Press & Media: Writer's Resource Directory

The following interview with Deborah O'Toole originally appeared on the Writer's Resource Directory web site in 2006.


How old were you when you started to write? When did you realize writing was something you wanted to pursue seriously?

I was writing little stories as a small child. My mother saved them all, of course. As for becoming serious about writing as a career, the notion developed in my teens. However, I made the mistake of marrying too young and this sort of sidetracked me. To be honest, my first husband did encourage me to write. It was in 1984 that I got the idea for The Twain Shall Meet. The story went through many changes later, but the basic premise was there.


Where did you get the idea for "The Twain Shall Meet"?

The story was a vague culmination of characters in my own family – highly embellished in fiction, naturally – and my liking for old, spooky houses that began with the daytime TV serial Dark Shadows. I adored Dark Shadows as a child. My mother used to let me skip catechism so I wouldn’t miss an episode, although our priest was none too happy about it. I took particular interest in the house portrayed in Dark Shadows – a huge, foreboding mansion on the coastline of Maine.


The Twain Shall Meet is not meant to be a scary book, but the house is depicted in much the same fashion and I simply planted my characters inside.


Although "The Twain Shall Meet" was the first full-length novel you wrote, two of sequels – "The Advent" and "Quixotic Crossings" – are actually parts one and two. How did that come about?

After finishing The Twain Shall Meet, I had no intentions of writing any sequels. I had other story ideas I wanted to pursue, but the lure of Larkin City kept drawing me back. The Keeper's Journal was written next, although it is the fifth part of the trilogy. I wanted to explore what happened to Shannon Larkin after The Twain Shall Meet, and that's when I developed the storyline of the old lighthouse keeper's journal. The Keeper's Journal is actually not centered on Shannon; there is more emphasis on her daughter Angie Page and the machinations of the Sullivan sisters attempting to wreck havoc on the Larkin family.


Did finishing "The Keeper's Journal" lead you to write "The Advent"?

Definitely. I spent six months writing The Keeper's Journal. By the time I completed the manuscript I already had the idea for the first book in the Collective Obsessions Saga, now known as The Advent.


Since The Keeper's Journal delved a lot into the past – the relationship between Molly Larkin and lighthouse keeper Colm Sullivan in the late 1800’s – I knew I had to go back and make their story real. As it happened, I wrote The Advent in just three weeks. It was an easy flow because the scenarios were already set-up in a vague way, but the threads of madness and obsession needed to be established.


Just before I finished The Advent in 2000, I had to have major surgery. Like most people, I despise hospitals and medical procedures. I thought for sure something off-the-wall would happen during my surgery – just my luck – so I left the book unfinished, hoping this would drive my will to live in case of a catastrophe. Everything turned out fine, obviously, and shortly after my surgery I finished the book.


Where did the obsessive madness theme in the Collective Obsessions Saga come from? Were you using your imagination, or did real-life events trigger the scenarios?

No real-life events inspired me, thankfully. Basically, I was bored with genre romance novels ending in unrealistic happiness and contentment. I certainly did not want to follow the suit of others and write in the same picket-fence fashion. Giving my characters a maniacal twist was intentional. Once I developed the characters, I actually enjoyed myself. It's much more interesting to create compulsively psychotic people than it is to churn out tales of "happily ever after."


What is the difference between writing fiction novels and stories for your "Short Tales Collection"?

In some respects writing short stories is more difficult, mainly because I have to pour a lot into a brief frame. Putting together a lengthy fiction work takes a great amount of time and preparation – not to mention longer editing sessions - but there is more freedom to detail characters and settings. However, I enjoy writing from Foofer's viewpoint now and then, and the result comes in the form of his short stories. Foofer provides wonderful inspiration on a daily basis, so I don't see the series ending any time soon.


What books are you working on now?

I signed a contract for my novel Celtic Remnants last year, and I'm currently editing the book with my publisher. The bulk of the story is set in stone, but we are also adding some new characters and several more "terrorism" scenes. There is a lot of research involved as the story takes place in the turbulence of Northern Ireland. I can't say much more than that about the book, mainly because we are tying to keep it under wraps. Celtic Remnants is quite unlike anything I've ever written.


I'm also sporadically working on a story called In the Shadow of the King, which is about the courtier Sir Francis Bryan during the time of Henry VIII. This book is involved because of it's historical aspects, but I've had to set it aside until Celtic Remnants is complete.


What is your favorite writing muse?

I prefer peace and quiet; no music and no television. On the flip side, I still like doing some of my writing by long-hand on a note pad, which I can do in front of the television, in bed or sitting at the kitchen table. I often get ideas while I'm driving down the road or shopping in a store. There are times when I can be inspired by seeing a complete stranger walk by – the more eccentric the better. What some people don't understand about writers is that we see everything: we may not let on that we do, but seemingly inconsequential body language, personality quirks and other idiosyncrasies never go unnoticed. An author's personal relationships may suffer or private issues may go unattended, but peripherals are rarely missed. I've always felt this is part of being a writer, and very few people understand that - nor are they prepared to live with the lack of personal attention on a daily basis.


Ideas and inspiration can be gleaned from just about anything – people, animals, cities, movies and other books. The creative supply is endless.


What word processor program do you prefer when writing?

I prefer writing my larger books using Word Perfect, although in recent years I've also started utilizing Microsoft Word. Before I do any typing, though, every new story gets plotted by hand on paper, as do some scenes. More often than not, when I take handwritten notes and begin typing them, I get a fresh batch of ideas and end up changing various bits.


What advice would you give another writer just starting out?

Never give up. Even if it takes years, never give up your dream. Keep writing and submitting. The important thing is to write regularly. The more you write – whether it is a story, a journal entry or an article – the more you hone your skills. This may sound trite, but it's true.


What thoughts or actions do you use to keep yourself motivated on the days you don't really feel up to writing?

I'm an expert at creating "chores" on the days I don't feel like writing. I can subconsciously reason my way out of sitting down at the computer and creating, but I usually force myself to get into it. Once I do, I'm glad because the words start flowing and all is right in the world again. Luckily, my main motivation is writing. I love it more than anything, so it's rare when I'm not penning something.


What is your all-time favorite book?

That's a difficult question. There are many favorite books I can read over and over – not in succession, but as the years pass. Bledding Sorrow by Marilyn Harris is one of the best, and I also adore A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford. I appreciate Stephen King's sense of humor and enjoy most of his books. I re-read the Lord of the Rings every five years or so, and I consider The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough to be an all-time classic.


However, if I had to pick one title it would be Immortal Queen by Elizabeth Byrd. Written in 1952, this out-of-print novel about Mary Queen of Scots is expertly dramatized and rich in character study. Ms. Byrd's writing skills are unmatched in my mind, and I can only wish to be as brilliant as she.


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