One of the first questions I had for Jack O’Connell when we sat down to lunch last week to talk about his new novel, The Resurrectionist: “Where the hell did you go?” I fell in love with his writing when I was a bookstore clerk at Dutton’s Brentwood Books, and we handsold the heck out of Box Nine and Wireless, but somewhere in the late ’90s I lost track, and then when I saw his name in the Algonquin catalog a few months back, I knew what I was going to be reading, well, right about now.
“The first answer is that Word Made Flesh [his 1999 novel] is a really dark book,” O’Connell explained, admitting that he’s been getting this question a lot. “By the time I finished, I had a couple young kids, and I didn’t want to go back into the dark.” So he spent years working on a light road novel, which he described as “Mike Ovitz and Britney Spears do Kerouac,” and though he liked it a lot, “my agent strongly felt that whatever readership I had built up, I would probably derail.” He set the manuscript aside for three months, took another look, and agreed. So then he came up with the idea for The Resurrectionist, which he was sure he could bang out in six months. It took five years.
“I wanted to write a book that could be sold in a Detroit bus station in 1969,” he said: “50,000 words of pure plot, pure story.” (This set off a long digression about our favorite Hard Case Crime titles, and how we’d each managed to find a pile of remaindered Black Lizard paperbacks around 1992.) “I got 60,000 words, and was zeroing in on the end of the first draft,” he recalled, “and I was writing a simple scene where Sweeney is sitting down to read a comic book to his comatose son. I asked myself, ‘What is he reading?’ And that question took me down an avenue I wasn’t expecting.” His descriptions of that comic book grew until they took up roughly a third of the final story.
As I started the novel, I was thrilled to see that it takes place in and around Quinsigamond, the setting for his four previous stories—a sort of David Lynch version of a ’70s factory town on the skids. Like I told O’Connell, “I’m a Lovecraft fan from way back; you make up a fictional city in central Massachusetts, and I’m already sold.” He began thinking out Quinsigamond’s contours when he was a boy, and though he didn’t envision a series when he published his first novel, Box Nine, people kept asking if he had more stories in that world. He admitted that much of the city has real-world analogues in his actual hometown of Worcester, where he continues to live today, just “irradiated a little bit.” And, sure enough, the novel he’s working on now—a story he began ten years ago, but hadn’t found the right voice for back then—will be set there, too. “I didn’t want to do anything with my life but become a writer,” he reflected, “but I didn’t think I could be from here and be a writer.” It’s pretty safe to say he’s got that problem licked… Now we just have to get those ’90s novels back into print in the U.S., and we’ll be all set.