Dan O’Malley graduated from Michigan State University and earned a Master’s Degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He then returned to his childhood home, Australia. He now works for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, writing press releases for government investigations of plane crashes and runaway boats. His first novel, The Rook, was released in 2012 by Little, Brown and Company.
1. Your first novel, The Rook, won the Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2012 – that’s one heck of a debut! What can you share about your journey to publication?
Thank you, winning the Aurealis Award really was a tremendous honour. I’m so delighted that people have been enjoying The Rook.
I’ve followed a fairly traditional route in publishing – write a story, approach agents, suffer rejections, tear hair out in despair, somehow luck into finding an agent (an outstanding one!), work with her to improve the book, submit it to publishers, get accepted by a publisher (an outstanding one!), work with editor (an outstanding one!) to improve the book, watch the book emerge into the world with a sense of astounded and joyous disbelief.
It doesn’t seem overly complex (heck, it fits into a grammatically worrisome single-sentence paragraph), but people who are interested in getting their work published traditionally are often startled and disappointed by how long it takes. First you have to write the whole book. You really do – it’s not enough just to have an idea. Then, you have to put it out to the industry. I always recommend that people seek out agents rather than publishers. I tried approaching publishers directly with an earlier book, and while I had some interest, it was never going to pan out. With an agent, you’ve got someone knowledgeable, on your side, hustling for you, pushing your book and chasing it up, rather than letting it fester it away in the slush pile. Plus, my agent did a phenomenal amount of work on the book, helping me to make it better before she put it before people.
But even once you’ve got a publisher, it still takes time. My saint of an editor worked with me on The Rook for months. She identified parts that needed to be cut and parts that needed to be expanded. She gently pointed out places where I’d made assumptions, and that I’d used the word ‘freakish’ several hundred times.
And then, when you finally reach the final version, it may be months before the book actually comes out. So, it was a lot of work and a lot of time. And, yes, a big emotional investment.
2. I understand you are working on the sequel to The Rook – can you tell us anything about it?
Surely! So, I had originally written The Rook as a book that could stand alone. I’d hoped that it would be published, but I didn’t quite dare to hope that people would want to read a sequel. As soon as I’d finished it, I began working on some different projects, but eventually I realised that there were people who actually would like a sequel and, you know, immediately, if at all possible. Which I was more than fine with. Not only did I have a ton of ideas that I’d never had the time or space to include in The Rook, but I was very keen to explore what happens after the last page.
Book Two is titled Stiletto. It follows on a couple of months after the end of The Rook, and explores the ramifications of that book’s ending. For those who have read The Rook, you’ll know that significant changes are being made to the Checquy. (For those of you who haven’t read The Rook, you totally should. The author is extremely tall, handsome, urbane, and impressive.) Stiletto really explores those changes, and how different people deal with them. Rook Myfanwy Thomas is a main character in this book, but she’s not the main character. There are two new protagonists, thrown together by duty, and they have every reason to loathe each other. So I’d characterise Stiletto as a story of hatred, supernatural diplomacy, and very expensive hats.
3. Are you focussed entirely on novels or would you venture off into short storyland at any time?
You know, I’ve never been very much about short stories. I always want more! More detail, more description, more of everything. I love big books, and I love long series. I have read some great short stories (I especially enjoyed China Mieville’s collection Looking for Jake), but I always find myself wishing they were longer. And when it comes to writing them, well, I haven’t written anything like that since highschool. But it might be entertaining to give it a try.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I always have several books on the go, and currently a goodly number of them are from Australian authors. I’m mid-way through Dirk Flinthart’s Path of Night, which is keeping me chortling, gasping and flinching. I’m re-reading Kerry Greenwood’s Death by Wicket, which I love, even though I am not at all a cricket man (when I was made to play as a child, I asked if I could take a book to the outfield. They were not impressed.) Also, I’m re-reading Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair series, in preparation for the next one in the series. And I’m revisiting the classics of my youth, so I’m currently hip-deep in Victor Kelleher’s Green Piper which is as terrifying now as it was in Year 7.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing in five years from now?
As everyone is always remarking, we’re seeing significant changes in the publishing industry. However, those developments haven’t changed what I’m reading or writing, or how I’m reading or writing it.
Self-publishing and e-publishing weren’t as big a thing when I was starting out (or if they were, I wasn’t aware of them), but even now, I’m not at all certain that I would pursue that route. I’m willing to invest my time in writing and editing – that’s what brings me pleasure and satisfaction. I’d do it even if I weren’t getting published. The logistics of design, publishing, marketing – to me, that’s time that I could be writing and editing. I like having experts who will guide me in those areas, and who I can be assured will be doing their best.
Of course, there are further changes, not just in the way that we read books, but in how publishers, authors, readers and booksellers are interacting. It’s extremely complex. For instance, my American publisher, Little Brown & Co, is part of Hachette and, at the moment, they are in protracted negotiations with Amazon.com, which is using various forms of leverage. As a result, at the moment, if you buy my book in hardcopy from Amazon.com, you’ll have to wait 1 to 3 weeks, whereas another website will ship it immediately. The position of the individual writer in this sort of situation is difficult. The publishing industry is evolving, and I don’t know enough about it to say where it will lead, but I like having experts who will guide me here too.
Hopefully, in five years, I’ll be working on a variety of projects, including more Checquy books. I also hope that there will be a couple more Dan O’Malley books already out there by then, and that people will be enjoying them. And while I think the growth of eBooks is cool, my love for hardcopy books means that I hope that my work will be on people’s shelves. For me, a book on paper is more real.
Plus, in a pinch, you can use it to beat someone to death.
Or so I’ve heard.