An Interview with Gracie O’Neil

Hi Cynthia! Thanks for inviting me over to your place to play today. It’s really exciting to be allowed to share a little bit of my work and journey with your readers.
And hi to everyone else who’s here today. Thanks for coming. I hope you’ll find something as readers and writers that’ll encourage you.

What genre(s) do you write in and why?

Back when I was just starting out—way before I knew anything about plotting—I thought you just wrote. Genre? What was that?
I started writing thrillers because I loved Tom Clancy’s edgy mystery with international complications and a cast of thousands. So when people asked what I wrote I told them I wrote thrillers.
But then my wretched characters started falling in love and so I thought, hey, add in some romance. I mean, how much real life doesn’t have romance? Not much, right?
So then when people asked what I wrote I told them I wrote romantic thrillers.
It was about this time that I discovered Romance Writers of New Zealand and learned what a genre was and why I should care. I also learned how little I really knew about pretty much everything. Oh well. No problem. I finished that first romantic thriller manuscript, put it on the shelf, and started the next one.
Right, let’s see. Thriller? Check. Romance? Check. Start writing . . . and my heroine touches a painting and sees a murder happening.
I thought, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!” But it was so cool. I wrote a little more to see if I could actually build something living off the skeleton that was starting to form, and TOUCHING SHADOWS, Book One of The Scroll Of Shadows Trilogy was born.
So now when people ask what I write I tell them I write romantic thrillers with a supernatural edge.
I also have the first book in a contemporary YA romantic thriller series on the backburner, and my critique partner, Bronwen Evans, and I are collaborating on a vampire series.

Tell us about your current series.

My current series is The Scroll of Shadows Trilogy. The first two books are published and I’m working on Book Three as we speak. Here’s the “official” overview of the trilogy—imagine it being read by James Earl Jones with ominous music in the background . . .

After the death of Prince Albert, his widow, Queen Victoria, became consumed with her grief, spending the rest of her life in a search for a means to reliably contact the man she loved.
From among the more power-hungry of her courtiers an exclusive society arose; men with some psychic power—or the pretense of it—whose goal was not only the domination of the politics of England, but ultimately those of the world.
Told from the point of view of the heroine in each story, The Scroll Of Shadows series explores the effect the tentacles of this hidden society has on the twenty-first century lives of three siblings and their soul mates:
• Megan Alistair (TOUCHING SHADOWS), a woman who hides her psychic gift behind another woman’s face, but cannot hide her heart from the man determined to win it.
• Brandt Alistair, (SHADOW SEER) Megan’s twin, whose gift has shown him the death of the woman he loves, but not the way to change their future.
• Galen MacMahon, (GIFT OF SHADOWS) their foster brother, an undercover cop without psychic ability, but whose debt to Megan and Brandt is on course to destroy his one chance for happiness.
Each book of the trilogy follows one trail of twine out from the center of this labyrinth of lies. Only when all three trails unite and all three pairs of lovers stand together for the final showdown is the real agenda behind the Scroll of Shadows revealed.

What movie best describes your life? Why?

Seriously? The first ten percent of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Why? Because although I’m a bit of a hermit I know I should get out of this cupboard under the stairs and out into the real world. Trouble is, every time I step outside I get bombarded with megalomaniacal wizards, and owls that that are more intelligent than I am. So I lock myself back in.
The worst part about life in this movie is the little creep who keeps yelling something about going to the freaking zoo while stomping on the stairs above my head and raining plaster dust into my Mac. I could really do without him.
The best part is my beloved Hagrid who rescues me from loneliness and coffee deprivation and breaks down doors when I can’t find the keys any more. But he doesn’t make me cakes for my birthday. He’s more likely to buy me a battery for my car.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Plotting. Oh yeah. I love, love, love plotting. Creating character and backstory, discovering reasons people behave the way they do.
It’s the chance to craft a world where you control the outcome, and no matter how bad everything gets (and it gets really bad) you can make everything right at the end. The goodies win, the heroine gets the guy, and the villain gets what he deserves—with a side serving of “nyah nyah!” Very therapeutic.

What is most difficult for you to write? Characters, conflict or emotions? Why?

Actually, I don’t find any of those three aspects difficult to write. My major difficulty comes when I have to describe setting.
If you’d ever had the dubious pleasure of reading one of my first drafts you’d discover a world where every character is naked and lives suspended in hyperspace. No one gets clothed or housed until the second or third drafts.
Why? I guess because in “real life” I don’t see the inanimate things around me. When I walk into a room I only see people—don’t worry, I only see live people! But this “item blindness” is horridly frustrating when I sit down to write setting and description.
Thank goodness for Beth Hill, my wonderful editor, who points out where I’ve dropped the ball (and what color it is). If it wasn’t for her, Google Images, and home decorating sites I’d be totally sunk.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

Oh, man. Where do I not get them from! A phrase on the radio news. A magazine article. A comment on a blog. A psychology textbook. An overheard conversation at a café, a train, or a bus trip. A dream. A nightmare. The punch line of a joke. A cartoon. A political billboard. The expression on a woman’s face as she watches her baby take his first steps. A grumpy teenager. Fears. Hopes. The concept of eternity. The reality of death. Poetry. Music—especially country music (no idea why!) and anything sung in a language I don’t speak.
Trust me, finding an idea is not a problem. Being disciplined enough to take that idea from birth, through the sleepless nights of colic, the terrible twos, snarky teenager-hood, and into the safe harbor of maturity without committing literary homicide, that’s the problem!

Do you or have you belonged to a writing organization? Which one? Have they helped you with your writing? How?

Yes, I currently belong to Romance Writers of New Zealand. They certainly have helped me, and not only with my writing. They also helped to save my life.
Back in 2004 I hit the scales at four hundred pounds and the doctors had given me eighteen months to live. I was medicated up to the eyeballs on antidepressants and, quite frankly, didn’t care if I lived or not. My husband came home one day, told me about a romance writing conference that was going to be held in Auckland, and asked if I’d like to go.
I’d finished that romantic thriller I mentioned, but I was too much of a physical and emotional mess to do anything with it. Plus the conference was at the other end of the country and I was too fat to fit into a plane seat.
My husband drove me eight hours to the conference, and it was a major, major turning point of my life.
I will always be grateful to the women I met there who didn’t judge me by my size but encouraged my talent, and to Donald Maass who was keynote speaker that year. He was incredible, and what I learned there from him, from the other speakers, and the women I met and spent time with sent me home with a determination to live. Not just to live, but to live and write.
A month later I had gastric bypass surgery, a year later I was less than half the woman I had been. I’m still less than half the woman I was! I’ve self-published two books, and have others coming out soon. I’ve been helped and encouraged every step of the way by my husband, and the women I met during that conference—and the ones that have followed every year since.
I am so incredibly, supremely lucky to have found this kind of love, knowledge, and support. May God bless the romance industry. The people who walk within it have the biggest hearts in the world.

Thanks again for hosting me, Cynthia. It’s been fun!

Today, one lucky commenter will win a free copy of either TOUCHING SHADOWS or SHADOW SEER, and also a $5 gift card. Be sure to include your email address in the body of your comment. Winner will be chosen September 20!

Buy links:


Megan Alistair has a gift; simply by touching a work of art she can tell whether it’s a forgery or a real master. But in the art world those who appreciate such talent can be dangerous, so Megan uses her gift in secret through someone she can trust—art dealer, Annalise Waterford.

Dominic Stone also has a gift; that of financial genius. Everything he touches turns to gold. But while his talent has given him a freedom most people would kill for, it can’t buy him access to elusive family secrets. Secrets his stepfather died with. Secrets only art dealer Annalise Waterford might reveal.

Only problem? Annalise is missing—and half the art underworld is looking for her.

When Stone learns Megan may know where Annalise is hiding he’ll do whatever it takes to get the information. But Megan doesn’t need anything Stone can offer her—and couldn’t take it, even if she did. Because there’s more at stake than lost secrets and a missing art dealer, and Megan is better acquainted with Stone than he can imagine. Enough to be certain some things should stay hidden, and that any future together might well destroy them both.


“So you have no idea where Annalise is?” Stone said.


His eyes had gone dark and hard. “Why don’t I believe you?” he murmured. “Why don’t I?”

“Probably because you’re naturally suspicious,” I suggested. “Or possibly because you’re used to the business world where lies are embedded in the corporate culture.”

He stared at me as though I’d just crawled out from under the lettuce leaf decorating his thousand-dollar meal. “I beg your pardon?”

“Then again, maybe with all your wealth you’ve lost touch with the world of normal people. Not everyone spends their life creating tall tales and perjuring themselves.”

Except in my world, but we wouldn’t go there.

“In other words, Mr. Stone”—I leaned back in my chair—“I’ve told you all I can. End of story. And the fact you saved me from more serious injury yesterday does not give you the right to come into my home and accuse me of lying to you. You don’t know me well enough.”

A muscle at the corner of his mouth tightened, then released. “Did Charles know you well enough? Or did you pull this ice princess routine on him too?”

Ice princess? Ouch.

“You see,” he continued before I could answer, “I wonder if maybe you had something on him. Threatened him—”

“Threaten Charles?” The idea was ludicrous enough to make me smile. “Do I look suicidal to you?”

Stone obviously had no sense of the ridiculous. “Is that,” he pursued, “why he cut his sister and niece out of his will? So you could play company director?”

“I doubt it.” Charles might’ve possessed a twisted sense of humor, but he’d lived for his work, had a strong sense of duty toward his employees, and I’d made it clear I wanted to sit on the board of a company—any company—as much as I wanted to poke my eye out with a red-hot nail file. “But then, he didn’t discuss his intentions with me. Anyway, when was receiving an inheritance of nearly three million pounds redefined as being cut out of someone’s will?”

“It’s a valid definition if your expectation was tenfold. How do you sleep at night? Or do you?” He gave me a sweeping glance. “Do you have the time? I believe congratulations are in order.”

I probably looked as blank as I felt. “Congratulations?” Condolences, yes. Congratulations? Hardly.

“On your pregnancy.” That sardonic little twist flickered over his mouth again. “Such incredible news. I understand Charles was quite bowled over. As for the timing, I’ll bet he found it hard to believe.”

The words were innocuous enough. His tone was not, skimming south of unpleasant and heading for offensive.

Son of a bitch. I rose. “Our business,” I said, my voice as cold as I could make it, “is concluded.”

I started to move toward the mantelpiece and the bell, but he rose too—as fluid as a cat—and intercepted me. Fighting down the impulse to back away, I forced myself to stand straight, to face him. Calm. Expressionless. “You’re in my way, Mr. Stone.”

“No,” he said, mouth grim, eyes hard, “you’re in mine. And trust me, you don’t want to be there. I’m familiar with women like you—beautiful on the surface but rotten at the core. You know where Annalise is or have some idea. Make no mistake, I’ll find her with or without your help. But if you imagine I’m going to dance to your tune, then you’re wrong.”

“Am I indeed?”

“Yes.” His voice frosted, then iced. “Imagine if certain rumors currently being whispered find their way to the tabloids. Dead millionaire’s girlfriend carries another man’s baby, for example.”

“Be my guest.” I moved around him and pressed the bell. “And when you see the Sharrocks again, tell them they’re even more foolish than I thought them. As, Mr. Stone, are you.”

“I’m whatever you like,” he said pleasantly. “But at least I’m not the kind of fool who’d take a rapacious bitch into my home and let myself be cuckolded by—”
The sound of flesh striking flesh brought me to my senses. That and the pain in my hand where it had struck Stone’s face.

Savagery rippled over his eyes like water over river gravel, raw and primal. For a heartbeat I thought he’d come after me, strike back. In fact, I hoped he would. I really hoped he would. Everything in me raged for a physical outlet for the wound he’d dealt me. Try it, I goaded him in my head. Just you try it.

But he didn’t. Instead he inhaled the violence back into him as a smoker inhales nicotine. It faded from his face, his eyes, his body, leaving only the memory, the scent of it, on the air.

“I apologize,” he said stiffly. “That was—”

“Don’t.” Through a fog of thwarted fury I was aware Kendall had arrived, but I no longer gave a damn. “Don’t waste your breath. Or your apology. You can say what you like about me—anything at all—but you will speak of Charles Dayton with respect, or God help you. Now, get out of his house. And don’t come back. Kendall, Mr. Stone is leaving.”

Gracie O’Neil was born in London, and raised and educated in New Zealand. She lives in a state of cheerful chaos with her husband and pets; a German Shepherd who snores like a buzz saw, and a cat who ignores birds but steals their bread.

She first began writing in earnest in 1998, holed up in an apartment in Marietta, GA, while her husband, a field engineer, traveled the United States for fifteen days a month. She started her second manuscript in a hotel in San Diego, where she discovered the joys of room service—something she fully intends to exploit again one day.

16 thoughts on “An Interview with Gracie O’Neil

  1. Hi Gracie
    Touching Shadows is a super book and I’m really looking forward to reading Shadow Seer – an extra 12 hours in every day would be useful at the moment!
    I’m so pleased you found RWNZ and that now your writing has a chance to shine.
    I know the trilogy’s going to do really well for you.
    – yeah, who would play Dominic Stone in the movie?

    • Hi Toni

      Thanks so much for commenting, and for your encouragement.

      It sounds like your TBR pile is stacking up. 🙂 Yes, an extra twelve hours a day would come in handy some days—especially when that deadline’s looming.

      I thought a little more about movie stars overnight and I can’t think of an improvement on either Ian Somerhalder or Orlando Bloom. Of course, if Pierce Brosnan was thirty years younger … 🙂

  2. Hi Bron,

    Thanks for dropping by! I’m thrilled you enjoyed TOUCHING SHADOWS.

    One of the great things about being part of a smaller organization—or a chapter—is that you **do** get to spend quality time with people, and there is such potential to develop lifelong friendships. Like I said, I’ve been so blessed by you and all the friends I’ve made in RWNZ, and in BI50D.

    If I have to say who really epitomizes Dominic to me it would be a young Pierce Brosnan. But who would I get to play Dominic in a movie? Probably Ian Somerhalder or Orlando Bloom. Hey, I can dream, can’t I? 🙂

    Now—as we’re speaking about dreaming—it’s late Saturday night here in New Zealand so I’ll sign off. I’ll be back in the morning, so please do continue to leave comments and ask questions. In fact, why not give me some other ideas about fantastically gorgeous movie stars who **you** think could play Dominic Stone in the movie of TOUCHING SHADOWS.

    • Cindy, it’s been a pleasure. I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you for inviting me and for asking such thought-provoking questions. I had a great deal of fun thinking about them and answering. 🙂

    • Thank you, Jesse.

      Where would we be without our pets? The unconditional love, the cuddles, the insistence on walks when we’re tired, the cat hair on our shirts, the wet dog patches on our clean jeans … 🙂

      Glad you enjoyed the excerpt. Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Gracie what a wonderful story about you. I stuggle with my weight as well. I had a gastic segmentation and it worked great. But I gained it all back, but I have finally lost it again and am working hard at keeping it off. Your books sound wonderful. Great blog and interview.

    • Thank you for commenting, Mary, and for sharing about your own struggle.

      I think the hardest part is to change what we “see” when we look in the mirror, and what we “feel” we deserve to eat. There always seems to be an elusive something in our heads that sabotages our efforts. The truth is **everyone** has this problem. It just manifests in different ways according to the individual.

      That’s why reading romance can be such good therapy. We all want a happy ending. We get the chance to see other people struggle and fail, and struggle and fail, and struggle and then **win**. It gives us hope that we can do the same, not only in relationships but also in the terrifying dark corners of our lives that we can share with no one else.

      I admire you tremendously for not giving up, for taking control and succeeding. That’s true courage. That’s being the heroine in your own story.

      As we say here in New Zealand, “Kia kaha!” It’s a Maori phrase and means “Keep strong.” Kia kaha!

  4. Hi Gracie 🙂 Fantastic interview! I loved your first book and can’t wait to read the second. It’s got all the elements I love in a story – romance, mystery, paranormal stuff, skulduggery, and twists galore. 🙂 Your story is really inspiring, I’m sure we can all learn a bit more about ourselves from you.

    • Hi Maggie!

      You’re a sweetheart! Thank you. I’m working on book three at the moment and it’s really mind-bending stuff—more skulduggery and twists than you can poke a stick at. And let’s not forget the romance!

      Whether it’s full-time or part-time, for love or for money, isn’t it wonderful to have the chance to do something that fulfills you and brings other people pleasure?

  5. Hi Gracie. A wonderful, and inspiring, interview! Both Touching Shadows and Shadow Seer are sitting patiently on my Kindle waiting for me to get to them, and now I’ve read that brilliant excerpt, I can see I’ll need to move them further up the TBR list!!

  6. Thanks for coming, Angela! Lovely to see you.

    It’s always difficult to decide on an excerpt to share because you want to make it enticing and fun but without giving away too much of the plot. Megan’s a strong woman who walks a narrow line. She’s got a wacky sense of humor, but she doesn’t trust easily—even those she loves don’t know everything about her. Especially those she loves! But Stone? Well he’s a strong man too, and he’s got a mission and an attitude. 🙂 Gotta love a guy like that.

  7. Well, folks, Cynthia has done the draw for the Giveaway (Thanks Cindy!) and our winner is [drum roll, please]

    Toni Kenyon!

    Congratulations Toni. 🙂 I’ll contact you privately and you can let me know where to send your prize.

    Many thanks, everyone, for coming along and joining in. It’s been lovely to meet you—or see you again.

    Kia kaha.

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