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From Roleplay to Writing: An Interview with Justin O’Donnell, author of Failed States

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Justin O’Donnell holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Western Connecticut State University. He spent his childhood immersed in online roleplay, playing football, and reading history. When not reading or writing, Justin competes as a bodybuilder and dreams up ways to spin speculative tales about ancient empires, mythological horrors, and apocalyptic hellscapes. Justin currently lives in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, with his wife, daughter, and mischievous Siberian husky.

You can buy the book here.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The book title came to me when I was studying geopolitical outcomes of foreign interventions abroad, chiefly Libya, Sudan, and other places in the world where state governments have failed. When writing my book, I started with the premise: “What if America became a failed state?”

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

Surreal. A journey that started half a decade ago came to a final, tangible moment. As a parent, it’s similar to holding a child in your hands for the first time. The labor of love exists in the world now, where it can stand on a shelf long after you are gone.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I got into writing because of roleplaying. I spent a lot of my childhood playing Star Wars Galaxies, where I adventured around the galaxy with hundreds of roleplayers. It was like telling one big, living collaborative story over nine years. That’s where my passion started.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I work in corporate communications and marketing. What readers don’t know is that I am a competitive national bodybuilder. I hope to earn my IFBB professional card competing at Mr. USA this year.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

Signing copies for friends and families and reposting all the stories of people holding my book in their hands.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Well, that one is easy. I wrote most of the book while listening to the albums Sempiternal by Bring Me the Horizon, and This is War by Cliff Lin. If I had to choose a couple of songs, I’d go with Ultraviolence by Lin and House of Wolves by Bring Me the Horizon.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I hope that readers can suspend their disbelief and transport themselves to a vivid world that makes them question what they would do in apocalyptic situations. It is my hope that Failed States encourages people to think outside of their normal moral convictions and challenges them to truly internalize the prose so it stays with them long after they’ve read it.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I needed a break from the world of Failed States. I’m currently working on a gothic tale of medieval horror. Here is the premise: “A Teutonic Knight discovers a conspiracy to unleash a demonic power from the shadows of Transylvania and must come to terms with his own failure of faith if he is to withstand the living darkness to come.”

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

Atmosphere Press is the perfect blend of professional help with a small press feel. It gave me a traditional publishing experience while allowing me all the privileges of an independent author. If you are an artist who has struggled to find traction with agents or agencies, I encourage you to give Atmosphere Press a try. Once you get your first book out into the world, you’ll feel confident that you can do this again. They go with you every step of the way and, in my opinion, they add legitimacy and a level of professionalism that lacks in much of the greater self-published industry. They are true literary partners.

You can buy the book here.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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