With the advent of digital literature the profession of writer has opened its doors to innumerable people who would have never considered the path. While in the past everything had to be done manually and through the proper time-consuming channels, today the distribution of one’s writing can be done through a few clicks. Nevertheless, choosing the profession of author is quite risky, especially for those who have already established themselves elsewhere in life, as was the case for Brian O’Sullivan, author of The Puppeteer (read review).
We have conducted an email interview with him to discuss the many surprising aspects of his writing career so far, and here is what he had to say about it all:
Q) Long before you entered the world of writing, you were making your living as a professional poker player for over a decade. When did your love for literature begin? What exactly precipitated this career change? Were you faced with any particular challenges when making the transition?
Yeah, I was a professional poker for most of my post-college life, but I really didn’t fit the mold. My goal was to make enough to travel a lot and pay the bills, but I wasn’t trying to be on T.V. or get famous. I was still reading a lot of books and was writing screenplays back then, living in LA most of the time. I had an epiphany one day, that as good as I was at poker, I didn’t want to spend the next 50 years sitting at a poker table. My love of literature was there from an early age. I always loved reading and started my first novel when I was around 10. It was terrible!
Q) How exactly did you go about learning the craft of authorship later in life, after having spent so much time in other disciplines? How would you rate the importance of education versus practice when becoming an author?
It’s been a learning process for sure. As I said, I had written screenplays, but that’s not nearly as difficult as writing a novel. I had several paid writing gigs (still do), but none of them prepare you for the tough task of finishing a novel. I’m closing to finishing my third and I think I’ve just gradually become a better writer.
Q) Is there any advice you can offer to those trying to become novelists after dedicating their lives to a completely unrelated domain?
Don’t quit your day job! I mean, mine has been a success, especially being self published, but I’ve never been able to quit my other paid writing gigs. It’s not an easy field to get rich in. As for the writing part, I’d say pick a certain time of day to do it. I like writing early in the morning, but some people prefer writing at night. Whatever your preference, stick to it. If you have a haphazard schedule, it’s harder to stick with. And write what you love. I happen to love thrillers, so that’s what I write.
Q) Do you feel as if your time spent playing poker has helped or hindered you in any way when it comes to your writing? Did you perhaps apply some techniques, whether mental or organizational, from the world of gambling?
It’s an interesting question. I always prided myself on being able to read the other players on the table, but I’m not sure if that equates to writing. I think it might help your overall deductive reasoning, and when you are working through a convoluted plot of a novel, that certainly comes in handy. There is one obscure way that it has helped. Sitting at a coffee shop and writing for hours on end doesn’t seem so bad after sitting on poker tables for 20 hours straight on some occasions.
Q) Who would you say are the writers who have had the greatest influence on you, both in life and in writing?
I’d say Hemingway is number 1, because he lived the life he was writing about. I hope to get to the point where I can spend a year in a city and base my novel on that location. He lived in Spain and then wrote The Sun Also Rises. Also fished in Cuba and wrote The Old Man and the Sea. Constantly writing while traveling sounds just fine with me.
Q) They say the city has a lot of say in the quality and themes of an author’s work, and it is difficult to dispute different cities having their own atmospheres and peculiarities. It is written in your short biography you split your time between San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Would you say these cities have somehow affected your writings, perhaps serving as sources of inspiration? How do you perceive them one compared to the other?
Having grown up near San Francisco, I chose that as the home base of Frankie and Evie since I know the area and the vibe. The same goes with Los Angeles, where I lived for several years, and that’s where my new novel will be based out of. As for Vegas, if I write about my time there, I better get some NDA’s handy.
Q) At the moment there is one novel published under your name, titled The Puppeteer. Where did you draw your inspiration for it? Were there any unexpected obstacles on the road to officially publishing your first book? Any mistakes we can hope to learn from?
The Puppeteer was actually the second novel I finished, but because of the current political climate, I released it before my debut. There were obstacles, and I almost through my laptop on many occasions. Formatting is not my forte and was a pain in the ass. Also, I didn’t hire a quality editor and had to hire several different ones and make changes once the novel was released. That was tough.
Q) To put it bluntly, your first novel is a strong social criticism on the modern political climate of the United States. That was almost a year ago; would you say you’ve observed positive changes in society since then, or have things stagnated, if not gone worse?
I’d say it’s gotten worse. Not to toot my own horn, but I wrote how someone could use social media to help sway an election. And whether you think Russia’s meddling effected who won the election, I think most people would agree social media has become a huge tool in elections. As for the climate itself, those same social media sites, especially Twitter is dragging the left and right further left and right.
Q) Politics are an unfortunately unavoidable part of life, but most people prefer to steer clear of them when possible. How important do you believe fictional writing is in regards to politics? Does it help us analyze and understand the situation better, or does it merely muddle truth and facts with personal opinions? Do you feel like novels actually have the power to bring about changes on the political scene?
I’d like to say that a political novel could change a nation, but unfortunately I don’t believe it. As I said in my previous answer, everyone has picked a side and it’s hard to get them to change. I think non-fiction writers, or investigative journalists, can bring forth change. Doesn’t mean I don’t love writing political thrillers, but I start them with the intention that people will enjoy them, not that it will change the world. But I do enjoy pointing out that I’ve predicted things that have happened since the novel was released.
Q) While it is clear The Puppeteer draws heavy and unflattering parallels with the current administration, it also feels like the kind of novel which pushes people towards reflection. Was that your intention, and if so what questions were you trying to push the readers to ask themselves?
Thanks. Yeah, reflection was definitely one of the over arching themes. I feel like we are quickly moving away from being a true democracy (or Republic) and that a very few people, often times those with a social media presence, have way too much control and influence. I also wanted to show that young people can make a huge difference, and I think that started to show itself after the Parkland shooting.
Q) The way in which power hierarchy is depicted in your novel points to the idea of the government being nothing but puppets in the hands of the wealthy and famous. Even if it is a tad extreme, I believe there is cause for concern for it being true, perhaps on a smaller scale. How much do you yourself believe in this idea, of a puppet master sitting in the shadows and pulling the strings behind the country’s most powerful people? Do you believe we’ll ever have a definitive answer to the question?
I think it’s very possible. Not that we know the answer yet, and I don’t claim it to be the case, but it certainly looks possible that Russia has dirt on Trump. I hope not for the sake of our country, but he sure seems to go out of his way to say good things about a man who doesn’t believe in American ideals whatsoever. I mean, the guy kills journalists who disagree politically with him. No thanks.
Q) With your heavy investment in the sphere of politics, you must have been studying the science for quite some time now. Have you ever given thought to writing some non-fiction books on political topics you’ve found important over the years?
I much prefer writing fiction. While I respect non-fiction writers to no end, to me it would be boring researching stuff all day. I kind of like looking at the computer and knowing that it all came from my head. Also, I think non-fiction writers are better writers structurally and fiction writers kind of like going where their brains take them. I definitely fit in the latter category.
Q) Have you ever thought about writing a book, whether fictional or not, drawing from your years of experience playing poker on television against the best players in the world?
It’s crossed my mind. It would have to be fiction since poker players who have played higher limits than I ever have would tell much better stories. I’ve got a few though…
Q) Have you considered diving out of the political sphere for future works of fiction? Perhaps exploring other genres you haven’t given much consideration?
Yeah, my first, as yet unreleased novel, is just a straight thriller and the one I’m currently close to finishing is about 70% thriller, 30% politics. I think they will probably continue to be mystery’s and/or thrillers however.
Q) Are there any novels you’re currently working on? What can we, as readers, expect from you in the future?
First off, thanks so much for the interview. These were fantastic questions, I really mean that. As I said, my most recent novel is probably about a month from being sent to my editor and probably 3-4 months from being released. It’s a follow up to The Puppeteer, but it’s more a straight thriller with some politics mixed in. I know everyone wants another novel that involves our President, but it’s scary to spend a year writing something that might well be irrelevant when it comes out. That being said, I think my readers will really enjoy the new one, with the elephant in the room being the gun culture in the U.S. It’s tentatively titled The Patsy, but that may well change. And after that, I will be making the necessary editing of my debut novel and if all things work as planned, I could have three novels out by the end of the year.
Brian O’Sullivan is an American author from the San Francisco Bay Area who spent nearly a decade after graduation playing poker professionally against some of the best in the world.
Following his exploits in the card game, he began writing screenplays and eventually turned to writing novels.
Most notably, he has expedited the publication of his book The Puppeteer due to his hatred for the toxic political climate pervading the country, a novel which earned him numerous accolades.