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May 14, 2010

Kevin O'Brien: Mama's Boy Author

Posted by Anonymous

When approached me about interviewing my mother and me for this issue, I was so flattered --- and a bit melancholy. My mother passed away in 1992. Still, I wanted to contribute to this project --- but what to do? Pull a Norman Bates and speak for my dearly departed Mom? 

vicious.JPGI don’t think I could be quite as funny or warm or engaging.

The daughter of the President of the Illinois Central Railroad, as a young woman back in the mid-30s, my mother got written up and photographed in The Chicago Tribune’s society pages whenever she so much as bought a new hat. Yet for all of her high society pedigree, my mother was incredibly down to earth. Raising six kids (I’m the youngest), she probably didn’t have time to buy any new hats! 

I wonder what she would think of my latest thriller, VICIOUS, in which a serial killer known as “Mama’s Boy” abducts young mothers right in front of their sons --- and later murders them. I think my mom would have shuddered, and then made some joke about how she must have influenced me as a writer. And indeed she did --- in a good way.

I thank my Mom for my sense of humor and the macabre --- as well as my love for storytelling. I remember stories she told me about when she was a youngster --- like when she was walking along Lake Michigan in winter. The lake was frozen over, and she spotted a white hand sticking out of the ice. Sure enough, the police found a frozen body under there.

Another story involved a milk truck driver, offering my mother a ride home from school when she was 10. She was tired, and accepted his offer.  He drove past her building --- to a dead end street near the lake, where he parked the truck. My mother became frightened, too frightened even to make a run for it. She didn’t have to. The man didn’t do anything. He just started crying and told her to go hurry right home. And she did just that.

I used this story in a scene I ultimately cut from my first novel, ACTORS.  My mother eagerly read an early draft, and gave me some honest criticism along with her praise. “I forgot I told you that story about the milk truck driver,” she added. “That was very sad --- and scary.”

ACTORS was written in 1984, the heyday of Jackie Collins. My agent at the time kept urging me to put in more sex scenes. I read letters to Penthouse to pick up some pointers. By the time it was published in 1986, the book was liberally sprinkled with sex. “Usually I enjoy reading scenes like that,” my mom admitted to me. “But since you wrote them, I kept thinking, ‘Oh, Lord, maybe the next scene won’t be so wild --- and then you’d make it even raunchier!” I asked if she was embarrassed I’d written the book under my own name. “Oh, no, sweetie,” she told me. “You can keep your name. Your dad and I will change ours.”

While in college, I decided to become a writer. That Christmas, my mom and dad bought me an electric typewriter. Then for my birthday, they gave me a framed poster of an old fashioned typewriter.  Until it became too sun-faded to display, the poster hung above my desk for 20 years --- in three different residents, and through the creation of two published novels, ACTOTRS (1986) and ONLY SON (1997).

My mother wasn’t around for the publication of ONLY SON, which was a better book than the first. It’s a shame, too, because I think she would have been very pleased. She was an avid reader --- and recommended two of my favorite books to me, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP and ORDINARY PEOPLE.  

One of the nicest compliments I get from fans is when they tell me they felt sad after finishing one of my books. I remember one day during a summer break from college, my mother noticed I was depressed and asked what was wrong. I explained that I’d just finished this terrific book the night before. “Now, for some reason, I’m sad, I don’t know,” I said.

“That happens to me whenever I finish a really good book,” my mom told me. “It’s like saying goodbye to a wonderful friend.”

With a mother who thought about books that way, I just had to become a writer.

Kevin O’Brien’s latest thriller, VICIOUS, will be available May 25th wherever books are sold.