Saturday, 15 November 2014

Interview with Author Dave O'Leary

1. How does a typical book get written in your world - what do you start with?

   The Music Book started with two things. First there was the music writing I was doing for two websites, Northwest Music Scene and the now defunct Seattle Subsonic. I would write about my experience of seeing the bands, and musicians and readers liked it. They enjoyed my perspective. Then one night at a party after a show, Stacey Meyer--Furniture Girls' singer--said she'd love to see a collection of those music articles in a book. I had just finished my first book and so her comments got me thinking about book number two.

   The second thing was that I wanted to write a book that had music dripping and echoing from every page. I saw a quote on the back cover of my copy of Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad that began, "With music pulsing from every page..." I loved the book, and there was some music in it, but I wanted more. I didn't feel like that book had music pulsing from every page, and I knew I could write one that did. And so the two ideas came together. I decided to take my music articles and wrap them in a fictional narrative and infuse even the fictional bits with as much music as the true bits about going to see an actual band play.
   The themes for the fictional narrative were taken from the ideas that had come forth in my music writing. The music articles changed a little to fit in the book, but not much. What's there is my reaction to the music I experienced, the ideas of love and loss and permanence, the fear of hearing loss, the doubts that sometimes plague artists. The hard part about this book was the beginning. I didn't know exactly where I wanted to start, but I knew I wanted to start with live music. I struggled for a little while with the beginning until the idea for the prologue hit. Then it all came together.

2. How would you compare the protagonist of some of your books with yourself?

   Well, my first book, Horse Bite, was a semi-autobiographical novel so the main character was indeed me. For The Music Book, I guess Rob is based on me, but not exactly me. There had to be some of me in the main character because the music writing was true. Those gigs in the Seattle clubs happened. I befriended those bands, and the writing is my reaction to their music. So the things that Rob thinks about and struggles with are things that came from my original reactions to the music, but Rob's path and story are different from mine.

3. What classic piece of work do you wish you had written?

   Where to begin? There are so many great books, but to narrow it down to just one, or maybe a few, I'd have to say these:
   1. Lord of the Rings. This is one of those things that made me want to write. I just so loved and admired Tolkien's imagination, his ability to create a whole new world and to absorb the reader in it.
   2. The Road. This is such a beautiful piece of writing, and it is deceptively simple. What a great book. It's bleak and dark and touching. The language is poetic in the sense that it is stripped of excess. Maybe I'll never be satisfied as a writer until I write something this good.
   3. You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense / Love Is A Dog From Hell. Both of these are poetry by Charles Bukowski. It's poetry that borders on being prose. It's narrative in a sense. The words just pack a punch.
4. How do you deal with reviews?

   I haven't yet received a review that just tears one of my books apart and calls me a crappy writer. It'll happen eventually so I'll just have to prepare for it. What I won't do is what Kathleen Hale did by stalking a blogger who gave her a one star review. People have their own ideas and agendas and they react to things differently, and well, if they don't like my book they're entitled to their opinion. It'll be hard to read when it happens, but I'll survive, and who knows, maybe I'll learn something from it.

5. If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?

   Well, for the main character, Rob, I'd say Joshua Gordon-Levitt. He can play guitar, and when he came to Seattle a couple years ago he played Nirvana's "Lithium" at an event he was hosting. It's on YouTube here:
   For the other characters, I'd really have to think about it, but I imagine Genny--the tattoo artist--as being played by Lena Dunham. And maybe Officer played by Will Ferrell or Zach Galifianakis.
   The bands would, ideally, be played by themselves, which would be awesome since it'd give the bands more exposure, and that's a part of the reason for the book. There's so much great music out there in the local clubs that deserves to be heard, that is every bit as good as what's on the radio, and honestly, the bands in this book are way better than most of what's on the radio.

6. Is there any genre that you would never ever want to write in?

   I guess I'd have to answer this question from the other direction. The only thing I see myself writing is literary fiction. That's where my interests area 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. Like I said, I admired Tolkien and his imagination, but I'll never write any science fiction or fantasy stuff. 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.

7. What awesome books and projects are you working on at the moment?

   I have a few short stories that are based around holidays although they aren't holiday stories in any traditional holiday sense. The main one of these is called Condoms on Christmas. It was first published in the Monarch Review in May of 2012, and I've begun reworking it a bit. As I've done such, the story has grown so much that it might turn into a short novel. It could end up being its own thing or it could be like part two of Jumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth. The first part of that book is five unrelated stories, and part two is one story in three parts and is about one third the length of the book. Condoms on Christmas might be like that, the longest story in a collection of short stories. We'll see. As for what it's about, it isn't really a Christmas story, of course. Such holidays just give heightened awareness to the feelings of being alone and the reasons we do and don't let people into our lives. It'll weave in and out of the differing perspectives of five people on a single Christmas day. There's desperation, joy, sex, booze, loneliness, and redemption. Most of all there's possibility. That's one of the things about holidays. They remind us of all that was and that we've lost, but they also remind us of all that is possible.
   The other thing I'm doing now is bringing the bands from the book into the studio of a Seattle-based record label called Critical Sun. Whet we do is then record a session in which I interview the band and they play a few songs. These interviews are being released as podcasts, and the first few are already online here:
   We've also put together a CD of the music in the book. There are physical CDs that will be available online soon, but for now there is a page where all the music can be downloaded. The cool thing about the CD is that it is a benefit for a charity called the Wishlist Foundation, which is a Pearl Jam fan nonprofit, grassroots 501(c)(3) fan organization dedicated to supporting Pearl Jam’s charitable and philanthropic efforts
   The CD's download page is here:

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