere around town. I have another bike at my weekend house in the country that I use to go for long cycles around the hills, which are really picturesque. I have been doing less of that lately, though, since I am trying to be more disciplined in getting writing done. I would like to do some fishing, but again, I’m too attached to my pen right now. I read, of course, and listen to books on MP3 which saves lots of time, since I can get through much more while I do other things.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I am making my way through Breaking Bad at the moment. I reward myself with a season when I have completed a project. I am also working my way through the Big Bang Theory, which I used to watch in Boston but fell behind on since returning to Spain. I like lots of different films, but anything with Christian Bale is a must see.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Venison roast potatoes, and paella, and pasta, and Thai curry and sushi are all great foods! I love chocolate, though I am diabetic and so have to stop myself eating as much as I’d like. my favorite color is green. Then blue. Then brown. I like female vocalists/singer songwriters, like Bjork, Tori Amos, Skin, Sade, and right now I am in a big Lana Del Rey phase. I am a bit of a fan of the 80s too, since that was what I listened to in my teens.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I’d love to have studied wolves and their predator prey interactions. I love teaching (my day job these last 14 years), but that was my first goal, kinda – animal psychology especially studying wolves, then trophic relationships. I stick a little of it in my books, though, and still read the research.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
my website is http://davidjmobrien.wordpress.com/
I blog about writing and about ecology, and I have poems and short stories posted too.
Fascinating interview – loved your sentiments about needing to stop separating people into different groups. And I love wolves!