Born in southern California, P. A. O’Neil experienced what might be considered culture shock when her family moved to a small town in Washington State. The year was 1970 and the community was not necessarily culturally diverse. Proud of her Mexican and Irish heritage, or “Smoked Irish” according to her father, she learned what it meant to be simultaneously in the minority and the majority.
She’s come to feel Thurston County, Washington her home and would not consider living elsewhere. She is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University, and has worked for colleges, churches, and youth organizations.
Her first published story appeared in an anthology in October 2017, followed closely by another in December. Three and a half years later, her stories have appeared in print and online, over thirty-six times. Some of her stories may be found in publications by Clarendon House Publications, Zombie Pirate Publishing, Dastaan Magazine, Black Hare Press, Sweetycat Press, Anthology Askew, and others. One of her stories was even nominated for “Story of the Year” on the Spillwards.com website.
A collection of her stories has been released under the name, Witness Testimony and Other Tales, and is available as a paperback or eBook, from Amazon.com. It has been met with five-star reviews.
Much of what she has learned about writing, and publishing in general, has been self-taught or gleaned from others through the various Facebook groups to which she belongs. She believes there has never been a better time for anyone, especially people of her generation, to become writers with the advent of the Internet and the ease of world-wide communication. It’s important for her to encourage others and support their writing, regardless of where they are on that journey.
It’s been said, “40 is the new 30 and 70 the new 50,” and with that in mind, P. A. O’Neil believes she is starting middle age all over again.
Interview with P. A. O'Neil
TTJ: What inspired you to start writing?
O'Neil: When I found myself unemployed for the second time in a year, I figured I could sit around and watch old movies all day, after putting in my job applications, or I could do something productive. I had such a vivid dream, that I gave it days to percolate as to what would happen next in order to finish the story. I sat down, and in two-and-a-half weeks, a novel was written. Now what was I going to do with it? I turned to some of my Facebook friends who were published authors and asked for direction. They referred me to many of the groups they belonged to for knowledge and advice, and boom, I was hooked. By the way, during this writing period, I did snag a job.
TTJ: When did you start writing?
O'Neil: I wrote my first story when I was Pre-K. I don’t remember what it was about, but I do remember the illustrations were of a family of people with beaks in place of mouths. I remember my mother laughing at it which discouraged me enough not to write again until I was a teenager.
TTJ: What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?
O'Neil: I suggest the three ”If’s”. If you want to write, then write, don’t wait for permission. Always try to improve your style, but if you are writing only for yourself, don’t sweat the big stuff. If you are writing for others to read, then write with the objective of having it published either by yourself or by others. If you do intend to have your work published, invest in an editor, someone other than yourself to give a thorough and unbiased opinion about the grammar, structure, and plot. This can be done by one person or several (Beta readers, editors, ARC readers). Hiring an editor was the best thing I ever did and I won’t submit a story without one.
TTJ: How do you handle writer’s block?
O'Neil: I don’t believe in writer’s block per se. What I believe is a writer can be uninspired, exhausted, physically and/or emotionally incapable, or uneducated. There are a myriad of stories to be written, just look around there is always something to write about. Will it be something of quality, that’s another question altogether? If someone says, ”I will sit at a computer and stare at a blank screen, but nothing comes,” that’s bull. If you’re a writer, you can do just that—write about sitting in front of a black screen, express your feelings of disappointment, your frustration for not meeting deadlines or having your work accepted for publication. There is always something to write about. On the other hand, there are times when the motivation or opportunity just doesn’t allow for noting anything of worth. I like to think these are times when my Muse goes on vacation. Sometimes, she packs up without warning to find a place in the sun to become tanned and rested. When she returns, it’s with a vengeance and often time hard to keep up with her inspirational prodding.
TTJ: Describe your writing space.
O'Neil: I sit at a small computer desk and type all my work. I could never use pen/pencil and paper, I think too fast and since I edit as I go, it just ends up being a mess of scribbles with lines and arrows. My desk sits facing the backyard, and before my new printer arrived, I could watch the critters play among the forty-odd fir trees there. The desk surface is cluttered with pens, paper, and magnifying glass.
TTJ: What does success mean to you?
O'Neil: Success doesn’t mean having a best seller, though that or a movie deal would be nice, it means having a reader believe that reading my story was time well spent and they want to read more.
TTJ: How do you handle literary criticism?
O'Neil: I have been fortunate to have my work mostly praised by those who read it. There have been two occasions though, both from submission editors. Don’t get me wrong, having a story rejected doesn’t hurt as much as it did in the beginning, but these two moved me with their return letter. The first was from a woman who was kind enough to write, ”First off, I don’t like the title.” She then went on to explain that she hadn’t got past the first two paragraphs before she knew the story was doomed. Truthfully, I don’t remember what the rest of the letter said because by that time I had passed out on the floor. Her words, though probably true, were packaged in a way that the sting was great, I didn’t write again for several weeks. I sent out the story a few times more, each time with rejection, so I went back and sharpened some passages to help the reader feel they were standing there watching the action. It was still rejected, so I decided to change the name and BINGO, it was picked up right away and has been one of the most favored stories by my fans. The second editor, refused a reprint of a story that had won international acclaim. His reason for not liking it was because he didn’t understand the relationship between the characters and couldn’t understand the ending. This time I laughed. I did, as I always do, thank the editor for letting me know of his decision, but the lesson I took away for both accounts was that if they felt the need to explain their decisions, as opposed to just a blanket ”no thanks” then there must be something in the work that needs to be objectively looked at. The first editor was correct, but did she have to be so harsh? The second editor...well, the jury is still out on that one.
TTJ: Where do you get your inspiration?
O'Neil: Most of my stories are inspired my dreams. I have a notebook of story prompts based on them and they are varied with no real genre of common theme. I also have captured ideas from real life events where I felt the minor characters needed to tell their side of the story. My stories are character driven, all ages, all eras, just people needing to have their stories shared.
TTJ: Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
O'Neil: I’ve started a western piece and I have plans to begin a classic fairytale next. Of course, someday I hope to rework my novel, have it professionally edited and published. I keep putting it off out of shame as my writing has improved a great deal since originally written, but it’s a good story and deserves a chance, so...some day.
TTJ: Who is the author you most admire in your genre? And why?
O'Neil: I have several current authors that I admire, each for their own reasons, but I most often give props to Gary Bonn for his stories. I love the way he drops the reader in to a situation, endears them to the characters which are challenged, and then the story is resolved to a plausible or satisfactory degree. He always leaves the reader turning the page after The End, and wanting to know more about the world he/she just visited. That’s the way a short story should be told!
TTJ: How many books have you written? Which is your favorite? And Why?
O'Neil: I have one unpublished novel, but recently I released a collection of my short stories. I have had stories published in almost thirty publications both online and in print. The collection is called Witness Testimony and Other Tales, and was so named because ”Witness Testimony” was the first story I had to research for plausibility, not just winging it from memory or pure imagination. It is a combination of new stories written just for the book and reprints of what I consider my best stories from other publications. I actually don’t have a favorite of one over the other, but my novel is still the dearest in my heart. Maybe one day, ”Finding Jane”, will find it’s way into publication.
TTJ: How do you come up with the titles to your books?
O'Neil: I mentioned elsewhere how my collection was named, but mostly my stories either receive inspiration from their name, or the name is selected when the story is ended. I’ve been known to change the name of a story three or four times while writing it. As I mentioned above, the right name can make or break a story for acceptance.
TTJ: Do you have a favorite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special.
O'Neil: My favorite character to write was a Cat Sidhe named Bougie de Voyage. She was inspired when a friend gave me French candle with that written on the metal lid. I have been fascinated with how that phrase rolls off the tongue, so when I needed a name for side character in ”The Matchmaker’s Reward”, I naturally chose Bougie de Voyage. I found the character so charming, when I deleted a scene from the original story, I couldn’t just toss it. I polished it up, had it edited, and it has since become a fan favorite. That story is rightfully named ”Bougie de Voyage”, but it is not included in this book.
TTJ: Tell us about your first published book? What was the journey like?
O'Neil: For a couple of years, I had been submitting short stories for the various anthologies published by Clarendon House Publications. Each of these were based around different themes which allowed me to exercise my storytelling capabilities. From each anthology, a fan-favorite story is selected and the author is offered the publication of collection of their own. I won for a story called, ”Her Sister’s Keeper.” This was late Spring 2019 when I set down to begin writing new stories for the book, little did I know I would be having a mini-stroke in early June. I recovered, but the task of writing was difficult and arduous. The stories were there, but the ability to type them without making silly and frustrating mistakes, well, it was more than I could bear. I took time off and rested. Worst three months of my professional career. My original plan was to have the book done by September for an release in time for Christmas shopping. When I finally did start writing again, I realised the stories weren’t being produced as fast as before, my Muse was taking more and more time-off. I decided after the New Year rush, I would submit new stories, and selected reprints, enough to fill an 80k book to the publisher. Witness Testimony and Other Tales was published in late April and has been well received earning five-stars with every review. I have come to accept that future stories will not be produced as fast as before, but as long as they are written well, that’s all that matters.
TTJ: Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?
O'Neil: All my characters are special to me. I’ve already mentioned Bougie de Voyage because her name was influenced by a gift from a dear friend, but I think the most precious actually is the baby, Nora, in ”Two Old Souls”. Her part is only a minor one, but she was based on a real person, a darling little girl who stole my heart. I knew I had to write a story just for her and it has become a fan favorite. That was a happy story, but ”Letters from Jenni” is a sad tale. It is a based on a true story and I wrote it when I saw the last photograph of a girl who had died. Her face haunted me and I knew I had to give voice to her memory.
TTJ: What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
O'Neil: I would like for when a reader finishes each story, to feel like they have been entertained and time has been well spent. I want them to become addicted to my writing, an addiction that can only be fed by reading the next story. Bwahahaha!
TTJ: What is the significance of the title?
”Witness Testimony” is the name of one of the stories in the book. It is reprinted from, Relationship Add Vice, and is the second story I ever had published in an anthology. It is one of my favorites, so the name Witness Testimony and Other Tales, seemed a natural introduction to my work.
TTJ: Tell us about the process for coming up with the cover.
O'Neil: I offered to my publisher the idea of a visiage of a hand reaching, or selecting a book from a shelf. This was because my stories were not from one genre nor written just for this book. He returned with the hand upturned as if offering the books to be read. I am extremely pleased with the result.
TTJ: What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
O'Neil: Probably, but as another collection or possibly a book containing the continued stories of some of the characters introduced, I’m not sure yet. I would love to see more stories about Elton and Lou from ”The Augusta Spaulding Matter”, I think they have a literary future. And who knows, maybe a whole book of Sherlock Holmes mysteries?
TTJ: Do you write listening to music? If so, what music inspired or accompanied this current book?
O'Neil: Yes, I listen to the local Adult Alternative Rock station while writing. I use the repetition of the music as a gauge for when I need to take a break, but also the mood of many of the songs help to influence what I am writing. There are some that always pull me back into my story when I hear them play. The grandest might be the song, Wish I Knew You When I Was Young. It was the emotional basis for ”Witness Testimony”.
TTJ: What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
O'Neil: Being somewhat a newbie to the business was my first challenge. I already had a complete novel written that I probably could’ve used instead of writing new stories, but my forte has become shorter pieces, so I continued along with a collection of my work. The greatest personal challenge was working after the mine-stroke. The lack of the ability to write with any type of flow was frustrating. If not for the kind words of my writing friends, I don’t know if I would’ve relaxed and allowed myself time to heal. Eventually, the book was completed, but I have learned to pace myself dropping back from putting out story after story. Still, I have managed to exceed my goal of a new story every six weeks.
Books By P. A. O'Neil
Anthologies featuring P. A. O'Neil
You can follow her writing journey on either her Amazon Author Page or on Facebook: