PA O’Neil—Storyteller and Short Story Author

Originally from Southern California, P.A. O’Neil, spent her teen years in a small town in Washington State. Her Mexican and Irish heritage has provided a lifetime of inspiration, as well as compassion for others, which comes through in her stories. She understands what it means to be in the minority as well as the majority and has always given voice to the underdog. She lives in Olympia, Washington, with her husband and two grown children nearby. Her life is full of love from family and friends from around the world, and this love is reflected in her writing.

Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, inspirations, decision to focus on short stories, etc.

I’m a genuine sloth in the morning, so my writing is best done between 11:00 am and 5:00 pm. I do have a part-time job outside the home with a varied schedule, so I don’t often have the availability to write every day. I like to think of my writing as an actual profession, which means you must take days off in order to stay fresh. I don’t write on the weekends in deference to my husband, who prefers my attention be away from the computer.

I’ve always been a storyteller, writing off and on since I was a child. In college, I wrote and produced a radio play. I thoroughly enjoyed that, which makes me think I might’ve been born about forty years too late. The greatest inspiration comes from vivid dreams; I’ll keep notes and do my best to fit the premise into a workable plot. I did this in August of 2016 when I found myself unemployed for the second time in two years. I thought I could either sit on the couch and watch old movies, or I could sit at the computer and write out a story, which turned out to be a novel called, “Finding Jane.”

The story did not turn out half-bad and was praised by those who read it, but of course, it was extremely raw, being compared to “a beautiful runway model with nothing to wear.” Thanks to Facebook, I connected with people who were in groups I belonged to; they were published authors, and I asked where I should go from there. They put me onto Facebook pages that were writing oriented, and with the help of a friend who has since also become my editor, fourteen months after I typed END on my novel, my first short story was published in an anthology. It was called, “Sara Hemming, Psychic Redecorator.” Since then, my short stories have been accepted for publication in over thirty publications, both online and in paperback.

I enjoyed writing my novel but have since found a preference in writing short stories, flash fiction, and even drabbles. The challenge of making every word count and having a purpose is fulfilling to both the writer and the reader. I want to take readers, drop them into a scene that’s already in motion, make them care about the characters, given them a plausible conclusion, yet leave them turning the page at the end wanting to know more. That’s what I believe makes for a good short story.

Walk me through your publishing process from submission to marketing.

The process for submission was something I had to learn for myself. I watched other Facebook group members comment about how they did it, what worked, and what didn’t, and put together a submission letter that I thought would meet the criteria for a standard submission. Some worked, and some didn’t, but what did work gave me the idea to create a template that I use for each submission. It is always being refined but helps to keep the project running smoothly. I even wrote an essay that was printed on the Writers Unite! Worldwide webpage, “The Submission Process for a Short Story or What I Wish Someone Had Taught Me.” I have shared it often on my own Facebook professional page so others can find relief when wondering how to go about making a submission. To have your work bounced by the submission editor because of a technicality in your letter, before the story has ever been read, is an avoidable shame.

I have used Submittable, Duotrope, and Submission Finder, along with word- of-mouth to find submission calls. As a way of keeping track of submissions for individual stories, I made another template which lists the basic information [story name, word count, date written, editor] as well as information about the publication [name, publisher, editor, closing date, payment, reprints, etc.]. This way when I submit it, I have the date of contact (to and from) and even publication date if accepted. It suits me as far as efficiency because it tells the history of each story towards publication.

So far, my advertising has all been through Facebook pages. I do have an Amazon author page that I refer to, but I have yet to pay for an advertisement. That may change if I get more involved in the publication process of some of these anthologies or my own collection.

Talk about your support system online and IRL, especially your biggest cheerleaders.

I have absolutely the best of friends in the virtual world thanks to the Facebook groups I have joined in the past three years. They’re from all over the world and are always willing to help, encourage, and even give solace when needed. My sister though has been my strongest supporter since day one. Yes, she laughed when I told her I had written a novel and wanted to write professionally—I would’ve laughed too, but she has become my sounding board and official record keeper as she has all of my original manuscripts in hard copy. My kids have been supportive in a, “yeah, yeah, whatever you say, Mom,” kind of way. My son though gave me a book for Christmas about how make money as a self-publisher, so I guess he’s coming around. My husband acts as if he has no interest, but I have learned from his co-workers, he does speak proudly of my accomplishments.

I do have to thank Facebook, because it has allowed for me to connect with friends and relatives who are always there to cheer when the next story get published. I have the best coworkers, who are proud of my accomplishments, and some of them are writers themselves, so we always give encouragement.

How does life influence your writing and vice versa?

In as much as life influences my dreams, actions and events oftentimes spark my imagination enough to write a story about it. My story, “The Obelisk,” is one of these, whereas “Pink and Gray Ash” came from a true story as told by a friend of a friend of the man who died.

What do you love most about your creativity?

I joke about needing to write to “silence the voices in my head,” but really, it’s being able to arrange my thoughts in way that can entertain, or possibly even enlighten, the reader enough. I want them to be glad they took the time to read my story.

Connect with O’Neil:

Amazon author page: