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Thursday, October 4, 2012

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Anderson O'Donnell, Author Our Coverage Sponsored By Stribling and Associates

Anderson O'Donnell

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For as long as he can remember, Anderson O’Donnell wanted to be a writer. But “wanting” something is easy; becoming that something is quite another matter—especially when that something is a “writer.” 

Anderson took the first steps toward fulfilling his dream of becoming a writer when, as an undergraduate at The College of the Holy Cross, he met Jack O’Connell. O’Connell, a Holy Cross graduate and famous author, saw something—God only knows what—in his young writing student, and began mentoring O’Donnell. It was clear that O’Donnell had some talent; his 2002 senior creative writing thesis won the College’s student fiction award. But it was also evident that, at the moment, O’Donnell lacked the discipline to make the transition from “good” undergraduate writer to “author.” 

After enrolling in law school, O’Donnell continued to write, but the discipline still wasn’t there: the prose was sharp and the narrative compelling, but something was missing. As it would turn out, that something was a brilliant, beautiful young woman from Farmington Connecticut, a second-year law student named Whitney Moran. And aside from being the smartest, best-looking woman at UCONN Law, Ms. Moran was also struggling with Lymphoma. It didn’t take long for Anderson and Whitney to become inseparable—a closeness that included weekly trips to the hospital for Chemotherapy. By the end of the summer, Whitney was in remission, and Anderson was in love. 

It was at this moment that, inspired by Whitney’s strength and determination, Anderson began a renewed push to realize his goal of becoming a writer. In fact, he candidly admits that Whitney’s courage and grit embarrassed him: here was this woman he admired, a woman who remained enrolled in law school even while undergoing treatment for cancer…and Anderson couldn’t even focus on his writing? Anderson felt a renewed clarity of purpose, and he set out to finish the novel that would become “Kingdom.” It was a novel written for his wife, a testament to her inspiration, and her role as his muse. 

Still, the path from writer to author is not easy, and there are times when Anderson still falters—his focus wanders or his discipline wavers. But there is a new edition to the O’Donnell household: a precocious and vibrant two year old named Lochlain who, along with Whitney, keeps Anderson inspired and on task. 

Anderson’s career as an author is finally taking off, but he insists he couldn’t do it without his wife and children, or without the support from Jack O’Connell, his mentor at Holy Cross. We are so pleased to present Anderson O'Donnell as our latest Mover and Shaker! Peachy Deegan interviewed Anderson O'Donnell for Whom You Know and she is proud to say she has known Whitney and her family since childhood.

Peachy Deegan: What is the difference between an excellent writer and one that's not?
Anderson O'Donnell: M
any writers have an all-consuming belief in the creative process: that writing must be some sort of magical or mystical experience…that they have to create in some idealized environment. And while any excellent writing requires some sort of transcendent quality, the “process” itself demands a certain discipline that can be quite shocking to the uninitiated. Honestly, there is nothing sacred about trudging down to the basement at 5:30 in the morning and churning out a few paragraphs before going to work. However, it’s the ability to trudge down to the basement—even when its cold and you’re tired and possibly hung-over or you’ve been up with the kids all night—that creates “excellent writers.” Lots of people want to write; few have the will or discipline to make it happen. 

What is your first writing memory?
I wrote a story in 5th grade that was more like a video-game plot than an actual story. Lots of guns and gore and monsters. Obviously, it sucked. But it was the first time I had sat down and tried to create something out of thin air…

Of course Peachy believes you cannot beat a Jesuit education-how has Holy Cross influenced you?
Holy Cross has influenced me in two important ways: First, the College introduced me to Jack O’Connell and Robert Cording, two writers who became my mentors; I couldn’t have completed KINGDOM without their guidance. 
Second, HC, at least when I attended, still believed in offering a classic education—lots of classic post- modern relativism, the Jesuit education hammered home how important “classic” texts are, and the extent to which they can help us understand life’s most difficult questions.

It is amazing what women from Farmington, Connecticut can do for people's lives! What do you love most about Whitney and why?
Whitney is the most inspiring, interesting woman I’ve ever met in my life. I fell in love with her when she was going through chemo: she beat cancer with a combination of determination and grace and strength that just stunned me. Whitney also, from the first day we started dating, has pushed me to be a better man, whether its in my role as a husband, a father, or a writer. And its funny…each day that I watch her as a mother, I fall even deeper in love with her. She is such a natural and amazing mom…its incredible to watch. 

How did you meet your wife, Whitney?
We met at the University of Connecticut School of Law. Well, actually, I spent most of the first year just kind of checking her out from afar…we finally had a conversation at some God-awful house party (lawyers throw terrible parties)…but she had a boyfriend! So we were “friends” at first, but I did everything I could to avoid the dreaded “friend zone.” Seven years later, I think I did a pretty decent job!

What do you like best about Farmington?
It’s where my wife was born and raised, so its helped make her the incredible woman she is today.  

What should the world know about Jack O'Connell?
Jack O’Connell is probably the most underrated author in America. At least from a commercial standpoint, the guy just hasn’t gotten the love he deserves. Serious, mainstream critics have raved about his work, but I’m still amazed at the number of people who are still unfamiliar with Jack’s work. A true master of neo-noir, the man is everything I aspire to be as a writer (and a father). 

What do you want the world to know about Kingdom?
KINGDOM is a gritty, bio-punk myth. It’s genre fiction at its finest—violence, sex, and dystopian madness reign supreme. But unlike other genre fiction, KINGDOM asks some big philosophical questions, and refuses to be “just another” sci-fi thriller. Specifically, KINGDOM explores the possibility that there is a gene for the human soul—a gene that cannot be reproduced by genetic engineering.

What was most challenging about writing Kingdom?
Trying to find time to write (almost) every day while holding down a full-time job, being a husband, and then, being a father. It wasn’t just about finding the time—it was about making sure that, for example, when I was with my son, I was there, in the moment. And then, when I was back writing, that I was able to block out work and other stresses and focus on telling the story. It was hard, at times, to stay focused. 

What would you like to tell us about the next two books of the Trilogy and have they been named?
The second book does indeed have a name: “Exile.” I don’t want to give away too much, but Tiber City is under martial law, and the “Order” (a group of renegade monks from KIGNDOM) will play a larger role in the plot. 

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
My wife, my parents, and Jack O’Connell. And, of course, my son, Lochlain—knowing I am responsible for taking care of such an incredible little person has pushed my pursuit of excellent to previously unfathomable levels. 

What are you proudest of and why?
My son, Lochlain. As far as an artistic creation goes, Kingdom’s got nothing on my son. No professional accomplishment can ever be as satisfying as the feeling I get when I’m with him. 

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
I’d like to do some work with Hollywood. Or graphic novels. Tiber City is bursting with plot possibilities, and I’d like to try and tell the city’s story in as many different mediums as possible. 

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
KINGDOM just received a “starred review” from Kirkus Reviews, which is a tremendous accomplishment, especially given that I am an “indie” author. 

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
The Coal Yard (East Village)

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
In Living Stereo record shop

What is your favorite drink?
Jameson 12-year, neat. 

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
A couple years ago, while leaving a cocktail part in SoHo, I got stuck in an elevator with Cory Feldman. We were only in there for a few minutes when the elevator started back up, but the guy is hilarious. And he had a flask of outstanding whiskey. 

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?

What is your favorite Manhattan book?
American Psycho

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
Axl Rose. I’d reunite the original GnR in front of a sold-out Giants Stadium. 

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
The New York Public Library. How cool would that be?

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
American League Championship Series, 2004 (Sorry…)

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
See concerts at MSG. There is so much rock and roll history there…bands just seem to push their art to another level when playing the Garden.

 If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
Jesus Christ. That is clich├ęd, no question about it. But come on—regardless of one’s beliefs, Jesus has had a greater impact on the world that probably any other human being, ever. So he seems like a good candidate for dinner. 

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
I saw The Strokes and The White Stripes perform at Radio City back in 2002. An absolutely incredible night. 

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
Not enough, that’s for sure. I’d like to think my writing might spark some people to reflect a bit more closely on where we’re headed, both as a society and as individuals. But that’s all big picture stuff…I’d like to do more on a day-to-day, individual basis. 

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
Brooklyn is beyond overrated (Sure, its not Manhattan-related per se, but I had to say it). 
The Delancey is still one of the city’s most underrated live music venues

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
I love “For the Literary Set.” It’s a great place to find out what’s new and fresh and happening in literary scene. Plus, I’ve gotta keep an eye on the competition! 

Have you tried The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not? 
I have not yet had the pleasure. But, this Friday at Happy Hour, I shall remedy this terrible oversight. 

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
Support indie artists! Whether in music or literature or film, don’t be affaid to take a chance on an artist just because he or she doesn’t have the backing of a “traditional” publisher or label. 
How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?

You can contact me on twitter @TiberCityNoir, Facebook, or good old-fashioned email 

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