I met Bishop O’Connell when we both commented on another author’s Facebook page. I had to ask him about his name since my husband graduated from Bishop O’Connell High School in Northern Virginia. It was not far from where I lived, (and his bus passed my house every day, but I did not meet him for several years, but I digress.)
When I found that Bishop was a published author, I asked him to join us here. I have only read the first of his An American Faerie Tale books, “Stolen”. I was very pleasantly surprised to be hooked by the story and the subtle twists that I THOUGHT I saw something coming, I was wrong! And one major twist, I never saw coming at all. (As anyone who reads here knows, that is not something that happens easily to me and for it to happen more than once in one work it is a real accomplishment for a writer.)
Let me introduce you to the man and his work.
Hi, Tonette! Thanks so much for having me. I’m delighted to hear you enjoyed The Stolen!
I have to admit that at the beginning of your first book in The American Faerie Tale series I was a bit overwhelmed with the untranslated Gaelic and Welsh, but it was easy enough to figure the meanings within the context of the story. In fact, I didn’t even look at the glossary until the end. What made you decide to add the languages in this manner?
At first I wasn’t going to, but I changed my mind when my editor promised to help me ensure that even if she didn’t know what was being said, that she could get what was being said, if that makes sense? In the end, I think it helps show just how much of an outsider Brendan is. English isn’t his first language, and like a lot of English as a second language people, he slips back into his native tongue when he gets emotional. I did actually work with a research fellow at Christ Church University in Dublin to make sure not only was the Irish correct, but also correct for the period Brendan would’ve learned it. In short, I decided to use it like seasoning. A little sprinkled in to add some flavor and depth, but not so much that it pulled the reader from the story, or caused them to stumble.
The Welsh was a deliberate decision I made for Edward’s magic. So often in urban fantasy, Latin is the go to language of magic; which makes complete sense, saying anything in Latin sounds like you’re summoning a demon. But Edward is so very much not your typical wizard that it just made sense to use something else. It also added a bit of fun that the Welsh or a bit like the least favorite child of the British Isles, and there is some historical tension between them and the Irish. With the Welsh, it is all just magic words, so they’re all commands and the like so there was less concern about people getting hung up on them.
The glossary was something that caught my editor by surprise but she liked the idea, especially that it isn’t just individual words, but the phrases as they appear in the book. My only regret with it is that I didn’t include a pronunciation guide.
Do you speak Gaelic?
A teeny bit. I’ve been studying Irish via Duolingo. It’s a tough language to learn. This is in no small part because whereas English is subject-verb-object (Mary went to the store), Irish is verb-subject-object (to the store Mary went). So you literally have to reformat phrases in your head. The conjugation is different too. And don’t get my started on pronunciation. I joke that the entire Irish language was built around the idea of confounding the English.
Another choice of yours was in throwing supernatural forces and being at the reader with little to no explanation, at least, not right away. Did you plan for us to have the experience of your protagonist and others who would also not have known or seen what was coming?
Yes, that was absolutely my intent. I wanted The Stolen, all my books in fact, to be enjoyable for anyone, even someone without any real knowledge of fantasy tropes or faerie tales and legends. A lot of the reason for this is because that is precisely where Caitlin, one of the key protagonists, is. Caitlin is the stand in for the reader, so they learn about the world as she does. With urban fantasy especially, I’ve always loved the idea that the supernatural world in them exists in our world too, just beneath the surface. As such I wanted the reader to have the same experience as Caitlin suddenly learning that not only are faeries real, but they’ve been living alongside us for centuries, hiding in plain sight.
I did try very hard not to inundate the reader with so much that they felt like they were drowning, just enough to let them feel the same sense of being overwhelmed as Caitlin, and, as I once put it, a general feeling of “are you f***ing kidding me???”
I will give no spoilers, but the lost loves, unrequited loves, overlooked loves and ageless loves are major threads in the storyline, but you have chosen to ‘keep it clean’, which will appeal to most of the readers and writers here. Why did you not take the easy, titillating road? (Personally, I love it, as it keeps the reader guessing and does not distract from the story.)
I’m a hopeless romantic at heart and I’ve always loved love stories. However, while I have nothing against anyone who like reading or writing steamy love scenes, I just don’t feel comfortable doing it yet. I know my mom will be reading my books and…yeah. haha
When it comes to heat and steam, I decided to pull the old movie trick of panning away to the curtains fluttering in a breeze. Leave it for the reader to fill in what happens next.
Also, my books are focused heavily on emotions, so that was the sandbox I tend to play in. Besides, and maybe this is a copout (haha) but I like to think I’m letting the reader have the fun of imagining any details that happen off scene.
In the end though, whatever I do has to serve the overall story. This goes for both violence and sex. The Stolen has some pretty violent scenes in it (as you well know) but they all were necessary for the story.
That is not to say that the story is in any way for children or the faint-of-heart. The often fought battles and attacks are not without fairly graphic violence. This is far more Lord of the Rings than Sleeping Beauty, but far less gore and grossness than most of Stephen King’s works. Was it hard for you to decide what was necessary to bring the story home, and when not to push it too far?
Absolutely! I am not at all a fan of gratuitous violence or sex. This was actually a big issue I had with the Game of Thrones books. I understood it at first give the reader a sense of the world they were reading about, but it eventually becomes so overused (in my opinion) that it loses its impact. The only fight scenes I included were necessary for moving the story forward, and the one time it gets really graphic, the warehouse fight, is because it’s meant to be shocking and disturbing. My editor was great at helping me walk the line of how much was needed and letting me know when it crossed the line.
A little side note here, as the series progresses, I actually tried to steer the books away from violence being the way problems are solved. Obviously sometimes that’s not possible, but I like pushing the characters to find new solutions. The Returned is where I think I really achieved this. I don’t have anything against violence in storytelling, but I think it’s become so much the norm that I wanted to break from that. In The Stolen though, it was necessary because the different worlds that Caitlin and Edward live in versus the one Brendan lives in. But with Brendan, I wanted it to be clear that being a warrior isn’t all shining armor and honor. Living a life of violence takes a toll and has a cost.
The “Look inside” at Amazon of “Stolen” does not do the writing or story justice, I have to say. The beginning of “Stolen” opens with a lot of Gaelic, times in the past and then the supernatural hits with little interpretation. I went on gut instinct and decided to give the story a chance and read it through. Not far in, there was no way I was going to stop. I had expected a real cliffhanger. There is more that is bound to happen in the lives of the characters, even if I did not know that there were subsequent volumes, but you gave this a Happy For Now, with a hint of Happily Ever After ending. Was that your idea or that of your editor/publisher?
That was always my idea. The story you read was basically the story that Harper first got. Most of what my editor did was help my polish and trim. I’m a big fan of the bittersweet and my stories or steeped in that. Yeah, there is a happy ending, but getting there isn’t easy and sometimes costs you or others, or both. I know that books are a means of escape, especially fantasy books, but I want my stories to have one foot firmly planted in our world so the reader can relate. Life is rarely all sunshine and kittens. The road to happiness is long and winding with darkness and trials along the way. But I think that is why it means so much. I don’t like books that end bleakly or such. I read to escape too and I want a happy ending, even if that happy ending is just the hope of something more. Hope is kind of my jam. It’s gotten me through some pretty dark times, and that’s what I wanted to leave the reader with at the end of every book. In The Stolen, every protagonist gets their happy ending, though it might not be just as they wanted, and sometimes one person’s happy ending is not so happy for another. But I’ve said too much. haha
Speaking of publishers, The American Faerie Tale books are published by Harper Voyager, the sci-fi and fantasy division of HarperCollins. Will you tell us how you were so fortunate/they were so fortunate?
This is actually a story I use to encourage other aspiring authors. My first book took my almost ten years to finish. The Stolen was the second book I finished and it took 90 days. Mind you, I spent the next three years editing it. I never had a group of friends or beta readers so I ended up hiring freelance editors to help me polish the book, not cheap but I’m lucky in that I could afford it. I submitted it to 118 different agents, and very few of them only once, and it was rejected every time. I was nearing the point that I was considering publishing it myself when I heard about Harper having an open submission window. For those who don’t know, generally speaking, to get published by a major house, you need an agent. The agent submits the work to the house on your behalf. Part of this is just to keep the volume of submissions to something manageable. However, for two weeks, Harper was opening the door to unagented authors in hopes of finding new voices for a new imprint Harper Voyager Impulse, which would be heavy on the ebook front. This was, I believe in October of 2012. The original plan, according to Harper, was to find twelve authors who would be published, one a month, the following year, and they would announce the “winners” that December. As it turned out, they got a LOT more submissions than they were expected. From what my editor told me, they expected around 1000 submissions, they got closer to 5000. As such, their plans went out the window. Harper said that it would, obviously, take past December to get through all the submissions but that they would get to all of them. Previously they were only going to notify the people who were selected, no answer meant “no”. However, they changed that and said they would be contacting everyone, rejections included. They provided an email you could use if you wanted to check on your status, in case you were afraid you missed the rejection email.
And time passed….and passed. They initially intended on updating everyone once a month but that fell to once every six months. It was announced pretty early on, within a couple months, that an author was being plucked from the submission pool and being sent to Harper Voyager, not Impulse. Her name is Katherine Harbour and she not just a great writer but a really nice person.
More than a year went by, not a typo, and at one point I sent an email checking on my status but I never receive a reply. I’d pretty must assumed that I’d been rejected and the email just went into my spam folder or something. As I said, rejection and I were old friends by now. But in December 2013 I sent another email just to check. I got a reply back within a few hours saying I was still in the running and they appreciated my patience. I sort of lost my mind at this point. Absolute Write had a special thread on its forum where people were posting when they rejections and a sort of unofficial count was being kept. But no one had reported a “yes”. Then in January of 2014 I got an email from Harper and I remember this clearly. I was working and noticed a new email on my phone. I went to the email app and it showed the first two lines as a preview. It said “Mr. O’Connell, we have reviewed The Stolen and are pleased to offer you”
This was when I officially lost my mind. I literally stood and did a little dance in my cube, then dashed off to show the email to everyone I was even remotely acquainted with. As it would turn out, The Stolen would be published July of that year and would be the first book published under the Harper Voyager Impulse imprint. For a while, the cover was even on the header of the Harper Voyager website. Yes, I do have a screen shot saved. Haha
I’ve gone on quite a bit here, but I will just add one little bit more. Once I got confirmation, I went and posted on the Harper site under one of their blog updates that I had gotten an acceptance email. I figured it would be nice for others to know there were in fact going out. Well….it turns out that was a no-no. I got an email from my editor saying I should not post anything anywhere else because Harper wanted to announce us all together. They didn’t remove my comment though and as it turned out, I inadvertently created quite the buzz. As the only confirmed acceptance, apart from Katherine more than a year before, I became quite the subject of interest. I did start getting contacted by the other “winners” (I use quotes because it was a contest but not one of chance) and we built a little group that we still maintain today.
[The next portion was included in subsequent correspondence with Bishop, which I now add to the interview-T.]
Yeah, dealing with rejection is so hard but also one of the key things you’ll need to face if you want to be a writer. One thing I tell people, and I’m not sure why I didn’t include it in the interview, is that the difference between authors who are published and who aren’t, is that those who aren’t gave up. Others may get to decide when you’ve “succeeded” but only you get to decide if you’ve failed and that’s when you give up. Until then, you just haven’t succeeded yet. Yup, one of the things I see more than just about anyone else is the misconception self published or unpublished authors have about being traditionally published. So much so that a friend of mine (Harry Heckel) and I did a discussion at a con about the truth to being published where we let people know the truth. Editors don’t rewrite your stuff as they see fit, you can say no to their suggestions, you don’t really get any input on your cover art, etc. I think part of that is that published authors don’t always do well communicating their experiences out to aspiring authors.
The agent thing is tough because they are required for getting in with the big houses, I’m also proof that sometimes there are exceptions to the rule. That said, my agent (who has since retired so I’m agentless again) was magnificent and incredibly helpful in polishing my stuff and helping me get it ready to send out.
How much of ‘common knowledge’ folklore is within your story and how much is your imagination? Have you researched folklore?
I have always been a fan of old school faerie tales. To me, even the Grimm brother’s stories are fairly recent. As you might’ve deduced by my name, I do have a bit of Irish heritage, and as such I’ve studied Irish myth and folklore extensively. That said, the foundation for The Stolen and the entire American Faerie Tale universe is rooted in genuine folklore (talk about a contradiction in terms) but the details are almost entirely my own imaginings. Obviously a weakness to iron is old school, but the houses of the fae (Dusk, Dawn, and Noon) is all me. Originally, it was more an amalgamation of common myths and legends, but one of the first freelance editors I hired told me the stuff I made up myself was good and I needed to trust myself.
The best way to explain the universe is that I built it with the idea that our stories, meaning the real world, got about 10%-20% right and the rest entirely wrong. Initially, the idea was that every monster of legend was actually a type of faerie but people mistook them for other creatures. Fun fact, in the original-original draft, Brendan was a werewolf and the Oíche were what people had mistaken as vampires. Needless to say, that didn’t make it to the final draft.
More of the saga and other writings are in the works, so you told me. Would you like to tell our readers about them?
Sure, thanks for the opportunity. Currently there are three novels, and one collection of short stories in the American Faerie Tale series. The series is so named because the American culture was made from bits and pieces of the cultures of the immigrants who came here. Each book takes place in a different city and pulls on the culture and backgrounds of that regions.
The Stolen is set in and around Boston, so it naturally relies heavily on Irish myth and legend.
The Forgotten introduces a new character, Wraith, who is a homeless teen girl that does magic through quantum mechanics. It’s set mostly in Seattle and pulls from Russian, Inuit, and other Native legends. I was lucky enough to work with a professor of native studied at the Oglala tribal college to make sure I didn’t cross any lines and treated the native beliefs with respect. In this story, homeless kids are going missing, and some are even turning up dead. Since they’re homeless, they aren’t at the front of the line for important cases, so it falls on Wraith to find out what’s happening and do something about it.
Three Promises is sort of a deleted scenes collection of short stories, giving you some background on some of the characters. It also answers the question left at the end of The Stolen, and gives some background on The Order of Solomon, a group introduced in The Forgotten.
The Returned in set in New Orleans and revolves around French, Acadian, Creole, and local native myths and legends. In this story, the coroner is seeing bodies coming back to the morgue for a second time, which needless to say isn’t how things are supposed to work. Knowing anyone else would think him insane, he calls on a friend from medical school (Edward from The Stolen) to help him make sense of what’s happening.
You’ve lived in a number of places in the world, since I see that you were born in Italy and you lived in Cleator Moor.
What made you settle in Virginia? What was the Moor like?
My dad was in the Navy and was stationed in Sardinia when I was born, hence the Italian named O’Connell. Haha I grew in San Diego, which I loved, but actually did most of my moving around after I left home. I ended up settling in Virginia because my best friend moved there from upstate New York. She and her kids sort of adopted me into the family and I’d spent every thanksgiving and Christmas with them for years. So I decided I would settle some places I would have friends and “family” close by. Which has worked out great because now I get to be Uncle Bishop to my friends grandkids.
Cleator Moor was actually a little village in England, not actually on a moor. It’s just outside Whitehaven, which for those who like revolutionary war history, is where John Paul Jones spiked the cannons. In fact, there is even a status there commemorating that. I’m not sure it’s celebrating it, considering he was basically a traitor, but there is it. I actually really enjoyed living in England. I was in Cumbria, the lakes district, which was amazing picturesque. However, it was also very rural. I was there for a job and stayed a bit over a year. I made great friends, very much enjoyed pubs and the local beers, but I was ready to come home. It rained, a lot. Additionally the little differences that were quaint at first became annoying after a year. The local grocery store often had empty shelves, so it was a coin toss if they’d have what you wanted. Salad dressing isn’t really a thing in the UK, at least outside the bigger cities. The only dressing I ever saw in the store was their equivalent of Miracle Whip, which I think of as salad dressing in name alone. That said, the cod and the chips (fries) were amazing. I don’t know what they did to them, I assume it involved herion or crack, but I’ve never had either as good since.
Frankness about your battles with depression and your encouragement to writers who find it hard to deal with theirs and employ their art is heartening. How has you helping them helped YOU?
I think the biggest way it has helped me is that is lets me take something bad and put it to use for good. It’s nice to know that I can take something that quite literally almost wrecked me more than once and use it to help others not get wrecked. Depression and mental illness has had such a stigma for such a long time, and it still does though not as much. When I was a kid, ADHD meant you weren’t disciplining your child, and depression was just a phase they’d grow out of. As such, not many people were open about it, especially if you were male. But I was lucky. In high school I had a teacher, Dennis Morgan, who was like a father to me. My own father was lacking and I’ll leave it at that. I’m no exaggerating when I say Mr. Morgan saved my life. I’ve stayed in contact with him and each of my books is dedicated to him. He showed me kindness and taught me how to be a good person and a good man. He is probably the furthest from toxic masculinity as you can get. I took his example and figured if me being open and honest about my struggles could help others, then how could I not do it?
The blog, “A Quiet Pint”, features a pint of Guinness and a Celtic Knot, and I see that you collect, (and wear) kilts yourself. How did your interest in this part of your culture grow?
I’ve always loved Irish culture, though I’ll be the first to admit and acknowledge it isn’t all good. At first, it was all about the music, and poems, and faeries, and drink; which is I think what a lot of people think of in terms of Irish culture. And that’s fine, but over the years, and even researching for The Stolen, I got a much deeper knowledge and appreciation of it. I also learned some truly horrific parts, the Magdalene Laundries are the first thing that comes to mind. But like the dark parts of America’s history, I think you need to acknowledge and own those parts. Like people, we all have things in our pasts we’re not proud of or wish we could undo, but they still are part of the whole. Owning that darkness, those mistakes and shames is vital if you’re going to grow past them and become better. It’s funny, but that sense of history is what drove me to write a historical fantasy set at the end of the civil war.
Do you have any other interests or arts that you enjoy, (cultural or not)?
I love music. LOVE it. I make playlists for everything I write and listen to it on loop while I work. Part of this is because, as proof God has a sense of humor, the sound of tapping keys on a keyboard drives me insane. I’m also a huge nerd and adore Doctor Who, Marvel (both the comics and the MCU), Star Wars, Star Trek, Anime, Firefly, D&D, and on and on. As you’d imagine, I also really like books and movies in general, storytelling in any form really. I’m lucky in that my day job requires me to travel so I get to see new places and it’s such fun learning about new places and people and the local culture, both internationally and nationally.
Thank you so much for your time, Bishop. I will be looking forward to the rest of your works.
Thank you so much for having me. It was a lot of fun and I hope I didn’t prattle on too much. Haha Though I know I did. Downside to being an extrovert during a pandemic.
Is there any more that you would like to add?
Later this year my historical fantasy, The Two-Gun Witch, comes out. It an alternate history where elves sided with the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people against westward expansion, but dwarves sided with the US government and almost wiped out the elves. The main character is one of the few survivors who now works as a bounty hunter, hunting down humans corrupted by dark magic. The title comes from the spell irons she uses, which only some elven woman can use two at once. They look like revolvers but instead of bullets, they hold spell components and “shoot” spells.
Please let our readers know how they can learn more about you and your work.
You can find me at my blog https://aquietpint.com/
On the Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBishopOConnell
Twitter at https://twitter.com/BishopMOConnell
And Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/bishopmoconnell/
Bishop O’Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, CA where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos. After wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he settled in Richmond VA, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed “visionary” of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint (aquietpint.com), where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.