Robin O’Neill – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My latest book is The Ice Cream Parlor. It opens a window onto a gentler era, before technology overwhelmed us, when smaller things delighted us. Imagine being thrilled by an ice cream sundae that cost five cents instead of waiting in line for some thousand dollar gadget that will be obsolete when version 2.0 appears in 6 months.

Simple pleasures are the ones we remember and cherish. Ice cream fits the bill.

Tell us something about yourself.

I’ve been writing most of my life. The years when I couldn’t hold a pencil were barren and there’s no evidence I had a thought in my head at that point. Once I learned how the pencil and paper thing worked, there was no holding me back. Much to the dismay of many around me, I would imagine.

What inspired you to write this book?

This is an idea I had for quite a few years. I was driving down Alisal Road in Gaviota, California and had a powerful desire for an egg cream. If you don’t know what that is, read the book! Right then I knew I wanted to do a book on the history of soda fountains. I began researching immediately and learned about the origins of ices, the American history of ice cream, and ice cream parlors and soda fountains. Along the way I found many old recipes which are in the book.

How did you publish this book?

This book was originally called The Illustrated History of the Soda Fountain. I wanted it to be bursting at the seams with photos of the glorious ice cream parlors of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I wanted to see Schwab’s and Schrafft’s and soda fountains from the South. These were marvelous examples of architecture and community.

No one in mainstream publishing got that idea. My agent had it making the rounds for a couple years until Chronicle became interested. The editor was quite enthusiastic but when accounting got a hold of it they decided the book was too large to sell and if it was smaller, really tiny, like a gift shop book practically and would sell for $9, then it would be worth it.

I said no thanks and put it aside. Technology finally blessed me with the ability and marketplace to make The Ice Cream Parlor possible without editors and accountants telling me how to be cost effective.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

One day someone very dear to me said “Why don’t you write something for real?” And I said “Good idea.”

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

Up until indie publishing the hardest part of writing was the business. The endless queries to publishers and agents who are really not on your side. They’re on their side. This is a business for them-—their business. I once had an agent snap at me “I’m not responsible for your income!” “Yes, you are. I give you the project and you attempt to sell it. If you don’t do your job, I’m prevented from making money,” I replied in the letter ending the relationship.

Now writers can control their destiny to a greater degree.

How do you do research for your books?

The Internet has become a great tool in giving a writer places to look for more information.

As a hobby I grow tomatoes. I wanted to know more about a certain Russian variety I had acquired so I Googled the name and discovered it was a character of Russian mythology. Then I went to Amazon and found a book to learn more. Without the Internet, determining what or who Chernomor was would have been difficult.

You can’t get everything you need to know from Wikipedia but it will point you in the right directions.

You research by reading. A lot.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

I learned that the marble rubble left over from building St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, was turned into seltzer by an enterprising man. He saw an opportunity and jumped on it.

There are terrific recipes in the book I would never have experienced but more importantly was the journey. From the writing to the creation of the book, finding the images, formatting and finally publishing it proved to me that technology has helped writers turn a huge corner. We are no longer beholden to multinational conglomerates. It was a revelatory moment and oddly enough occurred during Passover, on Easter Sunday. There isn’t a time of the year that reflects more on freedom and transcendence than that.

What are you reading now?

I’m rereading Chandler Burr’s fabulous book titled The Perfect Scent. Yes, I know I will write about perfume one of these days because of the way Chandler threw open the doors to the secrets of perfume creation.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

I love nonfiction, lots of history and cookbooks. Reay Tannahill’s book Food In History is the perfect blend of the two.

I read mysteries. M.C. Beaton is very good, Ellen Crosby, Maggie Barbieri. They’re all in their little niche, not doing the same things at all, but share talent and skill. Crosby handles the language beautifully.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I just wrote to the dead-tree publisher who had my romance novel and withdrew it from consideration. That’s my next project to indie publish. Unless I change my mind.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Writing on a professional level isn’t therapy.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

I’m doing this interview. I’m going to give away as many copies as I can. I’m going to follow the advice of Joe Konrath as much as I can since he seems to get indie publishing better than anyone I’ve come across.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Anyone interested in The Ice Cream Parlor can get a sample at Smashwords