New Orleans, Military, Patrolman, Homicide Detective, Shamus Award winner, Derringer Award winner, Police Book of the Year, Photographer, Prolific Multi-Genre Author, Teacher, Mentor, Husband, Father.
First of all O’Neil, thanks so much for being here and agreeing to do this interview with me. It means a lot to me personally because I’ve been an admirer of your work for a very, very long time. This is a great opportunity for me and some other folks to get to know the man behind those great books. Although we’ve traded emails in the past and certainly share some other writer contacts, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting you in person. I look forward to that someday.
Secondly, you have the coolest damn name I’ve ever heard…and I’m jealous as hell. Have been, since the first time I ever heard it. Seriously. This is an unofficial question, not part of the ten, but I still need to know where O’Neil came from. I understand your father was of French descent so that certainly explains De Noux but your mother was Sicilian. I have to know the origin of O’Neil...There just has to be a good story there.
I am actually O’Neil De Noux, Jr. My father was one of twelve whose mother ran out of ideas for names. She had a son named Earl so she named the next girl Earline. She had a daughter named Oneilia (an old French name) and named her next baby O’Neil. I paid dearly for this excellent writer’s name. In Catholic schools here in New Orleans, the nuns did not allow me to us my first name because it was not a saint’s name and they called me by my middle name. As an army brat, we traveled and I was always the new kid in school and the teacher ALWAYS stumbled over my name, some telling me I shouldn’t have two last names. Being called Oatmeal Donuts wasn’t fun when I was in second grade.
So, if my interview intro wasn’t bad enough, we’ll move onto my ten slightly off balance and rambling questions that are awkwardly asked and seemingly pointless. Right about now, O’Neil is wondering and what in blue hammered HELL was I thinking in agreeing to do this….
1.)We were both born in the fifties, we both had fathers who served with distinction in WW11, our fathers were both good and strong influences in our lives (mine? think The Great Santini), we both love movies. We live in neighboring states. We both write. One of us writes very well…wait, what happened there? The similarity thing was working so well. Anyway, if you were to pick from the strongest influences in your writing life that most shaped you through the years would it be time, place or person? The time of great societal upheaval and generally unsettling times that anyone born in the 50’s grew up in and through? Was it the place, New Orleans? It’s your roots and in your very being. Or a person possibly; father, mother, wife, friend, mentor or confidante. Maybe something else entirely?
My father was a strong influence in my early life. A war hero (received 14 combat medals, including the bronze star and three purple heart medals), he became an Army CID agent, a criminal investigator, and I followed him into law enforcement. One of the great lesson he taught me was tolerance, especially during my formative years growing up in the racist and segregated south. I began listening to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King before his great ‘I have a dream’ speech. I grew up admiring John and Bobby Kennedy.
2.)You’ve mentioned your early and first writing interest was in Science Fiction, which I always find amazing because I couldn’t write Science Fiction with a gun to my head. In your bio, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is listed as the push that sent you into Science Fiction. Does that genre still interest you in both reading and writing?
In high school, I discovered Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, H. G. Wells and later George Orwell. I loved their writing and when I reached college, I discovered writers who blew my mind – Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny and Isaac Asimov. I tried to emulate them, but failed until much later. I’m still proud of my only sale to Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, a story about a dinosaur planet entitled “Tyrannous and Strong.” I befriended George Alec Effinger who inspired and helped me learn how to write and he introduced me to my literary hero, Harlan Ellison, who has been an inspiration ever since.
I write an occasional SF/fantasy/weird fiction story, but they lack the stuff I’m able to bring to my mysteries and historicals. They are fun to write, however.
3.)In all of your experiences in law enforcement from being a private investigator to a beat cop, from criminal intelligence to a homicide detective (with a perfect record for solved cases) you had to have met some real characters on both sides of the fence. On the cop side, there had to be some other writers you knew. Some talented writers like yourself, cops with a lot of stories to tell. Who are the best cop/writers you personally know? Well known or not, doesn’t matter. Top three please, in no particular order.
Police Officer writers I know personally whose writing I like and respect (alphabetically) – Roger Bull, Chuck Hustmyre, August Palumbo. Of the ones I do not know personally – Joseph Wambaugh is my all time favorite.
4.)Like the song This Magic Moment by The Drifters or Jay and the Americans, a song you and I remember very well, what was your writing magic moment? Where, when and what was it that made the lights come on and music start. The day you realized that things had changed for you as a writer, or were going to very soon. An award? A big thumbs-up review, a book deal or when you finished the last chapter of a book and said hey, that felt right? Like real right.
Magic Moment? It was when I started writing my first novel GRIM REAPER. I was an experienced homicide detective and found a voice. I wrote it in 1986 and it came out in 1988 and I arrived as a writer.
5.)On the flip side of that, so we can talk about something I can relate to, what was the lowest point or points of your writing career? Was it at the very beginning, stumbling out of the gate or maybe a mid-season slump. A period where you experienced some real self-doubt or fear that maybe this writing thing isn’t going to work out after all.
Lowest point of my writer career came when the New York publishers of my LaStanza novels suddenly realized it was a series (they refused to market it as a series) and said the sales weren’t good enough to continue the series. I called them fucking ass-holes. “It’s ALWAYS been a series.” I went a number of years without a book published. I continued writing, however, and honing my craft. Valerie Martin, a very good New Orleans writer, told me to never stop writing no matter if the books get published. Just work and get better and that I did.
I had self-doubt, of course. A couple small publishers put out two of my books but the publishers went out of business. Then Hurricane Katrina hit and we had to relocate and I was pretty down, but I kept writing, knowing my stuff was getting better. When my short story “The Heart Has Reasons” was nominated for the SHAMUS AWARD for BEST SHORT STORY, I was shocked. I did not write award winning stories AND I didn’t know anyone with the Private Eye Writers of America, except for a few email exchanges. The last writers convention I went to was in 1992. When the story won the SHAMUS, I was even more stunned.
Still, no publisher wanted my books but I’d remind myself, when I was down, “Hey, I wrote ‘The Heart Has Reasons’, didn’t I?” Getting an award from my fellow writers sustained me, pushed me to write better stuff.
6.)You have successfully written in many fields and disciplines besides crime fiction, including; Children’s fiction, mainstream fiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror, western, literary, humor, romance, religion and erotica. What the hell does that leave out? Do you get tired of being good at everything? Is there a genre out there that you truly can’t write in, at least in your opinion? To be fair here, there has to be one….I hope you’re really bad at it too.
When George Alec Effinger mentored me on how to write a short story, I told him I would try to publish stories in every genre. I think I hit them all, at least with one published short story. What I refuse to do is write under a pseudonym. I put my name on all of them. My wife and I had a good laugh when I received three contributor magazines the same day – an erotic magazine, a religious magazine and a children’s magazine.
7.)Before you took to writing on a full time basis both professionally and personally, what was the biggest challenge or hurdle for you and did it continue to be the biggest challenge after you went in with both feet?
Biggest Challenge – Homicide Detective in Jefferson Parish (next to New Orleans). It was the most important work I’ve ever done. Being responsible for catching those who commit the worst crime – murder – is a great challenge. I was able to solve every murder in which I was the lead investigator but I solved NONE of them alone. I always had good partners and other detectives and cops working with me. Writing is different – so challenging because it is a lonely business.
8.)Was there a particular case or situation during your law enforcement career that stands out above the others and never really left you? Good or bad. One that stands out among the many lasting memories I’m sure you have. One that had a profound effect on you and it’s as fresh in your mind as the day it happened. Either a shining pearl that melted you, or a dark happening that hit hard, deep and personal.
The Batture Murders. A double murder where two young black prostitutes were executed on the batture (the land between the levee and the Mississippi River). These were lost souls, drug users whose families would not even help me. I spent 13 months on the case, whenever I had free time between other cases. I never gave up and one day, I solved it. I wrote a novel about it (changing names, locations, etc.). It’s called CRESCENT CITY KILLS. It taught me to never give up.
9.)I remember, just as you do, an honest to God library and library cards…and rolodex files for books. And sitting at a long oak table and reading for two straight hours, absolutely immersed, in a silence that everyone observed and enjoyed naturally. With all the advantages, convenience, channels of trade and accessibility options we enjoy today, have we not lost something? Or is that just the old man nostalgia in me? I mean, way back, I remember the neighborhood bookmobiles. Yes it was a novelty and didn’t last long but it was also a special feeling walking up those two or three steps, looking for and finding a book you hadn’t read. The discovery. Checking it out and checking it back in the next time for another book. Have we lost some magic in the overall reading experience?
I love the past. It’s why I write historical novels, including two series, one set in the 1890s and the other in the 1940s, as well as my Battle of New Orleans novel – BATTLE KISS. The internet is a great source of information, especially for historical fiction writers. As a writer, I love the eBook revolution. It has given me control of my writing. My books will always come out as trade paperbacks and eBooks. My bookstore has been and will remain – Amazon and Smashwords. Traditional bookstores have not carried my books since the early 1990s.
10.)Like in my first interview with Paul Brazill, the final question will come from far out in left field and its food related. Which New Orleans restaurant in a city that’s absolutely chock full of great, great restaurants is you’re all time number one? Old place or new. Garden District, French Quarter or Uptown. French cuisine, Creole, Cajun, doesn’t matter. Just looking for the place where I might find O’Neil and the dish he’s got in front of him.
I’m one of the odd New Orleanians who dislikes Jazz and expensive restaurants. I have never eaten at Galatoire’s or Commander’s Palace or Arnaud’s. My wife debb and I were taken to Brennan’s once by Harlan Ellison and his wife Susan and to Antoine’s once by George Effinger and his wife Barbara. My favorite place to eat in New Orleans is where I met my wife – The Napoleon House Café on Chartres Street. It is old, funky but has great food and excellent service.
Before you go, leave us with some book news. Thanks again O’Neil, it was an absolute pleasure having you here.
My next book will be out in May, a private eye novel featuring my recurring character Lucien Caye (from ENAMORED). The cover features my favorite model and inspiration – my wife debb. Those are her legs on ENAMORED as well and NEW ORLEANS IRRESISTIBLE, SLICK TIME, MAFIA APHRODITE and she’s the girl on the cover of BOURBON STREET.
I write all the time. It’s what I do. Here are some recent books;
She crossed Canal Street from the neutral ground, walked right past me and I watched her come and go, both views unforgettable. I’m not kidding. A woman can do that on occasion, sear an indelible image in a man’s mind.
She was the woman in gray. That’s how I thought of her the following days as she popped in and out of my mind, tapping me on the shoulder over coffee, whispering in my ear, “I was real.” I didn’t obsess over her image. It just came and went, more like a photograph than a motion picture, although she had moved quite nicely. She remained a snapshot, the woman in gray, until a week later when she stepped from the darkness beneath the balcony of my building shortly after midnight, on a sultry Thursday night –
Thus begins the most elusive case in New Orleans private eye Lucien Caye’s career, a case of obsession and murder, a case that will baffle him, intrigue him, make him fall in love – three times. The case of a desirable woman enamored of a undesirable man defies understanding, yet the human heart rarely listens to the human brain. A smart guy like Lucien should know better, but his mind has trouble controlling his libido, much less his heart.
Beau Novel #2
Two months after Hurricane Katrina the New Orleans Police Department is as devastated as the city – police stations destroyed, mass desertions of officers, no reliable communications, a fraction of the force struggling to hold it all together. The slow process of rebuilding brings an influx of honest workers along with criminals eager to fill the void left when most of the thugs evacuated the city.
The Brown Ravens, a multiracial, super-violent crew of drug dealers sets up in the half-deserted city. To solidify their turf, they begin to litter the streets with murder victims. Organized crime has a distinct advantage against disorganized law enforcement.
Thus begins a long, bloody struggle between a gang of sociopathic murderers and a homicide detective called John Raven Beau, half-Cajun, half-Sioux, a cunning, fearless man who is ruthless when needed, a cop who hunts killers with methodical, calculating precision. Beau will bring the killers to justice. In handcuffs or in a body bag. With the blood of warrior ancestors surging through his veins, Beau will relentlessly pursue the murderers until it is over, one way or the other.
THE BLUE NUDE
LaStanza Novel #7
Away from the horrors of homicide work and married to a gorgeous, wealthy woman, New Orleans Private Eye Dino LaStanza can pick and choose his cases. What starts as a simple missing person case, as photographer Ian Carnamendos seems to have disappeared, turns ugly quickly as the photographer’s clients begin receiving threats that the sexy pictures taken of them are about to go public.
Ian Carnamendos specializes in taking confidential, risqué photos and photos of people performing sex acts. When LaStanza stumbles on nudes of his wife as a teenager, the case turns personal.
The body of Ian Carnamendos is discovered, then the body of Ian’s assistant and LaStanza is back on his home turf – homicide investigation. He will get to the truth, no matter what it is, no matter what it takes – no matter what he discovers about his Lizette.