Interview: Michael O'Neal, Author of The Eighth Day

O'NealTheEighthDayEveryone, please welcome Michael O’Neal. You can catch me review of his book, The Eighth Day, over HERE. Today Michael stopped by to chat about action flicks, his kid-self, detassling corn, and much more. Enjoy!

1) If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

I would have to go with The X Files. Not only is it still my one of my favorite shows, I would be curious to experience it for the first time in the post-9/11 world, with all we know now about our government’s nefarious activities (NSA spying, CIA “black sites”, etc).

2) How does modern pop culture influence your work? Do modern cultural references date a piece or add touchstones for the reader?

We’re immersed in our culture so it’s hard not to let that seep into the work, but you’d be amazed how fast the world changes. For instance, in the original draft of THE EIGHTH DAY a reporter references Y2K as being the biggest crises the president had to deal with so far, which in 1999 when the book was first written was this big impending thing, and two years later (after 9/11) it was a laughable afterthought. So that had to be changed.

It really depends on how timeless the culture reference is as to whether it dates it. The book references The X Files and Top Gun, and I think both have cemented their status as pop culture icons to the extent that it doesn’t date the piece at all.

3) Due to your job and training as a maritime safety instructor, you know some action is dangerous, but does your character? Do you find your background helpful in creating dangerous circumstances in your writing?

My background definitely helps, although getting expert opinion is just as important. The author always knows more than the character. Right now I’m working on a new series of books (a heart-warming tale of a girl and her dog…trying to survive the zombie apocalypse 😉 and I just wrote a sequence the other day where they’re escaping in a small private plane, and the heroine’s only had a little bit of instruction on how to fly, so I thought back to my early days in flight school at some of the things I had trouble with and potential pitfalls for a young, inexperienced pilot.

4) What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

My most physically demanding job was detassling corn during the summers in high school, but as unpleasant as that was my worst job was my first job at the second college I attended. I was working at a call center shaking down alumni for money, and I lasted about a month and a half (of working 2 days a week). No amount of showering will make you feel clean after bugging a just-furloughed-going-through-a-nasty-divorce airline pilot for money. They call me now and I give them a little just because I feel bad for the poor sap on the other end of the line, having spent some time in their shoes getting cursed at. Some of the people I called were pretty cool but most were less than happy to talk to me and some were just downright nasty. I don’t particularly care for talking on the phone anyway. Needless to say, writing is a much nicer way to make money (and I sleep better too).

5) I see that you are into thrillers and action stories (The Avengers, Top Gun, Tom Clancy novels). In the past year or two, what have been some of your favorite action/thrillers either to hit the pages or the big screen?

As far as books go, there’s been a couple. Katya’s World is one of my favorite YA books, it reminded me a lot of seaQuest DSV, which while short-lived was one of my favorite shows growing up. Tom Clancy’s last book, Command Authority, was really good and unnervingly prescient, given what’s happening in Crimea and Ukraine right now. I was deeply saddened when he passed, though his co-writer Mark Greaney has taken up the mantle with Support and Defend, which you could kind of tell was the publisher letting him take the Clancyverse out for a spin on his own before giving him the keys to the kingdom. But he did a good job, the transition was nearly seamless. It looks like the powers that be thought so too, since Greaney’s next book will include Jack Ryan and all the supporting characters, rather than just one of the lesser Campus operators that Support and Defend centered on.

Speaking of the Clancyverse, I thought the new Jack Ryan movie was pretty good, but I think they’re missing a golden opportunity right now. I think they should make the Campus series books into movies and have Chris Pine play Jack Ryan Junior, and bring back Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan Senior, but that’s just my two cents.

Outside of that, Marvel Studios continues to knock one after another out of the park. The Winter Soldier was probably the best Marvel stand-alone movie so far. And the last two Hunger Games movies were really good too. Sometimes a movie adaptation will add a little something to the story that really kicks it up a notch, like some of the Harry/Hermione scenes in Deathly Hallows Part 1, and in the Mockingjay movie I loved how Peeta’s rescue, which happens off-page in the book, becomes a nail-biting almost shot-for-shot remake of the climax of Zero Dark Thirty.

6) What book should be made into a game (card, PC, board, etc.) and why? Is there a specific character who you would want to play in this game?

Hmm, that’s a tough one. I’ve always been a big fan of the Splinter Cell PC games since to me they were like experiencing a Tom Clancy novel rather than just reading one, so I’d probably have to go with one of his newer books. Probably Locked On or Threat Vector, maybe more the former since it featured the Rainbow counter-terror team that’s already been featured in a number of successful video games.

Come to think of it though, Jim Bernhiemer’s Dead Eye books would make a cool GTA-style game. Go around punching ghosts, always low on cash and gas, having to make allies and run errands for funds, and there would be plenty of puzzles to solve as your character figures out how to control his powers as a Ferryman and how to use them to get out of sticky situations. I’d definitely want a “Pedestrian view” so you can see your character trying to fight a ghost but not the ghost itself, that would probably be good for a laugh.

7) What were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

Oh man, me as a kid. I have a good anecdote about that. Part of my first book takes place at a place called AUTEC (Atlantic Underwater Testing and Evaluation Center, it’s a real place the Navy plays with all their underwater toys), after one of my co-workers read the book he came up to me and said “I knew about AUTEC because I used to run the civilian contract ships down there. How the hell did you know about it as a sophomore in high school?” To which I shrugged and replied, “My fourth grade book report was on a 400 page dissertation on the U-boat campaign off the East Coast of the US during WWII. I was kind of a weird kid.” I always had my head buried in a book. The only way my parents got me to go outside was introducing me to model rocketry, which after they had to run in terror from an errant home-made rocket is something they probably regret.

That said, as much as I liked reading I never really saw myself as a professional writer. I was always good at it in school but didn’t start doing it for fun until high school, and doubted I was good enough to turn pro. For most of my childhood I either wanted to fly or design airplanes or be a submariner or underwater explorer. Looking back, two out of four ain’t bad.

8) Care to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

Unfortunately I don’t have enough fans for this to have occurred yet, nor have I personally met most of my favorite authors. Thus far the people who gush about the book are people I know so that makes it less awkward. I did spot a guy I’d met before at the local Comic-Con where I was selling my books, and this guy had the most terrifying creepy clown sounding laugh you’ve ever heard. It haunts my nightmares still. So I thought to myself “If I call out to him I bet he’ll come over and buy a book…but I will literally pay $15 to not have to hear that creepy clown laugh again.”

9) What is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

If they ever do a “VH1 Behind the Music”-style documentary about me, the time I got sucked into playing Physics Equation Hangman with my fellow aerospace engineering students in the basement of the engineering building at Iowa State will be the “and that’s when he knew he’d hit rock bottom” moment. I looked around me and thought, I don’t belong here. I transferred to flight school shortly thereafter 🙂

Comments are always appreciated, so don't be shy!