Sunday, June 17, 2012

Daniel O'Malley Interview

Daniel O’Malley is an Australian who graduated from Michigan State University and earned a Master’s Degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He currently works for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, writing press releases for government investigations of plane crashes and runaway boats. More impressive to me though is the fact that he's written a book, a very good book called The Rook. I won't get into details on the book here because I already did that in this post. Mr. O'Malley was kind enough to take some time away from writing his government releases to answer a few questions about his writing.

First of all, let me congratulate you on The Rook. I certainly enjoyed it and from reviews I've read of it, I wasn't alone. There are aspects of the book that reminded me of Torchwood, Men in Black, and X-Men. Were any of these inspirational in the writing of The Rook?

Thanks so much, I’m really glad you enjoyed it. As to influences on The Rook, there’s been quite a few. In terms of approach, one of the writers I most admire is China Mieville. His books are always so crammed fulled of ideas, they make for a very rich and detailed world. I tried to have something similar – glancing mentions of things that suggested a vast history.

As to the works you mentioned above, well, I enjoyed Men in Black very much (and I loved the animated series when it was on). The thing that really caught my eye was the blasé attitude of the staff when dealing with the most astounding and insane situations. And I was a tremendous X-Men fan as a kid. I thought it was so cool how everyone had their unique power and they formed a (usually) coherent team, so it’s definitely something that impacted on me.

Torchwood hadn’t come out when I started writing the book, I don’t think. I was certainly well-along by the time I heard about it. In any case, I’ve only seen one episode of it, and while I liked it, I don’t think it had much of an influence on me. The idea of a Government organization that secretly deals with the bizarre is an old one, and it was one I enjoyed playing with very much.

The main character in your book, Myfanwy Thomas, is a woman suffering from amnesia who is in possession of a series of letters left for her by her previous self. That allowed you to write her as two separate and quite different characters. Was that something that evolved as you wrote the story or was it something you planned from the beginning in order to allow you to show the transformation she underwent?

Originally, the letters from the old, pre-amnesia self (‘Thomas’) were mainly going to be a useful way to provide background information. A nice way to give infodump. But then it became important (and amusing) to me that there be some significant differences between the old Myfanwy Thomas and the new Myfanwy Thomas. The letters were already going to be a part of it, and as I wrote them, Thomas became very much her own character. I grew more and more fond of her, and it was sad, because the whole book was based on the fact that she was going to be destroyed, before the book even began.

Gestalt was one of my favorite characters in the book. He's one person with four individual bodies which he's able to operate simultaneously. I tend to refer to him as male but since one of his bodies is female, I'm not sure that's technically correct. Where did the idea for that character come from?

Gestalt came out of me helping my friend move house. I was carrying furniture down all these flights of stairs, and I thought ‘this would be so much easier if I had a bunch of bodies.’ And voila! I had Gestalt! I had to put down the thing I was carrying, so that I could write down the idea.

Most first-time novelists have the luxury of spending years writing and fine tuning their first book trying to get it published. When they do get picked up by a publisher, I would think that the writing process has to change because now there are deadlines to deal with and other people involved in the creative process. How has getting published changed the way you approach writing?

Not a lot has changed, to be perfectly honest. If you’re going to write, there’s always something in the back of your head that pushes you to write – whether it’s a deadline or the hunger to get the story told. I always tried to be disciplined about it, even before I was published – even before I found an agent. I set myself the daily minimum of pages (2 on weekdays, 4 on weekend days), and would then really, really try to hit it. Of course, I failed frequently (and continue to do so.) Sometimes the lightning hits, and you’re pouring out text, and sometimes you’ll find anything else to do instead of write.

I understand The Rook is the beginning of a series and that you're currently at work on the sequel. When is it scheduled to be published? What do your readers have to look forward to in this next one?

I am labouring away on the sequel, and while I’m going to have it to my editor early in 2013 (he says firmly), I don’t know when it will actually escape out into the world in book form. There’s a whole long procedure that has to be gone through. Editing. Re-editing. A whole lot of things. So, it’ll be a while yet. But, in the meantime, I’m very excited about it. The next book is going to follow two new characters (although Rook Myfanwy Thomas will feature prominently.) It’s a story about diplomacy (and a pointed lack thereof), supernatural terrorism, and the etiquette surrounding afternoon tea. Also, it’s going to explore Europe, and see how some other countries deal with their supernatural problems.

Thanks so much and good luck with the next book.

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