Joe O’Neill



photo by Blaine Franger

Tell us about your childhood.

I was the definition of a “latchkey” kid. I attended eight different schools by the time I was in sixth grade, and we had moved fourteen times. Being an only child, and the new kid, I lost myself in books from a very early age.

When did you start writing?

I’ve been a writer since I was about 10. I developed a series called “Flash Rodgers,” a very witty combination of Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon. I did all the writing and illustration, and would present the finished product to my mother each Sunday morning. I started writing my first novel when I was 15 (an impossibly bad spy novel). I wrote during college, and in my 20s tried, unsuccessfully, to copy the styles of David Sedaris and Nick Hornby. I wrote lots of stories, and all of them were bad. The “Red Hand Adventures” series is the first thing I’ve written that I’m really proud of.

Your books in “Red Hand Adventures” are set in Morocco. Why North Africa?

Seven years ago, I was on a safari in Sri Lanka with my wife. We’re rumbling through the jungle in an old Toyota Land Cruiser when our driver suddenly stopped, killed the lights and told us to be quiet. He pointed ahead and there we saw a herd of wild elephants blocking the road. He pointed to the side of the road and there stood a huge bull elephant, about twenty feet from the car. If that elephant had decided to charge, he could have destroyed the jeep, possibly killed us, or left us stranded in the middle of the Sri Lankan jungle and hours away from any kind of safety. For ten minutes we sat there and a story popped into my head about an orphan in Morocco who is kidnapped and forced into slavery to race in deadly camel races. That’s actually something that still happens today. That was the beginning. Since then, the adventures have taken on a life of their own, spanning the globe with a much bigger scope and meaning. I don’t know how the creative process works. The best that I can say is that these stories found me. I absolutely love writing them, and the characters are like old friends now.


photo by Blaine Franger

With which character do you most identify?

Tariq. He’s a bit mischievous and he’s constantly searching for meaning in life. He makes a ton of mistakes and, somehow, he manages to come out without too much injury. That said, he’s much braver than I am. Inspiration for the characters in the books comes, in part, from kids I’ve met and coached in Hood River. We have nationally-ranked snowboarders, skiers, kiteboarders, soccer players, windsurfers, mountain bikers and even whitewater kayakers. These kids are completely fearless, and that courage is conveyed to the characters in the book.

What do you hope kids take away from the Red Hand Adventures?

I hope they find the series entertaining. I love adventure, page-turning, swash-buckling books and that’s what I’ve tried to create. But, these books don’t pull any punches. I try to accurately portray how hard life can be for children in other countries. The dangers are very real, and life isn’t always fair. It’s vital that the books explore the importance of honor, dignity, ethics, and friendship in very trying circumstances.


photo by Blaine Franger

How often do you write? What’s your method, if any?

I have a saying that I do my best writing on my bicycle. Living in Hood River, I go for these beautiful four-hour bike rides and pore through the stories and scenarios in my head. Then, I’m usually up very early in the morning, pot of coffee at my side, and putting my thoughts down on paper. I don’t outline very much because I find it’s stifling to the creative process. I have an overall direction and the stories kind of take off on their own. I can honestly say there is nowhere I would rather be than sitting at my desk and writing the Red Hand Adventures.


photo by Blaine Franger

When can we expect book three in the series?

We just signed on with a national distributor and we’re preparing for a launch on October 1. It’s been a ton of work and very exciting. The third book is Legends of the Rif .

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