Ken O’Neill is best known for his novel The Marrying Kind, and is currently working on the his second novel. His ability to write believable characters draws readers in to the story. No matter what he comes out with next, it will be great!
What was it that made you interested in writing m/m fiction?
I’m not sure that I am particularly interested in writing m/m fiction, so much as just telling engaging stories. I think for me, as a gay man, I write about subjects close to my heart, and so there is a strong likelihood that my stories will include LGBT characters. But, much to my surprise, the main character of the manuscript I just completed is a straight man. And right now, somewhere in the back of my mind, is a story about a woman and her complicated relationship with her sisters.
How did you begin your career as a writer? Did you expect to have such a large audience?
I started out as an actor. But I hated auditioning–that was a problem. Some years after I gave up performing I started writing. For me the biggest joy is creating characters. And even if it’s only while I’m alone at my computer, I have the thrill of being able to play every role! No audition required. As for the large audience: I queried every reviewer I could find. And I was extremely fortunate to have my book embraced by so many bloggers in the romance community (Sarah Wendell’s Smart Bitches Trashy Books review really helped sales. And at the end of the year she called it one of her top three favorite books, which gave The Marrying Kind another big boost.) This was sort of amazing because The Marrying Kind is not really a romance novel. It’s a comic novel with romantic elements.
What was it like growing up in Connecticut? Has it influenced any part of your life or writing?
I grew up in Bridgeport, a city which was infamously described as the armpit of New England by Paul Newman. Bridgeport was ethnically and racially diverse. It was a city that fell on hard times and never fully recovered, even though it was in the heart of Fairfield County, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. I was extremely fortunate and grew up in a solidly middle class home. I never wanted for anything that mattered. But I do think living “across the street” from the stereotype of wealthy, WASPY, preppy Connecticut opened my eyes to privilege and class differences. In THE MARRYING KIND one of the main characters is a Mayflower descendent and the other is a second generation Romanian American–this creates humorous conflict, but it is also very reflective of the place I grew up.
Is there anyone that you’d never want to find out what you write? How would they respond?
No. I am a bit insecure–I’m working on that. But I am also proud of my work. And Ken O’Neill is my real name!
What was it like winning the 2012 Rainbow Award for best debut?
Great question. It was amazing. And a complete surprise, because I had no idea I had been nominated. I thought I was responsible for nominating myself, and when I checked the submission guidelines I discovered I had missed the deadline by a couple of weeks. I chastised myself for being irresponsible, etc. Then I spent a long time trying to convince myself that I never would have won anyway. So I was totally shocked when I won. Turns out my publisher, Bold Strokes Books, submitted The Marrying Kind for consideration.
Why do you think so many women love to read m/m?
I don’t honestly know. But I’m glad they do.
Was there research involved for Adam Moore’s job?
Adam is a wedding planner. I read a lot of books and articles on party planning. Also at the time there was a reality show about a party planner (the title of which escapes me) that I watched.
Do you have any current or upcoming projects?
I have recently completed a manuscript for a second novel. The working title is: GEORGE BAILEY GETS SAVED in the END. It’s about a faithless man whose family owns a wholesale Christmas ornament business–he hates both the job and the holiday. The story takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas. After a series of awful events, George finds love and meets Jesus (or perhaps just a guy named Jesus) and he must figure out if he’s experiencing a miracle or just the onset of a breakdown. It’s romantic and sweet (a little snarky,too) and I’m really proud of it. As mentioned above, George is straight but there are gay, lesbian and bi characters, too.
Tell me about your writing process. Do you go with a plan? Do you edit as you go?
My writing process is kind of tortured with flurries of activity followed by…not so much. With George Bailey I had a vague notion that I wanted to write about my real-life Irish grandmother, Nan, who was as close to a perfect person as anyone I ever met. In my first book there is a character based on my Romanian grandmother. Since I write fiction, I never considered trying to tell Nan’s actual story. Instead, this family of the Baileys appeared to me, and I made Nan the grandmother. Actually she is already dead during the action of the story, but the lessons she taught remain, though George has forgotten many of her teachings and needs to be reminded of them.
I don’t have a clear plot when I start, but I like to have a beginning, a few possible twists and an ending (which often changes) in mind. With George Bailey the first scene I wrote was Between George and a woman he meets in a bar. They discuss the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. A version of that scene ended up being placed at about page 100 in the finished manuscript. Yes, I do edit as I go along–a lot. If you take anything away from reading this interview, it’s this: TRY NOT TO EDIT AS YOU GO ALONG! 🙂 You will understand why when you read my next answer.
How long does it typically take you to complete a novel?
More than two years. It would be less time if I would finish a first draft without tinkering so much. Especially because I’m a humorist, I’m never satisfied that things are funny enough. George Bailey is less of an out and out comedy than TMK, still it’s quite funny. And comedy is hard. If George Bailey were made into a film (Please!) I think it would be described as a family dramady.
What inspired you to write The Marrying Kind?
I wrote this before the fall of DOMA, or marriage equality in New York (where I live with my now husband) so equality was much on my mind. I was watching an episode of Oprah one day and she had a wedding planner on the show. He seemed, at least to me, to be gay. And I began thinking about the disconnect between being gay and creating events that you were forbidden by law for having for yourself. That is where the initial spark came. It almost surprised me that the story had not already been written.
Do you have any advice for those who want to write gay romances? Any advice for growing an audience?
My advice is not really genre specific. Read a lot. And all kinds of things. Patricia Highsmith is a huge inspiration of mine–not a funny writer. But her prose are spare, economical and really present. I’m a guy who can take his time getting to the point. When I’m getting too verbose I think what would Ms. Highsmith do? Then I make cuts. As for growing an audience. Begin trying before your book is out. Social media can be an energy and time suck, but it can be very helpful. Don’t post “please buy my book” everyday. 🙂 But post/share articles that have some connection to what you’re writing about. If you write thrillers maybe you share true crime stories. The other thing to do is have a Google Search on your name and book title, so you can find things that others are writing about you so you can post them. This can be hard because some people are going to be mean, and unfortunately you are going to have to read the nasty things they say. (Don’t repost that stuff! Try to ignore it.) But the good news is you may find some really kind, thoughtful reviews. Those are things you want to share. Good luck!