Not Quite Twenty Questions for Vincent O’Neil

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: New England Crime Bake is coming! And we are so excited about that…(If you’re attending, hurray. It’ll be pretty darn interesting to hear the tales guest of honor Craig Johnson has to tell, right?)

And I always say: something wonderful and unexpected happens at every convention and at one of my very first Crime Bakes, I met the wonderful Vinny O’Neil.

He’d just won the St. Martin’s prize for best manuscript, but being Vinny, he didn’t mention that when we first sat down together at dinner. We just talked about writing and mysteries.

Then, if I remember correctly, he said something about graduating from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Cool! So, pursuing that, I managed to get him to tell me that he was also a West Point graduate, and a long-time infantry officer, in PANAMA, and he speaks Chinese. There’s probably a lot more, but he said, if he told me, he’d have to kill me.

Crime Bake 2008 with GOH Harlen Coben (back left) poses with Vinny, Hank, and other panelists.

Crime Bake 2008 — Vinny, Hank, and other panelists pose with GOH Harlen Coben (back left).

Who’d a thought? You never know who you’re going to sit by—and you never know if, like Vinny, that person will turn into a lifelong friend.

Vinny is having quite the adventure in mystery/thriller world. And his new book—with an entirely different bent!—is just being published.

So—although I kinda think he’s used to be the one DOING the interrogations, here’s Not Quite Twenty Questions for Vinny O’Neil.

VincentOneil_headshotTitle of your autobiography: 
 A Non-Standard Career Path

I once heard that phrase used in reference to an individual who marched to the tune of his own drummer. It was meant as an insult, but I’ve had so many different careers by now that I think it fits.

Movie you would see again and again?
The Godfather!

Godfather is not only my favorite movie, but it is also my favorite book. Once you get past the ludicrous assertion that there is such a thing as a “good” crime family, there is so much great dialogue, so many towering characters, and such gripping action that I must have seen the film (and read the book) a dozen times. At least.

Exotic drinks?
These days the most exotic drink would be some kind of seasonal coffee; my gone-but-not-forgotten Borders Bookstore coffee shop used to serve an excellent Pumpkin Spice coffee around Halloween and a very tasty Gingerbread Man latte around Christmas.

Pizza or chocolate?         
Oh, chocolate. Definitely.

Spouse? Children? Special people in your life?
No kids and never married, but I do come from an extended family that is very tight. I also have a great many friends from my different careers, especially my writer friends.

I grew up with collies and have always loved dogs. Although I don’t have one of my own, every place I’ve lived there has been a dog who became my special friend. Right now it’s an aged Bassett Hound named Yulie who loves to have his back scratched.

Vinny with friend in Panama

Vinny with friend in Panama

Foreign language, movies, and physical fitness.

I don’t have the green thumb, but I did once manage to successfully transplant an Asian Lilac from a pot to a flowerbed outside the building where I was living at the time. The plant was a gift when I was in the hospital after breaking my elbow in a mountain biking accident.

Do you watch TV? What?
There is so much great TV out there these days that I have to be careful about watching too much. I LOVED Breaking Bad, never miss Justified, am addicted to Game of Thrones, and I’m looking forward to the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul that’s due to start in February.

Can you sing?
Not even in the shower.

Best concert you’ve ever seen.
The Charlie Daniels Band. They were all over the radio at the time with “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and other hits, but their show was simply amazing. They did everything: jazz, blues, rock, country-western, and others, and of course when Charlie himself started sawin’ on his fiddle it was an astounding thing to see and hear.

Book you wish you had written.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The laugh-out-loud humor and the witty wordplay is only surpassed by the otherworldly imagination of Douglas Adams.

Oh, I love that book, too. Fear or phobia?
Sharks. I blame Jaws, which I saw in the theaters.

What someone might not know about you.
I played a mean tenor saxophone in my High School’s jazz band. That group won the New England championship year after year because of the musical genius who ran our school system’s entire music program.

Do you have a recurring dream?
This is a great question. I have two recurring dreams, and I’m told they’re both very common for Type A people. The first takes place in college, where for some reason I have never attended a single class in one course and yet I’m going to go take the final exam anyway. That one is doubly funny because the only time I ever got into real trouble at West Point was for accidentally missing a class.

1991 - Vinny standing in front of his troops from the First Battalion (Airborne) of the 508th Infantry

1991 – Vinny standing in front of his troops from the First Battalion (Airborne) of the 508th Infantry

The second recurring dream is in Ranger School, which was a grueling two-month commando school I attended as a newly-minted lieutenant in the US Army in 1986. Sleep and food deprivation were compounded by the carrying of heavy loads over brutal terrain while attempting to perform tasks that were sometimes highly complex. Although I graduated after being forced to repeat a two-week stage of the course, in the dream I’ve been called back to do the whole thing all over again. The best part is that I know I’m far too old for this and no longer in the army, and yet I’m going to try it anyway.

How about a secret talent?
I can still recite the “Definition of Leather” rapidly and without error. The “Definition of Leather” was one of many items of Plebe knowledge we were required to memorize at West Point. For some reason that one stayed with me.

Just so you don’t have to Google it (and you can Google it):

If the fresh skin of an animal, cleaned and divested of all hair, fat, and other extraneous matter, be immersed in a dilute solution of tannic acid, a chemical combination ensues; the gelatinous tissue of the skin is converted into a nonputrescible substance, impervious to and insoluble in water; this sir is leather.

You know we’re going to ask for a performance of that at Crime Bake! So– if you could meet and chat with one person, it would be…
Theodore Roosevelt. One of the few “bigger than life” characters of history who actually lived up to the hype.

Can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out?
I’ve done so many different things and held so many different jobs that I’m thankful every day for being able to write. Although I learned something from every job I’ve ever held, there is a special feeling about being allowed to simply sit down and try to create something entertaining, meaningful, and, every now and then, beautiful.

Yeah, those moments are amazing. Things you say to yourself when writing:
Get the words on the page. Writing is rewriting. You can’t edit what you haven’t written.

Just tell the story.

GloryMain_VincentOneil_coverWhat are you working on now? Or—what’s your latest book? Or both?
HarperCollins recently picked up my military science fiction series, so I’ve been working on that for well over a year. The first Book, Glory Main, was released in July of 2014 and the paperback will come out in September. The sequel is done and is scheduled for release in December. It’s tentatively entitled A Hand in the Stars, and I’m currently writing the third book in the series.

Tell us something else about that!
It’s a lot of fun writing this, because although it’s science fiction I have to make the settings real for the reader and the whole story is very character-driven. Glory Main is essentially a story of survival, with four characters marooned on a barren planet where they have to first find water, then food, and then safety. Their situation deteriorates rapidly when they realize the planet is inhabited by humanity’s enemy, an alien race that resembles mankind so closely that they’re called the Sims.

A Hand in the Stars is a much more complex story. It follows one of the soldiers who had been marooned in Glory Main, but it also introduces the highest level of the human government fighting the Sims and the difficulties of maintaining an interplanetary alliance in a war that has dragged on for decades. So Glory Main worked on the micro level and was focused on the basics of survival while A Hand in the Stars goes all the way to the macro level.

Are you enjoying it? 
Action-adventure in a completely imaginary world is always fun, and of course I get to draw on my personal experiences from nine years as an infantry officer in the US Army from the mid-eighties to the early nineties. The biggest challenge for me has been transposing the basic issues and concerns of soldiers from time immemorial into a future world that is believable and relatable but still loaded with all sorts of science fiction goodies.

I have an especially good time coming up with the nicknames the future soldiers would create for their common equipment and the acronyms they might use. In A Hand in the Stars I introduced a group of individuals who accompany the infantry on the ground while coordinating air support assets ranging from surveillance robots to rockets fired from orbit. Officially designated as “Aerial Support Systems Liaison”, they are affectionately addressed by their acronym ASSL.

Oh, hilarious! Do you have a motto? What is it?
It’s not so much a motto as a favorite quotation that applies to so much of life.

“Nobody knows anything.” – the first sentence in screenwriter William Goldman’s memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade

HANK: Oh, I love that! And ya know, it’s pretty darn true. So who’s going to Crime Bake? If you’ve been before, has anything wonderful happened to YOU there?


Death Troupe_VincentOneil_coverVincent H. O’Neil brings a wealth of life experience to his writing. Over the years he has been an officer in the US Army, a consultant, a risk manager, and an apprentice librarian.

A native of Massachusetts, he holds a bachelor’s degree from West Point and a master’s degree in International Business from The Fletcher School. After writing in his spare time for many years, he won the St. Martin’s Press “Malice Domestic” Writing Competition in 2005.

His award-winning debut novel, Murder in Exile, was the first book in a mystery series featuring the background-checker Frank Cole. It was followed by Reduced Circumstances, Exile Trust, and Contest of Wills.

His mystery novel Death Troupe is the first book in a theater-based mystery series featuring playwright Jack Glynn and the unusual members of the Jerome Barron Players theater troupe.

Harlequin Worldwide Mystery has released all four of the Frank Cole “Exile” novels in paperback, and published a paperback version of Death Troupe in 2013.

Interlands_VincentOneil_KindleIn 2012 he released a military science fiction novel called Glory Main: A Story of the Sim War. Harper Voyager has acquired Glory Main and the next two books in the series, and Glory Main released on July 29th, 2014.

His latest work, Interlands, is a Lovecraftian horror novel set in Providence, Rhode Island. It features graduate student Angela Morse, who is searching the local woods for a lost stone obelisk once worshiped by a colonial-era cult that perished at its feet.



Wrong GirlHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A four-week Boston Globe bestseller, it was dubbed “Another winner” in a Booklist starred review and “Stellar” by Library Journal.  She’s on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014.

Visit her online at, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.

About Lisa Haselton

Lisa Haselton has had several short mystery stories published and has a couple of novels in various stages of completion. She always enjoys learning new tidbits about other writers, and takes great pride as an editor when working with writers on polishing their manuscripts. She's living a life around her passions for writing, photography, volunteering, and anything related to New England, particularly New Hampshire.
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2 Responses to Not Quite Twenty Questions for Vincent O’Neil

  1. Great interview! Love learning more about my Crime Bake pals.

  2. Susan Sands says:

    Wow, Vinny! I’m so impressed by the body of work you’ve produced since we first met at the conference in Florida! Nice interview!

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