Hello readers and writers!
Today we want to introduce you to a crime fiction writer who rebels in the genre by doing something that comes naturally to her. Her books are written from a Christian world view. The strength of her religious views give her books a moral compass beyond the normal criminals and detectives of the crime fiction world. Still, her books are not sterile! Her characters are still flawed and oh so real!
Introducing J.I. O'Neal!
RL: When did you start writing as a career?
JIO: I have written stories ever since I can remember. But it was about 20 years ago that I started seriously thinking about being an author. For me, that meant completing some of the scraps of books/stories I had started and getting them in a format for publishing.
RL: What's your current work in progress?
JIO: I always have multiple WIPs going as a way to counteract writer's block or just a snag in the story that I need time to work through. So, I have a few current projects. One is the next installment in my crime fiction series, second is a tie-in to that series (same world, different characters), the third is an adventure story with slight paranormal elements, and fourth is historical fiction.
RL: You write Crime Fiction. What led you to write in that genre?
JIO: Once upon a time, I considered a career in forensics. But life circumstances got in the way of that, so now I write about crime instead of helping to solve them myself! It's a lot of fun taking what I have learned in my classes and just through my own research and using it to create this whole city - a whole county, actually - and all these characters that I've grown to know and love.
RL: Do you have any plans to write outside of your current genre?
JIO: I kinda jumped the gun on addressing this - whoops! Yes, there are several genres I like to write. I have some short stories that read like the old-time radio plays (like the Green Hornet, Dick Tracy, etc.) that are comic bookish crime stories. I have some horror short stories and I've written sci-fi, adventure, fantasy (nothing finished yet), and historical fiction.
RL: Where do you get the inspiration for your books?
JIO: It's a funny and sorta cliche answer, but Noah, my main MC in my series, first came into being in a dream I had. The dream had nothing to do with crime or law enforcement in any way, shape, or form, but I was intrigued by this character. I had been kicking around the idea of a crime book and Noah fit the bill for my cop hero. Subsequent book plots just sorta... come to me. Partly from asking what's next for these characters and partly from real-life cases I'd read about or from what I would consider divine guidance. I am a Christian, so I am always asking God for inspiration.
RL: Tell me about your Riverdale PD Series.
JIO: The RPD Series centers around an ensemble cast of characters: Noah Harkham (retired Detective Sgt.), his former partner Det. Alan "Frankie" Franks, Frankie's new partner, Det. Casey Townsend, their Captain Gabriel Ziehring, a small group of uniform officers and other support personnel, and the criminalists from the Calera County Crime Lab: Robin "Shots" Dorian, Conrad Ward, Neil Coates (who is Noah's cousin), Jake Saddler and Simon Lewis.
RL: Your Stell-Ore books are considered a duology. Why did you decide to do this instead of making one big book or a long series?
JIO: The first book's initial scene evolved out of a dream as well. I wrote the rest of the book from there but kept it short due to limitations of a contest I entered into - The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award. (It received Honorable Mention.) There was a strict word count and page limit, so I completed the arc of the first half of the story within that framework.
But then, with no limitations for the second half of the story, I was able to flesh out the world and characters more. So book two ended up being considerably longer. I have published them separately, but will one day offer them in a single volume omnibus. But it only took the two parts to tell the story I wanted to tell, so I stopped with the duology.
However, I may or may not have ideas for other stories set in the same world for down the road...
RL: How do your books rebel against the status quo in your genre?
JIO: I never really thought about it as rebelling against the status quo until now, but I suppose the fact that I write from a Christian worldview and that some of my characters are Christians is a little unexpected, especially in crime fiction and sci-fi. I try not to be too preachy or bash people over the head with the worldview, but it is there and it does get talked about and influences some character's choices and paths. I like to think that readers will find this as refreshing as I do writing it, and just because these people are Christians that doesn’t mean they don’t have baggage or flaws. Christians are NOT perfect, nor can we ever be (nor should we ever pretend to be) and still struggle with life like everyone else. We just know we can rely on God to get us through. And that’s how I write these characters: flawed, real, but with a strength of faith that carries them through and I think that’s not something you find in these genres much these days.
RL: Which of your books is your favorite?
JIO: Of my published books, my latest installment in the RPD Series, Time of Death, is my favorite. We get to know a heck of a lot more about Noah's past and character than before and see how doing the right thing can sometimes have unexpected consequences. It's a little bit of a study of the idea of the hero being the villain in someone else's story, and the villain being the hero of their own story. I feel like all the other characters sort of come into their own a lot more in this book, too.
Of my WIPs, I'd have to say it is my historical fiction book. The main character in it, a young man named August Henry, is a WW1 veteran trying to get back to his family -and his faith - while running from the guilt and consequences of a terrible tragedy that occurred after he came back from the war.
RL: Talk to me about the path you choose in publishing.
JIO: I considered traditional publishing at one time, but never loved the idea of working under someone else's timeframe. I then heard some stories from prolific authors who did go the trad pub route where they talked about having no control over the cover art or back blurb verbiage or even having to rewrite to include a subplot they didn't want or like, or having to agree to let another author write in sex scenes that they didn't want in there, all due to contract stipulations.
And I thought that all that sounded horrible and not something I was willing to risk just for the sake of a paycheck, so I went the self-publishing route. I don't write for the money, I write because I don't know how not to. I feel like it is what God has called me to do and so I do it to honor that calling. Which is why you'll always find Christian themes in my books even if Christianity or God aren't mentioned specifically.
RL: You're also a Wattpad author. What do you use the site for and how has it helped your writing?
JIO: I love using Wattpad! This is where I write all of my first drafts. I can get a feel for the pacing and flow since the site is set up to divide the work into chapters from the beginning. I haven't had a lot of interaction with other Wattpadders on the site itself, but I have connected with several on Twitter and it's been a blast and a blessing talking shop with them and other authors there.
RL: What are your hobbies?
JIO: I love to read (no big surprise there, I'm sure), I garden, I crochet, I love movies and music and TV shows and playing video games. I especially love survival horror (Resident Evil series, The Last of Us, Silent Hill, Until Dawn, etc.) and adventure games (Uncharted series, Assassin’s Creed series, Batman, etc.). Is drinking tea considered a hobby? ;)
RL: What are you reading currently?
JIO: Lots of things, including your Michael Taylor series, which I love, by the way! I'm reading Where the River Flows by Kevin Shea, and re-reading Inkspell by Cornelia Funke for the third time! Also some books for research purposes.
RL: What can readers expect from you in the future?
JIO: I have many more RPD Series books planned, as well as a couple of tie-ins that are the same world with different characters. I hope to have the adventure fiction and the historical fiction books done within the next year or two as well.