Gene O'Neill Talks About the Wild, Wild West of Publishing - Part Two


Having become a professional writer for some time since retiring from his day job Gene looks back at the path he followed and the possible opportunities he left sitting on the table when his choices were made. He realizes he could be further along, but as he stated in Part One of this interview, family is first. My feeling after spending some time with him during this interview is that friends are second with writing being the love that he feels still needs consummation.

FEARnet: Right now the publishing industry is the wild, wild west. The problem with the easier you make technology the more every Tom, Dick, and Harry can come out of the woodwork thinking they have talent. So, for you, how is full-time writing in that environment?

Gene O'Neill: Because I fooled around in the investment business and made a few bucks so I can do what I want to, I decided, some time ago, that I didn't want to be included in with a bunch of unvetted writers that wrote a lot of junk... some great writers in there too. What I wanted to do was if I can't make it in the mass market, which I'm still fooling with or maybe a movie or TV or something down the road, then what I want to do is leave my grandkids a whole bookshelf, which they have already started, of all my printed really nice books. They've got about thirty or thirty-five of them now up on that bookshelf and I'm going to continue to scramble and do that until somebody wants to pull out that thing where they don't resuscitate me because I’m worth more dead than alive.

I didn't make good selections in my early days either of how to write. I wrote from the early days mixed genre stuff - science fiction and horror, science fiction and fantasy. The Burden of Indigo, which I am probably most famous for, is science fiction and fantasy. In the early days I took a path which I wouldn't advise a young writer even nowadays. Your name is a brand name in your field. If you write horror, write horror and admit you write horror and pursue it. But if you write a whole bunch of different stuff sometimes you have trouble getting published.

But isn't that the way of Nolan, Lansdale and others that they write all over in different fields?

No it didn't hurt them. But they got established in... like Nolan he got established early in science fiction with Logan's Run which is pure science fiction and a movie and such. So there are lots of different paths that people take.

With the knowledge you have now, if we were to send you back in time you would take a different path?

If I had known, not sounding big-headed which I'm not, I would have started writing that long stuff when those agents were contacting me because I could have established a record in the mass market in those days as a novelist. Regardless of what is going on in the wild, wild west if you are an established novelist you can still make a few bucks. If you sell something to the movies, TV or whatever then all of your books sell.

Have you had anybody approach you for film or television on any of your books?

Yeah. The Burden of Indigo has had interest in it three times. In fact, that would have been my first mass market book. Early on an editor for Bantam read and got back to me in a week.

It was a novel then?

Yes, I had expanded it because in 'Twilight Zone Magazine' it was a very short story. The last interest was from Zen Films who invited my family to a premiere of one of their movies in San Francisco. I looked at that movie and thought there is no way these guys are ever going to get funding for my film in these times. Four years, five years ago and I'm thinking they're not going to get funding. At the time Bantam was interested in some mass market paperbacks. The editor said yes and the acquisition committee said no. It was just as all the pedophilia among priests was exploding because the major character in The Burden of Indigo's crime was that he may be a pedophile when he was a young man. Maybe not but... That scared publishers at that time, but The Burden of Indigo just came out again. I've upgraded the writing of the novel and added about 2500 words, and it is out now from Bad Moon Books.  

Is it going to be available online as an eBook also?

I have never sold any of my stuff online. There are different outfits that have sold collections with my stuff (short stories), but personally I've never put my stuff up. I still own all the rights to all of my novels. In fact most of the novels have been sold as limited signed editions. I still own the paperback rights. An agent told me to keep those as it makes them more valuable in the mass market field. There has been some interest in the mass market but it has just never clicked with the right publisher yet.

What comes next for you?

I'm trying to hook up with an agent who really likes my stuff and will promote it. Theoretically that's a New York agent. The rest of this stuff, getting an agent in Las Vegas or Milwaukee or an agent that is big in the film industry, isn't it? If you are writing books you had better have a New York agent. I've had some interest in that but I still haven't signed with a major New York agent.

Do you go to the conventions and hit those pitch meetings?

No I don't like those. The reason I don't like them is that I think that you can look into those people's eyes when they are talking to you and they are kind of opaque after being there for 12 hours. They get their way paid for coming and doing that. So they are sitting there and their eyes are kind of glazing over and when they start rolling up in their head you are not sure they are listening to you. I went back to New York and pitched to a bunch of those people. They were all excited and instead of saying "Send it to me" they took some copies of my stuff. I never heard a word from any of them. I followed up on it. Ace Books was one of them that I thought would be interested in my books. Because I write a little bit like Fritz Leiber jumping across genres. He did all right. Of course, he died like I'll probably die a poor old geezer.

Gene O'Neill can be found on Linkedin.

Del Howison is a journalist, writer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies “The Home of Horror” in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at