I’m hosting an interview today with Dave O’Leary, author of literary fiction “The Music Book”. My answers are in bold, questions are in regular font. Enjoy.
1. What’s the hardest part of being an author?
The hardest part is writing. That’s the joy, too, of course. Sometimes the words flash and soar, but it’s a struggle to face that empty page even when you know what you want to say, but to quote Bukowski, “It’s the only good fight there is.”
2. Can you give us a short synopsis of The Music Book?
Playing music has been a huge part of Rob’s life.
But so has doubt, the worry of forgetting which chord comes next, the fear of playing the wrong few notes, a lifetime full of maybes where nothing is certain except for the past and its memories of lost love, the fading music of old bands. He also battles tinnitus and brief spells of deafness, and that brings another fear, the loss of sound, which is a kind of death, a shutting out of the world.
There is the memory of a particular show years ago where he screwed up the intro of a song, but even so, even with the embarrassment of such mistakes, he’s always been glad that he wasn’t a critic, that he was putting his own voice out into the world and not simply responding to the creative doings of others.
And yet, that’s exactly what he ends up doing when life leaves him with no band and but a few friends. He borders on obsession with lost love and becomes a critic inserting himself into the story, writing about music as he feels it, as he experiences it because what “experience is there that exists outside your head?”
Being a critic then becomes an effort to keep music in his life, to store up on sounds and figure out what music means to him, what it all adds up to, and if somehow two plus two can equal five when the music is just so, when the melodies soar and a female vocalist echoes what he feels and fears, “I don’t want to disappear.”
After Rob sees his ex love out with her new boyfriend, he is saved by a singer who can’t feel anything and a police officer who befriends him. There is the stray cat, Soju, a needed respite from loneliness, a reminder to live in the present tense. And there are bartender Katie, painter Elena, and tattoo artist Genny, women who offer Rob a possible chance at love.
And there are bands. There is music. Rob is swallowed up by it and realizes one thing: The only thing that matters is the sound that emanates from the stage.
Will love come? Will hearing go?
Will two plus two equal five or will the equation, will life, balance itself in some other way?
3. How many hours per day do you spend writing?
When I’m in the midst of finishing a book, I’ll spend between two and four hours a night writing. Sometimes it can be more if the mood is right, but four is typically the maximum limit. One thing I don’t do is go for a specific word count. That would put me in a position at times of forcing it if I had to think of trying to reach a certain number of words. It would be stressful to think in such terms. It’d hang over me and get in the way of the writing. I’ve had days where I only got one paragraph done, but the paragraph was damn near perfect so who cares? That’s how I judge when to stop on a particular night. It’s a matter not so much of how much you get down, but rather how good it is.
4. Name your top five favorite books.
How about the ten or most influential? These are the books that made me want to read and then write.
1. Old Yeller / Rascal – I read these in third grade I think, maybe fourth. I’m not sure. These two books implanted within me the desire to read.
2. Lord of the Rings – I marveled at these when I first encountered them in middle school and continued to do so all through high school. These books made me want to write, made me want to create whole worlds of my own.
3. No One Here Gets Out Alive – Like many, I went through the “I Want to Be Jim Morrison” phase. I wanted to live like that. The book enhanced my love of the Doors and also of music in general, and of music writing. I owe something to this for the style of my own music writing.
4. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – As I said, Tolkien made me want to write. This book made me want to write literature.
5. To the Lighthouse – I referred to this book twice above. First, it’s something I was required to read for a college course, but even so, it stuck with me. Imagine that. One can study English in college and find some books that mean something, that settle somewhere deep inside you and reside there for years if not for a whole life. Also, it’s one of those books that just has some beautiful writing. That middle section called “Time Passes” is a remarkable piece of writing. Woolf made me want to write beautifully, not just basic prose, but something more, almost poetic.
6. You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense / Love is a Dog From Hell – And speaking of poetic writing, I know Bukowski is a far cry in style from Woolf, but I love his poetry. It’s narrative in a way, beautiful for its non-beauty. His writing reminds me that sometimes you have to remove the artifice and cut right to it.
7. Last Orders – I discovered Graham Swift in college when I had to read Waterland for a Contemporary British Literature class and immediately started reading more of his work, and then in 1997, two years after I graduated, he came out with this gem. It’s such a beautiful book, so deserving of the Booker Prize that it won. It contains what in my mind is one of the most moving passages of literature I’ve ever read (a woman’s goodbye to her grown daughter) and also a chapter that’s only two words long, only two words, and yet, it still works completely, makes me laugh every time I read it. If I was ranking in order of my favorites, this book would be number one or number two.
8. The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship – Again, Bukowski, but here we have him keeping a journal very late in his life. It’s honest, touching, funny. He never takes himself too seriously. I carried this book with me for a couple years during my time overseas, so much so that the cover came off.
9. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – My introduction to Murakami. I love the duality of the book. The real world is the “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” and the subconscious is the “End of the World.” A few years after college, I gave up writing because I knew I wasn’t ready. I needed more life experience, and I needed to read more great books, books worthy of a top ten list. When I read this at the age of 35, this and The Captain is Out to Lunch, that desire to write came back full force. That was a good year of reading for me.
10. The Road – I love the simplicity of the prose, the sparseness, and yet this book is anything but simple. It’s deceptive that way. What a great piece of writing. With Last Orders, it’s my number one or two.
5. What are you working on now?
I have a few short stories that are based around holidays although they aren’t holiday stories in any traditional holiday sense. The main one of these is called Condoms on Christmas. It was first published in the Monarch Review in May of 2012, and I’ve begun reworking it a bit. As I’ve done such, the story has grown so much that it might turn into a short novel. It could end up being its own thing or it could be like part two of Jumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth. The first part of that book is five unrelated stories, and part two is one story in three parts and is about one third the length of the book. Condoms on Christmas might be like that, the longest story in a collection of short stories. We’ll see. As for what it’s about, it isn’t really a Christmas story, of course. Such holidays just give heightened awareness to the feelings of being alone and the reasons we do and don’t let people into our lives. It’ll weave in and out of the differing perspectives of five people on a single Christmas day. There’s desperation, joy, sex, booze, loneliness, and redemption. Most of all there’s possibility. That’s one of the things about holidays. They remind us of all that was and that we’ve lost, but they also remind us of all that is possible.
The other thing I’m doing now is bringing the bands from the book into the studio of a Seattle-based record label called Critical Sun. Whet we do is then record a session in which I interview the band and they play a few songs. These interviews are being released as podcasts, and the first few are already online here: https://soundcloud.com/criticalsun/sets/the-music-book-interviews
We’ve also put together a CD of the music in the book. There are physical CDs that will be available online soon, but for now there is a page where all the music can be downloaded. The cool thing about the CD is that it is a benefit for a charity called the Wishlist Foundation, which is a Pearl Jam fan nonprofit, grassroots 501(c)(3) fan organization dedicated to supporting Pearl Jam’s charitable and philanthropic efforts
The CD’s download page is here: https://themusicbook.bandcamp.com/album/the-music-book-a-benefit-for-the-wishlist-foundation
About The Book
Author: Dave O’Leary
Genre: Literary Fiction
What does music mean? Can it be more than the sum of its notes and melodies? Can it truly change you? Rob, a musician turned reluctant music critic, poses these questions as everything important in his life appears to be fading—memories of lost love, songs from his old bands, even his hearing. He delves into the music of others to find solace and purpose, and discovers that the chords and repeated phrases echo themes that have emerged in his own life. The music sustains him, but can it revive him?
The Music Book is a story of loss, of fear and loneliness, of a mutable past. But most of all it’s about music as a force, as energy, as a creator of possibility. What might come from the sound of an A chord played just so? Rob listens. And among other things, he finds surprising companionship with a cat; another chance at love; and the courage to step on a stage again and finally, fully comprehend the power of sound.
Dave O’Leary is a writer and musician living in Seattle. His second novel, The Music Book (Booktrope, November 2014), is a collection of the writings O’Leary has done about Seattle bands for both Northwest Music Scene (http://www.northwestmusicscene.com/author/davemusic/) and the now defunct Seattle Subsonic. It is a fictional narrative wrapped around and within the actual music, a story about live music in Seattle and, more broadly, about the power of music in our lives. A CD of the music experienced in the book will be released by Seattle indie label, Critical Sun Recordings.
His first book, Horse Bite (Infinitum), was published in 2011.
Photo by Stacy Albright. http://www.stacyalbrightimages.com
The Music Book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Music-Book-Dave-OLeary/dp/1620154625
Author’s Website: http://www.daveoleary.net/
Author’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/dolearyauthor