Interview: Brian J. Callaghan
The Prague-based author discusses the publication of his debut novel, The Seeds of Cain
From dishwashing at Prague's first Irish pub to being a man on the make in the New York book publishing industry, American expat Brian J. Callaghan turns outsider with his debut novel, The Seeds of Cain, a blow-you-away, nonstop action-adventure.
Prague TV's Sam Beckwith -- himself a former James Joyce dishwasher -- finds out more:
What is The Seeds of Cain about?
The novel, which takes place in Prague, along the Lebanese/Syrian border, and on Long Island where I was raised, tells the tale of John McFadden, a former New York criminal who is forced by weapons dealer Paul David Devon to find and release his three super weapons in the aforementioned regions.
But McFadden knows from the beginning that these are not your ordinary on-sale-in-a-backwaters-bazaar weapons. These weapons are the result of the rediscovering of an ancient seed that causes bizarre mutations in the seed's taker, an abomination that pre-programs the once humans into the destroyers of civilization, their transformation completed via wrecking that which symbolizes all things civilized: the wrecking of cities.
What's your background in publishing?
In 1996, while I was still a student at Saint Joseph's College in Patchogue, New York, I did an internship for Tom Doherty Associates, Tor/Forge. In 1998, I returned to New York from Prague and was hired on to work for Tor/Forge as an editor. I think I worked there for six years. I also worked here in Prague for Magic-Realism Press, for the tarot card publisher Karen Mahoney. Besides them, I've done mostly freelance here.
Somehow, without my advertising or even asking book distributors to reference me, people in America find out about my editorial career and the fact that I now live in the former Soviet Bloc, and they send me their novels about that dark time. Unfortunately, most of the books I've received have been by Americans who have wrongly assumed that people behind the Wall sat around all day with guns in hand waiting for the right moment to strike out against the Communist establishment!
When and why did you move to Prague?
Ha! The most challenging question yet! Does stating openly and for the record that I came to Prague in 1996 because I had heard that it was the Paris of the '90s still carry with it connotations that I am a pompous, arrogant twat? Research that for me will you... Do a Prague TV poll! But that's the original reason. And I left in 1998.
What exactly is Harman Street Press?
Well, I can't say what I did was self-publish, so we formed our own house. I mean, there was a conglomerate of "former" book publishing people who put this book out. Guys and girls who got excited about the book, gave me a push, and just when my ego was at a high, told me to take a breath and re-work this or that. But, truth be told with that conglomerate, it felt more like it was just fate that brought us together for the release of The Seeds of Cain. I mean, two years ago I was still on the second draft, but I kept running into other publishing exiles here in Prague.
I won't lie, I did send it to several agents in the industry, but their response to my query letter was rather lackluster but reflected everything I had read in trade magazines, seen on CNN, et al -- "the time's really bad for first-time authors. Try back in a few years."
But these guys, my conglomerate, took the time to edit, proofread and copyedit the book. Honestly, based on the reception to my book thus far -- blurbs and media -- it's been an awesome ride.
Where is the book available?
You can find the book from the Seeds of Cain website, via Amazon and on the Kindle. Now that reviews are coming in and there seems to be an energy surrounding the book I am going to go out and hit up some distributors.
How long did The Seeds of Cain take to write?
Hmm. OK. Three-and-a-half years ago, the novel was a crime book. I had the first hundred pages done. And then boom, what is currently the beginning of Part II of the book began. And the hero, John McFadden, walks into a bar and into what was an obvious setup by a crime family.
But, I was having a really rough day. My wife had been told the evening before that our first baby who she was four months pregnant with might not be born (thank Christ, he, Liam Patrick, was), and I had just finally told off my pouty, miserable, self-important, forced-upon-me-as-she-had-fired-everyone-else-for-the-past-three-years Tuesday and Thursday 7am student and nearly got fired.
When I got home and started writing the book was no longer a crime novel. John McFadden was about to go to war in an action-adventure novel against some creatures. Anyway, I think I started typing that chapter, which is now Chapter 5 of Book II, when my miserable morning finally ended.
What advice do you have for would-be novelists in Prague?
Ha! Could we go back to question 3? That one was easier. No, honestly. I'll give you some things I've noted here:
a) I have two children, a three-year-old and a one-year-old. And I probably learned more from them about writing or human nature than I did from my 12 years in book publishing. But the most important lesson my kids taught me was know your limits. I think Hemingway referred to it as the bullshit factor. But if you don't get my or Hemingway's reference, go to a playground and watch kids on a slide, a see-saw, or even a park bench. Kids have no fear of walking away from things they cannot conquer. And neither should your characters. Always know what your characters can and cannot do. Remember, as you write, you're the boss.
b) Umm, come on. You're 23. You go to a club, you nail an 18-year-old and you write about it in your fictional account of Prague life. But then you portray the women here as sluts? Have you gone to college in America? And if so, did you ever get laid—and if not, what was wrong with you? I mean, come on. Your sorry ass is probably just as much an experiment for her as she is for you -- except she is probably better looking, can get any man in the club, and speaks more than one, if not two languages. Any editor will see through your superiority complex. And truth be told, please stop reading me books about your conquests in Prague. Please, go home already, go back to school and return to hovering in the corner where you await adulation!
c) Discipline. Yes, Prague is fun. Yes, there is always something happening. But, if you take too much time off, your novel will get choppy. Seriously. I set my alarm every night for 5am. I know. It's nuts. If the kids have stomach flu, if my best friend is getting married and I was at his stag do, or if I just simply was up all night watching an American ball game, I know: 5am I will hear beeping. And then I come to the computer and write. The writing may be shit. I may delete all of it. But at least I know I made the effort. Seriously, find a time and discipline yourself. Believe me, it works!
d) Die. It really does seem to be working in the book industry of today -- and you don't even have to be considered literature anymore. So try it. But don't call me. Thanks.
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