Today we're excited to chat with JP O'Donnell, author of Fatal Gamble and Deadly Codes.
FQ: Prior to your two Gallagher novels, had you done any writing? Short stories, other novels, or perhaps articles for scientific journals?
I have done a lot of writing in my professional career as a pediatric dentist. Most of this writing included articles on pediatric oral pathology, case reports and clinical studies on sealants. I was also the editor of a manual on preventive dentistry for special needs patients. One of my proudest moments occurred when I was awarded the “Golden Pen” award by the International College of Dentists for my contributions to a journal devoted to pediatric dental trauma. It was so satisfying to have someone tell me that I was a good writer. Fatal Gamble and Deadly Codes, however, are my first efforts in the genre of mystery fiction.
FQ: How does a mild-mannered pediatric dentist come up with such intriguing stories of murder and mayhem?
I guess I just have a good imagination. The background story of Fatal Gamble is based on my real life involvement with a group of fellow professionals who formed a partnership and constructed a medical office building. But none of us bribed a congressman or were shot by a mysterious hit man. All of those elements of Fatal Gamble are true fiction. My real estate partners got a big kick out of the book, and we still share so many laughs about their “characters” when we get together. My career as a pediatric dentist is separate and distinct from my creative writing. In fact, if I was starting all over, I would still choose to be a pediatric dentist; I love my profession and still enjoy it. Fortunately, I have been able to find time to blend two careers together and pursue my interest in writing.
FQ: What is it about the genre (mystery/suspense) that interests you? What do you find about the genre most challenging?
Clearly the most fascinating part of mystery writing is allowing your imagination to take your story and run with it. For me, as a first-time author, this was so much fun. The most challenging part, however, is maintaining the correct “point of view” in every chapter. I never realized the importance of this aspect of fictional writing until I went through the editorial process with my first book. Shifting the point of view within a scene can cause you to lose your reader.
FQ: Deadly Codes came out shortly after your first book. Did you plan from the start to write two books or had you begun writing it before Fatal Gamble was published?
After I finished my manuscript of Fatal Gamble, I shopped it around to a number of literary agents. No one was interested. So I enrolled in a Medical Fiction Writing Program given by NY Times best-selling authors, Michael Palmer and Tess Gerritsen. At this program I not only learned a lot about writing fiction but had the opportunity to show my manuscript to a number of literary agents in attendance. The response was favorable, but I was told I had to prove I was a writer by writing another book. Since the agents seemed to like my main character, Gallagher, I decided to keep his story alive and began writing Deadly Codes, the sequel to Fatal Gamble. I finished it within seven months and submitted both books for publication in 2008.
FQ: Your main character, Gallagher, is an interesting person. He loves his job but is at times conflicted with his professional life interfering with his personal life. Was it important for you to show him as more than just a private detective? And what about Kate? Was it important to show how the life of a private detective affects those around him?
In order for Gallagher to be “real” to the reader, I needed him to have conflict within his life. I wanted Gallagher and the reader to love Kate, but I wanted Gallagher to have an undeniable, magnetic draw to his cases—a force he can’t resist. In turn, an interesting conflict develops for the reader who wants Gallagher to solve the case, but also wants him to be with Kate. This seems to have worked very well. From the many comments I have received, a legion of Gallagher fans has developed. This conflict between Gallagher’s career as a private investigator and his personal life with Kate creates the critical emotional tension throughout Deadly Codes.
FQ: Is the Washington/corruption component in Fatal Gamble a statement on your part?
In Fatal Gamble Washington, DC was important because a US Congressman played a vital role in the overall storyline. The theme of political corruption is not an editorial comment on my part but merely a means to move the story along and maintain the reader’s interest. I found it ironic that Fatal Gamble, a story written in 2006 with a subplot of problems within the federal banking system, was published right around the time of the banking collapse of 2008.
FQ: Washington, DC plays a part in both books. Is this a coincidence?
In Deadly Codes I needed to introduce the subplot of selling secret coded information to a hostile enemy nation. What better place to begin than our nation’s capital? Besides, Gallagher needed a good excuse to return to one of his (and my) favorite luncheon haunts, the Old Ebbitt Grill where he could meet up with his (and my) old friend, Tony Macmillan.
FQ: Your books take several sharp turns to keep the reader on his toes. Do you have all the major and minor plot twists worked out before you start writing?
Actually I followed the same format for both books: I wrote the first chapter, then the last chapter, and connected everything in between. I did make a rough outline in the beginning, but I did not know exactly how the story would unfold as I went along. As my characters came to life, I tried to imagine how they would act and speak in certain situations. Although I am, of course, quite fond of Gallagher and Kate, my favorite character in either book is Rebecca Johnson in Deadly Codes. She is deliciously evil. I believe my best writing occurs in the scene where Gallagher meets up with Rebecca in the bar at the Station Grill.
FQ: Will we be seeing Gallagher again soon?
Yes, I am working on the third book of the series. Gallagher finds out that Kate has disappeared—a secret from her past has put her life in danger. Stay tuned.