The Guardian article about the Off-Beats "Surfing the New Literary Wave" caused a controversy in 2006 when it claimed O'Neill as a figurehead for the burgeoning scene. It also characterized O'Neill as someone who had "taken the phrase rock'n'roll poet to its furthest edge," while associating him with a style of writing dubbed "Brutalism." For his own part O'Neill claimed not to care about literary movements and had no desire to be associated with other writers. In an interview with 3am Magazine he said that he was drawn to writing "because it's a solitary activity." He went on to decry "those Brooklyn writers who hang out together all the time drinking soy lattes and arguing about what Miranda July's best book is."
"Surfing the New Literary Wave" was the first place that many readers heard about O'Neill and fellow authors like Tom McCarthy, Ben Myers, Adelle Stripe, Heidi James, Paul Ewen, Laura Hird, Lee Rourke and Noah Cicero. Most of those mentioned in the piece were just starting out in their careers, but would soon go on to write some of the most interesting non-mainstream books of the last 10 years.
SEIZURE WET DREAMS, a collection of short stories and poems was released by Social Disease in 2006. It was followed by a volume of poetry, SONGS FROM THE SHOOTING GALLERY [Burning Shore Press, 2007], a collection that avant-garde legend Dennis Cooper described as "precise and beautiful yet [...] imperiled by the damage in its own world." These three small-press books won O'Neill a rabid fan base, seduced by his gritty tales of junkies, hookers and perilous lives lived on the margins of society. When reviewing these early books, many critics drew comparisons between O'Neill's writing and the work of Dan Fante, Jerry Stahl, Charles Bukowski and Irvine Welsh.
He made the jump to mainstream publishing in 2008 when DOWN AND OUT ON MURDER MILE, his second novel, was released by Harper Perennial. Winning praise from the likes of Jerry Stahl, Sebastian Horsley and James Frey DOWN AND OUT was seen by critics as a big leap forward in terms of style and scope. O'Neill once claimed it was - along with SHOOTING GALLERY - the most personal of his books.
His career in Europe took off around this time with the release of the French-language collection NOTRE DAME DU VIDE (13e Note Press). Since then O'Neill has retained a strong following in France and Germany, where each of his books have been translated to great acclaim. However it was with the release of SICK CITY in 2010 [Harper Perennial] that Tony O'Neill finally seemed in danger of earning mainstream acceptance in the US. This pitch-dark thriller managed to juggle it's page turner ambitions with a satirical heart that took aim squarely at the recovery industry and Hollywood's worship of all things celebrity. Upon it's release SICK CITY immediately earned praise from sources as diverse as Slash (Guns'n'Roses) and Barry Gifford (Wild at Heart). It was optioned for the movies by Jayson Rothwell's Invader Films, who has worked with screen legends Johnny Depp and Julian Schnabel. The SICK CITY movie is rumored to go into production in late 2016. Dr. Drew Pinsky reportedly expressed annoyance that the character of Dr. Mike was seemingly based upon him, but O'Neill claimed in a radio interview with Pinksy's Loveline co-host Adam Carolla that the similarities between the two men were "purely co-incidental."
A sequel to SICK CITY, BLACK NEON made it's debut in Europe and will be released in the UK and US in late 2014. It was here that O'Neill parted ways with Harper Perennial, who - according to O'Neill - found BLACK NEON to be "too weird, too strange" and "not commercial enough" for them. He said in an interview with a French fanzine that Perennial seemed ready to "groom him to become some kind of mainstream thriller writer. Take out all of the drugs and weirdness from SICK CITY, and mould it into something you could sell at drugstores. Instead I turned in a book that ramped the drugs and the insanity to an almost comic degree, and added in a side helping of post-modern surreal artiness. Needless to say, they were not amused. I declined to rewrite it from scratch, and that was that." Instead O'Neill returned to his small-press roots, teaming up with UK indie Bluemoose to release his bizarre tale of pharmacy robbery, lesbian romance, art house cinema and black magic curses.
As well as his own literary works, O'Neill has co-authored several memoirs. He was the co-author of HERO OF THE UNDERGROUND, with Jason Peter [2008, St Martins Press] and "NEON ANGEL" (IT Books) with Cherie Currie of The Runaways, later made into a movie with Dekota Fanning and Kristen Stewart. He lives in New Jersey with his wife ("and muse") Vanessa, and their daughter Nico.
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Picture by Gunter Gluecklich
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