[Interview] Thomas D'Arcy O'Donnell

Canadian script writer, Thomas D'Arcy O'Donnell is the author of Diamond Walker, a blog novel about an 18-year-old shaman baseball player.

The novel's protagonist, Jimmy Walker, is a provocative anti-hero who brings a fresh and disturbing capability to America’s Game. He is a cutting-edge warrior and a throwback to old-school modes and values who swims with killer whales and seems to project grace and brightness wherever he goes.

In this interview, Thomas O'Donnell talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

Diamond Walker started off (in my head) as an idea for a film.

I had the idea that if I could create a 'property' or story based in Vancouver, British Columbia, I could come back some day and, instead of working for someone else as a waiter or bartender, I could go to the places that amazed me and the work I did would be making the film that was in my head.

Through a strange turn of events, year later, I decided to write the story as a novel, after a synopsis for the film disappeared during the Pitch This competition at the Toronto International Film Festival.

All conspiracy theories aside (who took the synopsis and why?), I also realized it would be a very expensive film to make, so why not create it as a novel?

How would you describe your writing?

The stories, Diamond Walker, particularly, tend to be action or adventure with an ecological basis.

Nature and the environment are always in play and the principal characters are either for or against nature and the environment. The 'good guys' are highly in tune with nature, the 'bad guys' are completely oblivious and/or destructive regarding nature.

Who is your target audience?

I write for a very broad general audience ... all ages.

I like the idea of people reading about good ideas, good actions and characters (exemplars) who have the right ideas and values and know how to go about life with actions that reflect this accordingly.

On the converse side, I really don't see the value in slasher or mangle horror titillation, i.e. Bad (Fear) triumphs over Good. Though I see it has been a very successful theme for many writers.

So, in a way, I could say I write to present 'positive' alternatives to 'negative' stories.

Which authors influenced you most?

I've read thousands of books.

It's very hard to single out influence but I'll admit it's inevitable.

I've read every John D. MacDonald book, including the Travis McGee series; every Louis L'Amour book (westerns); the True History of The Kelly Gang (Peter Carey) blew me away and made me realize that prose or literary form did not have to conform to my perceptions just as the original Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain should have taught me.

The Horse Whisperer (Nicholas Evans) certainly inspired me and I hope my 1st book touches similar themes of man/creature/environment.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Nat Bailey is known as the grandfather of baseball, in Western Canada. While staying in his home (I had worked with his grandson in Banff, Alberta), he told me of his youth and selling peanuts and popcorn during semi pro baseball games. At his suggestion, I visited the stadium named after him, stood on the infield grass one morning and the idea (for Diamond Walker) poured into me as I looked up at an eagle riding an updraft overhead.

It was a magical morning.

The baseball diamond was like a jewel of green, set in an urban environment and Nat's words and storytelling from the night before were floating with the eagle ... yet in my head as well.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Getting the ideas out of my head, filtered through my clumsy fingers, onto paper (or text file) and then refining or resolving those primal ideas into prose or literary form and being satisfied, is really the challenge.

My only concerns as a writer are satisfying myself ... and that means there should be ideas of merit ... and if there's going to be conflict, crisis or resolution, my lead characters should be exemplars. They should define 'Winners'.

I can't in any way control what a reader of my work thinks ... though I hope they enjoy reading it. I hope they find values they can embrace ... or that make them feel good.

Do you write everyday?

I can only write when it comes to me. It either flows or it doesn't.

I don't see it as writer's block, I see it as a gift that comes to me, often via happenstance or intermittently.

At the same time, I do believe there's a laziness, mixed with self-doubt, to my writing. It's that smidgen of belief and creativity that keeps the small flame alive ... and so ... I write.

How many books have you written so far?

Diamond Walker is my only completed novel and its unpublished.

Keep in mind, that Diamond Walker came into my head ... before there was an 'internet' and I wrote on sheets of paper, then in spiral notebooks, or on napkins in bars or restaurants ... then as text files, eventually even as emailed memos to myself.

I sent queries and sample chapters to publishers, agents etc ... and finally decided to put the entire novel online as a blog novel ... It's kind of apropos actually, since it was written in fits and starts ... intermittently ... over the years.

I think my talent lies in writing. It certainly does not lie in effective contact with literary agents or publishers, though I've tried mightily, to pour effective effort into that Catch 22 endeavor.

Without complaint I can truly say, that an unpublished author in Canada faces an extreme uphill climb and I've constantly tried to reach outside of Canada for representation or interest. Others have succeeded and I'll always keep trying.

I'm self published ... I migrated the book to Wordpress as a blog novel. It's now driven mainly by serendipity, though I utilize its presence on the web via continued queries to the literary or publishing world and of course alternatives such as Conversations with Writers.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

I remember one day when I was writing Diamond Walker and I was creating dialogue and the thoughts of a 45-year-old woman. I was almost overcome with doubt, thinking, 'Who am I to create the thinking process of a woman ?'

The same thing occurred one day when I was writing a treatment for a children's TV program and I was writing dialogue for a 6-year-old girl, but it was more of a feeling inside me of, 'Where the heck is this coming from?'

What will your next book be about?

My next book will likely be a sequel focusing on Hunter Walker (Jimmy 'Diamond' Walker's father).

I like the idea of a hunter, tracker Navajo, based in British Columbia who tracks missing or abducted people in wild or urban environments, and can deal with adverse weather, environments or dangerous adversaries.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Getting Diamond Walker finished. Uploading it to the web, as a blog novel was a huge milestone for me. But, as I mentioned earlier, satisfaction comes from feeling I've met, or come close to what I believe are necessary levels of creativity, competence and merit.

I wrote a poem, in support of a documentary project I'm developing, and I'd never undertaken a long poem before. Seeing that poem online within my research/development blog for Ann Harvey really made me feel good. Kind of that creatively exhausted satisfaction and, I guess, I should say that the whole process of trying to breath life into a documentary about a historical event, i.e. the attempt to write eloquently about an amazing story that actually happened, but is little known, is a pretty special challenge and opportunity.

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