Interview with Anna-Marie O’Brien
Author of Adventures of a Metalhead Librarian
Congratulations on your new book! Is this your first?
Thanks so much! Yes, Adventures of a Metalhead Librarian is my first book. First of many, I hope.
What initially inspired you to write your book?
So many things inspired me! The short answer is that I’d had an amazing, magical experience in Los Angeles, and the idea of writing a book about it had been brewing for years. I grew up a voracious reader and a wanna-be writer, but I never felt capable until I was in my 40’s.
I’d been bumbling around with writing parts of the story for a couple of years when, in 2014, I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and that was a huge inspiration. It kind of cracked me open, as a writer (and as a human being). I realized that my own story was an adventure and survival story, and I finally had a great example of the type of book I needed to write. Except, I think my book was set to a much better soundtrack! 🙂
Tell us about your writing style, did you blast through it or was it a work in progress over several years? Did you work best in the morning or night or did you have a routine?
Ah, my writing style. I’m not the type of person who finds comfort or benefits from writing groups, and I work a day job and I have two kids, so my routine varied depending on time and family needs. For a while I was so hung up on having to write a certain amount of words each day I was paralyzed and on the brink of despair about this book. So, I started working with a writing coach who specialized with intuitive empathic writers and the INFJ Meyers-Briggs personality type – and it was like a key turning in a stubborn lock. I’ve never done any type of therapy, but this was totally therapeutic for me. I started setting time aside twice a week to write, no pressure. Once I had that bit of momentum going and could see progress, it became automatic. I was up at 4 am for a couple of years, just to have a two hours in the mornings to myself to write. My husband took the kids out on weekend afternoons so I could have some time to myself. I talked to the coach only every few months, but having that one person to confide in about the writing, one gentle soul who understood this process, was crucial for me.
Also, I have to mention that many “strange” things started happening as I wrote the book – signs, synchronicity, detailed dreams, flashes of Deja Vu, connections, coincidences, old friends from far away showing up. It was surreal, sometimes. Even my Pandora playlists seemed to whisper to me, bringing up subjects, memories, bands I had forgotten. Many people I needed to talk to about this story manifested in my life again during this time. The book seemed to have a life-force of it’s own. So, I kind of had to follow the magic a bit and let the book guide me, as a writer. There was no forcing it. I joke around that I’m OCD+ADD+ESP – but in reality it’s a perfect description of my writing style.
From conception to printing how long did it take?
It took me about five total years, from when I got really serious with it all the way to a finished, polished publication. 3.5 years to write, about 1.5 years to edit and produce. I tried putting deadlines on myself, but I blew through them all the time, so I just kept doing tasks, thinking of the whole thing as steps. I had a lot of lists!
Did you ever consider shopping your book to publishers?
Oh for sure. The first step in getting a traditional publishing deal is to find an agent who believes in you and your story. I started querying agents as I was editing, and honestly, it’s a ton of work. After a dozen attempts and a lot of silence, it just felt dirty and desperate to me. I wanted to work on my book, not on my queries, and I only had so much time in the day. My heart wasn’t in it, at all. And then one day I woke up and realized that I could care less what an agent thinks. And even if I were to land an agent, the chances of a publisher taking a chance on a book like this – my odds of winning the lottery seemed better.
Plus, being a librarian and someone who has worked in the entertainment industry with intellectual property – I didn’t want to give up the rights to my book. This is a very personal story. It’s mine to tell, mine to sell. I’m not ruling out traditional publishing for future projects, but now that I’ve self-published this book, it was super fun and I want to keep doing it. It’s a skill set, learning to write and produce a book. I’m glad I did it this way, instead of waiting around to be chosen and jockeying to be noticed. It’s just not my style. My readers will find me. My book will find readers.
How has initial feedback been?
Super awesome. I’ve gotten a ton of great, heartfelt reviews. I’ve done some interviews and a podcast, and I’m having fun with it all. I’ve made some great connections, and re-connections with people over this book, and I treasure their support and enthusiasm.
Was it cathartic to write or just fun, or both?
It was both, for sure. I had to get this story out of me. It also gave me something to focus on while I dealt with a really scary medical issue that popped up during the writing of it. But ultimately, it was fun, deeply soul-satisfying. It’s one of those bucket list things, you know? I’d like to keep doing it, again and again.
Along these lines, there were a few intimate details you revealed about your past. Did you ever hesitate or self-censor before committing it to paper?
Oh heck yes, I agonized over a lot about what to reveal and what to keep private. There are a lot of things that I edited out, and some things I dialed back a bit in detail out of respect for others. I did have a few beta-readers who gave me some great feedback. One of them was Dave Ellefson, of Megadeth, who surprised me with some really poignant advice regarding what I might want to think about in terms of my children. It was a perspective I hadn’t considered. So yes, I wrote out the full gory details in my first drafts, but gave myself plenty of time to get feedback from people who’s opinions mattered to me or who were part of the story in some way. And then I gave myself time to edit until it felt just right.
What advice would you have for aspiring authors?
I have so much advice to give, and a lot of it is contrary to “popular” sentiment about what it takes to be a writer. I could never stick to deadlines or hard word counts. Bottom line is that you have to teach yourself how to write a book. You have to learn about genre, scenes, pacing, transitions, story arcs, editing, dialog, theme. You have to learn these things in order to write with purpose and intention. It’s fine to noodle and explore, but eventually you’ve got to get down to work.
I’m a visual thinker, so I wrote myself a map of the story. I always knew the general direction I was headed, even when there were delays or detours. It wasn’t quite an outline, but it kept me on track. I could “see” my story. I could see gaps, connections, the highs and lows. Even with an outline or a map, you still have to follow your intuition, and you have to be kind to yourself.
Don’t look for approval. Look for feedback. Let go of your ego, and let the feedback serve the story. Or not. Your choice. You’re the writer. It’s all subjective.
Ask for help if you need it. Hire help if you need it. There are a ton of resources out there, and many of them are free.
Edit until you think you can’t possibly edit anymore. And then wait a month and give it another pass.
And at the end of the day it all comes down to: Just don’t quit.
Thanks, Joshua! I really appreciate the support!
Facebook: @metalheadlibrarian (Adventures of a Metalhead Librarian)
And they can buy the book on Amazon in eBook or Paperback – but if they are a part of the Kindle Unlimited program, it can be downloaded for FREE right now! Here’s a short link: