Award-winning author, Pepper O’Neal is a researcher, a writer, and an adrenalin junkie. She has a doctorate in education and spent several years in Mexico and the Caribbean working as researcher for an educational resource firm based out of Mexico City. During that time, she met and befriended many adventurers like herself, including former CIA officers and members of organized crime. Her fiction is heavily influenced by the stories they shared with her, as well her own experiences abroad. When she’s not at her computer, O’Neal spends her time taking long walks in the forests near her home or playing with her three cats. And of course, planning the next adventure. http://www.pepperoneal.com
PJ: How long have you been writing?
Pepper: About 20 years. I started first in non-fiction doing research and writing articles for private clients, then I moved into writing fiction about 5 years ago.
PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?
Pepper: When my first fiction book was published in 2011. In fact, I had 3 novels published that year by two different publishers.
PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?
Pepper: I don’t know that I had any expectations in particular. I was published the first time in the fifth grade when I won a competition and had an article published in the local newspaper. Since then I always intended to be a writer, and though I started in non-fiction, I was prepared to work hard, revise, revise, and revise again. I also didn’t expect my first novel to be a breakout novel, as I have enough author friends that I know it is not as easy as it sounds.
PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?
Pepper: Yes and no. When my first book was published, I didn’t think anyone would buy it, so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself on my publisher’s best sellers list. However, as they were a very small publisher that only published ebooks, the income was still minimal, even for one on the best sellers list. I have since moved to a different publisher, and while I haven’t gotten anywhere near wealthy, my books do sell well and my fan list keeps growing, so I try to focus on that and not on how much money I am making or not making.
PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?
Pepper: Not really. I write because I can’t not write, and my focus has always been on the story that demands to be told. Before I was published, I worked at trying to get good enough to get published. After I achieved that goal, my focus shifted a bit to not letting the quality of the books drop simply because I was now published. I wanted each book to be better than the last, which means I have to constantly strive to be a better writer.
PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?
Pepper: About 2 years after I seriously started writing fiction.
PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?
Pepper: I would have started writing fiction sooner. I put it off because I didn’t think I could do it, but my stories kept pushing until I gave in and started writing novels.
PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?
Pepper: Well, it helps that I work out of my home office, anyway, for my day job as a free-lance researcher. But I make lists—lots and lots of lists—and then do the most important thing on the list. What doesn’t get done today gets transferred to tomorrow’s list. It also helps that I work well under pressure.
PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?
Pepper: Fans emailing or writing to tell me that they like my work. That makes all the frustration, sleepless nights, and writer’s block worth it.
PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?
Pepper: All the rejection slips before I got my first book published.
PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?
Pepper: When the reviews for Blood Fest: Chasing Destiny, the first book in my paranormal shifter series, while most of them were 4 and 5 star reviews, the reviewers all pointed out something that I had missed. Nothing major, just a minor plot point that I should have addressed. I try to make sure I catch all of those myself now.
PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?
Pepper: My characters are based on real people that I met while working in Mexico, the Caribbean, and other exotic places in the world. And my characters’ real-life counterparts are usually willing to vet my books and let me know if something doesn’t work or if they would or would not do something in particular. I think that this makes my characters more authentic than if I tried to make them up completely from my imagination. My friends also have been to even more interesting places than I have and they have fascinating stories to tell. So I can mix in real events in with my imaginary ones. And, after all, truth is often stranger than fiction.
PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?
Pepper: Don’t give up. Never, never give up. If you do, you will never know if you could have made it had you tried just a little longer.
PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?
Pepper: I am not good at self-promotion. I just want to write. So I try to write good stories with interesting characters that will sell because people like them and tell their friends. Had I known how much promotion was required of an author, even one who doesn’t self-publish, I might have considered another career.
PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?
Pepper: Knowing how to promote and writing a decent, short pitch.
PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?
Pepper: We don’t have any where I live.
PJ: Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:
Love Potion No. 2-14
Blood Fest: Chasing Destiny
Blood Fest: Cursing Fate
Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Run
My next title Blood Fest: Running Scared will be released next spring.
PJ: Where can we buy them?
Pepper: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Books, Scribd, www.blackopalbooks.com
PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?
Pepper: Most of what I write in my fiction stems from actual fact. While I don’t, of course, know any actual shifters, my characters and the things that happen to them are based on real people and real events that happened either to them or to me or to someone else I know. Things may have been adjusted, adapted, or tweaked to make them fit the story, but the kernel of truth is there if you dig deep enough.