IndieView with John Jack O’Brien, author of re: the wasps

It was only later when I heard back from an advanced reader with really positive feedback that I went back and looked at it again. I literally took it to a coffee shop and read my own book and thought – hey this is really good and I’m not going to let it not get read. That’s when I decided to self publish on Amazon. 

John Jack O’Brien – 10 June 2017

The Back Flap

Welcome to Obelus Incorporated, a seemingly ordinary office building, home to hard-working insects and parasitic employees. There’s Abbie, who hacked into her coworker’s computer and found something that could be damaging her sanity. Her boss Owen is more or less starting a cult in the basement. Then there’s the mysterious young woman who dreams of someday becoming a photocopier. All this while a swarm of wasps turn the entire office building into one enormous nest. This collection of interconnected short stories about corporate lost souls facing bizarre transformations is a darkly funny fever dream sure to inspire nightmares.

About the book

What is the book about?

re: the wasps is about an otherworldly office building overrun by insects, and the employees who work there and how their tedious jobs are changing them. It’s part satire, part horror, part short story collection. I tell people it’s basically Sideways Stories From Wayside School except it’s scary and not for kids.

When did you start writing the book?

I started writing the book in May of 2015, when it was just a scary short story.

How long did it take you to write it?

From the first short story I wrote to when the book came out was about two years, with lots of starts and stops in between.

Where did you get the idea from?

I got the idea after I went camping with my friend Loren in Sequoia National Park. We were surrounded by wilderness. It was beautiful and I felt really connected to the natural world. A few days later I came back to the city and started a new job, alone in an empty office building. It was the disconnect I felt in that office building, as compared to the woods, that led me to write the book. I realized that the office building was an unnatural place.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

Because the book is a series of interconnected short stories with some recurring characters and some one time only characters, it was really difficult once I had them all written to break them up and sort them into an order that would make it a fun experience for the reader. I printed each type of chapter out onto a different colored sheet of paper and then laid them all out on my living room floor. There were over 50 and I had to move my couch.

What came easily?

Even though I have a background as a comedy writer, the easiest parts to write were the frightening, disturbing, or disgusting parts of the book. I’m very in touch with what makes me feel weirded out so that is easy for me to tap into.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?

I definitely borrowed from real world people I know. Especially the way certain characters talk. In fact, I had to change their names for the final version because I originally named them after their real world counterparts. People have asked me if I’m in the book, but I don’t think I am.

We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?

In general, David Foster Wallace was a big influence on me. But specifically for re: the wasps, Lydia Davis was a huge influence. She writes these extremely short stories that are just devastating in their simplicity. I really wanted my writing to have that powerful sort of brevity.

Do you have a target reader?

My target reader is someone who appreciates the off-beat, and who finds themselves bored with normal books. I think sometimes the way books are marketed and written robs them of their ability to surprise. My target reader loves the feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen next.

About Writing

Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?

I like to write on paper first, usually a lot at a time, when inspiration strikes. Then I’m scribbling down tons and tons of ideas and sentences and instructions for myself. Then I’ll let it sit for a few days and think about it. When I reopen the notebook to type stuff down, I’ll edit it as I go, and I already know what I want to change.

Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?

No, there were a lot of stories that I started for re: the wasps that I had no idea how they would end. And there were a few that I knew the endings to but I didn’t know how they should start.

Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?

I try not to edit too much while I actually write. I will usually wait until I have a big chunk done and then print it out and go through it with a red pen.

Did you hire a professional editor?

I hired two separate copy editors at different stages during writing to check on spelling, grammar, clarity, tone, and consistency.

Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?

I love listening to music while I write, but I find it really difficult to write to music with lyrics. Hearing words distracts me from the words in my head. Usually I’ll listen to ambient or classical music stations on Pandora.

About Publishing

Did you submit your work to Agents?

I did! I got mildly good feedback, but not enough to keep me going.

What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?

I sent it out to a bunch of agents and indie publishers and when I didn’t get the response I wanted, I figured that was the end. It was only later when I heard back from an advanced reader with really positive feedback that I went back and looked at it again. I literally took it to a coffee shop and read my own book and thought – hey this is really good and I’m not going to let it not get read. That’s when I decided to self publish on Amazon.

Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?

It was a combination. I hired a company to do some of the cover. The main title lettering is actually from an old typewriter I have. I scanned it and zoomed way in, which gives the font this blotchy effect that I love.

Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?

I had a marketing plan for the initial release that I think worked rather well but now that the book has been out for a month or two I’m just seeing what it does on his own.

Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?

Just keep writing! When you get stuck, go to the bookstore. Look at all those dumb books written by nobodies. Each one of those thousands of books was a real pain in the ass to write. Tell yourself that your pain in the ass book deserves to be up there too. Then go home and write some more.

About You

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Rocky Hill, Connecticut.

Where do you live now?

I live in Los Angeles, California now.

What are you working on now?

Since I live and work in Hollywood, I need to catch up on my script writing. I’m probably the only writer who ever moved to LA to write a book and not a screenplay.

End of Interview:

For more from John, follow him on Twitter.

Get your copy of re: the wasps from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

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