Interview with Dave O’Leary
Today I'm joined by author Dave O’Leary.
What genre do you write and why?
Literary fiction. That's where my interests are and with the way I want to write and use language and incorporate poetry, it's the only genre I feel comfortable in. I admire books in other genres and there are plenty of great writers doing other things. I’ve always admired Tolkien and his imagination. The same goes for George R.R. Martin and Stephen King, but I'll never write any science fiction or fantasy or horror. I guess there’s enough magic and terror and love in this world for me to write about that I don't feel the need to create wholly new worlds.
Tell us about your latest book.
The Music Book is a collection of the writings I’ve done about Seattle bands for both Northwest Music Scene and the now defunct Seattle Subsonic. It is a fictional narrative wrapped around and within the actual music, a story about live music in Seattle, and more broadly, about the power of music in our lives.
The book gets after what music means. Can it be more than the sum of its notes and melodies? Can it truly change you? Rob, a musician turned reluctant music critic, poses these questions as everything important in his life appears to be fading—memories of lost love, songs from his old bands, even his hearing. He delves into the music of others to find solace and purpose, and discovers that the chords and repeated phrases echo themes that have emerged in his own life. The music sustains him, but can it revive him?
The Music Book is a story of loss, of fear and loneliness, of a mutable past. But most of all it’s about music as a force, as energy, as a creator of possibility. What might come from the sound of an A chord played just so? Rob listens. And among other things, he finds surprising companionship with a cat; another chance at love; and the courage to step on a stage again and finally, fully comprehend the power of sound.
What formats is the book available in?
The Music Book is available in print form, of course. Barnes & Noble picked it up in Seattle-area stores as did some of the local independents. It’s also available online at the Amazon and Barnes & Noble sites in both print and ebook formats. I believe that buying a print copy on Amazon will enable a download of the Kindle version for free. iTunes has the ebook as well.
There’s also a CD of the music experienced in the book. A portion of the proceeds from CD and download sales go to the Wishlist Foundation which is an organization that supports the charitable endeavours of Pearl Jam. Wishlist Foundation made sense as a charity to support since Pearl Jam is mentioned a few times in the book and they’re from Seattle. They’re another local band just like all the unknown bands I wrote about. So anyway, all the bands were happy to donate a track for the cause.There are a limited number of physical CDs available, but the music can also be purchased for download by individual songs or all 16 tracks. It’s a great way to get some excellent music while supporting the book, the bands, and the Wishlist Foundation.
The CD can be found here:
Who are your favourite authors?
My favourite authors are Haruki Murakami, Virginia Woolf, Graham Swift, and Charles Bukowski. I like Murakami for his strangeness. He reminds me a little of Kafka at times for writing about these weird things that happen, a bit of the supernatural that almost seems ordinary within his world. The unexpected is expected, commonplace. Read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World to see what I mean. Woolf was just a master with her prose. Her stuff borders on poetry without seeming so. Her language is so beautiful. To the Lighthouse is an absolute masterpiece. Graham Swift is another. His use of language and perspective in Last Orders is at once gut wrenching and funny and magnificent and even simple. One chapter of the book is only two words long, but it’s so absolutely perfect. For Bukowski, I like his poetry best. He wasn’t ornate at all, a straight punch to the gut, but he could be quite moving too. It seems rough on the surface, but if you really pay attention it’s beautiful stuff. He had a soft heart under that rough exterior. Books like Love is a Dog from Hell and You Get So Alone at Times that It Just Makes Sense are books that I’ve read four or five times each and each one has many pages dog-eared for quick reference. There is also a journal of his that was published posthumously, The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship. I carried that book around with me so much at one point in my life that the cover came off.
What's the best thing about being a writer?
The best thing about being a writer are those moments when it just works, and the words bite into the page and stick there with a fierceness, those moments when you know those words are final and will never have to be edited or changed in any way. I had one of those moments with the ending of The Music Book. The manuscript went through a number of drafts, but the last paragraph never did. I somehow got that thing out on the first try, and man what a feeling when that happened. I cracked open a beer and just sat there knowing. I’d only written for about an hour that night, but I stopped after that. I’m not one of those people who writes to a certain word count every night. It’s more of a feel thing with me, and after I wrote that paragraph, I knew that was a good point to stop for the evening. You have to know when not to force it.
How long did it take you to write your book?
The music writing mostly dates from 2011 while I was finishing my first book, Horse Bite. I got started in late summer of 2012 on The Music Book in the sense that I started collecting the music articles I wanted to use and to start thinking about the narrative that would surround the music. I was playing in a band called Sightseer at the time though so my writing time was more limited so from the start until October 2013, progress was slow. And then I decided to make the tough choice to quit the band. I found that I couldn’t do both as fully as I wanted, and the one I needed to do more at the time was write. I needed to finish the book. So I left the band in October 2013 and was done with the book by February 2014. Booktrope made an offer to publish it less than two months later. Thankfully Sightseer has found a new bass player and is moving forward. That band is one of the best in the city and should be every bit as popular as Pearl Jam and other famous bands from Seattle.
What is your work in progress? Tell us about it.
I have two things. First, there’s a Valentine’s short story that is coming out next month. It’s called Valentine’s Seahorse. It’s about an older guy and a younger woman and their attempts at relationship and sex while they discuss great works of literature that have been adapted to the big screen. There’s the worry of age difference and what to do when a younger woman propositions an older man for sex for the simple need of release and the risk of love that may or may not bring.
The other one is a longer work called Condoms on Christmas. Seems I’m on a holiday theme, and I originally had the idea for a collection of short stories based around holidays but that weren’t really holiday stories. Condoms on Christmas is actually a short story that was published by the Monarch Review back in 2012, but when I went to edit it to get it ready for the collection, it grew from the story of one man’s Christmas day to the story of six different people on a single Christmas day and how their lives intersect as they make choices about where their lives are, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. There are condoms of course, some broken, some unused, some placed on the windshields of cars in a parking lot. I’m hoping to have it done in time to publish in the October or November, but that might be pushing it. It depends on the length of it.
Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
The desire I think was always there. It just took the right exposure to the right books. The first books that made me think about the idea of being a writer were Tolkien’s. I just so admired his imagination. Then there was Jim Morrison. He put the poetry bug in me, and then I got into Whitman for a while. There’s Bukowski, of course. Actually, the only two graves of famous people that I’ve visited are Bukowski’s and Morrison’s. It was A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that got me to think about not just writing fiction but rather literature, something where language was as important as story. That solidified when I read Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. That was back in the mid-90s. I was living with a friend who’s also majored in English in college, and when I showed him a couple short stories, he gave me some honest feedback but also some encouragement. I remember him telling me, “You’ll be published someday, O’Leary.” A comment like that can give someone courage and resolve. It turns out he was right about the publishing bit so I guess owe something of it to him too. Thanks, Rich.
I have a blog post that delves into this a little further. It goes back to books from my childhood that got me going in the direction of reading and writing. It culminates with a book that for me is something to aspire to, which is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I hope to someday write something so good. If you’re reader’s are curious, here’s the link.
What advice do you have for other writers?
Write. Don’t make excuses, just write. Also believe in yourself. If your manuscript is rejected, make it better or send it to someone else. Then get back to writing something new. And read, always be reading something. And read a variety of stuff. It never hurts to get other voices and perspectives. Like right now, I’m not reading fiction, which is what I normally read. I’m reading two things actually. First is Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. It’s research for Condoms on Christmas, and I’m also reading Graham Swift’s Making an Elephant. It’s a non-fiction book, his account of a writer’s life, something in the vein of Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s quite good. I like it better than King’s actually.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
There’s an English-owned pub in Seattle called the George and Dragon where my girlfriend and I go to watch EPL games. She was an Arsenal fan when we met so that meant I pretty much had to be one too. I’ve quite gotten into it actually and might now be a bigger Gunner fan than she is. We watch Game of Thrones when that’s on. Then there’s reading. Always have a book in hand, even at the pub. And there’s music of course. The guitar is there in the corner. I think I’ll go pick it up now.