Irish crime writer Paul O’Brien has managed to a near-impossible feat – penning a compelling fictional series set in the world of professional wrestling that is as appealing to ardent crime literature fans as it is to those that closely monitor the action between the ropes of the squared circle.
Volume 1 of the Blood Red Turns Dollar Green series was published in 2012 and instantly grabbed the attention of fans thanks to the public endorsement of former WWE champion Mick Foley – a New York Times bestselling author in his own right.
Having now topped international bestseller charts and been openly praised by many of the wrestling industry’s most admired names, the trilogy will reach its hard-hitting conclusion when Volume 3 is published in October. I recently spoke exclusively with the author to learn what fans should expect from the final book and what is next for the series…
Going back to the beginning, what inspired you to write the Blood Red Turns Dollar Green trilogy?
O’Brien: Well, I have been writing professionally for many years before I wrote Blood Red Turns Dollar Green – mostly for the stage. In that time I had always had a want to write a wrestling story, but I didn’t really know where or how yet. I tried a couple of times but it always stalled. In the meantime I would write other plays that would have tons of wrestling references in them that audiences wouldn’t even know. For example, one play was about two thieves who were called the Brisco Brothers.
Then one day I heard WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross talk about being at a wrestling convention. He said he was in the stall of the bathroom and outside a group of territory owners came in and began to talk business.
In the course of the conversation, one of the bosses talked about killing Vince McMahon. It was there, at that very second, that the idea for the trilogy exploded in my head.
It was perfect: an underground scam, a cash business that is hard to get into, with everyone having their own turf and the Government on their backs. This sounded like a new take on the mafia story to me – so much so that WWE Legend Mick Foley [ultimately] dubbed the novels “The Godfather with suplexes.”
For new readers not yet familiar with the trilogy, can you briefly describe what it is about and why they should read it?
O’Brien: The novels centre on the lives of several dangerous and calculating wrestling owners who, by any means necessary, protect their business. It follows them, and their feuds, across fifteen years of the old territory system.
One backroom handshake sends the whole territorial structure into a pan-American blood feud. To break it down, it’s underhandedly political like House of Cards, revolving around different factions like The Sopranos and mixed with historic detail like Boardwalk Empire, [all combined with] warring territories like Game of Thrones.
I’m not saying the novels are as good as those shows, but they certainly give you a flavour of what’s between the covers.
Have you always been a wrestling fan?
O’Brien: Since I was five years old. And being a wrestling fan in Ireland was no easy feat! I used to ask anyone who was visiting toy shops in the UK to bring me back videos. Then along came Sky TV and I’ve be invested ever since.
Is it necessary to be a wrestling fan to enjoy your books?
O’Brien: I certainly think if you’re a wrestling fan you’ll enjoy them more but no, I’ve written the books in such a way that they work [solely] as crime novels. Both Volumes 1 and 2 were selected by Spinetingler Magazine and Pulp Pusher Magazine as their books of the year, so crime fans definitely like these novels too!
Early on, the book was publicly endorsed by Mick Foley, who was a big advocate for the book. Has the former WWE Champion continued to provide you with advice and support as the trilogy has progressed?
O’Brien: Mick has always just been an email away. He’s been so supportive throughout this whole deal. People talk about how nice of a guy he is and you think to yourself that he can’t be that nice, but he is. We’ve now met up and talked Blood Red Turns Dollar Green in Cork, Edinburgh and Belfast. Every time was better than the one before, every time I learned something new and every time he reiterated just how much he loves the novels.
I understand that a number of big names in the wrestling industry have since voiced their support for the book. Can you talk a little about this?
O’Brien: Well Mick Foley was the first. It took about one year to get Mick’s attention. It took about another year for my next endorsement which came with Volume 2 – that was your own, William Regal [former WWE Intercontinental Champion]. And he was a pure gentleman. He said he was “in awe of the research” and that he “loved the books.” I was totally stunned. He doesn’t say much publicly, and he certainly is old school in the way he thinks and talks about the wrestling business – so to hear him come out and endorse the novels was amazing.
Next was [new WWE signee] Fergal Devitt, who at that time was tearing it up all over the world. I couldn’t believe how humble and helpful he was. He went on to help me with the Japanese scenes that appear in Vol.3.
Paul Heyman followed, who “loved them,” and then came Jim Ross, which was the nicest cherry on the big cake ever. All of this started with a Jim Ross story, so to have him endorse the books was a dream come true for me.
Since then there’s been an avalanche of cool names who have the novels. Stone Cold Steve Austin got his copy, so did Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart and Natalya [Neidhart] got two! Sheamus, Jim Cornette and Joey Styles all have their copies on their shelves or in their drawers as we speak. And that’s only who I know of.
Do you think if the book has made its way to Titan Towers yet? The political wranglings of the old territory system, detailed at length in the books, surely must be of interest to a few of WWE’s bigwigs?
O’Brien: Yes, I know they [have] infiltrated the Towers! I have good insider knowledge on that.
In your opinion, was wrestling better in the old territory days or in 2014 with one company alone ruling the roost?
O’Brien: I think the wrestling business as a whole was better in the territory days. [The likes of] WWE, Impact Wrestling, New Japan and ROH have some amazing, talented people working for them but it’s not joined up like the territories were.
NXT has an amazing roster itself now and for me is the closest thing that WWE has to a territory. Someone like Tyson Kidd can drop off of WWE TV, not be fired, work on some things and come back fresh if it all works out. One of the greatest things about the territory days, apart from there being more places for wrestlers to works, was the ability to go stale, relocate and come back again. When you go stale character-wise now, you could be fired and someone else brought in to freshen the roster up.
What can readers expect from the final volume of the trilogy? Presumably a happy ending isn’t on the cards?
O’Brien: They can expect a finish that makes sense. From the first words of the first novel until the last words of the final book, I have tried to surprise, entertainment and cover the reader in well-researched, oddly emotional writing. They can [certainly] expect more violence and power plays.
With the final book due to be published on October 25th, what’s next? There have been rumours that the trilogy may be making its way onto the screen in the near future?
O’Brien: Yes, I was lucky enough to have two producers ask for the right to the books. I went with a hugely talented, highly-motivated producer out of New York and I’m very happy that I did: within two months she hired a couple of Hollywood writers to write the pilot. We have that now. It’s at the “talent and money phase now,” as the producer likes to say.
I wrote these novels like a TV series, and that’s where they’re headed. What a journey this has been for me: writing a crime novel in an unexplored world that became a #1 bestseller in six different countries and having them embraced and endorsed by all the huge names in the wrestling world and optioned for a TV. I now have Hollywood screenwriter, Paul Guay, [Liar, Liar; Heartbreakers; The Little Rascals] flying over from LA to my home town in Ireland to officially launch Volume 3 in October. I had no idea when I started!