Thursday, December 13, 2012

BOOK CLUB BASH: Interview with author Anderson O'Donnell

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Please join me in welcoming Anderson O'Donnell, author of the dystopian novel, Kingdom, to A Night's Dream of Books!  Thank you for joining us, Anderson!

Now on to the interview!

Maria: What's your background as a writer?

Anderson:  I always considered myself to be a reader first; the writing was just an attempt to mimic my heroes -- the paperback writers whose work I grew up worshipping.  But during my undergrad years, I came to appreciate the extent to which writing had become a critical part of my own life.  I hit a point when scribbling in the notebook wasn't just a hobby.  It was essential, like breathing or eating or sleeping.  After that discovery, there wasn't much else I could do but write.  But I still needed the discipline, and I'd say that's the area in which I worked the hardest.  I studied other writers' styles, sure.  But most importantly, I studied how they approached their craft, and mimicked these techniques until I finally hit my own stride. 

Maria:  Fascinating!  I think this process is part of every serious writer's development as a professional, as well as an artist.  Which writers have been your major literary influences?

Anderson:  William Gibson, Bret Easton Ellis, Jack O'Connell, Stephen King, Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling, and Shakespeare.

Maria:  Very interesting and eclectic list!  How have philosophical/religious views on the nature of the soul impacted this novel?

Anderson: I tried to use some classic philosophical/religious texts' take on the human soul to serve as Kingdom's intellectual foundation.  For instance, the works of both Aquinas and Plato were essential in how I approached the soul.  But I didn't want to preach, so I tried to keep the philosophical diatribes to an absolute minimum.  It was my goal to use certain philosophical ideas about the soul as a starting point, and then have the characters in Kingdom put their own spin on these classic takes.

Maria:  What inspired you to write Kingdom?

Anderson:  The idea first came to be when I was reading William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience.  I was struck by the idea that, given the similarities in religious experiences recorded by individuals without regard to specific belief, perhaps there was a common, possibly genetic reason that so many people all over the world seem to experience "God" or religion in such a similar fashion.  And so, I wanted to explore that question, but I wanted to do so through my first love, genre fiction.

Maria:  Kirkus Reviews has compared this novel to the work of Philip K. Dick.  How do you feel about this statement?  How is Kingdom similar to/different from this writer's work?

Anderson:  Well, first off, let me say how flattering it is to be compared to PKD, someone whose work has had an incredible impact on my own stories.  It's an honor, and I feel like I have a long way to go before I deserve to be mentioned on the same page with Mr. Dick.  That being said, I believe there are some similarities, if for no other reason than the fact I read so much PKD when I was growing up.  And of course, Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was the basis for Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, the greatest dystopian/noir film of all time, and the movie that all dystopian writers picture in their heads while working, whether they are conscious of that fact or not.

And, like Dick, I'm fascinated by religion and religious experiences, although we seem to approach the topic from slightly different perspectives.  Dick also defined many of the classic sci-fi archetypes, and while Kingdom definitely plays a part in the sci-fi genre, I've pushed hard to transcend any one genre, and to break through into literary fiction.

Maria:  I haven't read your novel, but from the reviews I've seen, you certainly seem to have accomplished your goal of creating a work that would be classified in the literary fiction genre.  Speaking of which, it has been said that literary fiction is slowly becoming obsolete.  Do you agree or disagree with this statement?  Why or why not?

Anderson:  I disagree.  I do think, however, that, as more authors experiment with Indie publishing, and the market for new talent continues to expand, the definition of "literary fiction" will expand.  There will be genre writers, like myself, who will wind up with a work that transcends genre and moves into the literary category.  So I think that as long as fans of literary fiction continue to be open-minded about what kind of work can be considered, the category will not only remain viable, but is going to grow. 

Maria:  This novel is narrated by three different characters.  In what ways did you prepare yourself to handle such a difficult narrative technique?

Anderson:  It was definitely a challenge, and there were some days when I wished I had structured the novel differently.  But I'm glad I stuck with it, because ultimately it allowed me to more fully develop three important characters.  And in order to handle this challenge, I would try to spend weeks writing the same character; even if, for example, I finished a Dylan chapter and a Campbell chapter was up next, I'd stick with Dylan and try to finish at least one more Dylan chapter before switching the POV.  Of course, writing chapters out-of-order posed a whole different set of problems!

Maria: Do you think that the events you depict in Kingdom have a high probability of taking place in the real world, at some time in the future?  Why or why not?

Anderson:  I do, and that's one of the major reasons I decided to write Kingdom.  I think we, as a society, are heading toward a future where bio-tech breakthroughs are going to re-define what it means to be human.  And with such widespread change, there are going to be some very real, and very unexpected, consequences.  What limits can we set?  And do we even want to set such limits?  Would such limits even be enforceable?  Or would the super rich circumvent any such regulations, further widening the gap between the elite and the rest of society?  There are a number of challenges on the horizon with regard to bio-engineering, and I think we need to start talking about them now, before it's too late.

Maria: What type of research went into the writing of Kingdom?

Anderson: Initially, I went overboard.  As someone who once took a "food and science" course to satisfy a college science requirement, I felt like I needed to get a lot more literate about the subject matter I discuss in Kingdom.  And so I spent months reading up on genetics, bio-engineering, etc.  But I went a little crazy and the research started to overshadow the writing.  Finally, I was able to strike a balance: learn enough about the science to provide the details readers need to suspend disbelief without overwhelming them. 

Maria:  In what ways do you hope to see this novel change our current society?

Anderson:  Ideally, Kingdom can help spark discussion about where we, as a people, are headed.  Is technology changing us for the better?  Or are we more alienated than ever before -- despite our connectivity?

Maria:  I'd like to thank Anderson O'Donnell for such a fascinating, highly informative interview!  I'm sure that my readers have enjoyed it as much as I have!

Anderson:  You're most welcome.  Thanks for inviting me!   

Author Bio
(from his website)
Anderson O'Donnell lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.  His debut novel, Kingdom, a dystopian, bio-punk thriller, is now available in paperback and ebook format.  Kingdom is the first part of the Tiber City Trilogy.  Look for part two, Exile, in the summer of 2013.

(Tiber City #1)
Paperback, 252 pages
Tiber City Press
May 14,2012
Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction,
Literary Fiction


In a secret laboratory hidden under the desert, a covert bioengineering project--codename "Exodus"--has discovered the gene responsible for the human soul.
Somewhere in the neon sprawl outside the nation's collapsing economic core, a group of renegade monks are on the verge of uncovering a secret that has eluded mankind for centuries.

In a glittering tower high above the urban decay, an ascendant U.S. Senator is found dead--an apparent, yet inexplicable, suicide.

And in the streets below, a young man races through an ultra modern metropolis on the verge of a violent revolution....closing in on the terrible truth behind Exodus--and one man's dark vision for the future of mankind.

Welcome to Tiber City.

The Reviews are in!

Kingdom is a thrill-a-minute, bio-punk myth that manages to wrestle with the most pressing issues of the new millennium. O’Donnell has crafted a kickass novel of tomorrow night, when the big party gets raided by the monsters we’ve been building for the last half-century. ~ Jack O’Connell, author of Box Nine & The Resurrectionist 

A taut, brilliantly conceived thriller with impeccable pacing bursting with ideas…For fans of noir-laden science fiction in the vein of Philip K. Dick that is in equal measures suspenseful, gripping, darkly funny and philosophically challenging. (starred review) ~ -Kirkus Reviews


  1. Great interview!

    Also a great list of favorite authors and influences.

    I took a look at the website for Kingdom. It looks to be very interesting and definitely a little different.

  2. Hey, Brian!

    Yes, I thought that Anderson O'Donnell's answers were very fascinating!!

    I agree that he has a terrific list of favorite authors! The only one I don't like is Stephen King, though.

    As for his book, Kingdom, I have already purchased it. The topic of this novel is right up my alley!!

    Thanks for commenting!! : )


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