In the first of a series of features for 2012 on Irish Crime Debut Novelists, I talk to successful playwright, Paul O’Brien, Author of Blood Runs Dollar Green about his new novel, and why he decided to take the plunge into this deadly game.
Paul O’Brien is a writer from Wexford, Ireland. In the last fifteen years he has written sixteen plays and two screenplays. He has been commissioned and/or produced by The Abbey, Druid, Red Kettle Theatre Company, Town Hall Theatre, Galway and Spare Key Productions in New York.
Last May, I purposefully stopped writing plays for the first time since 1998. I hadn’t a clue what to do or where to go so I did some googling to see how this novel thing works. I was filled with questions. What route to take? Traditional or self-publish? Seek agent, not seek agent? Write in my underwear or smoking jacket?
The more I researched the more I saw just how ordered the book business is. Pitching an idea felt similar, in that you’re asked ‘what’s it about?’ But the experience was also alien, in that you’re asked ‘where would I put you?’ Like, what shelf does your story go on? Hmmm. How did I not see that one coming?
Genre is a much smaller fence to hop in the theatre.
One of perennial structure questions all writers ask themselves is – why now? What makes this story divergent from all the rest? What’s so great about your idea that it’s worth spending days, months or even years working on it. Why are you the only person in the world that could tell this story? What makes your story different? Not only that but – how different could a first time, unknown writer be on his or her first novel? Writing crime is a very defined looking act. Hard boiled – police procedure – English rural mystery etc. Whereas a first time playwright could set their play in the mind of a thought bubble and have the lack of meaning in the piece be transferred to you in the form of a smell, and they might possibly win some kind of award.
So I doubled my googling efforts. I wanted to write a book that someone might one day have an interest in reading. But my premise was also a little…unusual. All the research I had amassed told me that all roads to the readers lay in the pitch. They want to know, as best they can up front, if they’re going to like what you’re trying to sell them. ‘Is this different to what I usually like?’
It’s something we all do all the time in all corners of our lives. I, for instance, refuse to ever take another chance on Orlando Bloom. I will, however, rent or buy anything that involves a heist, Jackie Chan, subtitles, the Coen brothers, ninjas, Aaron Sorkin, Christmas, John C. Reilly, HBO or the Hulk. (All that together would make the most awesome movie of all time.)
I just like that stuff. So I go looking for more stuff like that. Readers, to a large degree, seemed to be the same. Rightly so. They want to know if a book idea is their thing. That’s why the book shop is sectioned and amazon spends millions getting to know your tastes. So with that in mind – as an unknown, first time author – I asked myself, how safe do you play it?
When one sexy vampire story hits – thousands hit. When Die Hard hit the cinema, a thousand more hit. Skinny hipster jeans? Everyone has them. Even those who really shouldn’t – including any man ever and any girl over the age of ten. In writing terms, do you write about the hipster vampire in the John McClaine vest first time out? You know that there an audience for that. Fashion, art and food is mass-produced for a reason. Do we want the same – familiar but different – or just different?
In the end I went for the familiar, but different.
My book is a gritty, New York, organized crime novel set in the seventies about a pan American blood feud between a couple of the rival syndicates.
It’s also set in the shady, con-filled world of American professional wrestling. That’s the different bit.
But that what, in my mind, makes it perfect for a crime novel. These guys conned huge audiences with fixed fights for decades. It’s hard to imagine now, but for a lot of the paying population of America – wrestling was very much a straight up sport. As legit as any football game, tennis match or 100m sprint. Matches between two heavyweight wrestlers were routinely promoted on the same card as two heavyweight boxers. Wrestling was ‘real’ and matches drew huge money. Cash money. All controlled by a small back-room gang that managed the whole country.
Now, my book is not ‘about’ wrestling – no more than Top Gun was about jets or Black Swan was about ballet or the Sopranos was about refuge collection. Like all stories it’s about the characters that inhabit that world. Blood Red Turns Dollar Green is about relationships and greed and paranoia and love and death and the struggle for power. The things we can all understand or identify with.
So I went with that. And it’s going really well. I’ve had such a fun time that I’m going to stay over this side of the fence for a while. I think I might have a few more books in me.
Hopefully they’ll be familiar but different too.
P.S. I went with the smoking jacket
To find out more about Paul – check out his web site –www.paulobrien.info/
Facebook : – www.facebook.com/paulobrien.info & Twitter @tweetpaulobrien
Copies of Blood Red Turns Dollar Green are available in paperbook or ebook form from Amazon
or via the Paul O’Brien website above www.paulobrien.info