Kevin O'Brien
 

 

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      Please welcome Kevin O'Brien, our September featured author!

               

             Watch Them Die             The Next to Die

              

             Left for Dead                   Make Them Cry     

 

Review and Synopsis of LEFT FOR DEAD:

Left For Dead by Kevin O’Brien

 Publisher: Pinnacle Books ISBN: 0786016612

When Claire Shaw awakens in the hospital she is terrified and confused when she realizes she doesn’t even know her own name, much less how she got there.  All she knows is that she’s the latest victim of the serial killer known as “Rembrandt”, and the only victim to make it out alive. But as her memory slowly begins to return, a new and unnamed fear tickles at her brain.  Her friends and family surround her, yet she feels an unexplained discomfort and an ever increasing fear.  Soon, nagging questions begin to assault her mind, such as why is everyone she knows acting so strange, and where is her 17 year old young son, and why is she having flashes of violent memory that are unrelated to her supposed attack from Rembrandt? 

Upon returning home to Deception Island near Seattle, slowly recovered memories become even stranger, and she begins to realize that those she trusts are hiding something.  With Rembrandt on her trail, and terrible secrets being held by those she cares for, Claire realizes she will never be safe until she uncovers the final truth.  

O’Brien’s latest thriller offers up a relentless dose of suspense and chills that is sure to please fans of psychological suspense.  There are just the right amounts of twists and turns in this wild ride through terror, and the final denouement will leave readers gasping.  O’Brien knows how to tell a story and how to use escalating threat to its fullest potential, making this guessing game of horrors addictive and satisfying.  Highly recommended, check this one out, and then read his previous novels of suspense, you won’t be disappointed.     

 

Interview:

1. Your books feature some pretty macabre (albeit, fun) themes, what inspires you to write this type of book as opposed to say poetry or happy ever-after type books?

I've always been fascinated by scary stories.  As a kid in the 60's, I loved monster movies and TALES OF THE CRYPT type of comic books.  You couldn't tear me away from the TV when ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, THRILLER, ONE STEP BEYOND, and THE TWILIGHT ZONE were on.  As a result, I was a nervous wreck most of the time, constantly having nightmares, and sleeping with a bat by my bed.  Yet I gobbled up these spooky stories and TV shows!  You go figure.  I remember how I was just dying to see Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO, because it was supposed to be so scary, and for years, my tough-as-nails oldest sister was nervous about taking a shower because of that movie. I was so excited when PSYCHO was supposed to have its TV premiere on CBS 'Friday Night at the Movies.'  I would finally have a chance to see this scary movie I'd heard so much about. But just a week before the movie was to air, the daughter of our state senator, Charles Percy, was brutally murdered in her bedroom.  CBS canceled their PSYCHO premiere.  It was just as well, I was terrified by reports of Valerie Percy's murder--in a Chicago suburb not far where my family lived.  This was in 1966, the same year Richard Speck killed eight student nurses--also in Chicago.  I was both fascinated and horrified by these tragic murders--practically in my back yard.  I lived with my parents, my brother and four older sisters in a huge house with big windows.  It was surrounded by bushes and had a furnace room in the basement that was right out of a horror movie.  I was convinced The Chicago Tribune would one morning feature a diagram of that house, showing where each one of our bodies were found.  1966 was a very nervous year for me. I think Truman Capote's IN COLD BLOOD came out that year too.  

Years later, when I finally saw PSYCHO, I was totally blown away, and became a huge Hitchcock fan.  Whenever one of my grammar school teachers assigned us to write a story, mine always had a murder in it.  And usually, I got my best marks with those assignments.

However, when I began writing-to-publish, I didn't start out with thrillers.  My first book, ACTORS, was mainstream fiction, a sweeping saga (spanning thirty years) about a pair of struggling actors who fall in love in the fifties.  She makes it big, he doesn't. I often describe it as "The Thornbirds Go to Hollywood."  My second novel, ONLY SON, has a lot of suspense in it, but doesn't quite fall into the thriller genre.  It's the story of a 12 year old boy with the perfect widower-dad.  This boy slowly puts it together that his father stole him from his real parents when he was an infant.  It's told with three different points of view.  It's the boy's story, the "father's" story, and the birth-mother's story.  Both of these books weren't easy sales for my agents.  ONLY SON chalked up countless rejections--until the manuscript fell into a film director's hands, and he passed it onto Tom Hanks.  Once Mr. Hanks got interested (this was his PHILADELPHIA year), a studio optioned the film rights.  Right after that, a publisher bit, and pretty soon Reader's Digest wanted to publish a condensed version in a special edition with John Grisham's THE PARTNER.  Ultimately, the movie version never got made, but it did help get the publishers interested.  

After ONLY SON, my agent said I ought to try a thriller, because thrillers make a lot of money.  Plus it's easier to sell something that fits in a genre.  So I wrote NEXT TO DIE, about a hate group that goes after liberal celebrities, discrediting them, and knocking them off one by one.  When I finished the book, I was convinced it wasn't very good.  But--to my utter amazement--the book became a bestseller!  So--I found my niche, and went back to the stuff that both scared and fascinated me as a kid.  I've written three more thrillers since then, and they've all done very well.

 

2. Your last book had some great twists and turns in it, and one's got to wonder, is this all planned ahead, or does sudden inspiration strike throughout?

It's more perspiration than inspiration coming up with plot twists.  But often, certain twists, plot devices, or turns of events will hit me while doing the dishes or going for a walk.  It's kind of like that moment in THE HOURS (I'm talking about the movie; I haven't read Michael Cunningham's book yet), when Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf is sitting on a park bench, thinking about MRS. DALLOWAY, and she whispers, "She will kill herself!"  

With thrillers, I usually need to know how it will end before I come up with all the twists and turns.  So there's lots of planning ahead.  My outline for my most recent book, LEFT FOR DEAD, was 73 pages long.  Most of the major plot twists were there, but some fun little gems came to me while I was actually writing the novel.

 

3. You did a great job with your main character, especially with her being female.  How do you get that female perspective down so well? 

It helps that I have four older sisters.  Plus a dear friend of mine named Cate (we've known each other since college) has read early drafts of all my books.  Cate hates bimbos and wimpy women. She's always gloriously blunt whenever a female character does something that doesn't ring true to her, and I'll fix it for the final draft.  So my pal, Cate deserves a lot of credit if my female characters come across as real and likable.  All my agents--so far--have been women too, and nothing gets past them.

 

4. Your characters all seem like pretty ordinary folks, at least until evil strikes. Where do they come from, are they gleaned from those you know, or just another facet of your wild imagination? 

I once had an argument with my agent.  She wanted me to have a leading character who was an expert at something--criminology, forensics, or whatever, because those types of thrillers sell like hotcakes.  But I'm not very interested in that type of character.  I like the 'ordinary' man or woman who has to rise to the occasion when "evil strikes."  When I wrote LEFT FOR DEAD, I needed the hero to be a cop.  But instead of making him Joe Expert-Cop, I made him a cop who has been behind a desk most of the time, working far more passionately at night on a comic strip that has a small cult following.  He doesn't fit in with the other cops.  His heart isn't in the job--until he's really put to the test.  I was an inspector with the railroads while I wrote my first three books, so I could relate to this character.

Many of my characters have the quirks and mannerisms of people I know.  But for the most part, I invent them. I write biographies of the main characters while I'm working on the book outline.  I include stuff about their parents, their hang-ups, education, jobs, goals, ambitions.  Some of this stuff never makes it into the actual novel, but it helps me get a handle on the character.  I often 'cast' my hero and heroine while figuring out their characters, and ask myself, "Who could play this character in a film version of the book?"  I thought of Diane Lane as Claire in LEFT FOR DEAD.  So--Diane, are you reading this?  
 

5. What's your favorite part about writing such chilling stories?  Your worst?

It kind of goes back to what I said about my childhood.  I really like scaring myself.  When I'm writing at the computer, and I come up with something really creepy, it's so gratifying.  I love it when I write something that makes the hair stand up on my arms.  And I think, "Oh, this will really creep people out!"  That's the best part.  The worst part is reading and editing the same thing a day later, and half the time, it's not at all scary.  Another great part about what I do is hearing from people who enjoy my work.  It's extra nice when they say they can relate to my characters.  

 

6. What do you like to read in your spare time? 

I'm all over the place as far as what I read.  For example, I'm now reading Harlan Coben's TELL NO ONE.  Before that, I was wrapped up in PEYTON PLACE (Grace Metalious); and THREE JUNES (Julia Glass) before that.  When I'm done with TELL NO ONE, Erik Larson's DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is waiting in the wings--as is DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY & DENIM by David Sedaris.  I usually go by what people recommend to me.   

 

7. What, or who, convinced you to take the plunge and finally put your wild imagination to paper?

As I mentioned, I was a huge fan of Hitchcock's PSYCHO, and a lot of the creative writing assignments I did for school were murder stories.  In college (at Marquette University in Milwaukee), on a lark, I took a creative writing class.  The teacher, Anne Powers, was a writer, and she'd been in a writers group with Robert Bloch, who wrote the novel, PSYCHO (loosely based on the notorious Ed Gein case--also in Wisconsin).  Anyway, Anne was a wonderful teacher, very encouraging.  It was very motivating to have this writing pal of Robert Bloch taking me under her wing.  Anne focused on a lot of the practical stuff about writing--editing and polishing, how to contact agents or publishers, how to write a good query letter, etc.  She never told a student how to write.  While I was in Anne's class, I made a goal for myself--to publish a book or story by the time I was thirty.  

After college, I wrote a couple of Hitchcock-influenced screenplays that went no where.  I also wrote several short stories.  When I moved to Seattle in 1980, my pal, Cate, talked me into taking a creative writing class with her at a community college.  Our teacher was Zola Helen Ross, and she was terrific.  She liked my short stories, and told me that I ought to try my hand at writing a novel.  So I started writing ACTORS in her class.  I also met my first agent through someone in that class.  So I'm always encouraging beginning writers to take a class at a community college.  It took a couple of years, but on the morning after my 30th birthday, I got a call at 7 AM.  I thought it was someone with my railroad job, and I let the machine answer.  I heard my agent singing 'Happy Birthday' to me after the beep.  Then she announced that ACTORS had sold to St, Martin's Press.  So--I might have been a day late, but I'd made my goal.

 

8. It seems that almost every mystery/suspense book out there these days is part of a series, do you have any plans in that direction? 

Not right now.  I think that goes back to the argument I had with my agent.  In order for a series to work, there has to be a detective, priest, psychiatrist, doctor, forensics expert--or someone who is Joe or Josie Expert--as a continuing character.  I like the ordinary hero or heroine.  And I like creating new people each time I come up to bat with a new book idea.  But never say never.  If I came up with a terrific idea for a series--and a character that would sustain it--I might jump on it.

 

9. And finally what can your fans expect next?     

I'm way behind schedule on my new thriller, STROKE OF MADNESS.  Here's hoping I can make my deadline, and it will be in bookstores next summer.  It's about a divorced mother of two, who gets involved in her twin brother's campaign for state senator.  She has a dark secret from her past, and now that she's thrust in the local limelight, old friends start turning up dead.  I better not say any more.  I don't want to give too much away.  

Kevin is also author of "ONLY SON"