February 8, 2013

New novel’s setting looks a little like Dalton

Charles Oliver

— Frank O’Neill says Dalton residents might find some of the characters in his new novel a bit familiar.

“But so might people in Colombia, S.C., or Italy or the former Belgian Congo,” he said.

“Georgia Bound,” a murder mystery, starts in Pine Hills, a “sleepy town in the foothills of the Appalachians” that looks a bit like Dalton. But as protagonist Jack Monahan tries to unravel the mystery it leads through the low country of South Carolina, Latin America and Africa.

O’Neill, who was the founder and long-time publisher of Floor Focus magazine, certainly knows Dalton well.

“I started the magazine in 1992 and sold it in 2006,” he said. “Before that I was working for a magazine for the carpet industry. I wanted to own my own business, and I told a friend of mine who was the head of DuPont’s fiber business. He said, ‘You can’t leave this industry.” So he helped me start my own magazine.”

After leaving Floor Focus, O’Neill and his wife started a small design business in New York.

“I’d always wanted to be a novelist, and early in my career I’d done some fiction writing. So I decided that this was my opportunity,” he said. “I was running a business, so it took a long time to write it, maybe five years. I don’t recommended writing a novel while trying to run a business.”

So how did he come up with the idea for the book?

“I had some initial ideas. But it’s sort of like making a stew. You have a carrot here and a potato there and some corn over here. You put it all together, and you don’t recognize the original parts,” he said. “Dalton was a huge inspiration. But to continue the stew metaphor, it’s like Dalton. But it’s definitely not Dalton.”

Similarly, O’Neill says some of the characters in the book may have been inspired by real-life Daltonians. But they aren’t those people. He said some of the fun of the novel for Dalton residents will be guessing who inspired a particular character.

“And some of the characters, such as (Sheriff) Truett Hall, I don’t know where they came from. Hall is pure fiction,” he said. “If I really looked back on it, I probably took a little bit from many different people in my life and put them in one person.”

Others, such as the root doctor Mama Faithful, came from his research into the Gullah, the descendants of former slaves who live in the Lowcountry area of South Carolina and Georgia.

“The part dealing with the Gullah is probably the most fantastical part of the book,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill says he’s had good feedback from friends in Dalton. But he says he thinks that people who just want to read a good mystery and aren’t that familiar with the carpet industry will also enjoy the book, which is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers.