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Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Alfred O’Neill. Mobster’s Son Turns Contradictions Into Thrilling Reads Of ‘Love And Murder’

Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Alfred O’Neill. Mobster’s Son Turns Contradictions Into Thrilling Reads of ‘Love and Murder’

My ALLi author guest this episode is Alfred O'Neill, an author who took a rather unconventional childhood filled with contradictions and turned them into self-published thrillers. Alfred's father was a low-level mobster who nevertheless sent him to Quaker schools where they emphasized morality and love. Alfred delves into these dual ideas in his “Love and Murder” series of books.

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Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Alfred O'Neill

On the Inspirational Indie Authors podcast, @howard_lovy features @AesNeill, a mobster's son who transformed contradictions in his own life into thrilling tales of 'Love and Murder.' Click To Tweet

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Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Alfred O'Neill. About the Author

A.E.S. O’Neill has written two novels in the love story/mystery suspense genre, the first of which, “Even A Pandemic Can’t Stop Love and Murder,” which was based on a true story of a theft at a mob bank, and reached bestseller status on Amazon and B&N.com. Having self-published the second in the series, “Even Climate Change Can’t Stop Love and Murder,” he is now working on the next installment of his character’s “Even Love and Murder” series as well as a political mystery tentatively titled, “Angel of Decay.”  Alfred has spent decades expressing his love of language by pursuing many iterations of creativity – film school, copywriter, ad executive, public speaker, corporate strategist, travel blogger, and ghostwriter. Growing up with a father who worked for the mob, the idea of wiretaps, being followed by the FBI, or going to mob dinners, was all a part of his normal. You can find him on the webFacebook, and TikTok.

About the Host

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn and Twitter.


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Read the Transcripts — Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Alfred O'Neill

Howard Lovy: My guest this episode is Alfred O'Neill, an author who took a rather unconventional childhood, filled with contradictions, and turned them into self-published thrillers.

Alfred's father was a low-level mobster who nevertheless sent him to Quaker schools where they emphasized morality and love. Alfred delves into these dual ideas in his Love and Death series of books. I'll let Alfred O'Neill tell his story.

Alfred O'Neill: Hello, my name is Alfred O'Neill. It's a pleasure to be speaking with you today.

My background is in marketing and advertising where I went from being a copywriter and doing a lot of public writing, blogging, speaking, and strategy work in Manhattan for almost 30 years. But the written word, and language, and everything, has always been a fascination. Ever since I was about 14, I knew I was meant to write novels, though I started with poetry, and here we are today with two self-published novels in the market.

Howard Lovy: In childhood, Alfred was exposed to all kinds of creative work, from film to great literature.

Alfred O'Neill: I had the blessing of having kind of a trifecta of, let's say, inputs. One was my father and I, who had a very tumultuous relationship, both loved film. So, we watched a lot of film together and discussed it a lot, and most of it was 1930s and 40s. A lot of film noir, musicals, things like that. On the other end, I was going to an all-boys Quaker private school where I was exposed constantly to high literature and great concepts; everything from the great poets like Wallace Stevens, all the way to rereading Homer and Odysseus multiple times through high school, and into college with Asian studies, and things like that. So, I always found that the intersection of film, high literature, and kind of the psychology of people always surrounded me, and I think it's actually powered a lot of my writing today.

Howard Lovy: But what really defined his childhood was a tumultuous relationship with his father, who, as Alfred Explains, lived a kind of double life.

Alfred O'Neill: What's the old Bruce Springsteen line? It's hard to be a saint in a city. So, I think it was true for him, pretty talented man. I'm a deep embracer of dualities and contradictions. I'm a believer that you can hold two contradictory thoughts, as well as a character can hold two contradictory behaviours and characteristics at the same time, without losing their mind.

The world I grew up in was my father was a low-level money laundering mobster in Philadelphia, and meanwhile, his money that he made from the mob, he wasn't always with them, but he was for majority of my life, was paying for a Quaker private school, which really preached very strong ethics and principles.

So, at home, when I was with him, he would be watching out for whether the phones were bugged, whether the FBI was following us, whether we had to leave town because of a mob war, whether I had to go to a mob dinner to cover up the meetings they would have afterwards. A whole separate life. Meanwhile during the day, in the week I was going to school, a little private school with a bunch of other guys, and hearing about the high principles of Quaker, a sense of peace, meditation, and friends meeting, and things like that.

And boy were those contradictions.

Howard Lovy: It wasn't until the age of 14 that Alfred realized that his father was not quite like the other dads.

Alfred O'Neill: I remember very distinctly, I don't know what brought it on, but there was always these Sunday, every once in a while, Sunday dinners, where my sisters and I would all have to get dressed up and go down to South Philadelphia, and meet and have this big raucous dinner with all these other families, and then all the men would retreat for dessert in the back room and the raucous families would raise enough noise to cover up the FBI bugs.

So, I remember, age, I guess I was 14, maybe I was going through an awareness period or something of principles and ethics and self-worth maybe. He called me, he said, Al, he used to call me, get dressed, we're going to have Sunday, we've got to head down to one of these dinners, meet in the restaurant.

I said, no dad, I am no longer going to any more of your mob dinners. And he said, okay, be that way, and hung up on me. That was probably the beginning of the awareness, but it was a world of contradiction, because even just to get to the heart of the matter, you know, my first two novels are kind of hybrid crime love stories.

I think the tension between the love story and criminal, and the psychotic parts of the murderer and the hero, the protagonist, and all things like that. I think that duality is a direct reflection of my upbringing, because in the end, I feel that I had a lot more love in my life than, let's say, decay of his life around me, from my other family, my family members, to all the other people in my life, including my father in his own way.

So, for some reason that duality has lodged in my head that one can have a life where it is a love and murder. It's not love verses, it's death and life, not verses because they always coexist. It's the tension and how one unpacks that coexistence.

So, I learned early on, and I refused early on, but yet it was still part of my life. In fact, I can even tell you that as far as even to college, was hanging out with them, one of his best friends who ended up being, frankly, one of the people in the movie, the Irishman, he was very close to.

So, this was something that went on all the way into my college and young adult years that I would be exposed to his life, but yet it just seemed normal in its own abhorrent way.

Howard Lovy: Alfred says his father never pressured him to follow in his footsteps. His was an immigrant story. He did what he could to make sure his son had all the opportunities he didn't have.

Alfred went on to study creative writing and film in college.

Alfred O'Neill: I went to a Quaker Private School for 12 years as a kid, founded by William Penn himself, though he was not around as a teacher, it was a little late for him. I was always into creative writing, and I was writing short stories and poetry starting at 14, when I was told that I would do so, and I picked it up and kept going, and was doing quite well.

I went to the university of Arizona, in their writing program, and also in their TV and film production program. I went for two BAs, and out of that then I went to Stanford Film School for a master's program where I was taught by the esteemed producer of The Day the Earth Stood Still. An older man, but he was an incredible Hollywood Maven.

They basically trained us to walk into Hollywood with all the connections and the things that you'd need to have a successful career as a writer.

I was thinking about going to Hollywood in that age period, that early twenties, after being really networked and trained, and learning how to structure and dialogue, these lessons which I still use today because my novels are very visual.

Someone just told me that if you went to California, went to LA, you'd lose your mortal soul, as corny as that sounds, so I did not, and I went instead into advertising, which is a form of losing your mortal soul, just slower, just a little slower. It's really, you know, it's not the huge type, because let's face it, Hollywood, who's lower than, excuse the expression, nothing's lower than whale shit, and frankly, a writer is as low as that in Hollywood.

Howard Lovy: In Alfred's fiction, there are some things he can't write about regarding his father's profession, but he can and does use as inspiration for his stories.

Alfred O'Neill: The first novel, even A Pandemic Can't Stop Love and Murder, which has two characters, is a story he told me over lunch in Manhattan a number of years ago, and it related directly to someone stealing something from a mob bank in southern Jersey, and he knew it very well because it was his crew that stole it, and they spent the next week of mobsters, hitman, the feds, the bank people, my father, all looking through southern jersey for this one person who had stolen this one thing which could ruin in the bank, the mob bank.

He told me that story and that story eventually moulded, it morphed itself through, really, the inspiration of my wife who passed away a few years ago, and she basically just told me to write it. So, I knew that if I told the true story, I would get in trouble. These are things I just can't reveal that are still touchy. So, I put a little in the future, and I created all the same situations, but just created different, let's just say there's different antagonists, which is really the love story, which came out of nowhere. I have no idea where that came from. And it takes place about three or four years in the future.

And even though I sent the book, Even a Pandemic Can't Stop Love and Murder to a few agents, when an agent wrote back to me with, I would never publish anything that had anything to do with the pandemic, it hurt me so badly. And I wrote him back, I said, I'm so sorry for your pain, but the fact of the matter is, it's like a device, nobody dies of the pandemic in my book. It's just what shadows our culture and our ways of living. So, it is the dark castle. It is not the killer.

Howard Lovy: Alfred credits his late wife for pushing him to write and says he never would've tried it had it not been for her.

Alfred O'Neill: She was an unusual case in that she had stage four lung cancer as a non-smoker, which is about 15% of lung cancer folks, horrible, horrible thing that it is. So, she got in stage four, because no one who doesn't smoke would ever think to get it checked, right? That little cough, but you should.

The two of us then spent the next two and a half to three years traveling the world, because that's what she loved the most and that's what she wanted to do. So, we basically spent everything we had, and I wrote a blog called Outspoken Traveller, and it's still up there.

I was writing it beforehand to really hone, in lieu of doing fiction, I did travel blogging as a way to work on my voice, my writing voice and style, and we just travelled the world. I almost got fired a few times for taking too much vacation time, but I will say, there were moments where I was doing PowerPoint decks in a treehouse in New Zealand, and sending them back to New York, or being in an Airbnb in Sorento and on a conference call. So, I did what it took to enable us to travel and really have her enjoy every single moment we had before she passed in April 2020.

But she was the inspiration, and I keep her in my mind every single day, which is, I am the one that's here, I have an obligation to chase and fulfil my dream no matter what it takes.

Howard Lovy: His books are called, even A Pandemic Can't Stop Love and Murder, and Even Climate Change Can't Stop Love and Murder.

Alfred O'Neill: So, we came up with a series, because once I started writing, the characters took over, the protagonists of Ginger and Alby, who ended up falling in love in the first book, she's a kind of down and out Zumba Instructor, and he's a witness protection guy hiding with the feds in South Jersey.

They fall in love, and they have their adventure and then they go west. So, the first book is, Even a Pandemic Can't Stop Love & Murder. It takes place in Southern Jersey, and like I said, the core of it is based on a true crime story. I just had to enable it, to take to a different place with the pandemic and being a little future forward, because I've always liked to write about societal issues and how they interact with people's characters, how they influence how we live, but don't necessarily drive how we live, it's just the influence of the atmosphere.

I think especially in the suspense and thriller world, that's critical. So, that's the first one.

Then they move on to the second one, which is, Even Climate Change Can't Stop Love and Murder. So once again, we see thematically large macro issues being overlaid onto, let's say, traditional love and murder, kind of, romance, suspense/thriller genre.

But the twist I had in this was, I really wanted to speak, even stronger in the second book, to societal themes. So, as they drive west, it's not just climate change, is not just an evil character or climate crisis really, it's three years in the future, but they run into insurrectionists, white supremacists, really a lot of evil people as they move to Arizona, and a lot of guns.

Or as one line says, while Ginger didn't like guns, they sure liked her. So, that's that, and the third one's going to continue that story {inaudible}, and it's going to continue the theme, but that's not what I'm working on. What I've done is I've pivoted to a different novel, which is much more of a literary, political thriller, and that's what I'm working on now. It's also based on a true story. I call it a memoir of imagination.

Howard Lovy: When it came time to find a publisher, Alfred took a look at the traditional publishing world and did not like what he saw.

Alfred O'Neill: So, I worked at Double Day book clubs back in the nineties, and met a lot of editors at Double Day, and different parts of that organization, and got exposed to it, and always had wanted to be a writer. So, I thought, oh, now I'm going to be in the publishing world.

I was surprised at how, and still to this day, as my editor friend told me five years ago, how calcified the business model is, living off, let's say the 1% at the top, and kind of creating a stable of chattel at the bottom, hoping one of them makes it with a small pittance, you know, for them to buy your story.

And I don't mean that cynically, I just mean it's the reality of another business model that is on its way out. That's why I think self-publishing is so vital, and I think what you're doing frankly, is wonderful work. So, I decided to do self-publishing after approaching her, and she said to not get near a publishing world, it will take too long, they'll basically make you do this, and she showed me the dirty underbelly.

So, I proceeded to do self-publishing, but I'll say that both a gift and a mistake I made, and those contradictions once again are always present, was I did not educate myself in self-publishing, I just focused on writing the novel. I felt that the key thing was to get the content done and do it while you're in that mode, and don't sully it with the commercialization.

That was, you know, fits and starts, let's say. So, I got a great editor through networking, Rosie Pearson, she's an amazing woman, she's a Reiki healer as well as an editor of long duration. She recommended a great book jacket designer and website designer, Scout James out of LA, and the three of us really put it all together.

Then I started to say, well, okay, now I've put it out there, what the heck do I do? I'm a marketing person, and I didn't know what to do. So, I kind of kept a church in state between my marketing skills and my nascent writing abilities, and it was a slow path, but eventually I did enough marketing that, as of last January, my first book, Even a Pandemic Can't Stop Love and Murder, got to number four in the mystery category on BarnesandNoble.com, and then it got into the top 100 in the crime category on Amazon, both last January and into February.

It took a lot of work in promotion and some expenditures, and fits and starts and mistakes, but I did it, and now I'm sitting back and kind of working on the next one.

Howard Lovy: The way he got there was hard work using a variety of marketing channels.

Alfred O'Neill: I tried everything. First off, the best advice my editor friend gave me was, get a Kirkus review, because that's what the publishers trust the most and frankly, she herself freelances for them.

And even though I realized that a bad Kirkus review could hurt you more than a good one, and they loved my book, the first one. They loved both of them, but they really were highly praiseworthy of the first one, and that really helped kind of kickstart into like, okay, now how do I market this great review, and {inaudible}. How do I take my story of being the son of a mobster who yet writes a love story that's wrapped inside a mystery?

Those are kind of the angles I've played, and I tried everything. I did Kirkus advertising, I did Facebook, Instagram. I did TikTok, I did them all, and I hired a publicist, knowing it was an uphill battle. I would say that for all I spent, and we all know that we don't make a pittance, if we're lucky. It's an act of love we're all doing, right, Howard?

But I realized that these all helped, and I got to that critical mass of the bestseller, and that was what I achieved. So, I've now backed off it to work back on. As I said, it's not about the money, it has to be about the love, and if that's about the love then I've only written two novels. My job is content, my job is creative, I need to create. So, I've pushed back on all the promotion and now I'm focusing on just the act of creation.

Howard Lovy: Alfred's father passed away a number of years ago, but I asked Alfred what his father would've thought of his books.

Alfred O'Neill: I think he'd be really proud, and I think, you know, he was a damaged person, not loved, abused, a genius in many ways. So, the path he chose was one of pain, but he never was lacking in love. So, I think he'd be very proud of me.

Howard Lovy: Alfred's advice to other writers, consider self-publishing, but have a marketing plan in place before you launch.

Above all, though, find joy in writing.

Alfred O'Neill: All I'd say is that, for those who are out there who are trying to figure out their path to publish and create, self-publishing is definitely the way, and I think that the more you know going in, without getting in the way of your creative process, the better it is when you're ready to launch your book, whether it's your first or second, especially for a beginning writer. Work on the habits, be disciplined, and have some level of joy that you have the ability to create.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/

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