MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR CHARLES O’DONNELL😊
What’s your name and what genre would you consider your books to be?
I’m Charles O’Donnell, and I live in Westerville, Ohio. My first two books are thrillers; The Girlfriend Experience is an espionage thriller, and Moment of Conception is a political thriller, with some medical and religious plot lines. I took a detour with my most recent book, Shredded, a dystopian sci-fi thriller.
Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?
Shredded is the product of my interest in virtual reality and online privacy. If we extrapolate the trends in these two areas into the future, we could easily foresee a time when everything is done in virtual space, and all of our personal lives are recorded in the cloud. The main character, Grace, a recovering drug and sex addict, finds out one day that all of her life data has been woven into a lifestream, a full-immersion virtual reality experience, and that it’s gone viral. Stream riders are inhabiting Grace’s life, reliving her sordid past for thrills. The thought of total strangers getting off on a past Grace was sure she’d put behind her is upsetting enough, but when she finds out that her teenage son, Dylan, is experimenting with lifestreams, Grace is determined to shred her life, erasing all of her life data, forever cutting herself off from the connected world—the functional equivalent of committing suicide.
How did you get interested in writing this particular genre (historical novels, mysteries, sci-fi, children’s books, etc.)?
Some of my favorite authors are Dan Brown, Ken Follett, John Grisham, and other thriller authors. I’ve always loved to write, but never thought I had a book in me until I got the idea for The Girlfriend Experience. I wrote a chapter, thought it compared favorably with my favorite writers, and decided that I could finish a novel. When my wife read the first chapter and told me, “I’d keep reading,” that was the push I needed.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
My first two books required a lot more research than Shredded. The Girlfriend Experience is set in China and Moment of Conception is set in Italy, both countries I’ve visited many times, but I still took a few days during a trip to Italy to visit all the locations in Moment of Conception. The rest of my research spanned a wide range of topics—firearms, mathematics, pharmaceuticals, politics, even the protocol for a papal audience. Most research is done online, but I’ve picked the brains of experts as well. Lately I’ve been attending Meetups with a group of virtual reality enthusiasts. Not only are they a great source of knowledge, but they’re now all fans of Shredded!
Can you tell me about your Series?
The Girlfriend Experience and Moment of Conception are the first two books in the Matt Bugatti series, named for the main character, a mathematics and computer programming prodigy. Although they’re a series, each book stands by itself. In The Girlfriend Experience, Matt grows from an independent solitary genius to a man who knows how to lean on his friends when he needs to. Moment of Conception picks up Matt’s story a few years later, when he’s chosen by the president to lead a fact-finding commission to discover the cause of death of 49 young girls. In this book, we see Matt having matured into a decisive leader. I think I have one more Matt Bugatti book in me, perhaps from many years later in Matt’s life.
Shredded is the first book of a planned three-book series, following Grace’s odyssey from the connected world, to the mysterious world of the Shade, and ultimately…well that would spoil the surprise!
Do you have a favorite book out of this series?
I really like Moment of Conception, but The Girlfriend Experience is still my most popular book, and my favorite, too.
Where did you get the inspiration/idea for your series?
The Girlfriend Experience was inspired by my own career in product development, managing product development teams, many of which consisted of brilliant young engineers still struggling to come to grips with life. I imagined a project manager who would go to any lengths to keep his star developer happy—even hiring a prostitute to pose as his girlfriend.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
I have a place set aside for writing, but I also like to mix up my writing environment. When it’s nice weather outside, I’ll write on our back deck. But I’ll also write at a coffee shop, a library, or a bar. I like being around other people, and the noise doesn’t seem to bother me!
When I’m in the middle of a project I set daily goals and I can usually meet them. Lately I’ve been using a time management technique that has greatly improved my productivity. Let’s see if I can keep it up!
Do you have a new book in the making and if so, what’s the name of your upcoming book?
My current project is the next book in the Shredded series with the working title Shade. I’ve got a rough outline, and a little more than three chapters done, but I’m taking some time off the project to write some short stories and work on my skills.
How important are character names to you in your books? Is there a special meaning to any of the names?
There is definitely some thought behind the names in my books. I choose them mostly for the sound, but if you read Shredded you’ll notice that every character’s voice responder—an automated assistant, such as Siri or Alexa—has a different name. I chose each of those names for a specific reason, representing something about the character or the situation. Grace’s responder, named Gogo, is the one exception—that name is taken from a cartoon dinosaur featured in the materials for a course my daughter taught while living in China!
Where do your ideas come from?
I read a lot, listen a lot, and try to get exposed to interesting people with wild experiences and fascinating ideas. When two completely unrelated ideas come together in an unusual way, that’s my favorite source of inspiration. For The Girlfriend Experience, it was the idea of a high-pressure development project combined with a story about a woman quitting her job as a data analyst to become a call girl.
Is there a genre that you’ve been wanting to experiment with?
As a fan of Ken Follett, I’d like to try historical fiction. But I’m not looking forward to doing the research.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Trusting my own writing instincts. My best writing comes when I write fast, from the gut, without trying to edit as I go. If I think about it too hard, it becomes artificial.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
Being around readers and other authors. That’s why I enjoy book shows, signings and readings so much, on both sides of the table.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
If I’m not finishing at least one book a year—two would be better—I’ll know I’m not serious about it. In ten years I want to have at least a dozen books. By then I ought to be pretty good.
Have you always liked to write?
Yes, for as long as I can remember. If you’d asked me at age four what I wanted to be when I grow up, I’d have said “author,” although at that age I pronounced it “Arthur.”
What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Read. Read more. Then write. A lot. Then read again. Rinse. Repeat.
If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
I’ve always pictured myself as a teacher, but I don’t know if I have the patience.
Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
I do read them, but I do not respond. As for bad reviews, I’ll paraphrase some advice I heard from Naomi Wolf: Don’t read your reviews; count them.
What is your least favourite part of the writing / publishing process?
Sorry, but I love it all—outlining, writing, editing, post-production, publishing—even the promotion part is starting to grow on me.
What are you working on now?
As I mentioned, I’m working on the sequel to Shredded, tentatively titled Shade.
Can you give us a few tasty morsels from your work-in-progress?
Here’s a sample from an early chapter:
Chrysalis materialized in the middle of a crowd, at a spot equidistant from three stages, just three of 200 identical stages in a massive public venue. She’d been in such venues before; they were popular for entertainment events, where huge numbers of fans could get close to the performers.
This was unlike any concert venue she’d ever seen.
The avatars in the crowd spanned the spectrum of age and appearance. Most wore hats or shirts, or carried signs, that flashed one slogan after another, like an electronic billboard cycling through its ads:
VERMIN LIVE IN THE SHADE
JAHBULON IS THE LIGHT
KLIEGL IS THE TORCH
DAX IS THE TORCHBEARER
“Chrysalis, check your avatar,” Nemesio’s voice sounded in Chrysalis’s ears. She took a pocket mirror from her bag, hanging by a strap from her shoulder, placed there by Nemesio’s persona. She looked at her reflection and smiled. The persona had successfully bypassed the Worldstream’s rules engine, which strictly enforced the resemblance of an avatar to its owner. Instead of Grace, a red-haired, brown-eyed, fair-skinned woman, Chrysalis saw a dark-skinned man of apparent Indian ancestry. She gave Nemesio a thumbs-up.
Why did you choose to write in your genre? If you write in more than one, how do you balance them?
Other thriller authors such as Dan Brown and John Grisham are my inspiration. The genre puts a premium on plot, which appealed to me. Now that I’m improving in other dimensions of fiction writing, such as character and mood, I may branch out.
Where did your love of books come from?
My parents were huge believers in education. They kept hundreds of books in the house and encouraged us to buy our own. It’s been a passion of mine since I could sound out my first word.
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite and why?
Gina, the shrewd call girl from The Girlfriend Experience is still my favorite. She’s not a particularly deep character, but her determined self-interest intrigues me.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
The act of writing has an energy barrier that you have to crest before the process becomes self-sustaining. It takes me some time to talk myself into starting a writing session, especially if I don’t have a clear idea of what I’m going to write, but once I crest the barrier, it’s hard for me to stop. I always feel more energetic at the end of a session than I do at the start.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Self-indulgence. There are few things more tedious than an author who’s overly pleased with his writing. The editor of my first book pointed out a lot of self-indulgent passages and I cut almost all of them out.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Why can’t I be both? Actually, in genre writing, the reader has a certain set of expectations, but once those are fulfilled, I think there’s still plenty of headroom for wildly original stuff. That said, I’m still working on finding the boundaries and knowing where they’re safe to cross.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I belong to several writer’s groups and I consider all them my friends. We’re struggling writers whom you probably haven’t heard of, but I learn from all of them.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
This Isn’t at All What I Expected
Where can your fans find you and follow??
My blog, book pages, and links to places you can buy my books can be found here:
Sign up for my newsletter while you’re there!
Thank you for taking your time to do this interview♥️